Warpspace banner

#SpaceWatchGL Opinion: Responsive Space for NATO Operations

As part of the partnership between SpaceWatch.Global and Joint Air Power Competence Centre, we have been granted permission to publish selected articles and texts. We are pleased to present “Responsive Space for NATO Operations”, originally published in the Joint Air Power Competence Centre Journal 31.



By Wolfgang Jung, German Aerospace Center (DLR)
By Lieutenant Colonel Tim Vasen, GE AF, JAPCC


Space Support plays a significant role in modern warfare. After the fall of the iron curtain, the threat to western Space assets and capabilities was significantly diminished. The current development of Space capabilities, especially on the commercial side, as well as the increased number of Space users, has changed this situation. Use of the Space domain is becoming more congested and contested. Additionally, counter-Space assets and methods are being proliferated worldwide. Space systems must be protected, redundancies must be increased or other means of security have to be pursued, all of which falls under the umbrella of resilience. Another option is to pursue alternative solutions, using also non Space capabilities, which are comparable to a Space-focused approach or refer to other technologies which still have to be developed and fielded. The combination of resilience methods and alternative solutions that together ensure persistent support to warfighters is referred to in the context of this article as ´Responsive Space´.

This article is the first in a series on the topic of Responsive Space and will focus on the definitions as well as potential worldwide concepts currently being discussed. Ongoing developments, an analysis for NATO and national options, and chances for contributions to NATO will also be discussed in follow-on articles.

Space Resilience versus Responsive Space

It is not simple to delineate between the two terms Space Resilience and Responsive Space, as these two terms overlap in several ways. Still, a path to understanding the differences can be found in the following documents provided by the USA.

The fact sheet on Space Resilience published in 2011 by the US Department of Defense included reconstitution, meaning the ability to plan and execute operations to replenish lost or diminished functions.1 The overall goal for reconstitution was ensuring at least an acceptable level of functionality such that military operations can still be pursued.

In the white paper on Space Domain Mission Assurance published in 2015, the term reconstitution was extracted from resilience and introduced on the same level of relevance.2 Reconstitution is further defined in that document as adding capability or capacity through additional assets or links, which makes it an element of Responsive Space. It is further stated that reconstitution and resilience complement each other.

Both a robust and resilient Space architecture and the ability to react to hostile acts via Responsive Space means offers a wide field of deterrence. As an Alliance of 30 nations, NATO should use its multinational approach to gain the greatest advantage from nationally-provided Space data, products, and services by developing resilience as well as Responsive Space methods as needed.

Information regarding Space Resilience concepts for NATO are discussed and addressed in the NATO-Restricted JAPCC White Paper ‘Resiliency in Space as a Combined Challenge for NATO’ published in January 2021.3

Definitions and Concepts of Responsive Space of NATO Nations

United States

The need for a Responsive Space concept in the USA was initiated after vulnerabilities and shortfalls were discovered by the Rumsfeld Commission in January 2001.4 The findings led to a programme called Operational Responsive Space (ORS). In 2007, the US definition of ORS was given as the ability to gain ‘assured Space power focused on timely satisfaction of Joint Forces Commanders’ needs’. ORS ‘will provide an affordable capability to promptly, accurately and decisively position and operate national and military assets in and through Space and near Space’.5 Most of the US techniques focus on responsive launch capabilities. The US Joint Publication on Space Operations addresses the responsiveness of Space assets and services in general and the flexibility of their use.6 The responsive access to Space and the ORS programme are also addressed, but they mainly feature under the responsive launch function. The Defence Space Strategy released in 2020 addresses the need for capabilities to counter hostile use of Space, which also includes responsive means.7


Canada does not directly address Responsive Space as a term.8 While adapting US definitions, Canada focuses on cooperation and collaboration with allies and partners to increase resilience and counter opponents’ threats. Without using the term directly, Canada addresses methods and actions that can be referred to Responsive Space.


In its Space Defence Strategy published in 2019, France introduces the term Space Service Support in its military Space operations.9 One element is the reconstitution of capabilities. Apart from restoring capacities, compensating for or replacing a diminished or missing capability are identified as options. To arrange this, the potential use of complementary allied or commercial capabilities which are made available via a cooperative and collaborative approach are included in the Space Defence Strategy. Even though the term Responsive Space is not used, the French plan results in a similar capability.


The Space Strategy of the German Government (2010)10 states that internal and external stability increasingly depends on the functioning of Space-based infrastructure. This makes Germany vulnerable to both unintentional and deliberate disruption (electronic interference, hostile takeover of satellites), or even targeted destructive interference. The German White Paper on Security Policy and the Future of the Bundeswehr (2016)11 and the Conception of the Bundeswehr (2018)12 have all declared Space as an operational domain. Satellites and associated ground segments are described as security-relevant critical infrastructure, which have to be resiliently designed and need to be protected.

