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Irregular Warfare in Space with Dr. John Klein.

Retired US Navy commander Dr. John J. Klein is a senior fellow and strategist with Delta Solutions and Strategies, and instructor on space policy.





Dr. John J. Klein is a senior fellow and strategist with Delta Solutions and Strategies, and instructs space policy and strategy courses in the Washington, D.C. area at the undergraduate, graduate, and doctorate levels. He writes on space policy, strategy, and deterrence. John has released the book “Fight for the Final Frontier: Irregular Warfare in Space” available now from all good retailers.

You can connect with John on LinkedIn.

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>> Maria Varmazis: Welcome to T-Minus Deep Space, from N2K Networks. I'm Maria Varmazis, host of the T-Minus Space Daily Podcast. Deep Space includes extended interviews and bonus content for a deeper look into some of the topics that we cover on our daily program.

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Our guest this week is retired US Navy Commander, Dr. John Kline. Now, John is a senior fellow and strategist with Delta Solutions & Strategies, and he's an instructor on space policy and strategy. He's recently released a new book called "Fight for the Final Frontier: Irregular Warfare in Space", which is available now from all good retailers.

>> Dr. John Kline: I'm John Patsy Kline. I teach space policy and strategy courses at a few universities in the Washington DC area. I like to work on space policy and strategy my day job and then also at night teaching, and then I like to write the occasional book on the same subject.

>> Maria Varmazis: I'm thrilled to be speaking with you, and to speak with you about your latest book, "The Fight for the Final Frontier: Irregular Warfare in Space". Aside from me being a Trekkie and going, "I love the little final frontier [inaudible]," [laughs] can we start with what we mean by "Irregular Warfare in Space"?

>> Dr. John Kline: Great. I mean it's probably -- the term is thrown around a lot, but probably very misunderstood. But I'll give you the definition that I use in the book. So "irregular warfare" is a part from major conventional wars against an enemy who takes a similar approach. Now, so basically, you know, your audience may kind of be kind of rolling their eyes, okay, "Say, Patsy, you just defined 'irregular warfare' as the opposite of regular warfare." And that's -- that is okay. We do that all the time in strategic studies. We have the direct and indirect approach, we have symmetric and asymmetrical. So "irregular warfare" only has meaning in the context of regular warfare. But what's important to understand is irregular warfare is not an irregular occurrence. It happens all the time. And most conflicts are either below the threshold of major conventional conflicts, or have elements of both regular and irregular. And we see that throughout history. So again, it's not a special occurrence, but you know, it's important to realize where it fits in the hierarchy and what we're talking about. So these actions that are below the threshold of arm conflict can be coercive, they can be competition. You know, the US jargon we kind of call it "gray zone operation" sometimes like -- because he have -- we like to bifurcate, we have peace or we have conflict, right? Well, no, no, there's a lot of stuff in between. So and different domains can be in different ranges of that competition continuum too.

>> Maria Varmazis: I'm putting on my old cyber hat. I can probably imagine a little bit of what we mean by "irregular warfare", especially if it comes to cyber in space. But what are we talking about when we talk about these kinds of tactics? What are we looking at?

>> Dr. John Kline: So thanks for teeing up the cyber space domain too. So again, going back to the definition, it is below the threshold, major force on force action. So let's look to current events, let's look to Ukraine. So tying in that cyber, we had cyber attacks against the company, Viasat, ahead of the Ukrainian invasion. We have jamming of radio frequency spectra, so off communication satellites. We have ongoing lasing of electro-optical sensors on satellites. We have concerns with proximity operations of satellites getting close to each other, what does that mean, are you trained to convey some message? But what's fascinating is that the cyberspace domain and the space domain are kind of intertwined, so sometimes cyber actions or cyber warfare could be considered space warfare too, because at times they are kind of interspersed or intermingled. But you know, drawing upon the cyberspace domain, you know, they're dealing with this already. I mean, there are cyber attacks going on all the time. So you could say they're -- you know, nobody's dying, right? It's not a force on force. So you could say based on that definition that irregular warfare or the competition is relevant there too.

>> Maria Varmazis: Yes. So I mean, backing out a little bit, given the current events, certainly a lot of -- there's been a lot of interest about -- especially what happened with Viasat and Ukraine. I'm curious, was that -- did that happen when you were already writing this book, or was there sort of a broader earlier reason why you're like, "I need to write this book?"

