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Research Questions

  1. What are decisionmaker needs for assessments of SMA?
  2. What analytic methods are available to provide the assessments?
  3. What are the shortfalls in the available methods to meet those needs?
  4. What steps can be taken or what innovations can be adopted to address the shortfalls?

The U.S. government has taken several steps to account for the increasing likelihood that future conflicts will extend to space, including the establishment in December 2019 of the U.S. Space Force. The potential for future wars to extend to space is driving an urgent need for assessments of space mission assurance (SMA) to provide decision support. Assessments of SMA may be used as decision support for acquisition and operational decisions in the U.S. Department of Defense and intelligence community.

The research described in this report was conducted in 2018 and aims to help the national security space community enhance analytic methods for assessing SMA. The authors describe decisionmaker needs for assessments of SMA, challenges for conducting assessments, the shortfalls that may result from the challenges, and options for addressing the shortfalls.

The authors conducted semistructured interviews with decisionmakers to identify decisionmaker needs and shortfalls of assessments provided to them in the recent past. Semistructured interviews were also conducted with analysts to identify analytic methods available and to discuss challenges. Researchers examined a selection of models to better understand the capabilities of available analytic methods and their limitations. The research team also undertook its own assessments and modeling efforts to evaluate potential steps and innovations that could address SMA assessment shortfalls.

Key Findings

  • Decisionmakers in the acquisition community need assessments characterizing the value of SMA to inform a variety of space investment decisions, such as architecture development, budget decisions, requirements development, and future concept development.
  • Five existing analytic methods for assessing SMA were identified in this report, and there are advantages and disadvantages to each. These methods have some shortfalls that are not unique to SMA assessments but are more severe than they are for similar assessments in other domains, for reasons including the relative newness of space as a warfighting domain, fragmentation of roles and responsibilities within the national security space community, and challenges associated with compartmentalization of data and information associated with SMA assessments.
  • The shortfalls are in (1) established baseline and uncertainty bounds for inputs and assumptions needed for SMA assessments, (2) available methods for assessing social-behavioral aspects of SMA, (3) SMA assessments linking space to terrestrial warfighting operations, and (4) SMA assessments spanning multiple mission areas.


  • Continue to fund and support the efforts undertaken by the Joint Space Warfighting Forum, which is currently funded through fiscal year 2020.
  • Undertake an initiative to solve challenges associated with information-sharing. Specifically, the authors recommend establishing security constructs with terms of reference to facilitate the sharing of information. Security classification guides should be reviewed and revised as needed to provide appropriate representation of capabilities at multiple security levels and access channels.
  • Establish and fund an SMA Innovation Initiative to accelerate the closing of the shortfalls. A similar approach by U.S. Department of Defense senior leaders has contributed to recent progress in wargaming, including the establishment of a "Defense Innovation Initiative" by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel in 2014, and the establishment of an innovation fund to "reinvigorate and expand" efforts across the community by Secretary of Defense Ash Carter in 2016.
  • Additionally, Air Force leadership and analysts may help to address specific shortfalls by employing sensitivity analyses, employing analytic methods designed for decisionmaking under uncertainty, characterizing the role of space deterrence in SMA assessments, and assessing corner cases of space deterrence (as applicable).

Research conducted by

This research was sponsored by the U.S. Air Force and conducted within the Force Modernization and Employment Program of RAND Project AIR FORCE.

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