U.S. Military Stepping Up Space Cooperation with Japan, Australia

By Stew Magnuson

The U.S. military plans to strengthen its alliance in the space realm with allies such as Japan and Australia in order to help it cover the vast expanses of the Pacific Ocean, a senior Defense Department official said July 17.

Jessica Powers, director for space policy engagement in the office of the deputy assistant secretary of defense for space policy, said representatives of the three nations first discussed closer cooperation in 2012. The topics were improving space situational awareness, and satellite communications coverage in remote regions.

The strategic shift to the Asia-Pacific has called into question the ability of the U.S. military to link with its forces where there is little, if any, military or commercial communications satellites.

The key to improving the space architecture is to use more affordable and more resilient space systems provided by the commercial sector, said Powers. The United States cannot pay for these systems on its own, and needs to collaborate with other countries, who can provide needed funds, she said at a Future Space Leaders Foundation panel discussion on Capitol Hill.

“This resilience cannot be achieved only by U.S. investment. We have to partner with others,” Powers said.

Col. Alan Rebholz, chief of the Air Force space operations division, said the Pacific Ocean covers half of the Earth, which creates a tyranny of distance for many militaries in the region. An enemy obtaining further access to space is a threat, so it is important to prevent them from tampering with existing U.S. space assets, he said.

“It’s not about China,” Rebholz said. “This is about activity of distance … of what I can do uniquely from space that nobody else can do, which is intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance.”

Cooperating with the private sector is the future of military space, he said. There needs to be changes in policy to enable the services to interact and take full advantage of what commercial space service companies have to offer, he added.

Commercial satellite companies, which provided the U.S. military with extra capacity over the Middle East during recent conflicts, are not motivated to build and launch satellites over regions that are sparsely populated — at least not without guarantees that the military will be a long-term customer, industry representatives have said repeatedly in recent years.

“We have a lot of work to do, … the commercial market doesn’t exist in the Pacific and we don’t have the terminals that can support [satellite transmissions], and it’s expensive,” said Rebholz.

Space is also a contested environment, with adversaries’ spacecraft, and millions of pieces of so-called space junk, orbiting the planet. Both are threats to U.S. military satellites.

The talks with Australia and Japan also addressed how the three countries can cooperate when it comes to space situational awareness, Powers said. In 2013, the United States moved a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency telescope to Australia to conduct space surveillance, she said. The United States is also collaborating with Japan’s civilian space department, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, and its counterparts in the Ministry of Defense, to write new space defense guidelines, she said.

“Space is a domain that no nation owns and something we all must abide to,” Powers said.

The United States is also reaching out to other allies including Canada, the United Kingdom and South Korea, to boost space cooperation, she said.

“We got a lot on our plate and we continue to look for further opportunities,” Powers said.

Topics: C4ISR, Intelligence, International, Space

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