>> Dr. John Kline: This effort has been about over two years in the making. It's amazing how what a long process is. So I've been writing on space warfare and strategy for 20 years now. So I started off kind of using a maritime analogy, "Hey, isn't space kind of like the seas and lines of communication?" And then I kind of expanded that out from just a domain analogy going back to the enduring classics like Thucydides, Clausewitz, Sun Tzu, Mao, some other strategists that I wrote about in my second book. But what kind of took me back is like what we saw going on was not really -- was not arm conflict in that conventional sense. It wasn't warfare. And I tried to reconcile well we have over 40 or 50 years of experience in the space domain. There's stuff going on. What is it? I mean, if I can't look to "On War" by Clausewitz, or one of these other seminal works, what is helpful? So instead of a domain analogy I said, "Well --" I was reading a friend of mine's book, BJ Armstrong, wrote basically about the history of irregular warfare in the early US Navy. And he gets to the last chapter and I said, "Well, good grief, that's -- you know, consider it as a mode of warfare advice analogies to the air domain or the sea domain, you know, maybe we should consider what's going on as irregular." So it's below the threshold. And we -- there's actually some really good literature on irregular warfare. The United States we like to forget stuff rather quickly, so we're kind of doing the dump on Iraq and Afghanistan. And we had relearned all that stuff, and now we're back to strategic competition with rivals, and who needs that other stuff? But you know, it's not going to be an either/or, it's not -- you know, we're going to have elements of regular and irregular working together. So it's not -- my book isn't saying it's all irregular warfare, forget about the major force on force, because that's still a concern. To generalize your question, the answer is we need for strategies to be practical. And if I'm presenting a strategy that's more for, you know, major conflict in space, you know, maybe there's a better approach.

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>> Maria Varmazis: We'll be right back.

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So you've been studying war in space for decades. I mean, I hate to ask the very basic question, but like trends, what is changing? Yes, talk about summarizing your career in one question. [Laughs] I mean, you want to take a stab at that? [Laughs]

>> Dr. John Kline: Well, so what's changed since I started writing? So I call myself a space strategist. I get paid money to be a space strategist. That -- those jobs did not exist 20 years ago. And when I started writing, you know, [inaudible] domain analogies, you know, as a -- you know, my first article was called "Corbett in Orbit", after Sir Julian Corbett, and using his maritime framework, there were only five of us that would write about these things. And it was -- at the time it was kind of a giggle factor, "Ha, ha, they're talking about space warfare, 'Star Trek', 'Star Wars'," whatever like that. But it's -- nobody's joking really that much anymore. So we're -- you know, more -- there's more space actors, there's more people interested in space, we're going to the Moon, there's interest in celestial resources such as water ice on the south pole of the Moon. India had a successful rover. You know, technology is kind of catching up. Satellites are much more maneuverable now, so you know -- and the definition of what a space weapon is is still to this day kind of ambiguous because the dual use technologies and the questions about knowing intent. But one of the big things is just the role of the commercial sector. So the US and Western liberal democracies look to their commercial companies for technological innovation and the like. But you know, from a space warfare perspective and space strategy perspective, you know, the role of commercial companies is proxy war. That is ripe for the taking. So you know, again, looking into Ukraine, we had SpaceX's Starlink constellation providing services to the Ukrainian military. Putin says, "I consider SpaceX to be an extension of the United States." And whether he goes after Starlink will probably be a political decision by, you know, are they really providing the services and stuff like that. But you know, the idea of proxies and proxy war for space, that is definitely new. There are other concerns like in the book I talk about law fare, the [inaudible] -- you know, distorting international legal regimes for advantage. But there are concerns there on arms control agreements. When we go to the Moon, how much -- you know, you can't claim sovereignty according to the Outer Space Treaty, but the RMS reports, "We are okay with establishing safety zones." So what is a safety zone? How is that communicated? Are you establishing a de facto keep out zone, are we bypassing the whole sovereignty thing? There's just -- there's so much there. But I'm excited. You know, there's so much interest in space right now, whether it's the Moon or, you know, going to Mars. So I think the book is important for that to put things in historical context.

>> Maria Varmazis: When I have conversations with people who have very little understanding of what's going on in space, I think there are a lot of misunderstandings from the general public about what's going on in space in terms of what the threats are, potentially. I'm curious what experience you've heard in terms of misconceptions, maybe even from within the space community, so to speak, and without.

>> Dr. John Kline: Yes, so there's a lot of misunderstanding. And honestly, sometimes the National Security Space Community makes -- is at fault in that because we classify a lot of the threats and a lot of the goings-on in space. The civil space, you know, NASA and the civil agencies of other countries, those are relatively public. But you know, we know we have interest in space. We know, you know, space has been militarized since the beginning of the Space Age. We've always had military capabilities, whether it's satellite communications, we've -- you know, early in the Cold War, we used satellites for Earth observation for treaty compliance on the nukes, and counting bombers, and the like. So you know, space has always been relevant with respect to that. But you know, what is a threat and what we've seen, there's some really good literature. I refer to Secure World Foundation and CSIS put out a nice threat report. So I draw upon that. But you know, we have -- like I alluded to before, there are ongoing cyber attacks, jamming, [inaudible] and concerns with proximity operations. We know the US has competitors and rivals, and sometimes our national interest will not align. I think we see that play out terrestrially whenever there is another agreement brought up before the United Nations we have the usual suspects that block US and its allies' efforts to make space more peaceful, and sustainable, and secure. So those are the concerns. Are we seeing all out war in space, no, no. Thankfully, we're not. And hopefully we'll never get there. But we are seeing elements below that threshold of competition, potential coercion. So hopefully that helped.

