Australia is embarking on an ambitious mission to launch a complete military satellite communications system (milsatcom) and in January, bids from the world’s major defence and telecommunications organisations were submitted for consideration.
When the JP9102 program is finalised, it will mean that Australia has strategic freedom to operate because it will not have to ask permission from another country for an action it wants to take. This capability will be essential for helping Australia to navigate future geopolitical shifts and ensure that Australia’s interests are protected.
However, JP9102 is about more than this. It’s about Australia becoming a sovereign space nation. The hope is that with the technical expertise and infrastructure developed through JP9102, an entire space sector will be formed in Australia. But with so much of the necessary expertise residing outside of Australia, how can we create the environment for a meaningful sovereign sector to expand?
Australian interests first
Historically, and until JP9102 launches, Australia is reliant on allies for milsatcom capability. While there is no reason to suggest that assistance from international partners will not be available in future, having a sovereign milsatcom capability just makes strategic sense. We don’t know what the world will look like in 30, 20 or even 10 years' time, and the best way to ensure Australia’s interests are protected is by being able to operate its own sovereign capabilities.
In response, Airbus has formed Team Maier to create a technologically advanced solution based on the UK’s Skynet 6A capability, which itself has just recently gone into production. Skynet 6A is an evolution from the Skynet 5 constellation, an enormously successful service operated for 17 allies, including the US and Australia. Skynet 6A is truly a revolutionary system, incorporating lessons from the leading-edge Military and Commercial satellites developed by Airbus.
This system will more than meet the needs of the Australian Defence Force and help future proof Australia from geopolitical risks for decades to come. But by itself it is not enough.
As you would expect, the Team Maier collaboration brings together leading international expertise with local organisations to develop our future Australian Industry Capability (AIC). However, Airbus is going further than any other Primes in pushing local organisations to the fore, with knowledge transfer and the development of future expertise and infrastructure at the core of Team Maier.
Team Maier currently includes UGL, a Sydney-based engineering services firm that started out 40 years ago and has now grown to employ 7,000 nationwide; Blacktree, a Perth and Canberra based SME that specialises in delivering communications systems in challenging and geographically dispersed environments; Clearbox, a Canberra-based company that creates software for network management; and Willyama, one of Australia's leading Indigenous and veteran-owned cyber security businesses.
Towards Australia’s future
Australia should see JP9102 as a catalyst for the space industry. It is an opportunity to build skills and capabilities in Australia to meet future sovereign requirements. The Team Maier collaboration has exactly this in mind, which is why we have focused not just on the initial delivery but the full operation of JP9102 over the coming decades and future Australian space needs.
This means going further than simply asking the Australian supply chain to undertake work. It’s about providing the knowledge transfer and experience for Australian companies to benefit. That’s why Team Maier has been so focused on developing workshare and export opportunities for SMEs, job creation, technology transfer and innovation.
For us, JP9102 is not about developing a milsatcom capability, it’s about generating a future sovereign space industry here in Australia.