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Remarks of Mr. John D. Hill, Performing the Duties of Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space Policy, at the 36th Space Symposium [As delivered]

Good afternoon!  It’s great to be back here at the Space Symposium after a four-year absence.  As many of you will remember, four years ago, the buzz at this conference wasn’t about reusable boosters, it wasn’t about mesh networks in low-Earth orbit, it wasn’t about “billionaire joy rides” into space, and it wasn’t even about returning humans to the moon or sending them onward to Mars.  The buzz was about something even more momentous and astounding than all of those things combined:  it was about kudzu.

That’s right, it was four years ago when Representative Mike Rogers of Alabama used his famous kudzu chart to explain why the Department of Defense space organization was such a mess.  He had some 60-odd photos on that chart representing some 60-odd organizations.  My photo was on that chart and it was among the oddest.

As General Raymond detailed this morning in his remarks, it was a very effective presentation which led, in part, to a lot of bipartisan work in Congress and the Executive Branch that ultimately resulted in establishment of the Space Force and Space Command.  It also led to my good friend Steve Kitay – who was a principal author of that chart – becoming my boss for three plus years.  Steve was a key figure in bringing about all those changes and now my job is to not screw it up.

One of the less trumpeted pieces of that reorganizational puzzle was the creation, in law, of the position of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space Policy, which is the office I am currently overseeing on an interim basis.

The law provides that the principal duty of the ASD for Space Policy is “the overall supervision of policy of the Department of Defense for space warfighting.”  Given that charter, the Secretary of Defense determined that this Assistant Secretary should report to the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, who is the “Principal Staff Assistant and Advisor to the Secretary of Defense for all matters regarding the formulation of national security and defense strategy and policy and the integration and oversight of DoD policy, strategy, plans, execution, and capabilities to achieve national security objectives.”

So, in a nutshell, the ASD Space Policy is doing that lengthy list of functions with regard to space on behalf of the Under Secretary and Secretary of Defense.

But what does all of that turgid legal and bureaucratic language mean in practical terms?  What does it mean in terms of this Administration’s policies?  What does it mean in terms of the Interim National Security Strategic Guidance, and within the integrated deterrence concepts we are developing for the next National Defense Strategy? And how does overall supervision of policy for space warfighting relate to the broader challenges of achieving national security objectives?

Armed Conflict Extending to Space

To address those questions, I want to begin by emphasizing a fundamental point that others have made many times, but that bears repeating:  a conflict in space would likely not be a “space war” distinct from “terrestrial war,” but would, instead, represent the extension of terrestrial conflict into the space domain of human endeavor.

The motivations for an armed conflict that includes conflict in space likely would not be driven by competition or conflict over isolated space-based interests, but would, instead, stem from the same types of political differences and power struggles among nations that have motivated conflict in terrestrial domains throughout human history.

Such an extension of conflict into space would indicate one belligerent’s calculation that a military advantage could be gained by attacking an adversary’s space center of gravity.  But that attack likely would not be a primary policy objective, nor would it indicate a conflict separate and distinct from what might also be transpiring in air, maritime, land, and cyber domains and in non-military realms of national power.

The reality, of course, is that space is more than just a domain of potential conflict.  Like the air, maritime, land, and cyber domains, space is a domain of human endeavor.  It is a domain where free and unfettered access is critical to our modern economy, our democratic society, our way of life, and, yes, our military power. This criticality has made space a venue for strategic competition, the nature of which this administration described in the Interim National Security Strategic Guidance.

Strategic Competition in Space

That Guidance states that the United States faces a “a world of rising nationalism, receding democracy, growing rivalry with China, Russia, and other authoritarian states, and a technological revolution that is reshaping every aspect of our lives.”  More than just a competition between specific states, this is a competition between democratic systems of governance and authoritarian systems of governance.  Authoritarian governments are working to reframe the current international order in ways that reflect and accommodate their authoritarian values, erode democratic norms, undermine respect for human rights, and build relationships among states based on power and subservience rather than genuine partnerships or alliances among equals.

In this competition, China and Russia seek to establish the primacy of their systems by undermining long-established international laws, rules, and norms.  They seek to coerce, intimidate, and corrupt.  Over the last decade we’ve seen how they’ve threatened global order, from Crimea to the South China Sea to Hong Kong, and from the Black Sea to the Taiwan Strait. We’re now seeing this malign behavior extend to the space domain as China and Russia seek to leverage space-based capabilities for their own military advantage while developing the means for denying the benefits of space to others.

Put simply, as then-nominee for Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin did during his confirmation, “the growth of Chinese and Russian counterspace arsenals presents the most immediate and serious threats to U.S., allied, and partner space activities.” Moreover, “Chinese and Russian military doctrines also indicate that they view space as critical to modern warfare and consider the use of counterspace capabilities as both a means of reducing U.S. military effectiveness and for winning future wars.”

Defense Space Strategy

In recent years, the United States has made increasingly clear the threat these arsenals and doctrines pose to all space operators, including threats posed by ground-based and space-based systems. 

To confront these challenges, my office – then Steve Kitay’s office – developed the June 2020 Defense Space Strategy.  That strategy defines four lines of effort to develop a defense space posture suited for this era of strategic competition.

