Address to the 2022 Royal Australian Air Force Air and Space Power Conference, Canberra

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The Hon Peter Dutton MP

Minister for Defence

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22 March 2022

Good morning ladies and gentlemen.

I’d like to thank the Royal Australian Air Force and the Department of Defence for hosting this event.

Especially, the Chief of the Royal Australian Air Force, Air Marshal Mel Hupfeld.

In particular, I would like to welcome the many distinguished guests who are in attendance today, including the more than 150 international delegates.

There are too many to name individually, but among this eminent cohort are air and space force chiefs, or their representatives, from countries around the globe.

On behalf of the Australian Government, thank you for taking the time and making the effort to travel to Australia.

Your attendance speaks to the deep and abiding defence relationships that have been forged between your countries and Australia.

Between your air forces and the Royal Australian Air Force.

All of us are watching the terrible conflict unfolding in Ukraine at the hands of a despot hell-bent on reinstating Russia’s imperial reach and spheres of influence.

Here, in the Indo-Pacific, many nations have been subjected to different forms of Chinese Government coercion over a sustained period.

And we are witnessing China’s rapid militarisation – the largest of its kind in peacetime and modern times – a build-up unaccompanied by transparency or strategic reassurance for concerned nations in the region and beyond.

The times in which we live reinforce the enduring importance of hard power – both in defence of a nation and to deter aggression.

And the absolute necessity of like-minded nations working even more closely together to preserve the peace and stability which has, and will continue to push humanity forward.

As we know, technological developments continue to change the character of warfare.

Particularly in the Air and Space domains.

We’ve seen the increasing use of remotely piloted and uncrewed platforms – which can be used on their own, teamed with traditional manned capabilities for force multiplier effects, and used in a swarm capacity.

We’re also seeing the growing importance of hypersonics and spaced-based satellite communications.

Both Russia and China are already developing hypersonic missiles which can travel at more than 6,000 kilometres per hour.

Together with like-minded partners and the United Nations, Australia has long championed the responsible and peaceful use of outer space in accordance with international norms.

But space is becoming more congested and is already contested – particularly as the boundaries between competition and conflict become increasingly blurred through grey-zone activities.

Tellingly, more than 7,500 satellites orbit the Earth, with thousands more being launched every year.

While space is primarily a civil domain – to support navigation, communication networks, financial systems, scientific enterprises, weather forecasting, and disaster response – it will undoubtedly become a domain which takes on greater military significance in this century.

A domain which is now an operational theatre which provides space-based communication, intelligence, and navigation to the joint force.

We know that some countries are developing capabilities to threaten or degrade space networks, to target satellites, and to destroy space systems.

Countries that see space as a territory for their taking, rather than one to be shared.

In November last year, as part of an anti-satellite missile test, Russia destroyed its own redundant Cosmos 1408, which left behind a cloud of more than 1,500 pieces of lethal debris that will take decades to clear. 

For any nation, losing access to space would have significant civil and military consequences.

Thus all nations have an interest in assuring their access to space.

It is a domain which must be used to deter aggression, rather than become a new realm for conflict.

So friends, to that end, it is my great pleasure today to officially announce the stand-up of Australia’s Defence Space Command.

I want to congratulate the newly appointed head of that command, Air Vice-Marshal Cath Roberts.

Australia’s Defence Space Command will initially be modest compared to those similar, well-established functions which already exist among some of our allies.

But make no mistake, we are forward looking.

It’s a necessary endeavour with a view to protecting our national interests and our need for a Space Force in the future.

Defence Space Command comprises personnel from our three Services, defence public servants, and industry’s contractors.

It works in close collaboration with the Australian Space Agency, industry partners, and our research and scientific institutions.

Importantly, Defence Space Command is Australia’s contribution towards a larger, collective effort among like-minded countries to ensure a safe, stable and secure space domain.

By developing our sovereign space capabilities, we will not only become more self-reliant, but also be a better ally and partner through the combined effects of our capabilities.

Australia’s aim will be to invest in new military space capabilities to counter threats…

To assure our continued access to space-based intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance and to uphold the free use of space.

