Wargame SITREP 230416 N2 Intel – Space Threats in Wargames (mentions Mark Herman)

Honest, Mr. Herman, I am NOT your cyberstalker.

I follow a non-governmental organization that veteran wargame designer Mark Herman happens to work with. The Nonproliferation Policy Education Center (NPEC) describes itself as:

…a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, is a nonpartisan, nonprofit, educational organization founded in 1994 to promote a better understanding of strategic weapons proliferation issues. NPEC educates policymakers, journalists, and university professors about proliferation threats and possible new policies and measures to meet them.

NPEC, “Mission – About Us”

In January 2023, NPEC published “Occasional Paper 2301: Pyongyang Goes Nuclear in Space: An After-Action Report” edited by Henry Sokolski. The report was released through a NPEC article (later republished by The National Interest) that looks at nuclear weapons in space through a wargame that lists Mark Herman as a “participant”:

In all of this, there was no mention of North Korea possibly using its nuclear weapons to disable the world’s growing number of dual-use, low-Earth orbit satellites, such as Starlink.

As the attached after-action report on NPEC’s latest war game, “North Korea Goes Nuclear in Space,” makes clear, this possibility cannot be dismissed. First, North Korea and China both have an interest in disabling such satellites as they can afford U.S. and allied military forces secure communications and information needed to target Chinese and North Korean military units. The Chinese have been quite vocal about this.

Second, because neither China nor North Korea have ratified the Limited Test Ban Treaty and because the Outer Space Treaty only clearly bans orbiting nuclear weapons in space, a sub-orbital, low-Earth detonation of a nuclear device, they may view such attacks as being legal.

Finally, the effects of such an attack against low-Earth orbit satellite constellations, including some of America’s most important military systems, would be devastating. The Chinese know this as the People’s Liberation Army’s Northwest Institute of Nuclear Technology publicly announced it has modeled such an attack with what it claims was a startling success.

How might such an attack be mounted? What might its military implications be? How might the United States and its allies best deter such an attack or cope with one after it was made?

NPEC wanted to find out. It tapped some of the nation’s leading space, nuclear, and military experts and designed and executed a sophisticated three-move war simulation this summer.

Attached are the key findings and a link to the after-action game report. 

Pyongyang Goes Nuclear in Space: An After-Action Report (Occasional Paper 2301)

The wargame preparation materials for “North Korea Wages War in Space” are (as of the time of this posting) still available on the homepage of the NPEC War and Diplomatic Simulations homepage (npecstrategy.org) which prominently lists Mr. Herman as a Team Member. For wargame practitioners, there is some insight into the wargame design provided in the after-action report:

Wargame Format:

The wargame consisted of three moves. The first began with a mishap during a North Korean test of multiple, independently targetable warhead-armed intercontinental ballistic missiles — this sparked an international crisis. In the second move, the crisis escalated, North Korea moved its ground forces near the border with South Korea and set off a nuclear weapon in low- Earth orbit. The game’s last, third move was a “hot wash” in which the group discussed the simulation and the players’ key findings.

Wargame participants were organized into four teams representing the United States, South Korea, China, and an expanded Five Eyes team (i.e., the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Germany, and France). The control team oversaw communications, managed the scenario, and represented North Korea, Russia, and several other regional actors. Teams responded to the crisis; communicated with other teams to gather information; negotiated; and created a response strategy and contingency plans.

Occasional Paper 2301, p. 9

For wargame practitioners looking to support or develop a space-related wargame, the reading list provided for Mr. Herman’s wargame is an OK start. I say “OK” as there are three other sources not listed that one may find helpful in defining the threat. All three of these sources were released AFTER the June 2022 running of the NPEC wargame so their absence from the list of sources is not a criticism, but an example of how there is always more information coming available.


The U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency’s Military Power series has the publication 2022 Challenges to Security in Space: Space Reliance in an Era of Competition and Expansion which represents the official, for-public-release, unclassified view of the U.S. government.

Challenges to Security in Space was first published in early 2019 to address the main threats to the array of U.S. space capabilities, and examine space and counterspace strategies and systems pursued primarily by China and Russia and, to a lesser extent, by North Korea and Iran. This second edition builds on that work and provides an updated, unclassified overview of the threats to U.S. space capabilities, particularly from China and Russia, as those threats continue to expand.

Challenges to Security in Space, Scope Note


In April 2023, the Center for Strategic & International Studies published a report from the CSIS Aerospace Security Project titled Space Threat Assessment 2023:

Welcome to the sixth edition of Space Threat Assessment by the Aerospace Security Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). This resource for policymakers and the public leverages open-source information to assess key developments in foreign counterspace weapons. Drawing on six years of collected data and analyses, this series describes trends in the development, testing, and use of counterspace weapons and enables readers to develop a deeper understanding of threats to U.S. national security interests in space. The past year was dominated by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, where space capabilities, including commercial satellites, played a highly visible and compelling role in Ukraine’s resistance to the invasion. Thus, this year’s featured analysis provides an in-depth look at Russia’s battlefield employment of counterspace weapons. As space capabilities continue to demonstrate their utility, from peacetime to conflict, it should come as no surprise that adversaries seek to block their use.

