Building Readiness and Resilience in National Air and Space Power across the Spectrum of Competition

Wednesday, 8 May 2024 


Chief of Air Force

Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen.

Welcome to the 2024 Australian Air and Space Chiefs Conference. It is a privilege for General JJ Frewen and I to host such a prestigious gathering of Air and Space Chiefs from across the globe. We deeply appreciate your commitment to travel down under and share your experience and expertise as we explore how to build readiness and resilience in our national air and space power across the spectrum of competition.

It is a timely discussion. Thucydides pernicious triptych - fear, honour and interest – once again dominate relations among states. Rupturing fault lines. Re-shaping alliances. We are all investing in technologies apace, that are simultaneously perplexing and imperative. Compelling us to a future we cannot see. Compounding threats like climate change present challenges across all domains, and all areas of public policy. Our assumptions, and expectations, even our understandings, are being challenged and contested.

But conflict is not pre-ordained. Imaginative statecraft can avert war.

It might be useful to start by framing what we mean by the spectrum of competition.

At one end cooperation. Perhaps in recent years we might thought of cooperation as occurring between nations at peace. But that would be simplistic. Cooperation occurs wherever interests align. It is therefore more frequent among allies and partners. But it may also occur among competitors.

This has certainly been the case in space, where historically US and Russian astronauts have worked side-by-side on the International Space Station despite volatility in their nation’s relationship, often creating a pathway for dialogue to diffuse tension. We should always look for these pathways, through areas of common interest, to establish dialogue and build trust - to cooperate where we can - despite our differences.

At the other end of the spectrum conflict. Recently the Australian Government released the National Defence Strategy. Australia is taking a new approach - National Defence – to meet the strategic challenges we face, including the threat of conflict and the prospect of coercion in the Indo-Pacific region.

Australia’s Strategy of Denial is to deter conflict before it begins. Focusing our force generation effort on the capabilities we need for conflict in the Indo-Pacific region, will establish the best prospects for deterring it. When I talk of force generating air power, it’s for this purpose. It is in this context that we consider how we might build ready and resilient air power.

By projecting strength, the ability to impose cost; readiness, the ability to respond quickly and deny strategic opportunism; and resilience, the ability to absorb punishment and out-last our potential adversaries; they might pause to consider the wisdom of pursuing their interests through war.

As a middle power, Australia recognises that our efforts alone will not be sufficient to deter conflict. We recognise our prospects for preserving peace and security – a stable balance of power - are optimised by working with our allies and partners. Demonstrating our collective commitment and resolve. This is why the National Defence Strategy directs Defence to strengthen our alliances and partnerships across the Indo-Pacific region and around the world.

This is our strategy of denial. To invest in our strength, and the strength of our partnerships. It is also the domain of deterrence.

Deterrence operates across the spectrum of competition, to the point where it fails and conflict begins. It operates to constrain military adventurism to grey-zone tactics, in the same way it operates to prevent crisis deteriorating to conflict. Deterrence is therefore dynamic, it plays on every contemplation in the minds of our potential adversaries. While we don’t force generate military capability for deterrence, we play an active role across the spectrum of competition, to optimise our deterrence posture.

Deterrence relies on escalation - the threat of imposing greater cost – applied through a strategy that is non-escalatory.

If we are successful, deterrence will succeed in preserving a state of competition. The anxiety we feel today is the experience of strategic competition.

This then is the spectrum of competition. A complex coexistence of cooperation, competition and crisis, enabled by deterrence; integrated across our warfighting domains and all elements of national power; instrumented through the art of whole-of-Government campaigning; in cooperation with our allies and partners.

This recalibration to a constantly operating force, strengthening deterrence across the spectrum of competition, changes the way we think about force generation.

When I came into this role as Chief of Air Force, I made clear my priorities were to build a ready, resilient and resourceful Air Force. It was a recognition that, having missed the indicators and warnings in a deteriorating strategic environment, it didn’t matter what capability we wished we had, or what capability we intend to acquire, we had to achieve deterrence with the capabilities we have in service today.

