Australia Plans New Space Command as Air Force Celebrates 100 Years

Australia Plans New Space Command as Air Force Celebrates 100 Years
International Space Station backdropped by the ocean between Antarctica and Australia on Jun. 3, 2013. (NASA)
Daniel Khmelev

The chief of the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Air Marshal Mel Hupfeld has verified that Australia will establish an integrated space organisation in the next year.

Hupfeld, who confirmed the news to the ABC on March 31, is currently heading up an analysis into the requirements for Australia to establish its own sovereign space organisation.

The organisation will be staffed by Air Force, Army, and Navy personnel, and will thus most likely not form its own independent branch.

"It's to allow us to establish an organisation to sustain, force-generate, operate space capabilities, and assign them to a joint operation command if needed," Hupfeld said.

The world has witnessed an upsurge in military space programs, with China and Russia both launching their respective space forces in 2015 and the United States following suit with its own program in 2019.

 The Space Force logo. (Space Force)
The Space Force logo. (Space Force)

Hupfeld said that Australia would catch up quickly despite being four years behind its Western counterparts. However, he also pointed out that Australia will not use space as a medium for aggression.

“Space is a war-fighting domain, but we're not going to militarise space,” he said.

If this is true, then this may put Australia in a difficult position given that a report (PDF) released in September 2020 by the United States Department of Defense said that the Chinese Communist Party’s military, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), have not demonstrated a promise to do the same.

“The PLA continues to strengthen its military space capabilities, despite its public stance against the militarization of space,” the report stated. “China also continues to develop counter space capabilities and related technologies, including kinetic-kill missiles, ground-based lasers, and orbiting space robots.”

China is also not alone in its weaponisation of space.

In December of 2020, Russia conducted a direct-ascent anti-satellite test (DA-ASAT), raising further concern about the growing militarisation of space.

“Russia publicly claims it is working to prevent the transformation of outer space into a battlefield, yet at the same time Moscow continues to weaponize space,” stated a media release by the United States Space Command. “Russia’s persistent testing of these systems demonstrates threats to U.S. and allied space systems are rapidly advancing.”

The disruption of satellite systems poses a severe threat to infrastructure around the globe as it has the potential to affect not only civilian use of GPS and satellite communications but also military applications, varying from intelligence to unmanned drones.

“If this weapon is tested on an actual satellite or used operationally, it will cause a large debris field that could endanger commercial satellites and irrevocably pollute the space domain,” the media release stated.

Centennial Celebrations Pay Tribute to RAAF Members and Families

The news of Australia's development of a sovereign space force comes as the RAAF marked its centenary on March 31 by living up to its motto: "Per Ardua, Ad Astra," or "Through struggle, to the stars."

The celebration included a massive display of air dominance in the skies over Canberra, which included 60 aircraft, both old and new.

The current Chief of the Air Force, Air Marshal Mel Hupfeld, said the current Australian airforce is a tribute to the generations of dedicated men and women and their remarkable ingenuity and resilience that have come before.

“In our first 100 years, in conflict, peacekeeping, search and rescue, disaster relief and humanitarian assistance, Air Force developed a reputation within our nation and among our global partners for courage, perseverance and overcoming adversity. We consistently deliver airpower well above the weight of an air force our size," Hupfeld said.

“As we commence our second century, it is our duty to preserve our proud legacy and to maintain our enduring commitment to supporting Australia,” he said.

 RAAF Roulettes aircraft perform a flight show marking the 100th anniversary of the Royal Australian Air Force, Canberra, Mar. 31, 2021. (AAP Image/Lukas Coch)
RAAF Roulettes aircraft perform a flight show marking the 100th anniversary of the Royal Australian Air Force, Canberra, Mar. 31, 2021. (AAP Image/Lukas Coch)
Newly appointed Defence Minister Peter Dutton paid tribute to the 350,000 Australians who are serving or have served in the Royal Australian Air Force and remembered the eleven thousand Australians who had died while serving in the Royal Australian Air Force.

"As Defence Minister, I am incredibly proud of the work of the Royal Australian Air Force, and I want to recognise all of those support and ancillary functions, both on base across the Australian Defence Force, but also those in the community as well," Dutton said.

He also recognised the families of serving and retired RAAF Officers, who he said "make an incredible sacrifice themselves for the time that their loved ones spend away from home, on training or on mission."