Government-to-government talks are under way between Australia and the US about a partnership for the US wideband global satellite communications network (WGS). Boeing's network and space systems subsidiary is building the system. Australia is expected to agree to pay part of the cost of upgrading it.
Australian involvement would enhance two-way wartime communications with the United States and increase the system's coverage and capacity worldwide. Australia will be the only US partner in the network. The US Air Force's Los Angeles-based Space and Missile Systems Centre is responsible for the satellites.
Russia and China have voiced concern over what they regard as tightening military ties among the United States, Japan and Australia. The three are cooperating in conventional military exercises, as well as to prepare a strategic defence against ballistic missiles.
The network's first satellite is due to be launched on 9 October. This one satellite will provide more capacity for video, data and voice than the aging constellation of satellites it is due to augment and then replace. Totally, five WGS satellites are currently planned. The constellation is due to be fully operational by 2012.
Precise figures on the incremental cost of a sixth satellite are not available, but the total cost of a six-satellite system has been projected at $1.8 billion, a Boeing representative said. The company is optimistic that talks with Australia would clinch a deal for a sixth satellite, possibly by the end of this year.