The Marine Space Support Team Concept

by Majs Joseph Horvath, Erika Teichert, & James Connolly

[As] U.S. dependence on space has increased, other actors have gained access to space-based systems and information. Governments and private sector firms have the ability to launch satellites into space at increasingly lower costs. The fusion of data from imagery, communications, and geolocation services allows motivated actors to access previously unavailable information. This ‘democratization of space’ has an impact on military operations and on America’s ability to prevail in conflict. Many countries are purchasing satellites to support their own strategic military activities. Others believe that the ability to attack space assets offers an asymmetric advantage and as a result, are pursuing a range of antisatellite (ASAT) weapons.1

The MAGTF is impacted by both the adversaries’ ability to attack space assets and the proliferation of capabilities they have access to in the military and commercial sectors. Despite this challenge, Marines must still be able to “shoot, move, and communicate” in order to close with and destroy our enemies, whether with a bayonet or cyberfire. Space operations support them at each step. Within the collections and targeting processes, spacebased intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR); environmental monitoring (EM), and position, navigation, and timing (PNT) are all used to find, fix, and track a target. When engaging that target through a lethal or non-lethal strike, PNT and satellite communications (SATCOM) are in support, along with ISR for battle damage assessment. When “moving,” Marines are using ISR and EM to understand terrain and weather, as well as PNT for precision navigation. Finally, SATCOM and PNT are necessary to support communications in a distributed, expeditionary environment. Understanding the capabilities of the space domain and operating them whilst being contested is critical to enabling advanced maneuver warfare in the terrestrial and maritime domains. The MAGTF of today does not understand how to take full advantage of spacebased capabilities and is not prepared to operate in a denied, degraded, or disrupted space-operating environment (D3SOE). The Marine space support team concept is designed to address these areas by providing organic, scalable space operations capability in order to increase our lethality, survivability, and operational tempo.

Background and History

The DOD has been involved in space operations since the late 1950s when the United States began launching satellites to provide SATCOM and strategic reconnaissance. Over the next few decades, space capabilities became more complex, spreading throughout our military capabilities and mission areas. Operation DESERT STORM represented a defining moment for space operations where U.S. forces capitalized on precision GPS-enabled navigation and guided munitions, SATCOM, and ISR in order to overwhelm the Iraqi forces with speed and accuracy. This was the first major engagement harnessing the power of space operations capabilities. Throughout the next two decades, the U.S. military continued to further refine these capabilities, benefitting from our overwhelming advantage within the space domain. Meanwhile, our adversaries identified this asymmetric U.S. advantage as a gap in their capabilities. While space capabilities have provided an advantage, the increasing reliance on this asset is a noticeable vulnerability. Adversaries began to aggressively pursue space technologies and capabilities for their own benefit, while also preparing to deny, degrade, and disrupt our use of space. For this reason, space is now considered a warfighting domain and must be treated as such.

Since the early 2000s, the Marine Corps has relied heavily on Army Space Support Teams (ARSSTs) to provide support at the MEF level. These teams deploy out of the 1st Space Brigade and are comprised of both active and reserve units who provide planning, coordination, and integration of space capabilities. The reality is that while the teams provide a useful capability, their support cannot be guaranteed because they are considered a combatant commander (CCDR) asset. During Operations IRAQI FREEDOM and ENDURING FREEDOM, the Marine Corps was able to leverage these teams on a recurring basis, but there is no guarantee of future support, especially during training and exercises.

The usefulness of the ARSSTs was the impetus to permanently assigning each MEF a Marine Space Operations Officer (MOS 8866) billet in 2012. This billet is located within the fires and effects coordination center (FECC) and was established to provide permanent and organic subject matter expertise. Flowever, there are severe limits in the ability of one individual to provide all necessary functions during 24/7 operations either in training or real-world operations. Furthermore, while the Space Operations Officer’s education (a two year master’s degree) is substantial, there is no training required for the billet.2 The second “space MOS” is the Space Operations Staff Officer (MOS 0540). The Space Operations Staff Officer was originally designed as an additional MOS to add specific space training requirements to necessary billets, usually intelligence- or communications related, but was never intended to be a billet MOS. The courses required to receive this MOS are typically two to four weeks in length; those courses also lack the training received by ARSST personnel. Because of the ever increasing reliance on space capabilities, the introduction of tasks related to operations in the information environment (OIE), and an increasing threat to the space domain, the current model does not provide the ability to integrate space operations across the operational phases or a capability that can “fight tonight.” The MAGTF cannot continue to rely on the ARSSTs as the support is not guaranteed, the ARSST may not arrive for months after the beginning of a conflict, and Army personnel are not as familiar with MAGTF-specific operations. Additionally, the current structure of one Space Operations Officer and two minimally trained (educated) Space Operations Staff Officers at each MEF falls woefully short of meeting the increasing demand signal.

