Peter Jennings of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute recently provided a timely reminder of the importance of space as a military domain in an article titled ‘Australia’s future in space’.
His assessment of the Australian Defence Force’s approach towards space in the context of its transformation into a fifth-generation fighting force was highlighted by Defence Connect.
I welcome this contribution to the discussion but would not want readers to be left with the impression that threats to space assets represent an unmanageable risk, or that the ADF is not taking these challenges seriously.
Jennings argues that too much emphasis is placed on platforms such as the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and the Future Submarine to the detriment of enabling systems, including satellites.
However, leaders within Defence are aware of the need to be able to operate in space and cyber in conjunction with other operational domains, and this is increasingly part of Australia’s defence strategy.
Consider, for example, the work of the Air Warfare Centre, which is looking at ways in which the Royal Australian Air Force can maximise the effectiveness of fifth-generation capabilities through seeking enhanced integration across Defence in the two- to four-year horizon.
From an industry perspective, Lockheed Martin has been engaged for some time in thinking about how to support armed forces that will be operating in the congested and contested battlespace of the future.
For example, just in the last two months my colleagues and I have participated in a series of fifth-generation-focused workshops that have brought together experts from Defence and industry to consider these and other issues. Those discussions were, in part, about how to integrate cyber protection and multi-level security into foundational system architectures as enablers for resilience and survivability.
A demonstration of the ADF’s future thinking is the innovative work that has been happening under the umbrella of a project known as AIR 6500, which will deliver a future joint battle management system to the ADF.
The backbone of this ‘system of systems’ can act as a powerful force multiplier, enhancing situational awareness and decision-making across the entire ADF. Data gathered from different sources, including satellites, would be fused to provide an integrated picture of the battlespace.
Such a network must be designed from the start to be protected against cyber attack. It must be highly resilient and have a high degree of redundancy built into it so that connectivity can be maintained in the event of conflict or degradation.
In my view, the vulnerability of space-based systems that Jennings warns about should not be seen in isolation. Australia’s fifth-generation force won’t fall on the denial of space but it must be able to use the advantage when it exists; presence and proficiency are the key.
Australia is acquiring advanced fifth-generation platforms, but currently is still reliant on third-generation networks to link key platforms and systems.
To enable the ADF to make sense of the immense amount of data its platforms will collect, and securely and efficiently disseminating that data to the right people at the right time, will require a fully networked system of systems that is designed for the information age.
Lockheed Martin understands that becoming a fifth-generation force takes more than buying fifth-generation aircraft or submarines.
The key to realising the anticipated step-jump in capability of the ADF is to create a secure and resilient network of interconnected and interoperable systems that generates an overall effect much greater than the sum of its parts.
This is not easy but it is achievable. Far from ignoring the challenge, the ADF is leaning forward in thinking strategically about the integrated future force.
Now that is something to get excited about.
Ray Cage is business development manager at Lockheed Martin Australia.