The Australian Defence Force needs a space command within the RAAF in which space operations, doctrine and capability development are managed by a group of space professionals, says Australian Strategic Policy Institute senior analyst Malcolm Davis.
Davis stopped short of suggesting Australia needed its own space force, like that recently formed by the US.
But Australia should seize the potential offered by the US space force development to inform Australia’s defence policy future thinking on how to organise, train and sustain for space.
“Ideally, we need to reorganise Defence in a manner that recognises that space is an operational domain in its own right, just like air, sea, land and cyber. It’s not merely an enabling adjunct,” he wrote in the Canberra Times.
“Does that mean Australia needs its own space force? Certainly, the ADF needs a ‘space command’ within the RAAF in which space operations, doctrine and capability development are managed by a cadre of space professionals.
“Defence also needs an unclassified space strategy that informs those functions in an accountable way. These would be good steps to formally embrace in the next defence white paper.”
Davis said there had been great interest in the creation of the United States Space Force by the Trump administration, and this raised new opportunities for Australia to push forward its own space capabilities to pursue tighter cooperation and integration with US and other Five Eyes partners in space.
He said the idea of a space force has promoted both informed policy debate and a good deal of amusement over more trivial matters, such as their uniforms and logo.
It had also produced much hand-wringing on social media over the militarisation of space.
“But the reality is that space has never been a sanctuary that sits untouched above geopolitical rivalry and has always had a military role since the 1960s,” he said.
“The US Space Force is a logical outcome of the need to ensure continued access to space. Australia recognises that space is vital to our military and, more broadly, our prosperity and the efficient functioning of our society.
“So, we need to observe US developments closely and seek to embrace opportunities for closer collaboration with the US and other partners in space.”
Davis said most Australian military capabilities wouldn’t function without access to space.
GPS satellites provide essential positioning, navigation and timing functions for command and control and weapons guidance. The ADF relies heavily on satellite communications, and without access to US surveillance satellites, it couldn’t plan or carry out operational missions or deliver accurate mapping services.
“Put simply, without space capability, the ADF would be deaf, dumb and blind, unable to coordinate and control its operations, or understand the operational environment,” he said.
“The end result would be far higher potential risk of casualties and, ultimately, defeat in war. It would be a weaker, less effective military.”
Davis said Australia’s space industry could directly support Defence’s space requirements, through local development of small satellites for defence purposes and to build the capability to launch those Australian satellites on Australian launch vehicles from Australian launch sites.
“Rather than depend on a small number of complex and expensive US satellites to support the ADF, the objective should be to build a degree of space sovereignty for Australia for the future,” he said.
“Locally developed satellites can augment US space capabilities to provide additional space capability to both the US military and the ADF.”
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