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Pentagon begins revising national security space policy

Doug Loverro (right), the deputy assistant defense secretary for space policy, and Pam Melroy, the deputy director of DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office, during an April 13 panel discussion at the 32nd Space Symposium. Credit: Tom Kimmell

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — The Pentagon is in the early stages of revising U.S. national security space policy, a move that would provide an updated framework for how the Defense Department’s space enterprise operates, according to government and industry sources.

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, these sources said. The changes may also incorporate a more thorough policy on offensive space tactics, they said.

The Pentagon is using the September 2015 white paper “Space Domain Mission Assurance: A Resilience Taxonomy” as “the foundation of updating and revising national security space policy,” a spokesman for the Office of the Secretary of Defense, Air Force Lt. Col. Thomas Crosson, said in a written response to a SpaceNews query seeking confirmation that a space policy review is underway.

That white paper was written by the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense and Global Security.

“National and Departmental guidance call for bolstering resilience and making resilience a consideration in all architectural planning and evaluation, as well as in all system planning and development activities for DoD space capabilities,” Crosson wrote.

Doug Loverro, the deputy assistant defense secretary for space policy, made no direct mention of a formal space review during an April 13 panel discussion at the 32nd Space Symposium here. However, he 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.

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Pentagon begins revising national security space policy

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