Space is becoming an increasingly congested and contested environment. Defence recognises the importance of this environment as both an essential enabler of military operations and a warfighting domain in its own right.
Air Force has been designated as the space Domain Lead and is responsible for coordinating Defence’s space activities and integrating space effects across all operational domains.
The inquiry’s focus areas include space-based intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR). The following topics are addressed in this report:
The development and management of space-based capabilities
The ISR outcomes related to space-based and other capabilities
The Defence Strategic Update 2020 states that the Government will significantly increase investment in Defence’s space capabilities. This includes plans for a network of satellites to provide an independent and sovereign communications network and an enhanced space control program. The Government will continue investment in space situational awareness, including sensors and tracking systems. Defence will work closely with industry and other government agencies to advance its space capabilities, including through the Australian Space Agency. The Government has agreed to invest around $7 billion in space capabilities over the next decade.
The Government will also continue to build Australia’s self-reliant geospatial-information and intelligence capability, both to support strategic intelligence requirements and support precision guided weapons. This will include acquisition of a sovereign space-based imagery capability to enhance coverage of the Indo-Pacific region.
In response to increasing requirements in the space domain, the Australian Defence Force (ADF) will establish the Space Division/Command within Air Force in 2022. The Committee heard that the Division will have two major roles:
One is to provide that focused leadership and coordination, to make sure that we’re not missing opportunities and that we are really, truly delivering on the government’s agenda, not only in a capability sense but also in a national sense in supporting the Australian Space Agency’s objectives…The other role that she [the Head of Space Division] will particularly carry is to be the person for space for the Australian Defence Force.
The establishment of the Australian Space Division will bring the ADF in line with other western powers who have established Space Commands including the United States, France and Germany. The Committee heard that Defence already works closely with the US Space Force on its Operation DEFENDER (under the Australian Operation DYURRA) to:
coordinate space support across multiple theatres and across all phases of conflict, from peace to war.
Defence, via its Science, Technology and Research (STaR) Shots program, intends to build resilient multi-mission space capabilities. Resilient multi-mission space ‘aims to demonstrate an operational alliance-ready space cloud system to develop resilient and trusted services direct to the warfighter to enable them to prevail in a contested environment’.
The STaR Shots program seeks to leverage advanced and emerging satellite technologies to ensure resilient and future-proof space capabilities via means including the employment of artificial intelligence (AI) in orbit, software defined radios, and upgradeable software systems which allow satellites to be upgraded and improved (in orbit) over time. Defence Science and Technology Group (DSTG) is also pursuing novel technologies in power and propulsion systems, and technologies surrounding the networking of multiple satellites so that they:
can work as a constellation, not as a single unit but network together, passing information amongst themselves autonomously so that they don’t need a human to tell them what to do; they can get the job done up there and communicate in a disrupted environment. That goes, really, to that word ‘resilient’, which means that they can continue to communicate and get the job done in a potentially hostile environment.
There are three sovereign capabilities that Defence is pursuing in space: earth observation, space domain awareness and space services (which include position, navigation, timing and communications). The threat faced by Defence is that the space environment is an increasingly congested and contested environment, and that new solutions are needed so that Australia can compete.
The DSTG STaR Shots program is addressed further in Chapter 6.
Space domain awareness
Air Vice Marshall (AVM) Roberts highlighted that space domain awareness is a cornerstone of the Defence space control program. Space situational awareness (SSA) involves using existing capabilities to track hundreds of thousands of satellites and space debris:
We need to know what the satellites are doing, we need to know whether they’re operating effectively, and that allows us to then determine whether something such as space weather has affected them versus something which is caused by an anti-satellite attack. That gives us space domain awareness.
Space debris in Low Earth Orbit is of particular concern, and that the development of space situational awareness capabilities will be central to protecting future sovereign space assets in space; both from space debris and from anti-satellite attack.’ Defence, industry and the Australian Space Agency will coordinate efforts on programs that support space domain awareness including:
Space control program. Similar to air control this program provides the ability to protect assets in space and space-based capabilities that are located on the ground.
