Over the past decade, an increasing drumbeat of analysis has focused on the “decline” of the U.S. space program, the vulnerability of its assets, and the gloomy prospects for its future competition with China and Russia. Experts have noted major increases in Chinese and Russian space funding and a host of new programs, especially in the military sector. However, a more thorough analysis of the past three decades of space development reveals several underlying or emerging U.S. strengths. In fact, while the United States is still struggling with the growing pains of moving from legacy programs developed under its state-led, Cold War space program to shared activities undertaken with the commercial sector and even international partners, these trends suggest that China and Russia may themselves soon face obstacles in 21st century space competition. Indeed, this line of reasoning suggests that we may be at an “inflection point” in terms of space power, where effectiveness may be shifting from nations to “networks.” Under these conditions, the most competitive countries are likely to be those that can deal best with the demands of complex cooperation, transparency, and rapid innovation. While there is much more that the United States needs to do if it is to succeed in this new environment, there are reasons to believe that it may have better tools than those of its rivals.
Dr. James Clay Moltz holds a joint appointment as a professor in the Department of National Security Affairs (NSA) and in the Space Systems Academic Group at the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) in Monterey, California. He has served as an advisor to the NASA-Ames Research Center and to the U.S. Department of Energy and has provided expert testimony on space and nuclear issues before the U.S. Congress. At NPS, his honors include the 2015 Carl E. and Jesse W. Menneken Award for Excellence in Scientific Research and the 2010 Richard W. Hamming Award for Interdisciplinary Achievement. From 2012 to 2016, he served as the NSA Dept.’s associate chair for research and directed the Project on Advanced Systems and Concepts for Countering WMD, with funding from the Defense Threat Reduction Agency.