ITAR and Amateur Radio – Progress Report

ITARSince the inception of The International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) in 1999, all US-built satellites have been subject to the US Munitions List, including amateur radio, education and university satellite projects.

The Directorate of Defense Trade Controls (DDTC) under the Department of State (DoS) manages ITAR. ITAR has curtailed AMSAT’s collaboration with foreign nationals on Amateur Radio Satellite projects, as well as with universities that have foreign students enrolled as any technical exchanges concerning satellite technology with non-US citizens brought the potential for Federal prosecution.

On November 1, 2011, Congressman Howard L. Berman (D-CA) introduced H.R. 3288: “Safeguarding United States Satellite Leadership and Security Act.” In summary, this act would authorize the President to remove commercial satellites and related components from the United States Munitions List.  However, while AMSAT was pleased to see this draft bill, there were concerns that “commercial satellites” could be interpreted as not including amateur radio and education satellites.

Consequently, earlier this year AMSAT President Barry Baines, WD4ASW appointed AMSAT NY Area Coordinator Peter Portanova, WB2OQQ as AMSAT’s Congressional Liaison to establish relationships that would put AMSAT on the radar regarding H.R. 3288 to ensure that amateur radio and education satellites would be included in the final bill. Peter’s appointment was based in part on his success in leading a delegation to meet with Congressman Peter King on H.R. 607 in 2011 that resulted in the amendment of that bill to protect the amateur and amateur satellite frequencies that were being considered for auction. Peter was clearly qualified to lead AMSAT’s efforts to ensure that amateur radio and education satellites would be included in such a bill. Peter notes, “What we accomplished on 607 validates that ‘grass roots’ efforts can be successful”. Over the past few months, AMSAT, under Peter’s guidance has taken steps to meet with key personnel involved in the legislative process in Washington to make them aware of AMSAT, the importance of amateur radio satellites in the development of education outreach and potential for emergency communications.  All of these meetings have been successful in building awareness of the need to have amateur radio satellites (as well as education satellites) removed from the US Munitions List and placed under the Department of Commerce Control List.

While H.R. 3288 has been referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, this initiative was being held up pending a joint report from the Department of Defense (DoD) and Department of State (DoS) required by Section 1248 of the FY2010 Defense Authorization Act wherein Congress directed DoD to assess whether national security would be negatively impacted by moving satellites from the US Munitions List (USML) to the Commerce Control List (CCL).  Clearly, the politicians were awaiting this report before deciding whether to support H.R. 3288.

On April 18, 2012 the long awaited “1248” report was released by DoD and DoS: “Risk Assessment of United States Space Export Control Policy,” that addresses the risks associated with removing satellites and related components from the United States Munitions List (USML).

The report identifies several satellite types, and related items, that are not purely defense-related and should not be designated as defense articles on the USML or controlled under the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR).

The Departments recommended that the following items are more appropriately designated as dual-use items on the Commerce Control List (CCL) and controlled under the Export Administration Regulations (EAR):

(1) Satellites that do not contain technologies unique to military applications or critical for maintaining a military edge;
(2) Communications satellites (COMSATs) that do not contain classified components;
(3) Remote sensing satellites with performance parameters below certain thresholds; and
(4) Systems, subsystems, parts and components associated with those satellites.

From AMSAT’s perspective, this is certainly good news for the satellite industry from both a commercial and amateur radio/education perspective. In particular, placement of amateur radio satellites under EAR would remove the most onerous impacts of ITAR, allowing for example, free exchange of technical information with foreign nationals, allowing collaboration on satellite projects.

Actual export of hardware, however, would be controlled by the Department of Commerce. That said, it is too early to draw any conclusions as a 180-day review process has now begun. If the recommendations of the “1248 Report” are accepted, it could pave the way for H.R. 3288 or a bill drafted in response to the “1248 recommendations” to move forward. However, given the tendency of Congress to put off major decisions from May onward pending Fall elections, AMSAT President Barry Baines, WD4ASW believes that it is likely, based on the current Congress and other factors, very little will occur within the 112th Congress. In Barry’s words, “We are pleased with our initiatives to this point; however these activities are still a work in progress.” The AMSAT Board, along with AMSAT’s Congressional Liaison, will stay focused on these activities and report to the membership as information becomes available.

The 44 page “Department of Defense/Department of State Report to Congress Section 1248 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010 (Public Law 111 – 84): RISK ASSESSMENT OF UNITED STATES SPACE EXPORT CONTROL POLICY” is available on-line in PDF format at:

Bloomberg Business Week article on ITAR: (

Source: AMSAT News Service (ANS)