This year’s assessment covers the growing space and counterspace capabilities of China, Russia, India, Iran, North Korea, and other nations. For more detail on past counterspace weapons tests, including historical tests by the United States and the Soviet Union, please review the prior Space Threat Assessments (editions 2018–2022) or visit the Aerospace Secu­rity Project’s interactive online timeline at https://aerospace.csis.org/counterspace-timeline/.

CSIS Space Threat Assessment 2023

Secure World Foundation

For those looking for a comprehensive (as in almost 300 pages of reading) open source assessment of counterspace threats, I recommend Global Counterspace Capabilities: An Open Source Assessment from the Secure World Foundation published in April 2023:

The lowdown: The US, Russia, and China are the most advanced in their counterspace efforts, with capabilities ranging from ASAT to directed energy weapons to the capacity to develop co-orbital technologies. India’s shift from a civil to a military focus on space is relatively recent, but the country has demonstrated ASAT capability. Australia, France, Japan, South Korea, and the UK have also only recently begun expanding the military focus on space but have historically specialized in things like hosting ground infrastructure and satellites. Japan also has latent ASAT ability via its missile defense system. Iran and North Korea both have nascent space programs, but can interfere with satellite signals and jam civilian GPS signals. North Korea’s technological abilities are less well known. 

Secure World Foundation Releases 2023 Update to Counterspace Report


The issues concerning military space power have come a long way in a relatively short time. The above reports make for interesting comparisons to one of the “textbooks” in my collection, Military Space Power: A Guide to the Issues by Wilson W.S. Wong and James Fergusson published by Praeger in 2010.

Summary: The militarization of space is already underway, with unpredictable consequences for the way war will be conducted in the future. Military Space Power: A Guide to the Issues examines the militarization of space from historical, technological, and geopolitical angles. It traces space militarization from concepts proposed before World War II through the use of space for military surveillance and communications purposes to the actual deployment of weapons that pass through high-altitude space, such as ballistic missiles and nuclear-armed interceptors.


ASAT wargame

There is one somewhat contemporary near-future (?) space warfare wargame that I know of, ASAT: Orbital Combat available from Paper Forge via WargameVault. The publisher’s blurb reads:

No warp drive.  No force fields.  No hit points.

ASAT is a board game of orbital combat in the foreseeable future.  Pilot your spacecraft against other spacecraft in Earth’s orbit, using simple but accurate orbital physics rules. Thrust changes velocity, and velocity changes orbit.  Slow down to speed up.

Assembled map with record sheets

Choose your spacecraft:  Small spacecraft are extremely hard to detect and hit, but large spacecraft carry more firepower.  Choose among 14 manned spacecraft, from the tiny “Dart” to the heavily-armed “Brick” or  design your own manned spacecraft with the construction rules!   There are also six killsats and 3 unarmed “target” satellites. Each spacecraft has a reference sheet to keep track of damage, fuel, and ammunition.

Choose your sensor strategy:  Active sensors make it easy to detect the enemy craft, but passive-only sensors make it difficult for the enemy to find you. Enemy spacecraft get a solid lock on your craft?  Use electronic counter-measures or swing low to Earth to break the enemy’s line-of-sight. 

Choose your weapons: Guided missiles, particle beam cannons, lasers, railguns, or simple projectile cannons. Every weapon hit causes critical hits using a grid coordinate system over the spacecraft’s silhouette.  Damage is determined by where the shot hits, and each weapon causes damage in a different pattern.

Gameboard and Miniatures: The rulebook contains a 2’ circular game board assembled from nine sheets of regular paper.  Miniatures are printed on penny-sized squares.  Cut out each one and stick it to a penny.  Two versions are included: a toner-friendly white (with black lines), and the full black map (with white lines).

Players:  Two or more.

Map Scale: 1:550,000.   A single map square represents 5000 x 5000 kilometers. 

Time Scale: A single game turn represents 60 minutes.

Playing time:  From 20 minutes to 60 minutes.

Unit Scale:  Individual spacecraft (manned craft and satellites)

close-up of miniatures on the map

Each space on the map represents 5000 kilometers, and orbit speeds are to scale.

Spacecraft counters are designed to fit on a penny for ballast.

ASAT: Orbital Combat

Feature image courtesy Business Today (India)

RockyMountainNavy.com © 2007-2023 by Ian B is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

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