Creating Space Command, Australia Strengthens High-Tech Bond With U.S.

CANBERRA, Australia — Two years after the United States inaugurated a military Space Force to mixed reviews, Australia has created its own Space Command to counter threats from China, Russia and other extraterrestrial powers.

The new force will expand Australia’s space capabilities and contribute to “a larger, collective effort among like-minded countries to ensure a safe, stable and secure space domain,” according to prepared remarks to be delivered on Tuesday by Peter Dutton, Australia’s defense minister.

In a speech at a conference with several American military officers in attendance, Mr. Dutton will also announce that Australia and the United States have agreed to partner on “a broad range of satellite activities.”

It is not clear how sizable the command’s ranks will be. The announcement, shared in advance with reporters, comes just two months before a federal election in which Australia’s conservative governing coalition is trying to make national security a key plank of its pitch to voters.

At the same time, the expanded commitment to space defense reflects the reality of a new technological landscape for war, in which satellites are vital tools for navigation, surveillance and attacks from unmanned weapons.

The announcement also amounts to yet another sign of deepening Australian-American security ties. The two countries, allies since World War I, have been working more closely together in recent years as China’s ambitions and military investment have become a greater concern.

In September, Australia announced a new defense agreement in which the United States and Britain will help it deploy nuclear-powered submarines, a major advance in Australian military strength. The partnership, known as AUKUS, also includes plans to collaborate on new military capabilities in artificial intelligence, quantum computing and other next-generation technologies.

The space partnership has not been branded as a part of that agreement, but the backdrop — an increasingly contested, multipolar era — remains the same.

“Space is a sector that China has invested in heavily as part of its broader military modernization and efforts for technological advancement,” said Jennifer Jackett, a security researcher focused on technology at the Australian National University. “This reflects the fact that space is a critical domain for both military capability and civil applications.”

Some security analysts said that Australia had recognized, with both Russia and China advancing their ability to damage or destroy satellites, that space vulnerabilities must be managed for Australia’s own security and in the case of an attack on America’s satellite network.

The relative power of the United States compared to China continues to be a concern, with the war in Ukraine leading some to worry that demands in Europe will draw American attention and resources away from Asia, or lead China to challenge the United States more directly.

“There is a growing concern that reliance on large U.S. systems could leave us quite vulnerable if they were to be targeted in a confrontation,” said John Blaxland, a defense expert at the Australian National University. “There is a lot of emphasis on smaller — and greater volume and greater frequency of launching satellites — that are going to be able to give Australia that greater resilience, and redundancy.”

The United States seems determined to prove that its commitment is unwavering. Several senior officials from the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, based in Honolulu, will be in Australia this week, along with senior commanders from the American Space Force. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken visited Australia and Fiji last month.

When the Trump administration announced its intention to create a Space Force in 2018, the idea drew an uneven response, including inside the American military, with some questioning its necessity and cost.

But the Biden administration, after taking office last year, said it would not review the decision to create the force, and it has cemented itself as the sixth, and smallest, branch of the U.S. military.

Australia, for its part, is a small player in the global space industry, having created a national civilian space agency only in 2018.

Nonetheless, in his prepared comments, Mr. Dutton will emphasize that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has made space, highly technical military strength and traditional alliances all the more important.

“We must remain determined in what we can do to support liberty against the odious forces of tyranny,” his statement said. “In the Indo-Pacific, Australia is contributing to collective efforts to maintain stability and deter aggression.”

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