DOD Satellite Export Report Expected to be Released Tomorrow

DOD Satellite Export Report Expected to be Released Tomorrow

Expectations are high that a scheduled press conference tomorrow at the National Space Symposium (NSS) in Colorado Springs, CO presages the release of a long-awaited report from the Department of Defense (DOD) on whether the rules governing export of commercial communications satellites should change. 

The so-called “sec. 1248 report” is in response to congressional direction in section 1248 of the FY2010 defense authorization act for DOD to prepare a report on the national security implications of removing satellites and related components from the U.S. Munitions List.  An interim report released last year was widely criticized.  The final report is eagerly anticipated by Congress and the satellite industry.

According to the Space Foundation’s NSS website, from 12:00-12:30 pm MT (2:00-2:30 pm ET), two DOD officials will provide an update on export control reform.  The officials are Amb. Greg Schulte, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space Policy, and Lou Ann McFadden, Chief, Strategic Issues Division, Defense Technology Security Administration.   The NSS website lists the following information for those who want to call in to listen to the press conference:  Call in: +1.866.330.1200 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting            +1.866.330.1200      end_of_the_skype_highlighting, passcode 5768000#

Export control reform in general is a priority of the Obama Administration to order to make U.S. companies more competitive in global markets.   Exports of commercial communications satellites are a special case, however.  During the early 1990s, they were moved from the strict regime of the Munitions List, overseen by the State Department, that guards exports of technology that could harm national security to the dual-use Commerce Control List administered by the Department of Commerce for technologies that have both military and civilian uses.  Items on the Munitions List are governed by the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR).

In the late 1990s, a special congressional committee chaired by then-Rep. Christopher Cox found that U.S. satellite manufacturers violated export control laws and aided China in developing ballistic missile technology when they reviewed China’s failure analyses of why certain commercial communications satellite launches failed.  The report of the Cox Committee led Congress to pass a law that moved commercial communications satellites back to the Munitions List.  No U.S.-built satellites or satellites with U.S. components have been approved for export to China for launch since then.   European companies took advantage of this to build “ITAR-free” satellites that can be exported to China for launch.

U.S. satellite manufacturers argue that the technologies in commercial communications satellites are widely available and pose no risk to national security.  They want to be able to build satellites that their customers can launch on comparatively inexpensive Chinese rockets.  They hope that this DOD report with change the paradigm in which commercial communications satellites are considered.

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