I am in the fortunate position to lead an Air Force that has undergone major recapitalisation of our fleet in recent years. But we are at risk of capability stagflation: low preparedness, work force hollowness, on-going budget pressure.

Our first challenge is to strengthen our workforce. More specifically, to address shortfalls in those specific musterings and experience levels that constrain our capacity to grow. We are finding inefficiency and obstruction throughout our people pipeline; in recruiting and retention, training and professional development.

Our experience has been that interventions to improve workforce health operate over a very long life cycle, demanding far-sighted workforce intelligence and long-term strategies. But we will also need to consider what measures we might take to shorten period of workforce interventions.

Our efforts to build readiness have focussed on maximising the productivity of our assets. Lifting our force utilisation rate. Strengthening our stock-holdings and inventory of spares and weapons.

Our capability investments strive to balance the modernisation of current capabilities with the development of future technologies that might render our current capabilities obsolete. We are also considering investments in complementary capabilities, such as the MQ-28 Ghost Bat, which next year will demonstrate the potential of crewed and un-crewed teaming to improve the survivability and lethality of our air combat system in an operationally representative scenario.

In a similar way, our investment in Integrated Air and Missile Defence seeks first to deliver the underlying command and control architecture to bring all existing capabilities into a coherent warfighting system. As the USAF and allies have demonstrated recently in the Black Sea and Middle East, modern combat aircraft perform superbly against drones and cruise missiles. When integrated effectively with our maritime and ground-based missile systems, we can achieve much with our existing platforms, even as we recognise the need to grow this system in response to a rapidly evolving threat environment.

Australia’s ability to exploit our strategic depth while projecting air power to achieve our strategy of denial, relies on our network of northern air bases. Sustaining air power effects from austere and remote locations across our north is central to our thinking on resilience.

We have adopted a manoeuvre mindset - manoeuvring air power across our network of northern bases, exploiting active and passive defence, to preserve our force and foundation for projecting forward. This is agile operations, which are familiar to many of you here today.

We are routinely practicing agile operations, from coast to coast, across northern Australia without the use of strategic air lift or air-to-air refuelling support. We have built confidence through precedent, practice and iteration, operating with reduced pavement strengths and shorter runway lengths, using civil grade fuels. Further, we have developed support concepts with reduced maintenance footprint, exploiting reach-back diagnostics and rapid response teams to optimise our reliability away from Main Operating Bases.

This is driving new approaches to command and control, with greater focus on distributed networks. It is also demanding a new approach to logistics support, which will see greater integration with the joint force and national support base. Air Force has established Regional Airbase Development Teams across our northern bases to develop the networks that will underpin this work.

We are also experimenting with new technologies. The Air Force Jericho team are developing a range of concepts for un-crewed and autonomous systems, including ‘Camel Train’, which will provide autonomous logistics support across Northern Australia.

Camel Train delivers operational resilience, with the strategic resilience of a sovereign-developed and manufactured capability. It is a tangible demonstration of latent capacity within our national support base. Nurturing this capability, building a national ecosystem that can rapidly scale production of un-crewed systems, offers substantial potential to strengthen our readiness and resilience.

Together, we are changing our approach to generating, sustaining and employing air power. Building our readiness and resilience. Delivering deterrence.

There is a cognitive dimension to this work. It is not reliant on new investment, but rather resourceful exploitation of the capabilities we have in service today. We are learning as a force to out-manoeuvre our adversaries, to build resilient mission threads and integrate our efforts across the other war-fighting domains. This is a high performance culture that relies on a diverse, inclusive and creative workforce, and a leadership network that empowers their solutions.

It is a dimension that deserves equal attention.