Guiding the efforts and priorities of Australia’s Defence Space Command is the Defence Space Strategy – which I am pleased to release today.

Importantly, Australia and the United States are strengthening our Alliance to support our mutual objectives in the space domain. 

The Australian Department of Defence and the US National Reconnaissance Office have committed to a broad range of cooperative satellite activities which will expand Australia’s space knowledge and capabilities.

Our partnership will also contribute to the US National Reconnaissance Office’s pursuit of a more capable, integrated, and resilient space architecture to support global coverage in a wide range of intelligence mission requirements.

Ladies and gentlemen, noting the dual focus of this conference, I’ll turn to discussing some Air Force activities, including those undertaken in conjunction with our allies and partners.

Many of the countries represented at this conference have offered significant support to Ukraine.

Australia is providing financial aid and military assistance to help Ukrainians defend themselves against their Russian aggressors.

I want to acknowledge the efforts of the men and women of the Australian Defence Force.

Our Air Force has successfully delivered military assistance on three separate flights of C-17 Globemaster transport aircraft.

It is becoming clear that in invading Ukraine, President Putin has miscalculated. 

He has underestimated the resolve of the people of Ukraine and the response of nations around the world.

We must remain determined in what we can do to support liberty against the odious forces of tyranny. 

In the Indo-Pacific, Australia is contributing to collective efforts to maintain stability and deter aggression in this region.

That’s why we participate in exercises like Cope North in Guam – held in early February – along with the US Air Force and Japan Air Self-Defense Force.

Among our Air Force contingent, eleven F-35s were involved in the exercise – the first time our Joint Strike Fighters have participated in a trilateral exercise.

In the broad, such exercises are crucial for allies and partners to enhance combat interoperability and participate in high-end training.

Indeed, prior to Exercise Cope North, Australia accepted four new F-35s in Guam.

Our Air Force is now operating 48 of a planned 72 Joint Strike Fighters.

And I look forward to hearing reports from this conference which discuss this important platform – a fifth generation, multi-role aircraft which is already, or fast becoming the preferred fighter for many of our partners.

Its capabilities are a critical part of Australia’s air combat system that also includes the E-8A Wedgetail, EA-18G Growler and F/A-18F Super Hornet.

Another platform which I’m sure will be a topic of discussion is the P-8A Poseidon patrol aircraft.

Australia has taken delivery of twelve of these aircraft.

Last month, the Government – in conjunction with the South Australia – announced plans to establish a new deep maintenance facility adjacent to RAAF Base Edinburgh.

We envisage this facility developing into a regional hub to service not just P-8A Poseidons, but also other aircraft like the E-7A Wedgetail Early Warning and Control Aircraft.

Our P-8A Poseidon aircraft already support international efforts – like Operation Argos where we help enforce UN Security Council sanctions against North Korea in response to that nation’s weapons program.

Upon finishing a deployment for Operation Argos, a RAAF P-8A Poseidon will fly to Japan to be part of a trilateral intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance mission with the US Air Force and Japanese Air Self-Defense Force.

The deep maintenance facility we will develop at Edinburgh is an example of how Australia is developing its sovereign capabilities which will help us step-up our contributions to such regional maritime activities.

Of course, our century-old Air Force would not be what it is today without its partnership with industry.

One of our most promising joint ventures is that between RAAF and Boeing on the Airpower Teaming System – formerly known as the Loyal Wingman, but named officially yesterday, as the Chief pointed out earlier, the MQ-28A Ghost Bat.

This uncrewed aircraft, with a range of more than 3,700 kilometres, is the first combat aircraft to be designed in Australia for more than half a century.

It can fly solo missions or be teamed with crewed capabilities for force multiplier effects.

The Ghost Bat has already completed successful flight missions.

Compared to crewed capabilities, autonomous capabilities can be produced in quantity, relatively quickly and inexpensively, with their loss or damage also being more tolerable.

This is our vision for the Ghost Bat – a platform which we anticipate will be of interest to many.

Ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests, friends – I wish you well for discussions as part of this Air and Space Power Conference.

Whether you’re here representing one of our military partners, industry, Australian businesses, or our research and academic institutions, it is events like these which can help translate intent into action..

Thank you.


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