Via Satellite: The Departments of Commerce and State recently released fact sheets about the export control changes outlined by President Bush. How will this affect the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) regulations?
Thompson: Our export control policies are major impediment to maintaining dominance of the global satellite market. We’re going to have to take some chances in terms of security if we want to avoid seeing other countries steal our franchises. Philosophically, I believe that the State and Defense too often err on the side of caution in sharing dual-use technologies. I think there should be a higher threshold for proving military harm before we block the export of dual-use technologies.
Via Satellite: Do you think the Chinese anti-satellite test in January 2007 should be taken as a warning to American satellites?
Thompson: I do not see recent Chinese ASAT test as presenting a major danger to geostationary satellites such as early warning and communication spacecraft. The Chinese ASAT threat is principally against low-Earth orbit reconnaissance satellites, especially our imaging reconnaissance satellites. There the Air Force is already pursuing a backup option which would be a hypersonic plane equipped with sensors that could quickly take the place of satellites.
Via Satellite: Do you expect other nations such as China to invest aggressively in improving their military space capabilities?
Thompson: I think that the Chinese and the Indians are making great strides in terms of developing a cheap and fairly reliable launch capability and fielding satellite communications that can suit the needs of emerging countries. [But] let’s be realistic about the difference between their needs and ours. The entire Internet capability of the African continent is equivalent to roughly one block in midtown Manhattan. So what for them is great strides forward in terms of capability would be for us be great strides backwards. I don’t think China can really have control of its airspace and the oceans unless it fields a much greater space-based communication and reconnaissance capability. I did a study seven years ago about survivability of American aircraft carriers. Just to find carriers in the South China Sea would need over 100 satellites in three parallel polar orbits. Otherwise they just wouldn’t have the ability to continuously track us with targetable intelligence. They are a long way from having the satellite capability that they need. We don’t really need to worry a lot until China develops the capacity to find and track them continuously. As of today they simply don’t have anything like the space capability they would need to do anything like that.