Geo-intelligence program. This program is aimed at providing a sovereign capability for earth observation to support intelligence collection and other purposes. Other users of earth observation will include Geoscience Australia, the Bureau of Meteorology and the CSIRO.
Space services program. This provides communications, position, navigation and timing (PNT). Australia plans to establish a dedicated sovereign communications constellation in space to provide assured and resilient PNT. Australian PNT capabilities are currently leased from commercial providers for both military and civilian purposes.
PNT is of particular importance not only to Defence but to the Australian people, industry and Government. As such, innovative approaches are required to ensure resilient and reliable access to precision PNT. DSTG defines this problem set, and its future solutions, within its Quantum Assured Position STaR Shot:
We as a defence force, are highly reliant on GPS, global positioning system, where we get our navigation, our positioning and our timing from satellites in space. The problem with that is that has also become a congested area. There are some nations that have previously demonstrated their ability to deny or degrade or manipulate the signals coming from those satellites. So we need some way of having an alternative mechanism to deal with position, navigation and timing. The strategy being pursued here is to use quantum technologies, in particular quantum sensors, such as accelerometers, gravimeters, magnetometers and precision clocks, which can deliver that assured positioning, navigation and timing.
The Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources (DISER) submitted that collaboration between the Australian Space Agency and Defence on the SSA roadmap will ensure alignment with Defence’s Space Domain Awareness (SDA) program, noting that SDA is a broader concept than SSA. The Australian Space Agency is also contributing to Defence programs and projects, including space-based ISR, to maximise use of Australian space industry and Australian technology. Defence has identified foundation geospatial information needs and, in collaboration with the Australian Space Agency, is looking to Australian industry to meet some of those needs.
The protection of space assets also extends to countering specific threats to space-based capabilities. Defence project 9358 has been raised to protect Australian assets in space. In particular, the protection of position, navigation and timing capabilities in space is a joint focus of both Australia and the US Space Force.
The space domain is managed by the Chief of Air Force. There are a number of current projects within that domain. These include delivering satellite communication services through Joint Project 2008 (Satellite Ground Station – East) and Joint Project 9102 (JP9102), which is the sovereign satellite communication capability. Tenders for JP9102 are expected to be received in October 2021, after which Defence will be able to inform Government of the options available for a sovereign capability that will support war fighters.
DSTG, through its space program, was also previously involved in the launch of the Buccaneer CubeSat (from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California in November 2017) and has a program under development for further satellite launches, increasing in complexity and capability with each successive launch.
Projects, launches and capabilities such as these require coordinated whole-of-nation effort, and do not sit entirely within the remit of any one agency or sector. Australian industry will therefore be fundamental to the development of Australian sovereign civil and military space capabilities:
One of the things that Defence are making sure that we do is develop the Australian industry to be able to provide space domain awareness in space and from the ground…We don’t actually have significant sovereign capability in space, but we are totally reliant on space for everything from GPS signals that you would use in your car, to your banking, and also, obviously, to provide key intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance information to our defence assets.
Defence indicated that the Space Division will work very closely with industry partners and the Australian Space Agency on space related capability projects under its Defence Facilities Plan which coordinates space facilities development out to 2040.
AVM Roberts highlighted that a coordinated approach to the development of sovereign space capabilities, particularly with small industry partners, is required to ensure unity of effort:
Around Australia there is a massive interest in space…we need to be targeted to make sure that we don’t end up with 1,000 small companies that aren’t viable, that we develop and align our road maps very closely with the Australian Space Agency to develop key technologies that could get a level of viability with our small companies.
DISER submitted that the Defence National Manufacturing Priority (NMP) road map can:
Assist in building local manufacturers’ capabilities so they can better supply and service the ADF and other markets. Growth in Australia’s defence manufacturing capabilities will also have spill-over benefits for the broader economy and will lead to increased capability for other National Manufacturing Priorities, and vice versa.
These opportunities for diversification include:
Space domain awareness. Designing, developing, and sustaining integrated sensor networks for persistent surveillance of space objects and phenomena that can be certified and operated as part of a global network shared with our international partners.