We have much more work to do. Indeed, the goal of building readiness and resilience has no end-state. And for a middle power like Australia, seeking to advance our security and prosperity in this era of great power competition, we will always aspire to a level of readiness and resilience that is beyond our capacity to deliver. Our task then is to apportion our resources wisely; to manage strategic risk over time.

Let me pass over to JJ to hear what we are doing in space.

Chief of Joint Capabilities

Thank you Rob.

Good morning everybody

The National Defence Strategy and Integrated Investment Program provides a clear strategic direction for how Defence should continue to evolve to ensure Australia’s security and contribute to regional peace and prosperity for decades to come. The National Defence Strategy and Integrated Investment Program amplify the initiatives and priorities for our Space and Cyber workforce, bringing a greater focus to the critical capabilities they deliver for the ADF. The contribution they provide centres on delivering our space and cyber capabilities to a fully integrated ADF force.

Under the National Defence Strategy, and in response to Australia’s contemporary strategic circumstances, investment in space capabilities is a high priority for Defence. This includes investment in capabilities that enhance intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, as well as provide resilient communications, and counter emerging space threats.

The National Defence Strategy acknowledges that protecting Australia’s security interests is no longer bound by geography as developments in cyber, space, nuclear and long-range precision strike have altered the strategic environment in which we operate. To provide security in the space domain, we are focused on strengthening our situational awareness by;

  • enhancing our space capabilities of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance,
  • providing resilient communications and,
  • having the ability to detect and counter emerging space threats.

These effects support Australia’s primary strategic defence objective, Deterrence. Delivering Australia’s Strategy of Denial requires credible Defence Force capabilities that complicate the calculus of potential adversaries. The global nature of space capabilities and operations means we cannot achieve this alone. Working with our international allies and partners to enhance interoperability and create a collective deterrence is critical for success in the Space Domain.

Much of our deterrent effect is coordinated through the Combined Space Operations (CSpO) Initiative. Australia works with like-minded nations to nurture global recognition of the importance of space, and the need for nations to operate in a responsible manner. Together with other CSpO participants - United States, United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Norway - we aim to generate and improve cooperation, coordination and interoperability opportunities. In doing so, we seek to sustain freedom of action in space, optimise resources, enhance mission assurance and resilience, and ultimately prevent conflict.

Unlike the other traditional warfighting domains, operating in the space domain provides a unique set of challenges. Much of what we do in space is constant or ‘always on’. The reach, coverage and endurance of Space systems is clearly a defining strength.

As a demonstration, it is worth reflecting on the battle of Midway in WW2, where the Japanese fleet was first discovered visually by an American patrol bomber, the PBY Catalina. Set against the vastness of the Pacific Ocean this discovery was akin to finding a proverbial needle in a haystack. I think it would be fair to say that for much of the past hundred plus years of modern maritime operations, forces of all sides enjoyed the ability to conduct operational manoeuvres with some level of concealment.

However, the introduction of sophisticated and constantly operating space based ISR sensors now challenges this advantage.

Historian Geoffrey Blainey popularised the idea that remoteness has shaped Australian history and culture in his 1966 book, ‘The Tyranny of Distance. This was of course three years before Armstrong walked on the moon, so Blainey might be excused for not referencing how the space domain may eventually help to manage this tyranny; while significantly enhancing the prosperity and everyday lives of Australians.

I note that the 2022 Air Power Manual cites ubiquity – the state or capacity of being everywhere – is inherent within the air domain, as it always touches the entirety of the earth’s surface, the edge of space, and everywhere in-between.

From this, you can see the interfaces and the synergies between the two domains – and not only that, but between the Space domain and the entire integrated force both as an enabler and an effector in its own right.

In comparison to the PBY Catalina at Midway that somehow managed to thread the needle in a haystack, the ubiquity of Space, now working in concert with a technologically advanced Air Domain and with and through the Cyber domain leaves far less to chance encounters.

