Guest Post: “Emerging Technology and the Law in Space,” and Army Future Command’s 1st Annual Future of Warfare and Law Symposium

The legal aspects of reliance on commercial satellites for military purposes is a topic garnering growing interest.  Here on Lawfire® in 2021 we publishedAre commercial Satellites used for intelligence-gathering in attack planning targetable?

Later, Prof David Koplow discussed his provocative concept of “reverse distinction” in relation to the military use of commercial satellites in his essay, The Illegality of U.S. National Space Policy.  Shortly thereafter Maj Danny Beaulieu countered his contention with an essay of his own:  State Practice and Military Objectives: International Humanitarian Law Regarding Military Applications of Otherwise Civil/Commercial Satellites.”

This May, the Army Future Command thought the issue important enough to include it in its First Annual Future of Warfare and Law Symposium.  As Lawfire® readers may recall, I was privileged to attend the symposium in Austin, TX, but since the symposium was governed by the Chatham House Rule there are limits as to what can be shared. 

What I can tell you is that Army judge advocate Maj Christina Colclough introduced the space law panel, and her remarks provided an intro into some space-related activities the Army is addressing.

One of the particularly interesting points Maj Coclough mentions is the reliance on commercial space systems.  She points out that recently retired Chief of Space Operations General Jay Raymond described the conflict in Ukraine as the “first war where commercial space capabilities have played a significant role, with both sides significantly reliant on space to conduct operations.”  That should pique everyone’s interest.

She also briefly mentions the much anticipated Woomera Manual on the International Law of Military Space Operations which we hope to see before the end of the year.  I’m expecting the publication will give us some insight into the legal architecture applicable to the military use of commercial satellites.

Maj Colclough kindly agreed to let Lawfire® post her introductory remarks for the Symposium’s space law panel, and you’ll find them later in this post.

By the way, Professor Chris Borgen–who participated in the Future of Warfare Symposium–wrote a very interesting chapter that relates to this issue:  The Second Space Age: The Regulation of Military Space Operations and the Role of Private Actors for the The Future Law of Armed Conflict book published in 2022.  In a two-part series, Dave Graham reviewed the book Lawfire®, with Chris’s chapter being addressed in the post here.,

I think we’ll be hearing more about the law as it relates to the military use of commercial satellites.  For now, take a few minutes and learn some of the things the Army is doing in space domain:

Emerging Technology and the Law in Space

 Army Future Command’s First Annual Future of Warfare and Law Symposium

By Major Christina Colclough,

National Security and Administrative Law Attorney, Army Futures Command, Austin, Texas

     Space-based services and space technologies are ubiquitous in today’s society. From TV and internet services to satellite radio, GPS, banking and cell services, space-based capabilities are equally pervasive in military operations, from space-based imagery, communications, position, navigation and timing resources, advanced weather monitoring, to early missile warning and countermeasure systems. The war in Ukraine has highlighted the criticality of space-based capabilities, a reality reflected in the recent establishment of the United States Space Force in 2019.

    The criticality of these technologies in armed conflict and the myriad of associated legal issues was the impetus for the soon to be published Woomera Manual on the International Law of Military Space Activities and Operations and the inclusion of space-based technology as a topic in Army Future Command’s First Annual Future of Warfare and Law Symposium, held in Austin Texas May 10-12, 2023.    

Future Army Space Technology

      As the Army looks to the future of operations in space, the advantage will be attained by those possessing the most revolutionary technologies. Army Futures Command plays a large role in developing these technologies. The Assured Positioning, Navigation and Timing/Space, Cross-Functional Team, or APNT/Space CFT, headquartered at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama, is responsible for accelerating the delivery of advanced APNT/Space, Tactical Space and Navigation Warfare capabilities to the Soldier. 

     Additionally, AFC’s Network Cross-Functional Team, or NET CFT, headquartered at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland also has a role in transforming the Army’s future space and near space capabilities. NET CFT is responsible for transforming the Army’s Integrated Tactical Network (ITN). The ITN relies on a combination of military and commercial solutions to provide vital means of communication between the command post, integrated vehicle platforms and dismounted troops.  

Reliance on Commercial Systems

    Capabilities like ITN demonstrate the role commercial systems play in supporting military capabilities in space. The head of the US Space Force, General Jay Raymond, recently described the conflict in Ukraine as the “first war where commercial space capabilities have played a significant role, with both sides significantly reliant on space to conduct operations.”

     One highly publicized example of this is Space X’s role in the providing Starlink to maintain internet access in Ukraine. Starlink, an American based commercial internet access provider has been essential to providing Ukraine’s military with secure communications throughout the war. 

     Emerging technologies like those being developed at Army Futures Command and increased military reliance on commercial capabilities raises many practical and legal questions about future conflict in the space and near space domain.

     The recent Future of Warfare and Law Symposium was an opportunity to reflect on our need to work with allies and partners to develop policies and regulations that enable the U.S. commercial space sector to compete internationally while also considering military freedom to operate. Both Russia and China have already demonstrated the capability to carry out attacks on western targets in space. The future operational environment is certain to be increasingly congested, commercialized, and contested.

The Legal Framework

     Currently, legal practitioners look to the 1967 Outer Space Treaty and the Law of Armed Conflict as the primary applicable legal framework. When published, the Woomera Manual will expound upon the framework and provide an updated approach for practitioners. Professor Jack Beard, with the University of Nebraska College of Law and guest speaker at The Future of Warfare and Law Symposium, provided an overview of the Woomera Manual at the symposium.

     Professor Beard, Editor in Chief of the Woomera Manual (named after the township where Australia launched its first satellite) stated that The Woomera Manual will be the definitive document on international law as it applies to military space activities. Developed by space and military law experts from Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, and other countries, the Woomera Manual will be to space what the Harvard Manual is to Air and Missile Warfare, and the Tallinn Manuals are to cyber operations and warfare.

About the author: 

Major Christina Colclough is an attorney in the National Security and Administrative Law Division of the Army Futures Command Office of the Staff Judge Advocate in Austin, TX. She provides advice in the areas of acquisitions, contract law, fiscal law, intellectual property, ethics, administrative law, and national security law. Christina has served in the Army Judge Advocate General’s Corps for 10 years. Prior to working at Army Futures Command, Christina served in various roles including Chief of Military Justice, Fort Moore, GA; Trial Counsel and Brigade Judge Advocate, Fort Liberty, NC; and Administrative Law Attorney, Fort Gregg-Adams, VA. Christina holds a B.S. from Central Michigan University; a J.D. from Roger Williams University School of Law; and a LL.M. in Military Law from The Judge Advocate General’s Legal Center and School, Charlottesville, VA. She is licensed to practice law in Massachusetts.


The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the U.S. Department of Defense, the U.S. Army, or any part of the US Government.

The views expressed by guest authors do not necessarily reflect my views or those of the Center on Law, Ethics and National Security, or Duke University.  See also here.

Remember what we like to say on Lawfire®: gather the facts, examine the law, evaluate the arguments – and then decide for yourself!

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