The Federal Ministry of Defence tasked the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt [DLR]) to establish the technology base for a national Responsive Space Capability (RSC) and to demonstrate key elements in Space. On 1 September 2020 the Responsive Space Cluster Competence Center (RSC3) was inaugurated.13 Responsive Space is understood to be the ability to launch small satellites (up to 500 kg) on demand and on call into Low Earth Orbit (LEO) and to start operating within days, in order to reconstitute lost capabilities, augment existing – capabilities, fill unanticipated gaps in capabilities, and enhance survivability and deterrence.

United Kingdom

In their National Space Security Policy, released in 2014, Responsive Space is not stated directly. However, as an element of Responsive Space, service assurance is stated which should be realized through the integration of commercial opportunities.14 The UK Joint Doctrine dealing with Air and Space Power states that it generally follows the US definitions.15 The term Responsive Space is not stated in this document, but with synergies inside the country and in collaboration with allies, specific elements are referred to and responsiveness is implied.

Definitions and Concepts of Responsive Space of European Organizations

International Space University

The International Space University, located in Strasbourg, France, conducted a study, with results published in 2010, on the requirement and capabilities for European Responsive Space.16 An outcome of this study was highlighting the fact that definitions change over time, driven by threats and requirements. The study stated that most Responsive Space definitions and developments are focused on responsive launch capabilities. Responsive Space encompasses more than just the short notice launch of satellites to either close gaps in the Space architecture due to successful opponents’ counter-Space activities, or to intensify the use of Space-based services in areas of interest via specifically designed orbits. The Space University study assessed responsive actions instead, such as reorientation of satellites or the use of on-orbit spare satellites.

European Space Policy Institute (ESPI)

Europe, via the ESPI, has been monitoring and assessing the potential need for Responsive Space capabilities for security since 2010.17 Recent worldwide counter-Space actions have renewed the relevance and interest in the analysis. The study was primarily conducted to analyse the US ORS programme and to find synergies for Europe to contribute Responsive Space options to support security organizations, such as the European Defence Agency (EDA) and NATO.

Interoperability, capability sharing, cooperation, and integration are addressed as the building blocks for Responsive Space in the future. Synergies between the civil and military applications, not just from the nations but also from organizations such as the European Union (EU), are recommended. Space functional areas of Positioning, Navigation and Timing (PNT), Satellite Communication (SatCom) and Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) in particular are identified and assessed to be the focus. Technological requirements have to be formulated and new technology has to be embedded to ensure flexible and affordable solutions for operational capabilities, even when they are part of a long-term process. On the administrative side, data sharing via agreements as well as definitions and standards for data formats in secured networks that allow data throughput to whoever needs it must be ensured.

To achieve the best possible Responsive Space architecture and service for Europe, and for NATO as a prominent partner, the ‘responsiveness via international collaboration’ seems to be the objective for the future. Responsive Space techniques in a multinational European approach made available as a contribution to the Alliance gives NATO the chance to use a more resilient architecture that is based on interoperable or at least shareable national and commercial capabilities. To ensure this, NATO has to obtain an overview of the national capabilities and capacities that the member nations are willing to provide.

Definitions and Concepts of Responsive Space of other Nations

People’s Republic of China

China did not directly address developments and needs for Responsive Space technology in its Space White Paper (2016).18 However, the statements focused on developing technology with a comprehensive approach, combined with the ongoing research at military universities in particular, lead to the assessment that China is very active in this type of Space approach. The development of counter-Space technology underlines this. China is able to degrade an opponents’ Space capability and to react to the degradation of its own Space architecture by an opponent, which provides a certain level of deterrence. The Defence White Paper released in 2019 points out one national defence aim that China’s security interests in outer Space19 have to be safeguarded.20

Russian Federation

Russia does not directly address the term Responsive Space. Their military doctrine released in December 2014, identified some technical means that have to be ensured with all available options.21 For the internal security of the country, strategic communication links which also rely on SatCom services are specifically stated. Ensuring a persistent service can be seen as a Responsive Space action. Russia follows an inter-governmental approach in security which includes Space data, products and services. In the National Security Strategy released in 2015, the inter-governmental approach was confirmed.22 Additionally, Russia will monitor the worldwide development of Space technology to ensure that it does not fall behind potential opponents. Even if it is not stated, it encompasses counter-Space as well as Responsive Space means.

Interim Assessment and Conclusion

Responsive Space is an element ensuring persistent Space Support for NATO. As addressed, some Responsive Space capabilities are already available in certain NATO member nations. With the further development of Space within the NATO Command Structure, it has to be assessed which role NATO will play in the future regarding Responsive Space. The nations of the Alliance offer a wide area for burden-sharing, especially for the European allies to support the USA as the dominant Space power. With its role agreed upon as a non-autonomous Space actor, NATO should primarily focus on arrangements and coordination, defining standards to make national Space data, products, and services available as much as possible. Having capable Responsive Space options that support a resilient Space architecture offers a high level of deterrence that NATO needs to ensure peace and stability for the next seventy years and beyond.