>> Maria Varmazis: Yes, absolutely. So I'm going to shift gears entirely to something that you mentioned earlier that I just thought was fascinating. And you mentioned looking to the past for guidance on irregular warfare in space. And I was wondering if you have any examples you wanted to mention. Because you did mention Thucydides. It's been at least 20 years since I've read Thucydides, so; but anyway I just was curious, if looking at the past is a fascinating idea. Any thoughts there?

>> Dr. John Kline: So you know, to unpack that, before I just dive right in; so Clausewitz and others have commented, you know, "War and warfare have an enduring nature." So there are strategic principles that we see for millennia; you know, and so we have to acknowledge that. But you know, each domain of warfare and throughout time will have a change in character. So conflict and competition in the space domain will have a different character than the maritime air, and land, and sea. So that's important to know. But going back to that enduring nature, there is an enduring nature to irregular warfare. And fundamentally, irregular warfare is warfare. So that's important that you can draw upon that historical experience. But so I don't put the listeners to sleep to answer the question, there are seminal works. I would say Sun Tzu's "Art of War" has a lot of irregular elements. We have BH Liddell Hart, who was a British scholar that wrote on the indirect approach. So achieve -- he was writing to a counter to Clausewitz on major force on force, trying to achieve your objectives using something outside of the military. We have Mao Zedong, probably one of the greatest strategic thinkers on insurgencies and, you know, starting off from a position of weakness, how do you achieve your goals, using time as a weapon, a protracted strategy, piling up of little successes over time that can now reach a strategic effect, [inaudible], David Galula, you know, were -- wrote in the '50s and the '60s about irregular warfare. So we can rediscover a lot of that. There were works, Charles Callwell in 1898, I believe it was, wrote a small wars book. So I would kind of draw upon that, too. You know, we -- you know, small wars, what is that; well, again, that's below the threshold of these major force on force. So there's a lot of stuff out there. And you know, sometimes, especially when it comes to discussing space, we think, "Well, the technology is new." This is new and different. Well, let's start with what history has already taught us so we don't have to relearn lessons unnecessarily. And we don't want to expand blood and treasure in conflict if we don't need to. If we can actually crack a book open, "Hey, let's start off with what we know." We know, you know, history doesn't repeat itself, but it rhymes. So let's start off with that rhyming aspect and understand competition and conflict in the space domain in a historical context.

>> Maria Varmazis: I'm curious what you hope people will get out of the book, especially for maybe people like myself who are kind of maybe outside the domain of people who might be reading about warfare in space.

>> Dr. John Kline: So I want folks to take away, you know, that you know, we can, again, look to history. You know, we do have geopolitical concerns here on the Earth. We -- you know, we have our problems with the US and its rivals on Earth. How does that play out in space? I think that's something that we need to think about now in peacetime. You know, whenever I write about space warfare or regular warfare in space, you know, some people say, "Oh, he's -- maybe he's just a warmonger." No, exactly the opposite. So I wanted us to have a discussion now, I want the US to have a discussion with its allies and partners today on what we agree on as acceptable behavior, especially when we see with the commercial companies, is it okay to go over after the commercial companies of your rivals or your adversary? That's open for debate. So I want to try to promote peace and stability to, one, avoid miscalculation and uncertainty, and have a peaceful and sustainable space domain, is my hope. I do reference a lot of -- you know, my degree was in a research PhD, and I wrote on space warfare, so a lot of footnotes. I say a space strategist is someone who quotes dead people; not all the time in this book. But I quote a lot of dead people, okay? But that's important just to give [laughter] historical context to what we're trying to say. And again, a lot of our -- from a strategic sense, a lot of questions we're asking today are not new. So let's see what those answers are maybe in other domains, other times and periods, and what that teaches us as we consider today's events.

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>> Maria Varmazis: That's it for T-Minus Deep Space for October 7, 2023. We would love to know what you think of this podcast. You can email us at space@n2k.com, or submit the survey in the show notes. Your feedback ensures that we deliver the information that keeps you a step ahead in the rapidly-changing space industry. This episode was produced by Alice Carruth, mixing by Elliott Peltzman and Trey Hester, with original music and sound design by Elliott Peltzman. Our executive producer is Brandon Karpf. Our chief intelligence officer is Eric Tillman. And I'm Maria Varmazis. Thanks for listening.

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