19.01.2024

Elevating Australia’s defence and security: The strategic imperative in space and navigational warfare

Australia finds itself at a pivotal moment in history, where the rapid evolution of technology and the changing landscape of global security demand a recalibration of our defence and security strategies, explains Nic Maan, vice-president of government solutions at KBR APAC.

The historical trajectory of space in defence underscores its transformative impact on military operations. From satellite communication and surveillance to reconnaissance and electronic warfare, the integration of space-based technologies is integral to strategic security.

As nations around the world strengthen their capabilities in space and navigational warfare, Australia, too, must expedite its efforts to ensure national security and keep pace with geopolitical challenges.

As the dynamics of warfare shift with technology advances, so too must our approach to space. The Defence Strategic Review has brought into sharp focus the need for Australia to have greater capabilities in contested environments.

Since its inception in the late 1970s, the US military Global Positioning System (GPS) satellite constellation and the collective Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) networks have had a revolutionary impact on societies and the military capability of nations.

Assured Position, Navigation and Timing (APNT) data supplied through GPS and GNSS underpins modern life. Access to precise PNT allows almost everything from internet-connected conveniences and entertainment within mobile phones to communication, navigation, digital security, financial transactions, construction, logistics, emergency services management and much more.

In 2023, disruption to APNT signals supplied by GPS and GNSS satellite constellations is significant, as is the enormous cost.

In a defence context, the GPS and GNSS networks provide military forces with exact APNT data that enables forces, platforms and defensive systems. The US GPS network allows US and partner forces to deploy and track forces with precision, navigation, use cryptographic communication and guide systems.

Defence planners have assumed for many years that one of the first steps in a conflict would be to jam, spoof or disable the navigation and communication systems reliant on PNT signals from satellites.

Access to GPS has provided an unprecedented ability to synchronise and coordinate a distributed force and precisely locate enemy forces.

And so, while the technology reliant on APNT data has evolved and become seamlessly integrated into our lives, businesses and military systems, so too have the consequences of disruption.

Devices that can jam GPS and GNSS satellite signals are cheap and plentiful and are used to drown out the low-power, whisper-quiet signals from orbiting PNT satellites.

Arguably, a more destructive effect is caused by spoofing, which is a process of feeding false PNT data to GPS receivers to deliberately cause chaos. This can be done in such a way that the user or the platform may not recognise their systems are reporting false locations and timing until it’s too late.

A major challenge for Australia is to very quickly develop a sovereign APNT capability that will improve the nation’s resilience in the longer term. Investment in space technologies is becoming critical to our infrastructure. Embracing advancements in space-based capabilities will not only fortify our military operations but also ensure a proactive stance against potential threats for all Australians.

Australia must intensify its efforts in developing and securing APNT capabilities. We can do this quickly by drawing on the expertise of the US and building on the considerable “homegrown” capabilities our Australian defence industry has already developed.

Building on our strengths as a Five Eyes partner, there are enormous benefits from having technologies and systems that draw on the strength of our collective capabilities or are, at the very least, interoperable.

This also is at the very core of the aspiration that underpins the AUKUS partnership.

To this end, KBR has already assembled a team of global and local companies to build a sovereign APNT capability so that we can help strengthen our defence security today and grow our industrial resilience for the future.

The team draws on two decades of experience supporting the US Navigation Warfare Center, together with world-leading test and evaluation and development of spectrum technologies.

The team includes QinetiQ, DEWC Services, DMTC, and LinQuest Corporation.

QinetiQ will provide world-leading test and evaluation skills and experience, drawing on both its global and local capabilities.

DEWC Services will contribute C4ISREW and spectrum security technology supporting the development of novel solutions to meet some of the evolving and critical challenges facing the ADF today and into the future.

DMTC will bring together specialist industry participants and leading research facilities so that the benefits of their collective expertise can be realised to resolve evolving PNT challenges.

Finally, through our global enterprise, KBR and LinQuest Corporation have more than two decades of experience in world-leading PNT and US Navigation Warfare (NAVWAR) centre operations.

This team ensures that we can achieve speed to capability and then quickly transfer that knowledge.

Australian industry is well advanced in some of the specialist technologies that will be critical to developing and sustaining an enduring APNT capability. Fostering global collaborations with other like-minded nations amplifies our collective ability to protect the sanctity of space for defence purposes.

As the global security landscape continues to evolve, Australia stands at the crossroads of a strategic imperative. The race to secure space and enhance navigational warfare capabilities is not just about military might; it is about securing the future stability of our nation.

By expediting our efforts and embracing international cooperation, Australia can not only catch up with global leaders but also carve a path toward resilience and security in the dynamic theatre of space and navigation warfare.

The time to act is now.