Australia will join the growing number of nations protecting their assets in space with the Australian Defence Force (ADF) announcing on Wednesday a new Space Division within the Royal Australian Air Force.
The division will draw personnel from all areas of the ADF, reflecting the significance of the space domain for Australia’s national security. It will be operational from early 2022.
Chief of the Air Force, Air Marshal Mel Hupfeld said having access to space was vital for the ADF’s multi-domain operations.
“We use Space daily for understanding the weather, navigating, access to geospatial information and sharing information across Australia or across the world,” Hupfeld said.
The establishment of the new space division means Australia will join allies, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Japan, in having dedicated space military units. This comes after the domain of space was declared a developing risk area as nations like Russia and China increasingly invest in counter space weaponry (pdf).
Counterspace weapons are defined by the Centre for Strategic and International Studies as those that can “disrupt, degrade, or destroy” space infrastructure held by another country and “hold at risk the ability of others to use the space domain.”
Coming in four types—kinetic physical, non-kinetic physical, electronic and cyber—the weapons pose a serious risk to the environment of space and to the ability of all nations who seek to use it.
It was a point that Hupfeld noted by explaining that the area was becoming more contested making it more difficult to protect Australia’s interests.
“Defence will need capabilities that directly contribute to outcomes in Space as a contested domain,” he said.
The federal government will boost investment by $7 billion (US$5.5 billion) over the next 10 years to help establish the space division and ensure access to space, space services, and geospatial information.
The new division will be lead by Air Vice-Marshal Cath Roberts, who said the position was a dream come true.
“To reach for the stars and actually get there is a phenomenal feeling,” Roberts said. “As an aerospace engineer, I have always been fascinated by space—the ultimate high-ground.”
The move is welcome news for defence analyst Malcolm Davis from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute. He said the new space command would provide a good opportunity to centralise and sustain professional expertise from both uniformed and civilian sectors in the ADF so that knowledge and expertise will not be lost.
“Space is a complex and fast-moving operational warfighting domain that demands constant thought and attention,” Davis said. “The challenges … simply can’t be met properly if space is treated as an afterthought in defence planning, or if technical expertise is constantly lost due to redeployment of personnel.”
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