Space as a contested domain


Space is rapidly becoming a contested domain. This raises higher levels of concern that the competition and congestion which largely arises from commercial interests. The US Defense Space Strategy released in June 2020 states “China and Russia have each weaponized space as a means to reduce U.S. and allied military effectiveness and challenge our freedom of operation in space”. This assessment has implications for Australia as a key member of the ‘Five-Eyes’ community and a leading regional security partner of the USA. A recent report from CSIS states “While discussions continue at the United Nations about preventing an arms race in space, the actions of some nations – namely Russia and China – are leading others to prepare for conflict.” In a 2019 speech , the French Minister for the Armed Forces, Ms Florence Parly, stated “If our satellites are threatened, we will consider dazzling those of our opponents. We reserve the time and means of the response: this may involve the use of high-power lasers deployed from our satellites or from our patrol nano-satellites”.

These public comments highlight the growing perception of risk from military actions to space- based assets. Technology developments aimed at reducing strategic advantage gained by use of advanced space systems may impact on non-military space assets. This is especially true given the dual-use nature of many space services and the heavy dependence on commercial systems by defence and national security agencies, including those in Australia.

As has been witnessed with cyber operations, targeting of commercial and civilian space infrastructure is possible from both state and non-state actors and this increasing risk may drive a need for increased investment in hardening critical national infrastructure, including supply chains, where that infrastructure relies on space-based systems. The 2020 Defence Strategic Update refers to increasing risk of “grey-zone” activities, actions contrary to our national interest that fall below recognised thresholds of conflict, with the growing risk of these actions targeting space and cyber-space. What emphasis should be placed on this issue in the RoadMap?


There are many adjacent defence industries in electronic warfare and cyber defence that are well positioned to enter the space sector with the required skills, knowledge and clearances to make an impact by developing solution to protection Australian space systems. This will require acquisition of additional skills in space systems and technologies, potentially leading to employment growth.

Growth opportunities are expected for industry in protecting commercial infrastructure in Australia and internationally arising from skills development in response to Critical Infrastructure Protection legislation update.

The application of Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Deep Learning and Data Analytics in detecting anomalous behaviours, modelling system resilience and predictive management of complex systems to mitigate “grey-zone” operations in space.


1. Determine the exposure of Australian critical infrastructure to defence operated space systems such as the US GPS constellation.

2. Continue Australia’s legal and diplomatic efforts (e.g. Project Woomera) to define the application of international law to military uses of space and establish behavioural norms for space operations.

3. Conduct R&D into technologies that can enhance resilience of space services for civilian use at reasonable additional cost.