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Defence & Security

Sovereign, resilience and schedule assurance in defence space acquisition

10 Nov 2021, by Amy Sarcevic

With Australian Defence spending set to surpass the global benchmark at 2.5 percent of GDP, a series of key military acquisitions have emerged in what Prime Minister Scott Morrison has described as “the most consequential strategic realignment since the Second World War.”

Beneath the seas, the Australian Defence Force (ADF) will acquire eight nuclear powered submarines through the landmark AUKUS agreement, as well as an Integrated Undersea Surveillance System. On the surface, naval ship-building and Sovereign Guided Weapons enterprises will enhance both ADF force projection, and the industrial base needed to produce and sustain those core capabilities. Meanwhile, new F-35s together with Integrated Air and Missile Defence will give the ADF air dominance overhead.

Until recent years, this might have represented the upper limits of Australia’s Defence ambitions, however new boundaries are being pushed. With a $10 billion investment over the coming decade, the Australian government has also set out an ambitious sovereign agenda in space. This includes the acquisition of a sovereign constellation of communications satellites and ground control stations under Defence project JP9102. As Australia’s Defence Strategic Update 2020 notes, “assured access to space is critical to ADF warfighting.”

From an organisational standpoint, a lot has been happening in space. The establishment of the Australian Space Agency in 2018 created a surge of momentum; while the formation in early 2022 of a new Space Division within Defence (under the inaugural leadership of Air Vice Marshal Catherine Roberts) promises to strengthen the coherence and command of the ADF’s space activities. The space domain has also recently been designated a Sovereign Industrial Capability Priority, highlighting the strategic need for sovereign retention of skills, technology, infrastructure and intellectual property within Australia’s space industry.

As a longstanding stakeholder in Australia’s space industry landscape, Lockheed Martin Australia has been paying close heed to these forces. The company has established a three-pronged strategy to deliver on the government’s agenda for ADF capability enhancement. ‘Sovereignty, resilience and schedule assurance’ in defence space acquisition will facilitate greater levels of self-reliance and a more robust set of space-based capabilities. Particularly in military satellite communications, that enable the full range of military operations – whether independently or in coalition with our allies and partners – says David Ball, Lockheed Martin Australia’s Regional Director for Space.

“At LMA we see these elements as critical to the next phase of national security. To proceed without due consideration of them is to risk being unready for the outbreak of conflict,” said Ball, ahead of the 3rd Annual Australian Defence Magazine Space Summit.

“Sovereignty is vital for the control of space assets and the preservation of key supply chains. Resilience defends against the growing number and complexity of counter-space threats emerging across our region, including the electronic jamming of signals and interference with satellite systems. And schedule assurance will ensure we execute space projects efficiently, in accord with Defence’s operational and strategic requirements.”

Local partners, global dominance

To this end, Lockheed Martin Australia has announced a series of new local partnerships in a bid to step up its sovereign space offerings.

In recent weeks, the firm revealed that Shoal Group, a leader in model-based systems engineering, and Av-Comm, a leading satellite communications infrastructure and services provider, will join its JP9102 proposal. The firms will work together to deliver a next-generation military satellite communications (MILSATCOM) system.

“Our MILSATCOM solution will deliver unparalleled coverage, capacity and resilience, but also extensibility on an expedited schedule to meet Defence’s unique strategic and capability requirements for satellite communications,” said David.

Additionally, a two year $20 million contract with the Australian Geospatial Intelligence Organisation (AGO), announced last month, will see LMA staff and contractors working side-by-side with AGO personnel.

“The partnership will support the operation and sustainment of sovereign ICT geospatial mission systems that are critical to the analysis and dissemination of geospatial intelligence,” said David.

An existing partnership with Clearbox Systems for JP9102 also reached an important milestone last month, with the successful integration of Clearbox’s Foresight ESM software application. Via the software, ADF operators can plan, coordinate and use the electromagnetic spectrum to boost operational performance, whilst limiting interference.

“The integration has demonstrated the agility of LMA’s satcom control segment, which serves as the crucial link between satellites and ground stations in in the sovereign satcom system. Based on modular, open architecture software, LMA’s control segment is specifically designed for rapid integration of third-party, best-of-breed software products,” said David.

Engineers from both parties have worked together to minimise technical risk and maximise technical readiness, ensuring the project is completed on time and within budget.

“This integration project is a core element of our approach for JP9102; working hand in glove with Australian industry, mitigating risk, ensuring seamless delivery of world-class, sovereign satcom solutions on a timeframe that allows Defence to meet the growing pressures in Australia’s strategic environment,” he said.

Talking more about Lockheed’s plans to deliver on its three-pronged approach, David Ball will present at the 3rd Annual Australian Defence Magazine Space Summit, hosted by Informa Australia.

This year’s event will be held 24 November at the Hyatt Canberra.

Register now to secure your seat.

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