Space-based surveillance technologies. Designing, developing, and sustaining integrated orbital sensor networks for Earth observation, that can be certified and operated as part of a global network shared with our international partners.
Space-enabled Earth observation technologies. To support more efficient emergency response systems and weather monitoring (for example, GPS and satellite systems to monitor weather and climate, detect environmental disasters, and assist in crop management, urban or environmental planning).
DISER also submitted that the technologies, capabilities, and workforce developed across the civil space domain in Australia have the potential to support the development of aligned defence capabilities. Many of the technologies being developed for space are dual use, having both civilian and defence applications, including space-based ISR. For example, electro-optical capabilities that are critical for civilian life in Australia, such as weather forecasting or natural disaster management, also have application in a defence context. Likewise, space situational awareness systems that are developed can support Defence SDA and can assist civilian space traffic management.
Defence’s access to space-based capabilities also extends to commercial arrangements. Defence is currently in contract with an American company for the provision of commercial, high-quality geospatial information and is about to expand its space collection program with a European company. Additionally, Defence is working with the Australian Space Agency on their proposed ‘Rosetta’ geospatial information collection program.
The Defence Science and Technology Group (DSTG) is working on space-based capabilities via its STaR Shots program. One of the eight STaR Shots is Resilient Multi-Mission Space. Technologies being pursued include AI and novel sensors; a digital twin technology, which is intended to support testing without having to build physical prototypes, which promises to speed up the development of new space capabilities.
DSTG STaR shots are addressed in further detail in Chapter 6.
Intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance
Some aspects of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) are classified above what can be detailed in this report. Witnesses and submissions were considerate of this and at times were necessarily constrained by it while providing evidence.
The fusion of information, sourced via space capabilities and other means of surveillance and reconnaissance, into actionable intelligence, which can be used to deliver weapons and other effects is critical.
There are initiatives underway…reflected in the 2020 Defence Strategic Update around space-based collection capabilities…around how we then take that data and move it through the system to the targeting process, for the war fighter to then use the weapon. That’s through processing, exploitation and dissemination: that’s the networks, the databases, the processes, the training and having the right workforce…Then ultimately…it’s around the decision, whether it’s the government making a decision to do something or whether it’s at the operational or tactical level.
AI is also an increasingly important input to (ISR). Defence has recently established the Defence Artificial Intelligence Centre (DAIC) which is engaged with academia and industry in the development of future AI capabilities.
Project 799 Phase 2 is Defence’s geo-intelligence project. This is an earth observation project which is linked to an equivalent US project.
Remote undersea surveillance is an important field of capability expansion. The undersea environment is becoming increasingly complex militarily, and is ‘an area of untapped potential, in terms of giving us advantage over our adversaries while at the same time providing us freedom of manoeuvre because of…our geostrategic location.’ This freedom of movement, supported by undersea surveillance technologies, not only benefits Australia militarily, but also economically through the surveillance and protection of maritime trading routes. It also assists in meeting Australia’s search and rescue (SAR) obligations, an important factor considering Australia’s area of SAR responsibility is the largest in the world.
Defence’s capability expansion efforts in this area are underpinned by one of the Defence Science and Technology Group’s (DSTG) eight ‘STaR shots’—namely Remote Undersea Surveillance.
The Committee notes that the space domain is becoming increasingly congested, complex and critical to our national interests. Progressing Australia’s sovereign capabilities, as well as its commercial and allied arrangements in space, both in the civilian and military contexts, will be essential to supporting Australia’s interests into the future. It is a field in which Australia cannot afford to fall further behind.
Creating and maintaining very strong and cooperative civilian and military science and technology institutions, combined with strong grass-roots science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) investments in our future academics and leaders will be essential to realising Australia’s potential in space.
Australia has a relatively small population, a massive regional area of interest and enormous potential to continue to grow as world leaders in STEM education and new-technology development. These factors make Australia naturally suited to becoming world leaders in the development of advanced ISR and AI capabilities, in all of our undersea, above-sea and space environments. This is a strength that Australia should proactively leverage to gain and improve geostrategic advantage both in our region and across the globe.