COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — The Pentagon’s top space policy official expects the military services to implement updated classification guidance meant to make it easier for the U.S. to communicate with allies and partners by the end of this year.

John Plumb, assistant secretary of defense for space policy, told reporters that while reducing the classification levels of highly-secretive programs takes time, the process should be easier under the updated policy, which Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks signed out in January.

“You have to be able to use your systems,” Plumb said during an April 10 briefing at Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colo. “And to be able to use your systems, they have to be able to at least talk to each other. . . . Otherwise you just have a bunch of stovepipes. So, I think there is a military necessity of doing this, which I think is going to drive implementation.”

Details on the policy changes are slim as it is itself classified. However, officials have said the rewrite is focused on eliminating out-of-date rules around what information can be shared about certain programs than it is on lifting the veil of highly secret efforts.

Implementing the policy involves changing a security designation called the special access program which, along with the unclassified designation, is one of two labels the Space Force attaches to a program when it is first started. The SAP label restricts information sharing and makes it hard to integrate across platforms, among the military services and with international partners.

The SAP policy is part of a larger effort in the Pentagon to reconsider long-held practices for how it shares information about classified programs. 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 issue has presented a particular challenge in the space domain, where many programs are highly secretive. Gen. Stephen Whiting, commander of U.S. Space Command, told reporters April 9 the constraints are keeping space officials from having crucial conversations with international allies and commercial partners.

“Today, we struggle to have all the conversations we want to have with our allies and partners,” he said during a briefing at Space Symposium. “This new policy that Deputy Secretary of Defense Hicks signed is enormously important for us.”

During a speech at the conference and later with reporters, Whiting emphasized the need for the military’s acquisition organizations to work quickly to implement the guidance.

“We’ve updated a policy that was 20 years old, but now we’ve got to go do the hard work,” he said. “we believe it’s part of our job to help and encourage those organizations that have to implement to make sure they’re doing that.”

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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