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A New Opportunity for U.S.-Asian Space Cooperation

Feb. 24, 2013 - 04:13PM   |  
By LANCE GATLING and JOHN SHELDON   |   Comments
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The satellite export control reforms in the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) provide an opportunity to further Washington’s strategic interests through cooperation in Asia-Pacific national security space.

The NDAA allows the president to propose removing space-related items from the State Department’s Munitions List and administer them under the Department of Commerce’s Control List, as it was from 1996 to 1999. This is especially important because the technology in question is often available throughout the world; denying this fact harms U.S. interests.

Export reform may provide an opportunity to strengthen key alliances with Japan, South Korea, Australia and Singapore; reinforce links with friends such as the Phil-ippines and Thailand; and expand ties with Indonesia, Myanmar, Mongolia and Vietnam. These countries all seek to exploit space capabilities for national security purposes.

Japan, South Korea and Australia are developing national security space systems. Their efforts might be encouraged by deeper U.S. engagement and space-capacity building — actions consistent with the 2010 U.S. National Space Policy.

Japan expressed interest in the co-development of systems of significant utility. South Korea’s development of an increasingly sophisticated satellite manufacturing and launch capability also provides opportunity. Certainly, many technical and operational details must be mastered, but both countries have much to contribute.

Other countries’ interests should be considered, too. Japan engaged Vietnam to provide radar satellites, and Thailand and Mongolia seek to monitor vastly different environments, from northern steppes to tropical jungle. As remote sensing systems use similar orbits, excess capacity will be useful to others.

As the global economy increasingly shifts toward Asia, the strategic attributes of space power — perspective, access, presence and extended strategic depth — create economic openings and could help ameliorate the potential for conflict.

Space systems can also provide redundant and secure communications, and support greater and more efficient border security, maritime domain awareness and exclusive economic zone monitoring. Dual-use remote sensing space systems can help countries more efficiently utilize scarce naval and air assets to support freedom of navigation and defend sovereign rights.

The broad perspective provided by space systems, combined with the ability of satellites to legally overfly other countries (guaranteed in the 1967 Outer Space Treaty and ratified by every Asia-Pacific nation except Cambodia), provides legal access to observation. This allows surveillance over areas of strategic interest, such as space-based maritime domain awareness.

This access, enabled by increas-ing technical capabilities — witness the U.S. Air Force’s Operationally Responsive Space satellites or the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s Space Enabled Effects for Military Engagements microsatellite development program — is one reason that small satellites in low Earth orbit increasingly perform observation and reconnaissance roles previously handled by aircraft flying along the periphery of a target country. Affordable small satellite launch services, a challenge being pursued by several countries and companies, is another potential area for cooperation.

Perspective, access and presence provide the fourth attribute of space power — enhanced strategic depth. The extended, repetitive capability to see beyond national boundaries and access otherwise denied territory, or to observe vast ocean or land areas, enhances strategic depth, allowing countries to literally trade space for time. This can improve decision-making, allowing more measured responses to provocations and crises.

Not only can space systems improve a nation’s security, they could help a U.S. under fiscal constraints; consequently, it is very much in U.S. interests to help its friends and allies become dependable space powers.

The importance of regional space policy precipitated the recent introduction of national security space issues at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Regional Forum. Today, an increasing number of countries, including the U.K., European countries, Russia, China and Japan, are willing to provide their expertise in space hardware and launch services for either commercial or “soft power” political engagements to these Asian nations and beyond.

Cooperation on space systems with allies will demonstrate a new level of trust on the part of the U.S., as the technology has been seen as overly guarded for years. Coordi-nated, broader engagements could result in allies shouldering some of the costs of providing critical information, filling blind spots and providing redundancy for current systems. Active dual-use space cooperation would provide a strategically and politically powerful statement of American commitment.

The net result: a greater level of political and strategic commitment to trans-Pacific security relationships and greater trust in partnership with America. The time is right for this step.

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By Lance Gatling, president of Nexial Research, an aerospace and defense consulting firm based in Tokyo, and John Sheldon, president of the Torridon Group, an international space and cyberspace policy and strategy consulting firm based in Washington.

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