Skip to main content Skip to search input

Aussie Space Command: Making the Case for Space Part II - Lieutenant Colonel Greg Rowlands

‘The history of failure in warfare can be summed up in two words: Too late.’ – General Douglas MacArthur

In Part 1 of Making a Case for Space published in early 2017, I submitted a case for sovereign space launch and small satellite capabilities. In my estimation, a bespoke space capability was cost-feasible due to technology advancements, which would become increasingly vital to national security in the years ahead. So now in 2019 where military space is firmly de rigueur, it’s timely to revisit the implications and opportunities. More so, considering Accelerated Warfare strategy highlights the space domain as a new risk to effective joint land combat: ‘Our ability to operate in the traditional air, sea and land domains is at risk of being debilitated from space.’

Since 2017 there has been substantial progress in space, with the RAAF investment in small satellites via partnerships with academia. The creation of the Australian Space Agency was also a major milestone. The focus on advancing civil and commercial space now stands as a strategic opportunity the Australian Defence Force (ADF) must leverage—ideally without delay. Particularly in light of the space domain being recognised as a warfighting domain by NATO and moves by the US to establish a Space Force as the sixth branch of its military.

Space Warfare Revealed

The prospect of warfare conducted in the space domain is a curious concept as it has apparently never happened before.

Conceivably, the space domain is already a contested hotspot and has been for some time.  Only no obvious offensive actions or deliberate destruction of another country’s satellites have yet been observed or admitted to—publicly anyway. Yet there have been unexplained incidents where satellites have mysteriously ceased functioning and tumbled out of their orbits. So failed satellites happen all the time right? Akin to cyberspace where plausible deniability is a feature, it’s probable that refutability and the lack of a ‘smoking gun’ is also unique to space.

Military writers have stated the goal of space warfare is: ‘destroying, damaging, and interfering with the enemy's reconnaissance and communications satellites’ along with navigation and early warning satellites. The objective is to ‘blind and deafen the enemy’.

Noting these recent space warfare remarks in a strategic document, it confirms the highly contested nature of Earth’s gravity well. Thus, credible new action reducing on-orbit space risks to joint land combat is required. Using the Probing the minefield method for space is arguably now passé and Defence must make tough cost-capability trade-offs or seek an appropriation of new funds to enhance national security in space. Other nations— such as France and India—are already moving to create space force structures and plan to introduce new counter-space capabilities.

Announcements regarding on-orbit defence plans and successful anti-satellite missile tests can no longer be merely observed, reported and ignored from the periphery. The ADF should consider developing a sovereign Space Capability System.

Aussie Space Command

With an intensifying need for protected and sovereign space assets, it is advantageous to seriously consider the establishment of a bespoke Australian Space Command to manage a growing catalogue of space systems.

Management of space capability in Defence has traditionally been a small and niche function carried out by the RAAF. The other Services have contributed to this, but few military personnel have formal qualifications or experience in the space domain and there is no specific space career model or employment category. Space liaison and coordination offices at Joint Operations Command and Russell Offices have been sufficient for the small footprint in space, but this situation cannot last—time has run out. Risks of inaction are seemingly escalating.

In the Australian lexicon a joint model for space force structure is recommended. Leveraging the current joint operations arrangements, a two-star space command could be established.

Creating a new command in the ADF will be no small challenge, as it may be quite contentious, like the debate we are witnessing in the US with competing views for a Space Corps or a Space Force model. But with Presidential directives driving unprecedented force structure change, it appears likely to become reality. French design for space is different to the US approach; military space is being elevated within France’s existing Air Force, to be renamed the Air and Space Army. But there is scant time to wait and see which force structure system is optimal.

A unit level space team might also be appropriate. The 1st Joint Space Unit could be configured for tactical space support to compliment Australian Space Command operational functions.

Military Space Professionals

New space career pathways, in context of a growing public fascination with space in general, may be a retention and recruiting juggernaut for Defence.

Raise, train and sustain functions for space command personnel will also be a precondition for major force structure alterations. Noting all Services employ and benefit from space-based capabilities, specialist space career pathways and trade structures will be essential within the three Services. Space modernisation efforts should also include a Joint Space Operations College, where space operations professional military education and space tactics instruction could be delivered. So if this human resources approach were progressed it would also be a pioneering space career option for tech savvy Australians.

Inventive Astrostrategy

‘Victory smiles upon those who anticipate changes in the character of war, not upon those who wait to adapt after change has occurred.’ – Giulio Douhet

Establishment of Australian Space Command could be a central feature to a new Defence astrostrategy that reflects the changed situation with military space. Moreover, adding space launch services and satellite construction as a Sovereign Industrial Capability Priority may underwrite Australia’s space operations self-reliance—a useful condition that would attract positive support from space-sensitive allies. Thus, a next-generation Space Capability System, with normalised space operations and acquisition services, may lessen joint land combat risks.

With an inventive military astrostrategy, a requirement of Accelerated Warfare is also met: ‘pulling the future towards us rather than waiting for it’. To do otherwise may be too late.

Precedent exists for creation of a two-star organisation to account for contemporary domain threats; Information Warfare Division is a recent case in point. If enough evidence exists to make a case for new force structure, change momentum can be generated. Both space and cyberspace are unique domains as disruption in either can spill over into civil functions, creating chaos and commercial losses. So the tipping point for space transformation is, arguably, upon us. Perhaps it’s now time for a nod to the space domain, like the cyberspace domain received.

About the Author: Greg Rowlands, a retired infantry Lieutenant Colonel, served over 27 years in the Australian Army. He holds four degrees and is a graduate of both Command & Staff College and the Capability & Technology Management College. He has published extensively on military space operations and drone defence concepts, including other emerging technology trends and shocks to inform Defence modernisation. He is a former Project Director in Project LAND 400. You can find him on Twitter @glrowlands1.

The views expressed in this article and subsequent comments are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Australian Army, the Department of Defence or the Australian Government. Further information.

Army: Courage. Initiative. Respect. Teamwork.
Back to top