How to Enhance Space’s Contribution to Australian Multi-Domain Operations in Support of Maritime Operations

By Robbin Laird

Australia has more demands than it has budget. It has more challenges than it has forces. So how to maximize the effect of what capabilities Australia has going forward?

How to maximize the economy of force to deal with persistent and expanding threats?

Part of the answer is to focus on enhanced leveraging of what can be generated from the space domain. The strategic shift in what space delivers in the past few years is driven by the arrival of constellations of LEO satellites which provide reach and coverage for data of various sorts, including of course communications which is historically unprecedented.

The challenge for governments is how to leverage such constellations and create government organizations, strategy, and support to do so. Australia is no different but capabilities and resources more limited than they have been for the U.S. or several of its other allies.

Leveraging the commercial sector and its innovations then is even more critical for a modest space player like Australia. This would require a smart sovereignty effort but focuses effort and investments from its government.

At the Williams Foundation seminar on April 11, 2014, Nick Miller, Senior Director, Space Solutions & Strategy, Optus Satellite & Space Systems, provided his perspective on a way ahead.

He started by characterizing the stakes of the game as follows: “Without space, there would be no effective multi-domain capability. It is a critical enabler. Space once deemed the final frontier is now seen as a potential battleground. In this domain, where the stakes are as high as the orbits, the mastery of space technology is not merely an option, it is vital for our national security.”

He told the audience that Optus as Australia’s leading satellite owner and operator “transmits via its fleet 27 gigabits of data every minute of every day.”

Miller argued that “with a robust enterprise satellite network, Australia can improve its ability to conduct comprehensive ISR operations and as a nation with vast maritime domains and extensive borders, satellite data is crucial for maritime operations and to protect vital sea lines of communications for Australia as well as enhancing our Border Force.”

Several speakers at the seminar highlighted the importance of undersea cables for transmitting data into and out of Australia in support of the Australian way of life.

Miller argued that satellite networks provide redundancy to ensure flow of data in times of disruption. “As part of readiness preparation, a comprehensive satellite network would support critical and effective command and control capabilities for the ADF and support a whole of government approach in situations such as natural disasters, search and rescue operations, and national emergencies where the subsea cables may have been compromised.”

Nick Miller speaking at the April 11, 2024 Williams Foundation Seminar.

Much of his presentation argued for a robust commercial and government working relationship including government funding to deal with the increasing challenge of protecting operational space assets. Not only do adversarial powers plan and practice space denial, but the impact of space debris on operational constellations is significant.

Such joint efforts between government and the commercial sector in space are crucial to ensure that Australia has the skilled workforce necessary to support broader space efforts, and to have the required expertise in times of crisis.

Miller underscored: “Luckily in Australia, we have some personnel with nearly 40 years of experience and this is something we’re offering the defense sector and can be a foundation from which to expand the skill base.”

But to have the kind of effective public-private partnership which Australia needs requires an innovative acquisition process.

Miller opined: “There needs to be a capability to fast track satellite technologies. Flexible contracting models are needed to provide incentives for Australian companies and research institutions to innovate more rapidly in satellite technology.

“There is a need to bolster local industry and academia grants, tax incentives and government contracts awarded to homegrown enterprises encouraging domestic innovation and reducing dependence on overseas providers. Optus itself is looking into how a partnership with universities, startups and government could deliver a new and unique novel LEO capability.”

Professor Andrew Carr recently underscored that strategy is not about writing documents with lofty words and concepts – it is about finding ways to identify and address core problems with realistic solutions.

As he wrote recently: ‘Strategy as problem solving’ shifts the emphasis from declaring our principles to diagnosing our problems. The key work of Australian strategists in the years to come will be twofold: to identify which problems are most important, based on their significance, the likelihood of harm and how we might resolve them; and to interrogate their dynamics, understanding why they’re so hard and where leverage points may be found to seek better patterns of order.”

Miller presented a thoughtful way to proceed with strategy understood in Carr’s terms.