The synergies between the two domains are also seen through Air Forces’ application of its ‘Agile Operations’ concept. Space services, such as satellite communications and positioning, navigation and timing (PNT) underpin Air Forces’ abilities to conduct agile operations by providing global communications, command and control, and force tracking capabilities covering vast regional and global basing situations.

Our Joint PNT directorate is establishing foundation PNT capabilities to support multilayered, multi-domain PNT alternatives (including Space based systems beyond GPS) into the future. Our focus is on providing our Defence Force with a persistent information and decision advantage that may prove decisive in a regional conflict.

The Space Domain is now a vital element of the integrated force for every ADF operation and activity – deployed and at home – from satellite communications, to precision guided weapons, to situational awareness across all battlespaces.

The ability to protect and defend our interests in the Space Domain is vital. Space domain awareness and services are essential. Therefore, space control is needed to assure access to the Domain.

We cannot afford to be complacent, our competitors are highly adaptive and are moving quickly – this drives an imperative for the integrated force to think more deeply about protecting its space capabilities, to build resilience and to manage its own signature. 

So how do we build readiness and resilience into the Space Domain? Resilience and readiness are central to our operationalisation of the space domain, and realisation of Defence’s Space Strategy. Accordingly, our efforts are focused on four key areas: integrated force operations, force generation, building our space workforce and modernisation and capability uplift. 

For integrated force operations our efforts are about maturing our arrangements for operational planning and command and control of space capabilities. We do this in consort with our colleagues across Defence in Joint Operations Command.


Ensuring integrated operations requires an approach to space force generation that is repeatable, sustainable and aligned with the well-established processes employed across the other domains.      

In terms of workforce, building and sustaining a trained Defence space workforce with defined career pathways is a key priority, and is critical to our Space Command achieving its mission.

Examples of our effort towards workforce development include:

  • Establishing career pathways for space specialisations and categories
  • Space training courses in partnership with UNSW Space Canberra
  • Space Masters with the University of South Australia
  • Participation in space training and exercises with overseas international partners.

In terms of modernisation and capability uplift, with space capabilities now centrally managed under Joint Capabilities Division, JCG is actively leading progression of Defence’s major space projects. Concurrently, our Space Command team is exploiting every opportunity to incrementally uplift in-service capabilities through innovation in training, contemporary operational employment, and constantly evolving tactics, techniques and procedures.

It is worth mentioning that bringing together space and cyber into one group has delivered a number of advantages. These two domains are inter-related, inter-dependant, fully contested and, as mentioned, ‘always on.’ The workforces of these two domains, at their heart, are highly specialised and technical, in short supply, and in great demand.

Our space and cyber capabilities will remain closely dependent on our industry partners, even during conflict. This has been most recently evident by the Ukrainian dependency on Starlink.

Collaboration with industry and our allies and partners is a key part of developing our space workforce, enhancing military relationships and improving tactical interoperability.

Our future in space is about agility, resilience and adaptability. Our strategic environment is changing rapidly and sophisticated technology and data, which was once the domain of a select few, is now ubiquitous.

We need to challenge our thinking about sustaining a capability edge in space. The advancement and implementation of disruptive technologies are going to be increasingly important.

Just as the air domain was poorly understood in the 1920’s, we are only beginning to understand the full potential of the space domain -  and its inter-relationship with the cyber domain and three traditional domains. Effectively synchronising effects across all five operational domains will be one of our greatest challenges.

This conference is an excellent opportunity to further consider the role of space in how we will fight in the future.

Achieving and integrating effective space power requires operational concepts, doctrine, tactics, techniques, procedures, logistics and most importantly creative and disruptive thinking that can leverage technology, asymmetry and opportunity.
Rob, thank you for the opportunity to jointly open the 2024 Air and Space Power Conference with you; which in my mind is an exemplar for the integrated force. 

I look forward to the insights that the fabulous array of speakers assembled here this week will share on building Readiness & Resilience into National Air & Space Power across the Spectrum of Competition.