Australia Getting Closer to the US with Satellite Technology

The German government has taken the unusual step of asking the top intelligence official stationed at the US embassy in Berlin to leave the country. To be fair, if my friends were spying on me in my house I’d ask them to leave too. What kind of friend spies on you, anyway? A German government spokesman was polite but firm about it, saying:

The representative of the U.S. intelligence services at the United States embassy has been asked to leave Germany. The request occurred against the backdrop of the ongoing investigation by federal prosecutors as well as the questions that were posed months ago about the activities of U.S. intelligence agencies in Germany. The government takes the matter very seriously.’

How strange is it that a long-time major US ally is falling out with it over the extent of NSA spying? Germany’s reaction is in stark contrast to Australia’s, for example. In fact, Australia took further steps this week to make it an integral cog in the next-generation of a satellite surveillance system. That system gives the US and its allies unprecedented levels of bandwidth to gather and share information from the battlefield, wherever that is (and it’s everywhere these days, in case you hadn’t noticed).

A new ground station will be built at the Australian spy base near Geraldton in Western Australia to dramatically upgrade access to next-generation military satellite communications for US and Australian troops around the world,’ according to an article by Cameron Stewart in The Australian this week.

Stewart reports that the new station will:

Provide direct access via Australia to the five most capable US military satellites in space, improving Washington’s ability to direct unmanned drone attacks on terrorists…The Pentagon believes the important new facility will also answer what it calls a “desperate need” for greater access to military satellites for the US Pacific fleet at a time when Washington hopes to step up its so-called pivot to Asia in the face of a rising China.’

The satellites in question are part of the Wideband Global System (WGS). The existence of the system gets to the heart of the US belief/strategy — shared by Australia — that the key to future warfare is better, faster information. This is the premise behind the F-22 raptor and the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF), which I talk about here.

The WGS is really like a Global Broadband Network for the US military industrial complex and its friends. It’s a network of 10 high-tech satellites deployed around the planet in geosynchronous orbit (which means they stay in a fixed location), to give global coverage. They can handle ten times the amount of data that current US military satellites can handle. And they enable rapid communication of that data (including pictures) to ‘war fighters’ on the ground. In a world generating so much data, even the Feds and the spooks need more bandwidth.

The program began in 2007. Australia paid $927 million for one of the satellites. It doesn’t actually own the satellite. It was just the US government’s way of funding the program. Under the terms of the deal, Australia enjoys access to the satellite system until 2029. Similar deals were made with Canada, Denmark, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and New Zealand.

Six of the 10 planned satellites have been deployed. The very first one was actually deployed over the Pacific. This is the ‘desperate need’ cited by the Pentagon to connect US forces in the Pacific with better real-time information about what’s going on in this increasingly busy and contentious part of the planet. And that brings me to Russia, China and Australia.


Dan Denning
for Markets and Money

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Dan Denning examines the geopolitical and economic events that can affect your investments domestically. He raises the questions you need to answer, in order to survive financially in these turbulent times.

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