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Australasia Satellite Forum 2019 

Australia wants to partner US on new jam-resistant satellites

Australia is planning to invest in the US Defence-run Advanced Extremely High-Frequency (AEHF) system – a protected satellite network that is resilient to jamming and cyber attacks while offering more data capacity.

The fifth AEHF satellite is due to launch late next month and Australia is hoping to be a partner in the program similar to its participation in the Wideband Global Satcom system, according to Luke Brown, assistant secretary of the newly formed Space and Communications Branch of the ADF.

Delivering a keynote to the Australasia Satellite Forum in Sydney yesterday, Brown cited the growing demand for bandwidth and capacity from Defence users as the reason behind its proposed involvement.

“We, Australia, hope to sign our agreement to be a partner in that program in the next few months. We hope to be a signatory to that international group, very much like WGS-6, to be part of getting access to that capability,” he said.

Australia invested around $700 million in WGS-6, which gives it access to the full 10-satellite WGS constellation. The 10th WGS satellite was launched in March this year.

The first four AEHF satellites are already in service. In addition to the fifth launch next month, a final sixth satellite is due to launch in 2020.

The AEHF system provides extremely high-frequency range uplink and crosslink capabilities and super high-frequency range communications. It currently jointly serves the armed forces of the US and international partners including the Netherlands, the UK and Canada.

Lockheed Martin shipped the AEHF-5 to Cape Canaveral ahead of its expected June launch earlier this month. The satellite is claimed as “more jam-resistant, secure, survivable and protected” and offers global communications for sea, ground and air force assets.

“Our demand for bandwidth, for capacity is growing massively at a time when the things that we've put in place to provide that capability are coming towards the end of their life. And that's part of why we have to do something,” Brown said.

DEFENCE SATCOM BILLIONS: The investment would be part of an expected $10 billion spend over the next 15 years on satellite and space capabilities. This will cover a range of projects from geospatial intelligence to space situational awareness and the satellite modernisation program known as JP 9102.

Brown said that JP 9102, which is anticipated to be a $2-3 billion program over the next decade, was now moving ahead following a recent initial Industry Request for Information. The project, which takes over from JP 2008, will deliver the Australian Defence Forces' future satellite communication capability across the space, ground, and control segments.

Meanwhile, Patrick Del Guidice, director of joint communications for the Defence Joint Capabilities Group, said a hosted payload on a commercial satellite could be one of the options for future capacity under JP 9102.

Defence has previously used hosted payloads on Intelsat's IS-22 and Optus C1 for capacity and Del Guidice said a similar arrangement for future capability would also be looked at.

“What we're doing right now is we're going through a process of examining the options that are out there for our future satcom needs. A lot of the different solutions that are presented span from milcom satellite solutions to hybrid solutions to possibly hosted payloads solutions. So we're looking at all of that space right now to understand what the opportunities are, how they meet our needs and the bottom line is we're definitely not excluding the possibility for more hosted payloads,” he said during a panel session at ASF 2019.

SECURITY IN SPACE DOMAIN: Meanwhile, panellists on a government and military roundtable said that trade and other tensions in the telecommunications sector were also evident in the satellite space.

Rick Greenwood, VP engineering and operations for Airbus Secure Defence and Space, said security was at the forefront of its next generation of spacecraft for Defence. “We have particular requirements whereby we have to demonstrate and prove that the supply chain is secure  – from a cyber perspective, from a supply chain perspective. So it's having a direct impact on our supply chain,” he said.

Similarly, SES Networks head of government sales in Asia Pacific, Glen Tindall, said there are now a lot more threats compared to a few years ago. “There's a lot more emphasis on cybersecurity and supply chain security. At SES our security team is twice the size of our network team. We do a lot of work on supply chain assurance, even down to the component level,” he noted. – Geoff Long