Report Recommends Loosening Export Controls on Satellites (UPDATED)

By Stew Magnuson
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — The Defense and State departments in a joint report recommended taking most communications satellites, lower performing remote sensing satellites and their components off the most restrictive export control list. 
Ambassador Gregory Schulte, deputy assistant secretary defense for space policy, told reporters April 18 at the Space Symposium that the congressionally mandated study of space systems should convince lawmakers that the nation's security will be strengthened rather than diminished by allowing such technology to be more freely exported.
"The industrial base is important to keep," he said. The report asserts that the satellite technology under review is now widely available throughout the world. In a time of diminishing defense budgets, companies could more easily sell their goods overseas and keep their industries healthy.
The report recommended keeping current restrictions of sales to China, Iran and North Korea. Strict munitions export controls were put in place shortly after the crushing of the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy movement in 1989. The report included a six-page appendix on China's activity in space, and included some information on its attempts to acquire U.S. space technology.
"China's modernized military, and especially its space-related capabilities could be put in use in ways that increase China's ability to gain diplomatic advantage in resolving disputes in its favor, and possibly against U.S. national security interests," the report said.
When asked if such technology could truly be kept out of China's hands if it is being widely exported to the rest of the world, Lou Ann McFadden, chief of the Strategic Issues Division at the Defense Technology Security Administration, said there would be penalties for companies that allow the restricted items to be sold there.
China was at the root of the scandal in the late 1990s that moved communications satellites onto the munitions list. U.S. engineers working for satellite manufacturers advised China on how to improve their long-range rockets. The report recommends maintaining restrictions on placing U.S. made satellites on Chinese rockets.
For the satellite industry, the 1248 Report recommending export control reform for satellites has been a long time coming. Patricia Cooper, president of the Satellite Industry Association, said members are gratified that the security and export agencies in the government are supporting the reform of "outmoded" regulations. (Original quote omitted the word 'reform.')
Schulte said U.S. industry "has already developed a culture of compliance" over the past 15 years. The reform will allow regulators to concentrate on the sensitive space technology that remains on the munitions list. The Commerce Department would be in charge of the less restricted technology while the State Department, with assistance from Defense, would remain in charge of assuring compliance of the sensitive satellites and components.
McFadden said this was only the first of 20 planned reports that are looking at all the categories on the munitions list. There are hundreds of thousands of security related items that could be moved off the more restrictive list, which would help U.S. weapons makers compete in overseas markets, she said.

Topics: Space

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