The US “Space Race” and Australia
Media releases about the development of an Australian space industry have revealed just how important and strategically-placed the country is for US-led military and security provision.
Australia has become inextricably linked to the US-led wave of militarism sweeping the region; recent US-led Australian military planning, however, rests upon decades of compliance with the Pentagon.
Two important factors emerge:
• Local, Australian industries, have been quickly assimilated into the US-led military-industrial complex, with far-reaching implications for ordinary working-people;
• Australia is incapable of disentangling itself from US-led war planning as it does not have an independent foreign policy.
In mid-April some major business meetings took place in Australia with Adrian Steckel, chief executive of OneWeb, a US-based satellite company. (1) The main agenda of the meetings was primarily concerned with the development of Australian-based space projects involving satellites. The minutes were, however, not publicised due to what was officially noted as a 'non-disclosure agreement', indicating the business sector had been subject to higher levels of classification in line with defence and security provision. (2)
The timing of the Australian meetings coincided with military planning in the US to create an independent space force before next year. An official US Defence Department media release stated the National Space Council will eventually control a unified space command; the industry already employed about 60,000 people 'working on space security in the US, across various branches of the military and intelligence services'. (3)
The Australian Space Agency was, likewise, established mid-2018, with an initial budget of $41 million together with an additional outlay of $260 million 'to develop satellite capabilities'. (4) It has, however, been placed into a seemingly innocent government department in Canberra to avoid unnecessary publicity. Those working elsewhere in the Industry Department might sometimes wonder how all the spooks prowling around in their corridors actually fit into the wider picture of industrial concerns and of which patronage systems they form part.
The recent Australian business meetings would, therefore, appear to have been conducted in a relatively cordial manner amongst the 84 organisations represented, whose main concern was 'to build AI-charged software for satellites, including the explosively growing low-orbit satellite industry'. (5) While these organisations clearly have claims to federal budgets, the Pentagon would appear to have other more pressing agenda items including military planning. The compatibility within the military-industrial complex is, therefore, interesting.
Conventional satellite systems have, historically, proved very costly; having a geo-stationary orbit of approximately 36,000 kms, problems arise with slow response due to distances. (6) New mini-satellites orbit the earth at about 500 kms which lead to less delay with transmission and reception time. While the proponents of the new mini-satellites say they have developed a system 'capable of delivering gigabit broadband speeds to remote and regional Australia', and, 'collecting data from millions of sensors expected to be installed to monitor agriculture, livestock, transport and more', the technology clearly has uses for state power and military and security planning for other than domestic usage. (7)
It has not been difficult to establish the uses of the new mini-satellites.
A South Australian-based company, Fleet, for example, is already in the forefront of 'adapting low orbit satellites to collecting data from tiny sensors around the world. The technology has been adapted to high resolution photography of the earth from low space'. (8) Such statements leave little to the imagination.
The mini-satellites are small, about the size of a toaster or shoe-box, and launched in large numbers referred to in official jargon as 'constellations', or matrix-like formations. They are then connected to ground stations in Australia, where researchers are already developing, 'AI-charged smart software', which has 'high resolution image cameras'. (9)
Due to their small size the new mini-satellites are also difficult to detect, relatively unobtrusive and ideal for espionage purposes.
Recent media releases have acknowledged the OneWeb company is planning at least two ground stations in Australia. (10) Whether they are intending updating existing US military communications facilities at the Geraldtown base in West Australia, 370 kms north of Perth, has yet to be established. The existing military facilities were eventually established following three years of 'secret negotiations with Canberra', to 'provide a crucial link for the new network of military satellites'. (11) It is particularly interesting to note the existing facilities were established with the specific role of providing instant, real-time 'high quality intelligence', with visual material and maps although operational through a 'new generation 3G mobile phone system'. (12)
The existing system has now become out-dated, and “recent media releases from the Australian OneWeb business meetings interestingly laid great stress upon the later 5G network and costs involved in laying fibre cable to remote areas and, therefore, 'you might want to connect through our satellite'.” (13)
Most certainly the new 5G network has included a number of systems with direct military involvement, which include a development with imaging and the use of filters to sift through millions of pictures, 'with image recognition to identify objects and alert staff on the ground to what matters'. (14) It is not difficult to establish the procedure which has taken place: the filters being programmed to identify areas of interest, including body mapping. Body mapping and facial recognition imaging has already been implemented through social media and PC's; it would now appear to be possible from greater distance with new satellite provision.
And the wider, regional significance of the Asia-Pacific should be considered important for US military planning, particularly with their diplomatic position of containment and encirclement of China.
