Lawmakers Reject Request for Mini-Satellites That Could Monitor North Korea

Congressional spending panels have rejected a Pentagon request to transfer $50 million into developing small commercial satellites to monitor adversaries such as North Korea, Bloomberg reports.

The Defense Department said in a budget request that the plan would “leverage the commercialization and peacetime use of this prototype technology”, to develop a low-cost class of satellite technology “capable of producing medium-resolution imagery.”

The proposal from the Joint Chiefs of Staff was greeted with enthusiasm by some lawmakers as the Trump administration works to counter North Korea’s push to develop nuclear warheads and missiles that could hit the U.S. mainland.

“It’s something that we really need for many places, particularly Korea,” for constant surveillance, Senator Jack Reed, the top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said at a hearing in July, Bloomberg notes.

But requests to shift funds require approval from all four panels that authorize and appropriate defense programs, and while the Senate and House Armed Services Committees approved of the plan, the appropriations panels said no.

Representative Kay Granger, who heads the House defense appropriations panel, notified the Defense Department comptroller of her panel’s decision last week. The Texas Republican objected to plans to take the money away from the military’s health program and channel the dollars into a new, unproven research and development effort, according to an aide who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe her views.

Granger also was concerned that the money might flow to companies with no experience developing or launching satellites, the aide said. Military surveillance satellites are normally developed by major defense contractors such as Lockheed Martin Corp.

The satellite contract would have been managed by the Defense Innovation Unit-Experimental, or DIUx, set up by former Defense Secretary Ash Carter and endorsed by current secretary James Mattis to fund innovative projects from technology startups, Bloomberg adds.

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