Pentagon begins revising DOD space policy

by

NOTE: This story was updated at 11:29 a.m. EST to reflect new information.

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — The Pentagon is in the early stages of revising its space policy for the first time in more than three years, a move that would provide an updated framework for how the Defense Department’s space enterprise operates.

The revisions would flesh out the Defense Department’s guidance on several topics including how to best take advantage of rapidly evolving commercial capabilities and how to protect military and spy satellites from attack, according to government and industry sources. The changes may also incorporate a more thorough policy on offensive space tactics, they said.

Doug Loverro, the deputy assistant defense secretary for space policy, said in an interview here April 14 the revisions are the result of a wide-reaching 2014 study, known as the Space Strategic Portfolio Review.

The changes will focus on mandating what the Pentagon calls “mission assurance” or “resilience” in which the Defense Department wants to ensure its satellites can operate no matter the situation. In recent months, Defense Department leaders have touted a September 2015 white paper “Space Domain Mission Assurance: A Resilience Taxonomy,” as leading the Pentagon’s thought processes on future space architectures. That white paper was written by the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense and Global Security

During an April 13 panel discussion at the 32nd Space Symposium here, Loverro alluded to several current policy debates within the national security space community, which government and industry sources say are some of the same topics the revisions would likely address.

“Our job right now is to figure out how do we create policies that enhance rather than hamper” the Defense Department’s space capabilities, Loverro said. “More often than not, we find ourselves with policy challenges we had not anticipated.”

Chief among those concerns is how to ensure the Pentagon has access to national security satellites at all times and can operate those satellites in the face of an attack.

Defense and intelligence officials have become increasingly concerned over what they see as an emerging threat to U.S. satellites from China and Russia. In recent years, the Pentagon has shifted billions of dollars in the Air Force’s budget to counter those efforts and caused a broad rethinking of how the Air Force operates in space.

Pentagon officials say part of that solution could entail better incorporating commercially available capabilities and increasing reliance on industry partners.

Loverro said it was important for the Defense Department to “harmonize policy and the use of commercial space.” He added that current space policy is based on the fact that most satellite capabilities come from government-owned systems and not commercial companies.

He also said the Pentagon is discussing export policy changes geared toward easing the transfer of certain space capabilities to international partners in the name of enhanced resiliency.

“How do we take what was viewed as a national security risk previously, which is the export space capabilities, and turn it into a national security benefit?” Loverro said. The export of space capabilities “to our allies helps us far more than it hurts us.”

Loverro said the Pentagon is also considering the implications of using international navigation satellites to guide U.S. weapons, which would add a layer of protection if GPS satellites were jammed or unavailable.

“This is a policy we have not addressed yet because we have not had to address it yet. We see it right around the corner,” he said.