Doug Loverro, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for space policy, speaking March 7 at the Satellite 2016 conference. Credit: SpaceNews/Kate Patterson

GREENBELT, Md. — The way forward in space requires the U.S. government to partner closely with both foreign and commercial allies, the Pentagon’s top space official said Nov. 15.

“We always viewed all conflict as international, combined arms operations with our allies, but we had never done it in space,” said Doug Loverro, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for space policy, at a lunch here hosted by the Maryland Space Business Roundtable.

The U.S. government had always viewed itself as having a monopoly on space, with only Russia to worry about challenging its superiority in orbit, Loverro said, adding that since the fall of the Soviet Union, many have viewed space as a conflict-free sanctuary.

Now the Defense Department is confronted with a much more contested space environment with hundreds of participants both national and commercial.

Loverro said many in the Pentagon had a “hard time admitting that we were actually going to have to plan for a day when war might extend into space.”

The military is now looking at allies as a key strength in space warfare – just like it views allies as a key strength in more terrestrial conflicts.

“We started thinking about hey, what if U.S. communication satellites were jammed or were destroyed, how could we easily go ahead and transfer those communications to German communication satellites or French communications satellites?” Loverro said.

Anyone wanting to go to war with the U.S. in orbit also has to “go to war with all the allies,” he said, using the example of a hotly contested region of the Pacific.

“It’s not enough to just deny the U.S. satellites access to the South China Sea. You’ve got to go ahead and deny the Germans, the Italians, the French the Israelis, the Japanese,” Loverro said. “We’re not there yet, but we’re going down that trail and we have now accepted that we’re going to go down that trail, which is a huge change from where we were.”

Likewise, the Pentagon has started to view cooperation with private companies as a positive, he said.

“We reluctantly leased a lot of satellite communications. We reluctantly allowed people to image for commercial purposes. We have viewed that kind of imaging as a threat to our U.S. national security,” Loverro said. “We have successfully now changed that thinking around.”

Loverro said he doesn’t mean to “impugn the professionalism of anybody in the space business,” but noted that the belief that the U.S. government should control and provide all space capabilities is “myopic.”

The military’s strategy for acquiring space capabilities and partnering with companies is suffering from the “inertia” of previous decades, but it is starting to change, he said.

As for whether any major policies could change under the next presidential administration, Loverro said he believes space is a fairly non-partisan issue.

“Space tends to be a-political. We have had a continuity in national security space for really 30 years,” he said. “I think it’s basically the same direction…right now the speed of our progress is tempered by the amount of money we have.”

Phillip Swarts is the military space reporter for SpaceNews. He previously covered space and advanced technology for Air Force Times, the Justice Department for The Washington Times, and investigative journalism for the Washington Guardian;...