Updated at 4:08 p.m. Eastern.
WASHINGTON — The White House is objecting to language in a defense authorization bill that would prevent the Pentagon from buying satellite services from spacecraft launched on Russian rockets.
In a July 12 statement, the White House said it “strongly objects” to a provision in the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act the House Armed Services Committee approved late last month that would halt DoD’s ability to buy such services even though commercial satellite operators regularly rely on Russian rockets to launch their spacecraft.
The provision prohibits the Defense Department from entering into contracts that would use satellites designed, manufactured or launched by a “covered foreign country,” meaning Russia, China, North Korea or any country considered to be a state sponsor of terrorism. Russia and China have active space industries, but manufacture only a small number of satellites for international customers; U.S. and European satellite manufacturers dominate that market. But in launch, Russia orbits a substantial number of telecommunications satellites that commercial operators use to serve customers, including the U.S. government.
Russia’s Proton rocket, marketed by the U.S.-Russian company International Launch Services, and Evry, France-based Arianespace’s Europeanized Russian Soyuz rocket both launch satellites for commercial operators that then serve the U.S. government. Intelsat, SES, Eutelsat and Inmarsat have all launched commercial satellites on Russian rockets in the past two years.
All U.S. satellites as well as most European satellites with U.S. parts are already banned by U.S. International Traffic in Arms Regulations from launching on Chinese rockets.
The House version of NDAA, which must still be approved by the full House of Representatives and then be reconciled with the Senate’s version of the bill, would exempt satellites that launched up to six months after the bill’s enactment, and launch contracts that are “either fully paid for by the contractor or covered by a legally binding commitment of the contractor to pay for such services.”
Here is the full text of the White House statement:
“The Administration strongly objects to section 1612, which would limit the Department’s ability to procure satellite services from foreign entities. It also would prohibit entering into a contract for satellite services with any entity if such services will be provided using satellites launched from, or designed or manufactured in, a covered foreign country or by an entity controlled by the government of a covered foreign country, regardless of the location of the launch. For satellite communications services, three-quarters of services acquired today are from foreign-incorporated companies that make widespread use of international launch vehicles.”