U.S. Eyes Removing Some Satellite Components from Munitions List

In an attempt to makemajor changes to the arms export control regime, the Defense TechnologySecurity Administration and the National Security Space Office (NSSO) plan toreview commercial satellite components with the intent of removing some of themfrom the U.S. Munitions List, government and industry officials confirm.

If some items are removedfrom the munitions list it would ? in the eyes of some government and industryofficials ? restore balance to a law many in the commercial satellite business feelhas been interpreted far too broadly.

The National SecuritySpace Office has been engaged for several months in preliminary work for areview of the list. The Munitions List is a registry of items subject to theInternational Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR). Items on the list, whethercomplete satellites or separate satellite components, are deemed dual-useexports, which are regulated strictly and licensed by the U.S. Department ofState.

In November, NSSOExecutive Director Joe Rouge, pledged during the California Space Authority'sTransforming Space 2007 conference in Los Angeles that he would begin workingwith his colleagues in the U.S. State and Defense departments to gettechnologies now readily available on global commercial markets removed fromthe auspices of ITAR "or die trying." He also said then that hethought it possible to make substantive change as early as this spring.

The review by the DefenseTechnology Security Administration would be triggered by a letter from theSpace Industry Business Council, two government officials told Space News.Rouge leads the little-known council, a government body with 22 memberorganizations. The National Security Space Office coordinates space policiesbetween the intelligence community and the Defense Department and makes policyand architecture recommendations to the executive agent for space, currentlyU.S. Air Force Secretary Mike Wynne.

The Defense TechnologySecurity Administration is the Pentagon'slead organization for most arms export issues. Some Pentagon officials hadresisted moves to review the Munitions List until the Commerce Department,which would take up responsibility for reviewing sales of commercial satellitecomponents if they are removed from the list, agreed to consider them under amore restrictive regime, known as the Commerce Control List.

Two government officialssaid the Commerce Department had indicated it would use the control list,clearing the way for the review.

"Finally, there issomeone in the Defense Department willing to put their neck on the line toaddress a glaring problem affecting our national security," said DavidCavossa, vice president of government affairs for Arrowhead Global Solutions ofFairfax, Va., and former executive director of the Satellite IndustryAssociation. "Joe Rouge and his team are to be commended for taking on anissue that has been considered the third rail for quite some time."

Many government officialsand members of Congress have been reluctant to embrace arms export reform forfear of being blamed for arms illegally diverted to a third country or for "weakening"national security. Under current laws and regulations, all commercialsatellites and their related components are subject to arms export licensesadministered and enforced by the State Department.

For several yearscommercial satellites were overseen by the U.S. Department of Commerce. Sincethe transfer of commercial satellites to the State Department, theinternational market share of U.S. companies building and selling commercialsatellites and their components has fallen substantially, and the restrictionsactually have spurred foreign competitors to develop their own capabilities,according to a recent report by the Center for Strategic and InternationalStudies.

Removing items from theMunitions List still would be subject to congressional review and might requirechanges to the law, two government sources said.

The Space IndustryBusiness Council worked with the Center for Strategic and International Studiesto provide a February study, "Briefing on the Health of the U.S. SpaceIndustrial Base and the Impact of Export Controls." Among the study'sfindings was that the space industrial base should "operate as a viablecommercial industry, with protections only where necessary to protect specificproducts and technologies that the government deems necessary for our nationalsecurity," as Rouge said March 11 in testimony on Capitol Hill before theAerospace States Association.

The American Institute ofAeronautics and Astronautics, working with representatives from industry andits own technical committees, has started a review of communications satellitetechnology "in anticipation of a request from the appropriate governmentoffice," according to Bob Dickman, the institute's executive director.

A smaller, paralleleffort to initiate change in the ITAR has been undertaken by BigelowAerospace of Las Vegas. The company has petitioned the U.S. government for a change in the export licensing jurisdiction for the inflatable moduletechnology that is the basis of the commercial space habitat the company plansto deploy in the coming years.

The startupcompany, founded by motel entrepreneur Robert Bigelow, hopes to get the company'stechnologies removed from the Munitions List. The so-called commoditiesjurisdiction request, if granted, would place the modules under theless-stringent licensing regime of the U.S. Department of Commerce. Bigelowfiled its commodity jurisdiction request on Dec. 27 with the State Department'sDirectorate of Defense Trade Controls.

 

 

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