Australia could end up with its own Skynet – not the sentient computer network from the Terminator movies, but an advanced satellite communications (SATCOM) system like that operated by the British Ministry of Defence.
Airbus Australasia is pitching Skynet for Project JP9102 which will create a sovereign defence SATCOM system to be wholly Australian-owned and operated, superseding legacy systems such as the ADF’s reliance on the US Wideband Global SATCOM (WGS) and Optus C1 systems.
Central to Airbus’ bid will be at last two, and up to four enhanced Skynet 6A satellites, depending on what Defence ultimately decides it needs. These will be placed in geostationary orbit over the Pacific and Indian Oceans, delivering wideband and narrowband SATCOM to the ADF.
Skynet 6A is the latest in the Skynet series, with the manufacture of the first satellite commencing in the UK last October and scheduled for launch in 2025.
Airbus says it’s well positioned to deliver a sovereign SATCOM capability for Australia, as it already operates Skynet for the UK MOD, and has created a complete capability for the UAE from a greenfield site, including the training of personnel and the satellite launch.
Airbus campaign lead for JP9102, Martin Rowse said the company had vast experience in developing space industries around the world. “Over the last 30 years they have developed space industries in 20 different countries including supporting developing space agencies,” he told ADBR.
For JP9102, Airbus has formed Team Maier and has partnered with SSTL, UGL, Microsoft, Clearbox, Blacktree, Willyama, and Microsoft as its delivery and sustainment partners. “In total we have about 50 agreements in place with mainly Australian companies and universities around several different projects,” Rowse said.
Airbus sees JP9102 and its ambition to create a sovereign satcom capability as a very significant step for Australia’s space industry.
“We see 9102 as a real catalyst for space in general,” he added. “Clearly CASG and ADF want the best military capability they can get. We think they can have both – the best capability for the warfighter…and also a partner that will really support development of the space industry. That is what we have done previously.”
Tenders for JP9102 close on Monday January 10, with Defence expected to take up to a year to reach a shortlist, likely of two. Other contenders include teams led by Boeing, Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin, and Optus.