As the new space race gathers pace, the US Air Force has affirmed that to win in space, it needs to work with its allies, including Australia.
In a conference to talk about space issues in the US last week, the US Air Force Chief of Staff General David Goldfein sat down with chiefs and representatives of ally air forces, including the RAAF.
Also attending were representatives of air forces of Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway and the UK.
This meeting coincided with the 35th Space Symposium in Colorado Springs and is likely to become an annual event.
It included a classified intelligence briefing on current and anticipated space threats, delivered by the US Air Force National Air and Space Intelligence Center. That would certainly have focused on Chinese and Russian activities.
Gen Goldfein told the media after the meeting that a large part of discussions was on how we work together in space, “because we’re far stronger together than we are individually”.
He said sharing information was foundational to future success.
That flows directly into the key focus area of space situational awareness (SSA) – knowing what’s happening in orbit.
This is certainly an area where Australia has substantial expertise plus a number of facilities directly engaged in SSA, in conjunction with the US.
Gen Goldfein said now was the time to work out how to better share intelligence in preparation for the transition “from space being a benign environment to a more contested environment”,
In SSA, it’s difficult to know who to blame for unacceptable activities, he said.
“If something bad happens and we’re the only ones who see it because we’re the only ones who have exquisite intelligence and we haven’t shared that information, it’s going to be pretty tough for us to communicate and convince the international community that this nefarious activity is occurring,” Gen Goldfein said.
The conference also discussed norms of behaviour in space, just as those already accepted for airspace.
Gen Goldfein said the US played a leading role in this conversation, but it was also important to work as a coalition.
He said if a war actually started in space, everybody would lose. But that could be deterred by having norms of behaviour and established lines of communication to minimise opportunity for a miscalculation or uncertainty.
Gen Goldfein said that all the air force representatives discussed proposed launch capabilities for their countries.
“Every country is now looking to increase their competitive market for launch,” he said.
“The other thing they’re all into is satellites. Satellites are smaller, cheaper, you build more of them. Every one of them is in the satellite business.”
Gen Goldfein said the issue now was applying this innovation to security challenges in space faced by the US and allies.
“How do we start, with a sense of urgency, to make military elements of space that we’re responsible for more interoperable and how do we share information,” he said.
“Because we’re so early in the discussion, this presents us opportunities to actually become more interoperable faster.”
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