Chris Scolese, National Reconnaissance Office director, spoke with Jim Cooper, former chairman of the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee, and Leticia Long, former director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, May 23, 2023, at the GEOINT Symposium in St. Louis. Credit: U.S. Geospatial Intelligence Foundation

ST LOUIS – U.S. defense and intelligence agencies need to forge even closer ties with the commercial sector to address national security threats, Chris Scolese, National Reconnaissance Office director, said May 23 at the GEOINT Symposium here.

In recent years, the NRO has established relationships and developed contracting mechanisms to speed up access to innovative commercial technology.

To improve those relationships, the NRO needs “to pay a lot more attention to what’s going on” in the commercial sector, Scolese said. In addition, government and industry need “to communicate much more effectively and clearly to each other,” he added.

That message was underscored by Jim Cooper, former chairman of the House Armed Services Committee’s strategic forces subcommittee.

The commercial sector is the U.S. government’s “only hope” for remaining at the forefront of global competition, Cooper said, because “all the innovation comes from industry.”

Historically, U.S. government agencies developed space systems “10, 20 or 30 years ahead of any possible adversary,” Cooper said. “That’s what we need again. Today, we’re primarily seen as a funding source.”

With the help of the commercial sector, the U.S. has been able to remain ahead of potential adversaries, “but it’s becoming more and more challenging,” Scolese said. “China in particular is experimenting a lot, is innovating and is requiring the whole community to continue to look for new ideas and to continue to expand our capabilities.”

Establishing the U.S. Space Force was one step in the right direction, said Cooper, one of the original proponents for a U.S. military space branch.

Cooper, who has been critical in the past of the slow pace of Space Force acquisitions, said the service is “making progress, but we still have a long, long way to go.”

Debra Werner is a correspondent for SpaceNews based in San Francisco. Debra earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of California, Berkeley, and a master’s degree in Journalism from Northwestern University. She...