Airbus Pitching ‘Collaborative’ Military Satcom For Australia

Airbus may offer Australia a solution based on the Skynet satellite system.
Credit: Airbus

Airbus Defense and Space is likely to offer an enhanced version of the Skynet family of military communications satellite for Australia’s Joint Project (JP) 9102 program.  

The European OEM says it wants to make Australia’s defense satcom transition to a sovereign capability “as easy as possible.”

Australia is planning to move away from the U.S.-built wideband global satellite communications service to develop its own system. The country wants to have a narrowband UHF wideband capability, wideband commercial and military Ka-band technology as well as X-band services. 

Martin Rowse, Airbus Defense and Space’s JP 9102 campaign lead, described Australia to Aerospace DAILY as having an expeditionary force with a wide global footprint, noting that Canberra is equipping itself with new platforms like Lockheed Martin F-35s, UASs and Airbus A330 MRTTs. He compared Australia’s needs with those of the United Kingdom and their concept of operation, which calls for maintenance of interoperability with the U.S. but freedom in some of its capabilities.  

Rowse said Australia is seeking a proven platform, similar to the Skynet platform that Airbus has provided for the UK Ministry of Defense for the last 18 years which has supported British operations in the Middle East. Airbus says it plans to enhance that capability to meet the JP 9102 requirements.  

While Australia has growing commercial nano-to-small-satellite manufacturing capabilities, maintaining and replenishing a constellation is still expensive, and Rowse said Canberra still wants the resilience, assurance and reliability that a large geostationary satellite can offer.  

He foresees that JP 9102 Phase 2 could then be a mixed constellation that would include low-Earth-orbit satellites and Australian-built smallsats packed with defense functions. Australia has also launched a space-based intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capability under Defence Project 799 Phase 2.  

Airbus has set up a consortium—Team Maier—consisting of local space and defense small and medium-sized enterprises such as space infrastructure company UGL and UHF provider Blacktree Technology. Rowse stressed that Team Maier is not a “supply chain initiative,” but rather one that will eventually gain experience and expertise from the Airbus partnership to produce and run its own space systems.  

There is currently no rocket launch partner proposed to loft satellites as that is still too far away in the timeline, but Rowse noted that the Australian space launch landscape is “exciting” with numerous startups setting up shop across the country. He said that showed that government is taking a strategic interest in space launch and is getting policies ready in place.  

The JP 9102 tender will close in January 2022. 

Chen Chuanren

Chen Chuanren is the Southeast Asia and China Editor for the Aviation Week Network’s (AWN) Air Transport World (ATW) and the Asia-Pacific Defense Correspondent for AWN, joining the team in 2017.