After submarines, the Australia, U.K. and U.S. (AUKUS) partnership is venturing to set up a radar that can see deep in space up to 36,000 kilometers away from earth.
In a joint announcement this week, the Defence Secretaries of Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States unveiled the Deep Space Advanced Radar Capability (DARC) program, aimed at providing enhanced 24/7, all-weather capabilities for characterizing objects in deep space.
DARC involves the establishment of a global network comprising three ground-based radars, jointly operated by the AUKUS nations. This network is anticipated to contribute significantly to space-traffic management and the global surveillance of satellites in deep space. The geographical positioning of Australia, the UK, and the US allows DARC to offer comprehensive global coverage, aiding in the detection of potential threats to defense or civilian space systems.
The DARC program is expected to bolster the capabilities of the AUKUS nations in safeguarding their land, air, and maritime forces, as well as protecting critical infrastructure and supporting domestic construction and space industries.
“As the world becomes more contested and the danger of space warfare increases, the UK and our allies must ensure we have the advanced capabilities we need to keep our nations’ safe. Today’s announcement of a global radar network (DARC), based across the UK, US and Australia will do just that. Empowering the UK to detect, track and identify objects in deep space,” UK Defence Secretary, Grant Shapps said.
The U.K.'s preferred site for the DARC program has been identified as Cawdor Barracks in Pembrokeshire, Wales. The final decision on the site is contingent on the results of an ongoing comprehensive MOD-funded Environmental Impact Assessment and subsequent Town Planning application.
Apart from its defense applications, DARC is designed to monitor and protect essential services relying on satellites, such as communications and navigation. This capability is expected to play a crucial role in AUKUS’ efforts to preserve peace and deter conflict in the Indo-Pacific and globally.
The advanced radar systems of DARC boast higher sensitivity, improved accuracy, increased capacity, and more agile tracking compared to existing radars and optical systems. These enhancements will enable greater global monitoring to inform U.K. defense operations, overcoming current limitations related to inclement weather and daylight conditions.
Construction of the first DARC radar site is underway in Australia, with operational readiness expected by 2026. All three DARC sites are projected to be fully operational by the end of the decade, following the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding in September 2023. The DARC program aligns with the key objectives outlined in the U.K.’s Defence Space Strategy, published the previous year, aiming to enhance collective space domain awareness.
AUKUS, a landmark security and defense partnership between Australia, the U.K., and the U.S., seeks to strengthen regional and global security in the Indo-Pacific.