AUKUS Provides More Opportunity Than Just Nukes

October 28, 2021 Updated: October 29, 2021

Commentary

Since World War II, there has not been a time Australia, the Indo-Pacific, and the free world has been at more risk than we are now as China is engaged in the most significant and most rapid expansion of military power in “peacetime” history, with the world’s largest navy, army, and a formidable missile and air force.

In his recent Lowy Institute report “Australia and the Growing Reach of China’s Military,” Thomas Shugart noted: “Based on its scope, scale, and the specific capabilities being developed, this build-up appears to be designed to, first, threaten the United States with ejection from the western Pacific, and then to achieve dominance in the Indo-Pacific.”

The Australia, United Kingdom, United States (AUKUS) trilateral security partnership is a reflection of this heightened risk driven by the aggressive actions and policies of the People’s Republic of China.

Understandably the focus on the AUKUS partnership has been all about Australia acquiring a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines. However, this is but just one aspect of the collaboration and certainly not a capability that will be operational any time soon.

The immediate benefit AUKUS provides comes from collaborative military technology development across cyber domains, artificial intelligence, quantum technologies, and undersea warfare capabilities.

For instance, advanced neuromorphic event-based cameras being deployed to the International Space Station in December 2021 are assisting researchers in looking for a class of high altitude phenomena or transient luminous events, also known as upside-down lightning or sprites.

Instead of firing down to the ground, this is lightning that travels upwards to the upper atmosphere.

Sprites are almost impossible to detect and could be very damaging to satellites, missiles, aircraft, communications, or anything travelling via the upper atmosphere, including SpaceX or other spacecraft.

The Australian industry will share and collaborate with both the UK and the U.S. (and possibly other allies) on this and many more technologies, which is essential given that China has made significant, long-term investments in weapons designed to jam or destroy satellites as they seek to narrow the gap in space technology with western nations.

Epoch Times Photo
A handout image supplied by the European Space Agency (ESA) shows a view of Dubai as the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft passes, taken from the International Space Station on April 10, 2016. (Tim Peake/ ESA/NASA via Getty Images)

A move China signalled in 2007 when it threw down the gauntlet to the Western nations after launching a ballistic missile with a kinetic kill vehicle (KKV) to destroy one of its own satellites and create more than 3,000 pieces of space debris.

This means that the U.S. Global Positioning System (GPS) constellation of 31 satellites is at significant risk, with military planners broadly agreeing that GPS will be one of the first targets in any conflict.

GPS (and similar positioning systems) enables positioning, navigation, and timing (PNT) accurately, determining a location and orientation, current and desired position, and accurate and precise time.

It has become an integral part of everyday life and business. To name just a few, it is relied upon by our pilots, farmers, delivery drivers, financial institutions, fishermen, emergency services, and of course, militaries.

Epoch Times Photo
U.S. Army soldiers conduct the annual exercise in Paju, near the border with North Korea, Friday, April 1, 2016. North Korea fired a short-range missile into the sea on Friday, Seoul officials said, hours after the U.S., South Korean, and Japanese leaders pledged to work closer together to prevent North Korea from advancing its nuclear and missile programs. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

If the GPS system is destroyed or disabled, both civilian and military activities will be severely disrupted.

Enter Australian quantum technologies enabling PNT in GPS-denied environments, with world-leading physicists like Professor John Close at the Australian National University (ANU).

Close is developing precision measurement of gravity, gravity gradients, and magnetic scalar gradients with ultra-cold atoms for quantum augmented inertial navigation.

Likewise, James Rabeau, the newly appointed Director of Quantum Technologies at Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), will deliver a prototype diamond magnetometer for navigation in 2022.

The aim is to provide our militaries, industry, and civilian societies with technologies that can provide effective PNT capability in GPS-denied environments. This could mean navigation (and targeting) for high dynamic platforms like missiles, ships, vehicles, or soldiers.

It will also be something that Australia could share with the UK and U.S., which would assist our civilian economies to continue to operate with the least amount of disruption and enable national efforts to fight and win any conflict.

So working in partnership with U.S. and UK defence innovation communities will definitely enable greater outcomes for our countries collaboratively than what is possible separately.

Further, the access to data sets and research from different expertise across various disciplines will provide our three nations defence capability industry with the jump-start it needs to overcome the usual slow and tiring process, that is, if the United States can overcome its mandated bureaucratic protections.

In particular, the U.S will need to address its controls around the International Traffic in Arms Regulation (ITAR) policy.

ITAR essentially regulates the information and material pertaining to defence and military-related technologies, allowing them only to be shared with U.S. citizens unless authorization from the Department of State is received or a special exemption is used.

If permission is not received then, individuals and organizations can face heavy fines if they share or provide access to ITAR-protected defence articles, services or technical data.

So, while there has been no lack of American interest, and indeed direct project sponsorship with Australian defence innovation unless ITAR is changed, the true collaboration will continue to be slow and overly bureaucratic.

AUKUS was designed to change this dynamic, with the door left open to possibly include other allies. But if ITAR is not reformed, it will be more AUK than anything else, and that will be just awkward.  

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Lincoln Parker has over 20 years experience in government, defence research and technology development. Based in Sydney, he chairs the Defence and National Security Policy Branch of the Liberal Party of Australia. Parker has worked for the Australian government, and at its consulates in San Francisco and New York. He later established the Victorian government's office in Washington D.C. with a focus on defence tech collaboration. He contributes regularly to domestic and international publications, and has appeared on Sky News Australia