Cover: First Mover Typology for the Space Domain

First Mover Typology for the Space Domain

Building a Foundation for Future Analysis

Published Jan 25, 2023

by Bruce McClintock, Krista Langeland, Michael Spirtas

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Research Questions

  1. What are the different types of first moves, and how are they employed in the space domain?
  2. How should first mover advantages be measured?

The concept of first mover advantage (FMA) is used often by military planners without clarification about what it means to move first or what sort of advantage such a first move is expected to provide to the mover. In space, there is often a perceived offense dominance that provides a first mover advantage to an adversary. To help build an understanding of when and whether exploitation of this concept should be considered in a broader military strategy, as well as when an adversary may consider such exploitation, the authors of this report seek to provide more-explicit definitions of what these first moves are and what objectives are sought with each. Furthermore, they seek to provide an explicit definition of advantage that distinguishes between the expected outcome should a mover wait versus the expected outcome should they move first. This foundational typology is intended to be a base for further analysis. The authors' recommendations reflect the nuanced view required to determine whether engaging in a first move indeed provides an advantage.

Key Findings

  • There are several categories of first moves — first to innovate and invest, first to reveal, first to maneuver, and first to employ — and each category has its own set of objectives.
  • An advantage procured by moving first needs to be measured relative to the expected outcome if the potential first mover instead decides not to move.
  • An FMA can increase the advantage a first mover already has over their adversary, can build an advantage that is not there if they do not move first, or could lessen a disadvantage relative to an adversary.


  • The existence of an FMA should be considered relative to the circumstance; move type, duration, objectives, and adversary perceptions need to be considered in any strategic planning that seeks to procure an FMA.
  • More work is needed to understand the impact of being the first to employ, including building an understanding of the impact on U.S. space capabilities and U.S. ability to fight a terrestrial war.
  • Adversary perceptions need to be considered to anticipate potential responses to a U.S. first move in space, and further work should focus on building an adversary-specific understanding of the concept of FMA.

This research was sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense and conducted within the Acquisition and Technology Policy Center (ATP) Program of the RAND National Security Research Division (NSRD).

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