The significance of Australia in the wider, global US-led military planning should not be under-estimated. A recent CSIRO report, 'Space: A Roadmap for unlocking future growth opportunities for Australia 2018', for example, stated that 'a key advantage driving Australia's space industry is the nation's strategic southern hemisphere location and landmass – characteristics that provide a sweet spot for space-related activities and allow for low light and electromagnetic interference'. (15) Further references in the report included an Australian role in, 'positioning services', concerning the development of ground stations usually within military facilities and global positioning systems. (16)
The Australian link in the US-led space system then converges upon the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGIA), based in Fort Belvoir, Virginia, with huge facilities in Washington. Its main function is 'imagery and mapping', with use for 'strategic intelligence' and the ability to 'precisely target the adversary'. (17)
Established in 2003, from earlier government departments, the NGIA now employs an estimated 14,400 staff accommodated for within a federal budget which has remained classified. The whole facility has no right of automatic access, being subject to higher levels of state classification. There is no right of public scrutiny. (18)
Such official procedures clearly have far-reaching implications for ordinary working people.
Employment in the main organisation of mini-satellites involves security clearances, often for whole families and more than one generation. The supply-chain and component sector of the manufacturing of whole or part systems, likewise, involves security considerations and the ability of state departments to either accept or reject applicants for employment on the basis of their beliefs or political principles. History has shown only too well how those in control of such powers use them for political advantage; there is no democratic accountability. Employment prospects, careers and long-term unemployment lay at the hands of grey-flannelled dwarves lurking in the corridors of power as they sift through reports filed by informants. Anyone with any trade-union experience will be aware of the type of people usually employed as informants and the scurrilous rubbish passed as suitable information for profiling.
It is, however, the military consideration of the implementation of mini-satellites systems which further draws Australia into Pentagon planning which offers a frightening glimpse of future real-war scenarios. The Australian Defence Department has not been particularly reticent when dealing with the usage of new technology. In fact, they appear keen to show it off to all and sundry. The recent Avalon International Air-Show offered, perhaps, the best recent example.
Information from the Avalon 2019 Special report about the recent Australian International Air-show provided a wealth of material about recent military research and acquisitions. There was, however, no reference to US-led diplomacy; those in control clearly did not want unfavourable publicity concerning military directives from the Pentagon.
It was noted, for example, in official media releases that 'the space domain, and Australia's role in it', was 'a new operational area for the ADF to expand into by building a growing national capability'. (19) The strategic position of Australia was also noted as 'uniquely placed geographically in the southern hemisphere'. (20) Special reference was subsequently given to the development of 'small satellites', and elsewhere in the report a statement recommended that 'a distributed and resilient wide-area surveillance network should figure prominently in planning for the future force to maximise the ADF's ability to see deep into the Indo-Pacific region'. (21)
The surveillance facilities referred to have little to do with farmers monitoring livestock or water-levels in distant dams as other official media releases have publicised; they are far more heavily focussed upon the ADF being given facilities as 'an essential enabler for striking deep when necessary'. (22)
With the White House moving toward establishing a special space force next year with an estimated budget of US$13 billion and a workforce of a further 5,000 personnel, concerns might well be raised in Australia about future military directions. (23)
These developments are not primarily concerned with a struggle for technological superiority over perceived adversaries. They are part of the new Cold War, which has included the Trump administration signing more than US$1 billion of new military contracts in the past three months. Raytheon has been the biggest beneficiary of the military spending with a total of 44 contracts worth an estimated US$537 million, followed by Lockheed Martin with a further 36 contracts totalling US$268 million. (24)
Hidden within the recent military budgets will be items and components for forthcoming space programs, with Australian manufacturers being part of the supply-chain. Most of the diplomatic hostilities will also be played out toward China with the Asia-Pacific becoming a likely theatre of war.
We need an independent foreign policy!
1. Mini satellites to beam broadband Down Under, Australian, 22 April 2019.
3. Space force to be staged, Australian, 25 October 2019.
4. Space race: we can be a winner, Australian, 30 October 2018.
5. Signal strong for low-orbit satellite centre, Australian, 16 April 2019.
6. Australian, op.cit., 22 April 2019.
7. Ibid., and, Australian, op.cit., 16 April 2019.
8. Australian, ibid., 22 April 2019.
9. Ibid, and, Australian, op.cit., 16 April 2019.
11. US gets military base in WA, The Age (Melbourne), 15 February 2007.
13. Australian, op.cit., 22 April 2019.
14. Australian, op.cit., 16 April 2019 and, ibid., 22 April 2019.
15. Australian, op.cit., 30 October 2018.
17. Wikipedia: National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency; and, Official Website: NGIA.
18. Ibid., and, Shadows of the thug state, Le Monde Diplomatique, March, 2014.
19. Force's bold launch into space projects, Avalon 2019 Special Report, Australian, 26 February 2019.
20. Work insight is out of this world, Avalon 2019 Special Report, Australian, 26 February 2019.
21. Pioneers start with the niche markets, and, A gap to close in next-generation defence, Avalon 2019 Special Report, Australian, 26 February 2019.
22. Australian, op.cit., 22 April 2019, and, Ibid., A gap to close in next-generation defence.
23. Australian, op.cit., 25 October 2018.
24. 'New Cold War'' as US buys arms, Australian, 3 May 2019.