— While aerospace executives and blue-ribbon panels have been warning for years that
export controls are hurting the space industrial base and threatening long-term national security, U.S. Air Force Gen. Kevin Chilton became perhaps the highest-ranking active duty military officer to do so March 17 during a congressional hearing.

Chilton, commander of U.S. Strategic Command, said the current export controls on space technologies have already damaged the space industrial base to the point where
national security may be jeopardized in the future. Chilton made the remarks during a House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee hearing.

“I remain concerned that our own civil and commercial space enterprise, which is essential to the military space industrial base, may be unnecessarily constrained by export control legislation and regulation,” Chilton said in his written testimony. “Clearly, legitimate national security concerns must continue to underlie the need to restrict the export of certain space-related technologies, equipment and services. However, appropriate flexibility to permit relevant technology transfers to our allies, or decontrol of some technologies in a timely fashion when commercial availability renders their control no longer necessary should be considered to help ensure our space industrial base for the future.”

The U.S. Department of State is responsible for implementing the U.S. Arms Export Control Act, which it does through International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR). Commercial satellites have been included under these regulations since 1999, and the policy has been interpreted to include essentially all spacecraft hardware elements and most flight software.

Robert Dickman, a retired Air Force major general and executive director of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), was pleased to hear Chilton address the subject and agreed with his assessment. The AIAA supports the loosening of ITAR controls.

“Perhaps the most important thing is that by virtue of his position, it is clear that we will not be sacrificing national security by moving in the directions he suggests,” Dickman said in an e-mail. “The ‘pro-change for ITAR’ community is often accused of putting the interests of commercial sales ahead of national security. Nothing is further from the truth.”

said the general mood surrounding ITAR reform has improved and he is much more optimistic than he was six months ago that changes will be made over the next year.

Chilton also called during the hearing for changes in the space acquisition process, saying current programs are too often reactive and could best be described as “gap management” efforts. The
United States
, he said, may be only a single botched launch or on-orbit failure away from an unacceptable degradation of capabilities essential to national security, and a stronger posture is needed to be able to absorb such a blow. He cited missile warning and communications satellites as areas that need attention.

“Reliable and enduring strategic missile warning for
leadership and forces is essential to defending our interests worldwide,” Chilton said in his written testimony. “Although Defense Support Program satellites have provided assured, uninterrupted missile warning since 1970, this aging constellation is performing well past its intended lifetime. The constellation’s age and ongoing delays in follow-on programs place our missile warning capability at unacceptable risk.”

With the on-orbit failure of a Defense Support Program satellite last fall, Chilton led an effort to kick-start a new program called the Infrared Augmentation Satellite to ensure there will be no gap in missile warning coverage in the future. The Defense Department is now working on its 2010 budget request and the future of that program is unknown.

In the cyberspace arena, Chilton said the military has become so reliant on its networks that the domain must be protected just as the domains of air, land, sea and space are protected. U.S. Strategic Command is responsible for securing all of the military’s computer networks, and doing a better job at that will require a change in culture and conduct, he said.

“We need to think of cyber not as a convenience but as a necessity,” Chilton said. “Every service relies on it, and I’m not sure we’ve made that shift yet.”

The military now has a good understanding of what it takes to win in the domain, through both defensive and offensive measures. It has established adequate training programs to get its people the knowledge they need, but the mission remains understaffed and the services need to be pushing more people through those training programs, Chilton said. Further automating some of the processes that are now done by humans with machine-to-machine technologies should also be a top focus for the military, he said.