1. US Department of Defence, Fact sheet: Resilience of Space Capabilities, 2011, available from: https://archive.defense.gov/home/features/2011/0111_nsss/docs/DoD%20Fact%20Sheet%20-%20Resilience.pdf [accessed 1 Sep. 2020].
2. US Assistant Secretary of Defense, Space Mission Assurance: A Resiliency Taxonomy, Washington DC, Sep. 2015.
3. JAPCC, Resiliency in Space as a combined challenge for NATO (NATO Restricted), Kalkar, Jan. 2021. Available upon request to properly authorized persons. An unclassified version, releasable to the public, will be published later in 2021 and will be available from: www.japcc.org.
4. Space Daily: Rumsfeld Commission warns against “Space Pearl Harbor”, 2001, available from: https://www.spacedaily.com/news/bmdo-01b.html [accessed 1 Sep. 2020].
5. European Space Policy Institute (ESPI), Responsive Space for Europe: Elements for a roadmap for Europe based on a comparative analysis with the US Operational Responsive Space Concept, Feb. 2010, available from: https://espi.or.at/publications/espi-public-reports/category/2-public-espi-reports?start=60 [accessed 2 Sep. 2020].
6. US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Joint Publication 3-14, Space Operations, Washington DC, Apr. 2018.
7. US Department of Defense, Defense Space Strategy Summary, Washington DC, June. 2020.
8. Royal Canadian Air Force; Air Space Power in formation: Concept of Operations for the CAF Joint Space Program, Ottawa, May 2020.
9. French Ministry for the Armed Forces; Space Defence Strategy: Report of the Space working group, Paris 2019.
10. Space Strategy of the German Government (2010, New Release 2012); https://www.bmwi.de/Redaktion/DE/Publikationen/Technologie/zukunftsfaehige-deutsche-raumfahrt.html.
11. White Paper on Security Policy and the Future of the Bundeswehr (2016); https://www.bmvg.de/de/themen/weissbuch.
12. Conception of the Bundeswehr (2018); https://www.bmvg.de/de/aktuelles/konzeption-der-bundeswehr-26384.
13. DLR RSC3; https://www.dlr.de/content/de/artikel/news/2020/03/20200902_startschuss-fuer-aerospacepark-am-dlr-trauen.html.
14. UK Government, National Space Security Policy, London, UKSA/13/1292, Apr. 2014.
15. UK Ministry of Defence, Joint Doctrine Publication 0-30: UK Air and space Power (2nd Edition), Shrivenham, Dec. 2017.
16. International Space University, 2009, available from: https://isulibrary.isunet.edu/doc_num.php?explnum_id=83 [accessed 27 Aug. 2020].
17. ESPI Report 22 “Responsive Space for Europe”, Feb. 2010.
18. State Council of the People’s Republic of China, White Paper on Space activities, 2016, available from: http://english.www.gov.cn/archive/white_paper/2016/12/28/content_281475527159496.htm [Accessed 24 Aug. 2020].
19. Outer Space in this context means the use of near-earth Space in orbits like LEO, MEO, GEO and HEO.
20. State Council Information Office of the People’s Republic of China, China’s National Defense in the New Era, 2019, translated version available from: https://www.andrewerickson.com/2019/07/full-text-of-defense-white-paper-chinas-national-defense-in-the-new-era-english-chinese-versions/ [accessed 2 Sep. 2020].
21. Russian Federation, approved by the President; Military Doctrine of the Russian Federation, Moscow, Dec. 2014.
22. President of the Russian Federation, Russian federation National Security Strategy”, Moscow, Dec. 2015.

Wolfgang Jung

Wolfgang Jung started his career as a Reserve Officer for Tactical Ballistic Missiles (MGM-52 Lance) and holds two diplomas in Aerospace and Space Systems Engineering. In the last 25 years at DLR’s Mobile Rocket Base (MORABA), he was responsible for Launch Services and designing new Hypersonic Flight Vehicles. In 2019 he was nominated as DLR’s Coordinator for Responsive Space.

At the beginning of this year, he was appointed as the Head of Technology and Department Head for Technology Demonstration at the newly established DLR Responsive Space Cluster Competence Center (RSC3). Besides this, he supports the Air Force Command in Berlin in a Reserve Officer capacity.

The original version of JAPCC Journal 31, “Responsive Space for NATO Operations”, can be downloaded here JAPCC_J31.

Check Also

Space Café Brazil 02 Recap: Aila Raquel of Alya Nanosatellites Constellation

In this week’s Space Café Brazil, Aila Raquel, CEO of Alya Nanosatellites Constellation E.O., Brazil, talked about her experience in starting a space start-up in Brazil. Aila Raquel is the CEO of Alya Nanosatellites who is committed to a global challenge for sustainable development. Incorporating Agenda2030 at Alya’s goals, She is taking bold and transformative measures to promote sustainable development