WASHINGTON — The procurement arm of the U.S. Space Force is making a major push to work more closely with allies abroad and is pressing the Pentagon to adjust classification policies to allow for more open sharing of information with trusted international partners.
“We now have partnerships with 28 different countries, the majority of which just happened within the last 18 months,” Lt. Gen. Michael Guetlein, commander of the Space Systems Command, said Oct. 18 at the AFCEA Space Industry Days conference in Los Angeles.
The command’s office of international affairs is busier than ever, Guetlein said.
“We have SSC personnel now sitting in Australia, Belgium, Germany and Japan, and more to follow,” he said. “We have international allies sitting with us here in Los Angeles from the U.K., Germany, and soon from Australia.”
Officials said the Space Force is taking unprecedented steps to work with international partners because of the shared nature of the space domain and a surge in global investments in space technology.
“We’ve been talking to our international allies about common interface standards,” Guetlein said, “so that whatever they build or whatever we build can easily be networked together in the future.”
He expects military sales of space hardware to allies — estimated at about $570.5 million for the past year — will skyrocket, said Guetlein. “My prediction is that in the next 12 to 24 months, it’s going to rise to more than $4 billion.”
For the first time, the U.S. will sell a satellite jammer known as Counter-Communications System to Australia, said Guetlein.
There are still obstacles, however, such as export controls that restrict sharing certain sensitive U.S. technologies, and classification policies that curtails access to programs by non-U.S. citizens.
“We still have some policy struggles, but the door is open more than it has ever been before,” Guetlein said. Notably, some allies have been invited to participate in the design of the U.S. Space Force’s future satellite architecture, he said. “We’ve even established what we call ‘allied by design,’ where the Space Warfare Analysis Center (SWAC) is now inviting allies into the discussions.”
Relooking at classification
“We’re leveraging tools like foreign military sales, co-development of revolutionary capabilities and working across the board with our global space industrial base,” Brig. Gen. Jason Cothern, deputy commander of Space Systems Command, said Oct. 19 at the 2023 MilSat Symposium in Mountain View, California.
He said the Pentagon’s space policy office is trying to help “increase our ability to share information with our international partners,” said Cothern. “And we’re working with the Department of Defense on relooking at how we classify information.”
Although there are still barriers, he added, “I’ve definitely seen more progress lately than I’ve seen over the past 30 years.”
Forging strong international space partnerships will require a culture shift within the U.S. military establishment that has traditionally prioritized secrecy and autonomy, said Deanna Ryals, director of the Space Systems Command’s International Affairs Office in Los Angeles.
“We’re trying to bring partners and their industrial base and their capabilities into the space architecture,” Ryals said at the MilSat Symposium.
A key challenge today is the difficulty of sharing information on space programs that is mostly classified. “And then the second thing is culture,” she said. “We have not yet fully embraced, on the government side I don’t think, opening up to partnerships with commercial and industry.”
“We’re getting there,” Ryals added. “We’re really working on that, we’ve got leadership support and direction to make that happen.”
Today, she said, “we’re doing a really good job offering up capabilities that our international partners and allies can buy.” Going forward, “where I’d like to see us go in the next five to 10 years is buying into our allies’ systems and bringing those technologies and capabilities that are complementary to ours into the architecture. That’s what we’re pushing for.”
Many U.S. allies have built national space strategies to defend their satellites, Ryals said. They are investing in space domain awareness sensors, Earth observation and communications satellites. “Every one of those areas are ripe for either exploiting what our allies and partners have, or allowing them to buy those capabilities and contribute them back to the architecture.”
Officials from Space Systems Command and representatives from the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, France, Germany, and Japan will explore opportunities at an upcoming conference in Chantilly, Virginia. For the first time, Ryals said, countries will discuss ways they can work together to shore up the global space industry supply chain.
Launching satellites outside the U.S.
The Space Force started a “responsive space” program aimed at expediting satellite launches. Having allies involved would be a major boost, said Ryals. “We need to open up responsive space across the globe. We need launch capabilities in the Southern Hemisphere, we need more launch capabilities outside of the United States.”
Again, technology sharing agreements can be a problem if the U.S. wanted to launch a payload from foreign soil, Ryals said. “We’ve got to continue to work with our government and our regulators to look at that, and we need industry to push that message to our regulators.”
Allowing allies into the Space Force’s satellite architecture designs led by the SWAC has been a major step forward, she said. “We’re bringing them in at the very earliest parts of acquisition to find out what are they thinking, what are they doing? What are they building?” she added. “I think that’s going to be game changing for us going forward.”