Doctrine and the Warfighting Functions

The Marine Operating Concept states,

“Our ability to successfully execute the concept will depend greatly on the extent to which we have … mastered the implementation of 21st century combined arms as our means to conduct maneuver warfare across all domain….3

In the space domain, these concepts are not limited to the strategic level of warfare. At the operational and tactical levels of warfare, the MAGTF will be impacted by adversaries’ ability to conduct maneuver warfare concepts in the space domain. The MAGTF must understand the threat of the adversaries’ ability to attack space systems and assets. Joint Publication 3-14 (JP 3-14), Space Operations provides doctrine for space operations and was updated in April 2018 with significant changes to highlight the paradigm shift to space as a warfighting domain. According to JP 3-14:

Space operations are those operations impacting or directly utilizing spacebased assets to enhance the potential of the U.S. and multinational partners. DOD space forces are the space and terrestrial systems, equipment, facilities, organizations, and personnel, or combination thereof, necessary to conduct space operations.4

Figure 1

The primary support to MAGTF operations comes from the space mission areas ofISR, PNT, satellite communications, missile warning, environmental monitoring, and space control. Space situational awareness, satellite operations, space lift, and nuclear detonation detection are largely a focus of the other Services, which acquire, launch, operate, and defend the assets on-orbit. Figure 1 outlines the space operations mission areas and how they support doctrinal warfighting functions. This breadth of support exists across all seven functions to include the newest function: information. The authors and several colleagues developed this table, and though it is not doctrine, it is based on the collective insight and experiences of the Marine space operations community. It is also based largely on a figure in the draft version of JP 3-14 that did not make the version published in early 2018. While the Marine Corps does not own or operate its own spacecraft, Marines are a significant end-user of these systems and have equity in the capabilities provided by all mission areas.

It should be noted that while the Marine Corps considers space operations a supporting function of OIE, this is only one of multiple areas in which the MAGTF leverages space capabilities. JP 3-14 describes the relationship to information as:

providing [Joint Force Commanders] the ability to integrate the generation and preservation of friendly information, while leveraging the inherent informational aspects of all military activities to achieve the commander’s objectives and attain the end stateri

In this way, space operations and the employment of information environment activities are mutually reinforcing. The Marine Corps Space Operations Concept of Employment reiterates this point very clearly in saying,

Space Operations are considered a core mission of [OIE] in full recognition they enable or support all warfighting functions, MAGTF operations, and other MAGTF capabilities beyond the scope of [OIE].6

A MAGTF Space Operations Officer is primarily focused on supporting the unit’s ability to “shoot, move, and communicate,” in concert with the other functional areas of the operations sections, with a secondary focus on supporting operations in the information environment.

The Marine Space Support Team Concept

Figure 2

After experimentation during recent MEF exercises, the Marine Space Support Team (MSST) concept was developed to fill the requirement for organic and scalable space operations support across the MAGTF. (See MSST drawn box.) The proposed mission statement for the MSST is to plan, integrate, and coordinate spacebased capabilities across all warfighting functions, in support of the MAGTF commander’s requirements. Additional requirements and tasks are as follows (not inclusive):

* Commander’s primary advisor on space operations.

* Develop the appropriate space operations portion of a base operations order or applicable annex. Develop space operational requirements and the space estimate.

* Support a unit’s staff with space operations expertise. Provide space operations analysis and specific products to the staff. Support subordinate elements that do not have embedded space operations officers to ensure proper consideration of space capabilities and operations to the unit.

* Provide situational awareness of the space domain, to include threats to spacebased systems and spacebased threats to the MAGTF. Ensure possible effects of a D3SOE are integrated into staff planning and execution. Recommend specific priority intelligence requirements and/or information requirements to the G-2. Ensure G-6 awareness of electromagnetic interference threats and incidents.

* Plan, integrate, and coordinate U.S. Strategic Command-unique capabilities for SATCOM, PNT, ISR, navigation warfare, MW, EM, and space control capabilities into staff planning.

* Support red team capabilities involving threats to spacebased systems, specifically GPS and SATCOM jamming.

The concept maximizes use of existing structure, while minimizing new costs, as well as utilizing established and proven systems and methods already developed by the joint force. Focused on providing support at the MEF, but adaptable for MEUs or Marine forces, the MSST is simply a collaboration between the G-3 FECC space operations officer, the MEF Information Group (MIG) Space Operations Planners, as well as the G-2, G-6, and related technical specialties (cyber, electronic warfare, and special technical operations). The G-3 FECC and MIG will maintain control of space operations officers within their respective staffs. Marine Forces, U.S. Strategic Command (MARFORSTRAT) has an active duty space operations officer along with its Reserve Individual Mobile Augmentee Detachment of space operations planners. These Marines are trained to support MEF-level MAGTFs and the MSST concept and may provide reach back support and coordination with Strategic Command and other Service component commands, to include the Armys 1st Space Brigade and the Department of the Navy’s Naval Network Warfare Command. The MARFORSTRAT space operations planners may also provide augmentation to the MSST when requested for major operations or exercises.

