Does Australia’s Defence Space Command want to confront China?
Published: Mar 23, 2022 11:57 PM
Australia US Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Australia US Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Australia's Defense Space Command, established in January 2022, officially began operating on Tuesday. Cath Roberts, head of the command, claimed that she was most scared of "the activities by China and Russia." She then made an example of how a Chinese satellite could easily "take out" Australia's National Broadband Network. Apparently, Canberra has regarded its Defense Space Command as a counterweight to the "military ambitions in space" of Beijing and Moscow, particularly the former.

Australian defense minister Peter Dutton also said on Tuesday that space is "a domain which must be used to deter aggression, rather than become a new realm for conflict." In his words, Australia's goal in space will be to "invest in new military space capabilities to counter threats." But judging from Australia's official statements, it seems that Australia's ambitions to have more military presence in space aim at confrontation rather than "deterrence" or "countermeasures."

Australia has long been involved in space activities. In 1967, the country successfully launched its first satellite WRESAT, making Australia the seventh country in the world to launch a satellite and the third to launch a satellite into orbit from its own territory, right after the US and the Soviet Union. 

For a long time, developing its space activities instead of just being a partner of other countries like the US was not on top of Canberra's agenda. It was not until 2018 that the Australian Space Agency, an organization focusing mainly on the development of the domestic civil space sector, was eventually established.

There's nothing wrong that Australia intends to vigorously develop its activities in space, as long as they are not hostile or bellicose toward anyone. It is feared that more military presence in space will only accelerate the arms race there and undermine peace.

But look where we are - a space command has already started operating in Australia. This is an example of Australia's growing military ambitions in recent years: It wants to have more influence in the region and world - even in space. At the same time, Canberra has been alert and worried about Beijing's greatly increased presence in space, and it is hard not to suspect that this could be a result of Washington's constant incitement.

Throughout Australia's history in space, the US' role cannot be ignored. Canberra and Washington have been cooperating on their space programs. In fact, WRESAT was launched on board a modified US rocket. As for Australia's Defence Space Command, Dutton also admitted that it will partner with the Pentagon.

According to Chinese military expert Song Zhongping, Australia has no real space capabilities. In his opinion, Canberra is highly dependent on Washington in many aspects that are related to space activities. The command is more like an addition to the US Space Force (USSF) launched in 2019. "It will most likely be just an office of the USSF in Australia, or the Australian branch of the USSF," noted Song.

From AUKUS to the Defence Space Command, Australia's posture to follow the US to suppress China is becoming clearer and clearer. But it is also falling deeper and deeper into a strategic quagmire by blindly following Washington. It has decided to become increasingly militaristic to counter the "China threat," a concept the US has been hyping for years.

This will only end up Canberra hurting itself and its interests. In Song's opinion, Australia has always believed it can become a global power by following a superpower like the US. However, it still hasn't come to realize that the power of the US is already on the decline. So without a more independent and clearer strategy, Australia will find it more difficult to realize its dream.

The start of the Defence Space Command's operations has offered Canberra yet another chance to reflect on itself: Should it continue being cannon fodder in the US strategic layout to contain China? Dutton hopes to prevent space from becoming "a new realm for conflict." He should also remember that space shouldn't become a new battlefield against China, or any other force for that matter.