First, we are building a comprehensive military advantage in space.  Notable here is the work of the Space Force and the Space Development Agency to field resilient and assured space capabilities and capabilities to counter hostile uses of space.  Equally notable are the Space Force’s efforts to develop the doctrinal foundations of military spacepower and the associated expertise and culture.

Our second line of effort focuses on integrating space into national, joint, and combined operations.  Here, the establishment of U.S. Space Command as a Unified Combatant Command is particularly important to our ability to plan, exercise, and execute joint and combined space operations across the spectrum of competition and conflict, in concert with operations across all domains and in coordination with the other combatant commanders.  And I want to take a moment here to give General Dickinson one more “Hooah!” in recognition of achieving his IOC [Initial Operational Capability] milestone.

Third, we must shape the strategic environment in ways that enhance domain stability and reduce the potential for miscalculations.  There is much work to do here, including diplomatic work in partnership with the Department of State, as international views about what constitutes acceptable and unacceptable behavior in the space domain continue to evolve.  We are also working in close partnership with the Department of Commerce and the Intelligence Community to strengthen space domain awareness and to improve our ability to identify and attribute threatening behavior.

Fourth, the Defense Department continues to enhance space cooperation with commercial entities and with our allies and other international partners, many of whose space capabilities are already integral to collective security.  In this respect, we already see important alignment regarding space security in the national space policies and organizational changes that several allies and partners have adopted.  Likewise, through expanded information sharing, increased programmatic collaboration, and the development of combined operations, we are bringing to our activities in the space domain a culture of cooperation that will allow us to leverage the benefits of alliances and partnerships as we have traditionally done in the other domains.

Norms, Tenets, and Responsible Behavior

As Secretary Kendall previewed this morning, I intend to focus the remainder of my remarks on that third line of effort:  Shaping the Strategic Environment.

Among the many new developments in our space policy and posture in the past few years, this July Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin signed a memorandum to Department of Defense leadership that outlines guidance for space operations in the form of five key “Tenets of Responsible Behavior in Space.”  That guidance provides a clear and transparent statement of how Department of Defense components will operate in space under normal circumstances.  These Tenets of Responsible Behavior direct our space operators to:

  1. Operate in, from, to, and through space with due regard to others and in a professional manner.
  2. Limit the generation of long-lived debris.
  3. Avoid the creation of harmful interference.
  4. Maintain safe separation and safe trajectory.
  5. Communicate and make notifications to enhance the safety and stability of the domain.

These five tenets, which are based on longstanding practices, as well as existing U.S. commitments, are strictly limited to the activities of the Department of Defense.  In no way are we trying to impose our will and our ideas upon other nations or other space operators.  But we recognize that as one of the world’s most experienced and largest space operators, and as a military organization, we have a special responsibility to articulate what we mean by responsible behavior and to reflect that in our actual practice. 

Like all space operators, and like everyone who depends upon space-based capabilities – which these days is pretty much everyone – the Department of Defense has an abiding interest in promoting standards and norms of behavior in space in order to ensure that the domain remains secure, safe, sustainable, and accessible.  We will operate with openness, transparency, and predictability to ensure space can continue to benefit all of humanity.

I also want to underscore that these Defense Department tenets do not stand in isolation.  Rather, they reflect the broader U.S. Government focus on promoting voluntary, non-binding measures such as transparency and confidence-building measures, best practices guidelines, and technical standards.  Long before the Secretary of Defense issued his guidance, the United States began working with space operators from around the world to establish multilateral guidelines, such as those regarding debris mitigation and the long-term sustainability of outer space activities.

The Department of Defense has been a regular contributor to these operator dialogues.  Through such mechanisms, we have incrementally helped build common understandings among space operators about shared interests in space, and about what constitutes responsible behaviors in a shared domain.

As we continue to contribute our ideas and learn from other international space operators, we intend to build on these tenets to identify more specific behaviors that guide our operations, and that can serve as a point of reference to help other space operators form their own understanding of responsible behavior in space.

Ultimately, this is one important means by which we can develop common views about space operations and shape the strategic environment in ways that reduce the risks of misunderstanding and miscalculation while increasing stability and security in the domain.


To conclude, I want to return to a point I made at the outset:  space is a domain of human endeavor.  It encompasses the full range of human aspirations and struggles, from peace to war.  When we consider human history, and the role that militaries have played in advancing space capabilities over the years, it is actually quite remarkable that warfare has not yet spread into space in anything remotely like the experiences we have witnessed in terrestrial domains. 

That’s a good thing!  But we have no room for complacency.  Strategic competition is as active in space as it is in every other domain.  Our industry, our forces, our alliances, and our democratic spirit are all among our advantages, because ultimately, that competition across all domains, is a competition of ideas between democratic systems of governance based on the rule of law and relationships among equals versus authoritarian systems of governance based upon power and relationships of subservience.  And it is the transparent expression of our ideas, backed up by the transparent example of our behavior, that provides crucial advantage in that competition.

The statement of five simple, but important, Tenets of Responsible Behavior in Space is ultimately not just about the tenets themselves, but about the larger idea that the words and actions of nations matter; that they make a difference in shaping the strategic environment and in creating the conditions for peace, security, and stability.  This is true in space as it is in every other domain of human endeavor.

So, in closing, I look forward to continued partnership with colleagues across the U.S. government, with allies, and with fellow space operators around the world in promoting broader understanding and acceptance of what it means to be a responsible actor in space.

Thank you for your time and attention.