Export laws hurt US space competitiveness, lawmaker says

The U.S. government needs to repeal or at least heavily modify the law limiting the export of space technologies because it is hurting national competitiveness in space, a lawmaker contends.

“American businesses can’t compete effectively if their hands are tied behind their backs,” Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, (D-Md.), a ranking member of the House Select Intelligence Comittee said March 12 at the Satellite 2012 conference in Washington. An unintended consequence of the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) has been to stifle American competitiveness in the space sector, he added. “We are losing millions of dollars, and that’s probably a small estimate,” he said.

Twenty years ago, the United States controlled more than 70 percent of the world’s space industry, but under ITAR it has slipped to 27 percent, said Ruppersberger. The committee pushed a bipartisan bill to repeal ITAR, which passed the House but failed in the Senate by one vote. Pressure from the committee has prompted the Obama administration to work on its own set of regulations for sharing space technology overseas, he said.

Additionally, the U.S. government needs to tap into the private sector to provide more flexible and affordable space services, Ruppersberger said. For example, he noted that Paradigm provides the United Kingdom's Ministry of Defence with flexible, secure and cost effective satellite communications. The government also needs to look at private space launch providers such as SpaceX to provide competitive alternatives to existing government-provided launch services, he said.

Regarding space applications, Ruppersberger said that the government needs to revamp rules restricting U.S. commercial imagery firms from selling their products overseas. The old restrictions which date back to the Cold War are hurting firms’ ability to compete internationally, he said. “This leaves U.S. companies at a huge disadvantage,” he said.

Ruppersberger contended that the United States can revise rules to allow U.S. firms to securely sell their products overseas, which would help the nation regain some of the space industry’s market share.

Congress is not pleased with the DOD’s proposal to cut back on commercial space assets, Ruppersberger said. While there are some areas that cannot be completely commercial, such as manned space exploration, commercial firms are still vital to national space efforts. Because commercial technologies and services are so important to maintaining national security, Congress will look for ways to avoid cutting back on those assets, he said. “Remember, we control the money in the end,” he said.

About the Author

Henry Kenyon is a contributing writer for Defense Systems.

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