WASHINGTON — The Pentagon updated its classification policy for space programs to reduce the information-sharing restrictions that make it hard for the Space Force to collaborate with allies, industry partners and other agencies.

The policy is itself classified, according to John Plumb, assistant secretary of defense for space policy. While he declined to talk at length about the document, he told reporters Jan. 17 the rewrite is more focused on eliminating out-of-date policies around what information can be shared about certain programs than it is on lifting the veil on highly secretive programs.

“Inside the beltway, people always ask me, how can I make things unclassified. That is not actually a thing I’m all that concerned about,” Plumb said in a briefing at the Pentagon. “I’m concerned about reducing the classification of things where they are overclassified to the point that it hampers our ability to get work done or hampers the ability of the warfighter to do their mission.”

Secrecy in the space domain is not a new obstacle for the Defense Department, which has slowly worked to reconsider policies around how it classifies space programs and shares information gathered by in-orbit assets. That could mean talking publicly about threats or new capabilities, or changing a program’s classification level — without removing it altogether — so defense agencies can share information with allies.

The policy, which Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks signed in late December, specifically addresses a security designation called the special access program. When the Space Force starts a satellite or technology development program, it typically gives it one of two security designations — unclassified or special access program.

Labeling an effort as a special access program, or SAP, severely restricts information sharing and makes it hard to integrate across platforms and with other military services.

As it implements the policy, Plumb said, the department will apply “minimum classifications” to various programs and the service will then review whether those efforts should be managed at the SAP level or can be operated under a less restrictive designation.

“Anything we can bring from a SAP level to a top secret level, for example — massive value to the warfighter, massive value to the department,” Plumb said. “My hope is, over time, it will also allow us to share more information with allies and partners.”

Plumb noted that his office, in partnership with U.S. Space Command, has undertaken a separate effort to improve information-sharing with international allies.

“The more things that can be shared with allies and partners, I think the deeper that relationship can be,” he said. “That’s not going to happen overnight.”

Courtney Albon is C4ISRNET’s space and emerging technology reporter. She has covered the U.S. military since 2012, with a focus on the Air Force and Space Force. She has reported on some of the Defense Department’s most significant acquisition, budget and policy challenges.

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