Gen. John Hyten, one of the Air Force's top space officers, took leadership of U.S. Strategic Command during a ceremony at Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska, Nov. 3. Credit: Department of Defense

COLORADO SPRINGS – The United States must get better at declassifying and sharing space information to maintain a safe environment in orbit, the head of U.S. Strategic Command advised.

Speaking at the 33rd Space Symposium April 6, U.S. Air Force Gen. John Hyten said that just two days earlier he had asked Congress for more support on integrating the commercial space sector into military operations.

“One of the things I asked the Senate was some help in legislation that would help us to more effectively deal with the Commercial Integration Cell” at the Joint Space Operations Center, Hyten said of his testimony April 4 before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

The Commercial Integration Cell at the JSpOC currently consists of DigitalGlobe, Eutelsat, Intelsat, Inmarsat, Iridium and SES Government Solutions.

“They come in on their own dime,” he said of those companies. “Each of those companies has a need for more situational awareness of what’s going on. They have a need just like our allies do to understand what’s going on in space, because we don’t want bad things to happen. We want to make sure that we can effectively operate together in that environment.”

But current policy has hampered how effective the JSpOC can be in working with the commercial sector, Hyten said.

In his prepared remarks before the Senate, Hyten said that “these commercial partners are not under contract. Current law does not allow government sponsorship of security clearances, badging, and accesses unless under contract, and we could use some help in this area.”

“When we don’t have a contractual relationship, that makes security classification information sharing very, very difficult,” Hyten said in his symposium speech. Having too much information be considered classified, he argued, is “an impediment to our ability to conduct our operations.”

“We have so many capabilities now,” he said. “There are all these special classifications that I can’t talk about, and if you look at those capabilities you wonder why are they classified so high. So we’re going to push those down. We’re going to get back to authorities in the right place. We’re going to treat space as any other warfighting domain.

STRATCOM and the Air Force are also working with commercial partners at the National Space Defense Center (NSDC), known until this week as the Joint Interagency Combined Space Operations Center, or JICSpOC.

The Air Force is looking to expand its information sharing not just with the commercial industry, but with international partners as well. Strategic Command announced April 5 a new agreement with Norway to share space situational awareness data.

It’s the 75th such agreement the United States has signed, Hyten said, which includes agreements with 13 nations, the European Space Agency, the European Organization for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites, and 60 commercial entities.

“I want to see this collage of flags, this set of agreements continue to grow,” Hyten said. “To me it is so important that we operate safely in space as we go forward in the future. I want to see this expand ideally to every nation in the world, because it is the responsibility of every nation to operate safely. Every nation in the world — and, yes, that includes Russia and China — we need to be able to operate together and, in order to do that, we have to effectively share information.”

The United States is also in the process of formalizing an agreement with Germany to create a German liaison position at the Joint Functional Component Command for Space at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Clinton Crosier, director of plans and policy at Strategic Command, said it’s the first time an international partner has joined the Joint Space Operations Center (JSpOC) in nearly 10 years, and the first from outside the “Five Eyes,” a term dating to World War II meaning the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

Crosier said the United States is looking to potentially add more allied nations through a new Multinational Space Collaboration effort. “We are passionate about international engagements and international partnerships in the space domain,” he said.

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;...