In an attempt to make major changes to the arms export control regime, the Defense Technology Security Administration and the National Security Space Office (NSSO) plan to
review commercial satellite components with the intent of removing some of them from the U.S. Munitions List, government and industry officials confirm.
If some items are removed from the munitions list it would – in the eyes of some government and industry officials – restore
balance to a law many in the commercial satellite business feel has been interpreted far too broadly.
The National Security Space Office has been engaged for several months in preliminary work for a review of the list. The Munitions List is a registry of items subject to the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR). Items on the list, whether complete satellites or separate satellite components, are deemed dual-use
exports, which are regulated strictly and licensed by the U.S. Department of State.
In November, NSSO
irector Joe Rouge, pledged during the California Space Authority’s Transforming Space 2007 conference in Los Angeles that he would begin working with his colleagues in the U.S. State and Defense departments to get technologies now readily available on global commercial markets removed from the auspices of ITAR “or die trying.” He also said then that he thought it possible to make substantive change as early as this spring.
The review by the Defense Technology Security Administration would be triggered by a letter from the Space Industry Business Council, two government officials told Space News. Rouge leads the little-known council, a government body with 22 member organizations. The National Security Space Office coordinates space policies between the intelligence community and the Defense Department and makes policy and architecture recommendations to the executive agent for space, currently U.S. Air Force Secretary Mike Wynne.
The Defense Technology Security Administration is the Pentagon’s lead organization for most arms export issues. Some Pentagon officials had resisted moves to review the Munitions List until the Commerce Department, which would take up responsibility for reviewing sales of commercial satellite components if they are removed from the list, agreed to consider them under a
more restrictive regime, known as the Commerce Control List.
Two government officials said the Commerce Department had indicated it would use the control list, clearing the way for the review.
“Finally, there is someone in the Defense Department willing to put their neck on the line to address a glaring problem affecting our national security,” said David Cavossa, vice president of government affairs for Arrowhead Global Solutions of Fairfax, Va., and former executive director of the Satellite Industry Association. “Joe Rouge and his team are to be commended for taking on an issue that has been considered the third rail for quite some time.”
Many government officials and members of Congress have
reluctant to embrace
arms export reform for fear of being blamed for
illegally diverted to a third country or for “weakening” national security. Under current laws and regulations, all commercial satellites and their related components are subject to arms export licenses administered and enforced by the State Department.
For several years commercial satellites were overseen by the U.S. Department of Commerce. Since the transfer of commercial satellites to the State Department, the international market share of U.S. companies building and selling commercial satellites and their components has fallen substantially, and the restrictions
actually have spurred foreign competitors to develop their own capabilities, according to a recent report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Removing items from the Munitions List
still would be subject to congressional review and might require changes to the law, two government sources said.
The Space Industry Business Council worked with the Center for Strategic and International Studies to provide a February study, “Briefing on the Health of the U.S. Space Industrial Base and the Impact of Export Controls.” Among the study’s findings was that the space industrial base should “operate as a viable commercial industry, with protections only where necessary to protect specific products and technologies that the government deems necessary for our national security,” as Rouge said March 11 in testimony on Capitol Hill before the Aerospace States Association.
The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, working with representatives from industry and its own technical committees, has started a review of communications satellite technology “in anticipation of a request from the appropriate government office,” according to Bob Dickman, the institute’s executive director.
A smaller, parallel effort to initiate change in the ITAR has been undertaken by Bigelow Aerospace of Las Vegas. The company has petitioned the U.S. government for a change in the export licensing jurisdiction for the inflatable module technology that is the basis of the commercial space habitat the company plans to deploy in the coming years.
The startup company, founded by motel entrepreneur Robert Bigelow, hopes to get the company’s technologies removed from the Munitions List. The so-called commodities jurisdiction request, if granted, would place the modules under the less-stringent licensing regime of the U.S. Department of Commerce. Bigelow filed its commodity jurisdiction request on Dec. 27 with the State Department’s Directorate of Defense Trade Controls.