DoD ‘rewrites’ decades-old classification policy for space programs, crafts commercial integration strategy

DoD’s space office is “assigning minimum classifications to a various number of things,” which will allow the services to take a look at their space progr...

The Pentagon has a new classification policy for space programs that attempts to remove legacy classification barriers that have long hindered the Defense Department’s daily operations and collaboration with allies and partners.

Deputy Secretary of Defense Hicks signed a memo late December that “completely rewrites” decades-old documents that are no longer applicable to the current threats environment. The policy is classified, but John Plumb, assistant secretary of defense for space policy, said that one of the goals is to limit the use of the Special Access Program (SAP) on issues related to space.

“I think that will pay dividends over time that are overdue,” Plumb told reporters on Wednesday during a press briefing. “It’s not this issue we have inside the beltway. People always ask me about how I can make things unclassified? And that is not actually a thing I’m all that concerned about. I’m concerned about reducing the classification of things when they are overclassified to the point that it hampers our ability to get work done or have the ability for the warfighter to do their mission.”

Plumb said that his team is “assigning minimum classifications to a various number of things,” which, in turn, will enable the services to reevaluate their space programs and decide if certain information can be made available to lower classification levels.

“The general point that I have made clear is policy is not the only reason to hide something in a SAP program. There have to be technical aspects to it,” Plumb said.

Special Access Programs are designed to provide protection and regulate access to sensitive classified information beyond the usual requirements, and access to SAP information is limited to a small number of cleared employees.

Overclassification causes a variety of issues for the government, including harming hiring, contracting and acquisition. There is also a risk for expensive and unnecessary duplication of efforts.

Defense leaders have long advocated for lowering high classification levels or moving some information into the open. Plumb said that while some progress has been made, it will take some time for the new policy to have an impact.

Plumb said that he will be “briefing close allies and partners” about the changes to the policy but didn’t offer a specific timeline.

Plumb’s office is also writing a new “International Space Cooperation Strategy,” and the classification strategy is the first step to the Pentagon’s broader initiative to strengthen collaboration with its allies and partners.

Plumb said the Pentagon recently expanded its “Combined Space Operations Initiative” from 7 countries to 10. It now includes Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, New Zealand, Italy, Japan, Norway and the United States.

“We’ve been working to achieve true combined space operations through the expanded and reinvigorated 10-nation Combined Space Operations Initiative,” Plumb said.

New commercial integration strategy

The space office is also crafting a new strategy that will let the department tap into the innovative technology of the commercial space sector.

The Space Force is on the cusp of releasing its own commercial strategy, and Plumb said that the two documents are supposed to be complimentary. He said the two efforts are not competing and that the DoD Space Force leaders are working together to write the strategies.

“I met with the [chief of space operations] several times on these pieces to make sure that we’re kind of hand-in-hand,” Plumb said.

Plumb said that while their strategy is more strategic and focused on the entire department, the Space Force’s strategy will focus on acquisition.

“I actually think the way we’ve been developing them together is going to be a nice combination. So I do think there’s a space for both,” he said.

Both strategies are still working their way down through the bureaucracy process, but Plumb said that senior leaders are reviewing the documents.

“We’re hoping that they will be released in the near future as we kind of push them up through the building and get approval from the most senior folks,” Plumb said.

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