Navigating Space – connection and cooperation. A vision for defence in space

Since the dawn of space exploration, the military has been on point. The first satellites were funded by defence departments. The first astronauts were air force and navy personnel. Many of the technologies now driving space exploration were born in government labs and research facilities. Now the space domain is becoming more congested and contested. New technologies are rapidly emerging. Barriers to entry are falling and new players – both governmental and commercial – are vying for advantage.

At the same time, humanity’s reliance on space activity is becoming more ingrained every day. Once supreme in the space domain, the defence sector is being asked to reassess the role they play in this increasingly critical domain.

A new report developed in partnership with the Space Foundation explores the role space will play in defence and national security in the future. The report features the perspectives of almost two-dozen international leaders across defence and industry, at the highest levels of the space domain.

The research revealed four key predictions.

  1. Space will define the future of national security.

Space organisations are becoming the norm in defence departments and will support our longevity in space through managing traffic and debris as well as our sustainability on earth.

  1. The pace of innovation will continue to quicken.

A range of new capabilities are emerging in the space domain, from AI image processing to remote proximity operations. Agility and speed will be essential to stay ahead of the curve.

  1. Partnerships will be crucial to long-term success.

International partners are increasingly coordinating their activities in space through existing and new alliances. We expect new partners to join these as their capabilities develop.

  1. Alignment on norms will unlock advancement.

Transparent and open communication from military actors in space will be key to avoiding conflict and agreed norms will be key. We expect reimagined workforce and organisation structure to support ‘information-age’ capabilities.

The report provides takeaways for defence, government and industry stakeholders and a number of these have particular relevance for Australia.

Australia needs to define a national space policy and implementation plan which encapsulates defence and civil focus areas. This will enable broad coordination on dual use capabilities and funding, while also provide key demand signals to the market. This enables Australian companies to align their capability development to these requirements.

But we need to move faster – no longer are 5 to 10 year procurements suitable, when technology is being iterated so quickly in commercial environments. Adjust the risk appetite and encourage ‘fast failure’ in order to enable faster iteration and reduce time to development by using industry capability and capacity.

Important decisions are required to enable our current space budgets to develop Australian Industry Capability. Grant programs need to provide a clear path to scale, rather than simply keeping the lights on. Having a number of medium to large Australian space companies will enable them to play a leading role in the provision of services to defence and government in the future, while building their supply chains with other local SMEs.

Finally, we need to invest in the future workforce. To enable this we need to identify and assess the national skills and capabilities required for success in the space domain. Consider how local, national and regional policies could be adapted to encourage skills inflow. Encourage relevant skills development from secondary schools through to entry into the workforce.

Ultimately, our KPMG paper finds that – while the domain is evolving at a rapid pace with rising competition and potential for risk – the path to sustainable space operations and human habitation lies squarely in improved connection and cooperation.

Read the full report.

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