Australia is getting a space Electronic Warfare (EW) system.
Defence Project 9358 will “explore options for … a ground-based space electronic warfare capability,” according to a statement from Peter Dutton, minister for defence, in late July. Mr. Dutton’s statement adds that this will “detect and deter attempts to interfere with, or attack, our use of the space domain.”
The Australian Department of Defence (DOD) will explore options and make recommendations to the government, the statement continues. The new capability could be under the command of Australia’s new Space Division. Media reports in May said that the Space Division will be activated in 2022. It will be part of the Royal Australian Air Force. As Defence Project 9358 is currently exploring options, there are no indications on the form that the space EW capability could take.
Australia’s military use of the space domain rests on communications between Earth and satellites. The country’s armed forces use satellites for navigation, communications and Signals Intelligence (SIGINT). Central Australia is home to the Pine Gap Earth Station near Alice Springs. Pine Gap receives raw SIGINT from US satellites as they pass over Asia and the Middle East. These SIGINT satellite constellations include Advanced Orion, Improved Trumpet, Mercury and the Space-Based Wide Area Surveillance System. Unsurprisingly, no information appears in the public domain on the datalink frequencies used to transmit raw SIGINT to Earth.
GPS and WGS
The Australian military also uses the US Global Positioning System (GPS) constellation for position, navigation and timing. GPS uses frequencies of 1.164 gigahertz/GHz to 1.575GHz. Australia’s armed forces use encrypted M-Code GPS transmissions. These provide protection against the electronic attack of the GPS signal.
In the communications domain, Australia uses the US military’s Boeing Wideband Global SATCOM (WGS) constellation. This carries X-band (7.9-8.4GHz uplink/7.25-7.75GHz downlink) and Ku-band (14GHz uplink/10.9-12.75GHz downlink) traffic. Additional Ku bandwidth is available on Australia’s Optus-C1 civilian/military satellite. Commercial Ultra High Frequency (UHF: 240 megahertz/MHz to 270MHz) bandwidth is leased by the Australian military using the Intelsat-22 satellite. This provides coverage above the Indian Ocean.
There is an imperative to protect Australia’s military use of the electromagnetic spectrum in space. The DOD will need to consider deployable electronic support systems. These could be deployed to a specific theatre alongside Australian forces. Electronic support is key to ensuring that deliberate attacks of GPS signals, or SATCOM traffic can be detected and located. Measures can then be taken to isolate jamming frequencies to minimise the damage. Alternatively, the jammer could be engaged kinetically once its location is known.
Although Pine Gap will almost certainly have means to detect and outflank attempts to attack SIGINT satellite datalinks, Australia’s civilian use of space may have less safeguards. Armada’s records show that the country possesses 13 spacecraft. These are used for a range of activities from SATCOM to research. This excludes Australia’s use of the myriad of international satellites for services ranging from navigation to meteorology. Might the Australian government consider a domestic electronic support system to detect the deliberate attack of civilian satellite signals?
Furthermore, could the Australian military consider means to deny the use of the spectrum by adversaries for space operations? If so, the DOD may have to develop or procure electronic attack apparatus. Given the close Australian-US defence relationship L3Harris’ Counter Communications System (CCS) is one option. Entering service in 2004, the deployable CCS supports US Space Command. It attacks SATCOM frequencies at tactical and operational levels. The CCS may cover wavebands of 240MHz to 40GHz according to our records. This enables the attack of UHF, C-band (5.925-6.425GHz uplink/3.7-4.2GHz downlink), L-band (1.3GHz to 1.7GHz), X-band, Ku-band and Ka-band (26.5-40GHz uplink/18-20GHz downlink) SATCOM frequencies.
The DOD was contacted regarding the scope and timelines of Defence Project 9358. However, we received no responses to our questions prior to this article’s publication.
by Dr. Thomas Withington