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Report Recommends Relaxing Satellite Export Controls

April 18, 2012
By George I. Seffers, SIGNAL Online Exclusive
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The U.S. Defense and State departments released a joint report to Congress this week recommending that the country relax export controls on communications satellites that do not contain classified components and remote sensing satellites with performance parameters below certain thresholds. The recommendation also includes the systems, subsystems, parts and components for those satellites, if they also fall below certain performance thresholds. Additionally, it recommends returning to the president the authority to decide export control jurisdictional status of satellites.

The two departments assessed the risk of removing the dual-use systems from the United States Munitions List (USML) and determined that doing so poses no security threat. Specifically, the assessment found that these satellites and associated components “are not purely defense-related and thus should not be designated as defense articles on the USML or controlled under the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR).” It adds that the items are more appropriately designated as dual-use items on the Commerce Control List (CCL).

The departments agreed that as long as the CCL includes adequate protection, the transfer of items from the USML will not “contribute to the improvement of foreign military capabilities that could that could harm regional and international security and stability, and would not be diverted to support such capabilities,” according to the report.

The report points out that space-related items—even if they have civilian applications—are the only dual-use items that are required by law to be controlled as defense items. The Strom Thurmond National Defense Authorization Act of 1999 removed the president’s authority over the trade of satellites and related items. “Current law forces the U.S. government to continue to protect commonly available satellites and related items on the USML, thus impeding the U.S. ability to work with partners and putting U.S. manufacturers at a disadvantage but providing no noticeable benefit to national security,” the report adds.

“This in-depth report shows that the United States can safely modify the export controls placed on satellites and related component technology that are widely available, while maintaining firm control on systems and technologies deemed truly critical to national security,” Jim Miller, acting undersecretary of defense for policy, said in a statement announcing the release of the report. “The steps recommended are fully consistent with the administration’s broader export control reform efforts, which aim to build higher fences around fewer items.”

The report recommends that some satellite equipment remain on the USML because it provides the country a military or intelligence advantage in space. Those items include satellites that perform a purely military or intelligence mission; remote sensing satellites with high-performance parameters; systems, subsystems, parts and components unique to those satellite types and not common to dual-use satellites; and services in support of foreign launch operations of USML- or CCL-designated satellites.