With appropriate training and systems, the MSST may largely replicate the capabilities of an ARSST, as well as organically support the MEF and provide the fight tonight capability that an ARSST cannot. The MSSÅ€ can assist with training the MAGTF on advanced threat scenarios such as a GPS-degraded environment. Additionally, with the assistance of the 1st Space Brigade and MARFORSTRAT, a MSST certification checklist will develop based on current tactics, techniques, and procedures used by the ARSSTs. The checklist is used on an annual basis to certify the ability of the team to conduct its mission. This certification could be added as a Defense Readiness Reporting System (DRRS) reportable item for the MEF to show the MSST is mission capable.

As identified earlier, the current space operations MOS structure of8866/0540 falls short of meeting the MAGTF’s space needs partly because of a lack of training on the necessary software and tools required. While the MSST structure may ensure collaboration between these personnel, without additional training the Marine Corps will still fall short of the requirement. The needs of the MAGTF (and thus the MSST) necessitate the creation of an intermediate MOS (tentatively being referred to as MOS 0545, Space Operations Planner). The new MOS will require an additional level of training over and above the requirement for the space operations staff officer in order to fulfill the needs of the MIGs. Whereas the original 0540 MOS will continue to be used to add basic space knowledge to some billets, the O545 MOS will specifically prepare billet holders to utilize the systems and tools necessary to provide tactical space operations planning and support to the operating forces. This additional MOS has precedence, as it will mirror the information operations community, which has a basic staff officer level, an advanced planner level, and a master’s degree level (MOSs 0510/0550/8834). Specific courses for the new MOS have been identified and are currently used to train the MARFORSTRAT Reserve space operations planners to validate the requirements. These courses include the Army’s Tactical Space Operators Course and the Air Force’s Space Warfighter Preparatory Course.

A final aspect of the concept is the necessary systems and equipment to support the MSST capability. The ARSST teams utilize a specific space operations software package associated with the Distributed Common Ground System-Army system. This package includes the software toolsets to accomplish the analysis and product development required for the MSST mission. HQMC is working to integrate this toolset into a future system that will be used by the MEF and the MIG. This software, combined with the appropriate training and networks, constitutes the basic equipment required. Additional capacity will be gained from a stand-alone SATCOM capability and a dedicated commercial imagery capability. Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory is concluding a study, sponsored by Deputy Commandant, Plans, Policies, and Operations (PP&O), that is documenting the MAGTF’s reliance on spacebased capabilities. As part of the study output, Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory is modifying the Dagger dependency-modeling tool developed in part for Marine Forces, U.S. Cyber Command (MARFORCYBER). This tool will allow space operations officers to conduct advanced planning for GPS- and SATCOM-degraded environments, along with other threats to spacebased capabilities. Furthermore, MAGTF Staff Training Program can use the tool as a way to give realistic feedback to the training audience for master scenario event list injects during exercises. The additional structure, training, and equipment represent a small investment for tremendous and necessary capability to support MAGTF operations.

Space Force

On 9 August 2018, the Final Report on Organizational and Management Structure for the National Security Space Components of the Department of Defense was delivered to Congress from the Secretary of Defense. This report recommended the creation of a Space Command and highlighted a number of new organizations as well as a plan to strengthen and focus the DOD approach to space as a warfighting domain. On 13 August, the President signed the FY2019 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which stated,

[W] ith the advice and assistance of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the President, through the Secretary of Defense, shall establish under the United States Strategic Command a subordinate unified command to be known as the United States Space Command … for carrying out joint space warfighting operations.”‘7

Placing Marines who understand warfighter needs and the reliance on space-capabilities by the MAGTF into this joint force will provide a necessary level of support and influence within the joint space community.

Way Forward

The MSST concept was initially briefed to the Space Operations Working Group in May 2018 and recommended for experimentation by the MEF/MIGs and Marine forces in attendance. Over the course of this year, this concept will provide a framework for experimentation at major exercises to refine and validate the concept with the end goal of formal adoption of the MSST concept. With a minimal cost for training and equipment, and no additional structure necessary for implementing the MSST up to the MEF level, we believe the Marine Corps can drastically increase its level of preparedness for the next war, conflict, or contested action. The MAGTF must take full advantage ofspacebased capabilities in order to increase lethality and survivability, and the MSST is an excellent start to creating organic support to accomplish these goals.


1. White House, National Security Strategy of the United States of America, (Washington, DC: December 2017).

2. The Space Operations Officer, MOS 8866, is an analyst MOS, produced at the Naval Postgraduate School via the Special Education Program. The requirement for the billet is education, not training; most MOSs are received at the conclusion of training where a Marine is required to demonstrate the capability to “do” a skill vice “know” or “analyze.”

3. Headquarters Marine Corps, Marine Corps Operating Concept, (Washington, DC: September 2016).

4. Joint Staff, Joint Publication 3-14, Space Operations, (Washington, DC: 2018).

5. Ibid.

6. Headquarters Marine Corps, The Marine Corps Space Operations Concept of Employment, (Washington, DC: 2017).

7. Congress of the United States, 2019 National Defense Authorization Act, Title XVI, Sec. 1601 (Washington, DC: 2018).