Duncan Blake

Duncan Blake

Higher Degree by Research Candidate

Adelaide Law School

Faculty of Arts, Business, Law and Economics

Duncan Blake transferred from the permanent Air Force to the Reserves in January 2017, after 22 years as a Legal Officer in the Royal Australian Air Force. He worked at the tactical, operational and strategic levels at home and on deployment overseas.
Duncan recently returned from the Middle East where he was providing legal support to aerial targeting operations in Iraq and Syria. He has worked with strike and fighter jet forces and units responsible for airspace surveillance. He has also been a prosecutor for the military.
He served as the Deputy Director of Operations and International Law for the Australian Department of Defence, providing operations and international law advice and support at the highest levels within Defence and across government.
More recently, Duncan was legal advisor to the Defence Space Coordinating Office and he chaired inter-departmental and international working groups in respect of strategic space law. His last posting, before transferring out of the permanent Air Force, was in a non-legal position, managing the development of a future joint operations concept for military use of outer space, to coordinate capability development and force structure decisions in the Australian Defence Force.
Wing Commander Duncan Blake continues to contribute as a Reserve legal officer, providing backfill and supplementation in a directorate that advises government on the potential military role in existing and prospective contingencies. He also supports the Australian Department of Defence in a variety of other tasks, especially in relation to military space activities and the law.
Duncan has contributed extensively to doctrine and policy for the Australian Department of Defence and whole-of-government, on issues of operations law and space law. Although this work is not publicly accessible, he has authored numerous articles, including an article for which he was awarded the 2011 Lieber Society Military Prize by the American Society of International Law.
He has undergraduate degrees in Law and Economics from the University of Western Australia, a Master of Laws (LLM) degree from the University of Melbourne and an LLM from McGill University. He is also a graduate of Australian Command and Staff College. His thesis topic for his LLM at McGill University was on the need for a ‘Manual on International Law Applicable to Warfare in Space’.
Duncan is currently part of the editorial team for a project to draft the Woomera Manual on international law applicable to military space activities, helping to lead a group of international experts to draft such a manual, aiming for publication in 2022. Duncan's doctoral research at The University of Adelaide is associated with the Woomera Manual project. In respect of military space activities, there are rules of international space law that appear to conflict with rules from laws about using force and coercion. Reconciling those conflicts using existing tools of international law is ambiguous. Nevertheless, meaningful resolution of these conflicts is possible. Duncan’s research examines how.
Duncan also consults on law and strategy for space services for International Aerospace Law & Policy Group.

In respect of military space activities, there are rules of international space law that appear to conflict with rules from laws about using force and coercion. Reconciling those conflicts using existing tools of international law is ambiguous. Yet, meaningful resolution of these conflicts is necessary, and it’s also possible. My PhD research is aimed at examining how.

In particular, I take, as a starting point, the conclusion of the ‘Fragmentation Study’ of the International Law Commission, that international law is a unitary system and reconciliation of apparently conflicting rules requires ‘systemic integration’, and especially the application of interpretative principles from the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties. I apply systems theory to international law, to conceive of the international legal system as an autopoeitic system that evolves through interaction with other systems that collectively form part of a broader societal system.

  • Appointments

    Date Position Institution name
    2020 - ongoing Lecturer, Space Operations UNSW Canberra
    2017 - ongoing Special Counsel - Space Law International Aerospace Law and Policy Group
    2017 - ongoing Reserve Legal Officer Royal Australian Air Force
    1995 - 2016 Legal Officer Royal Australian Air Force
  • Awards and Achievements

    Date Type Title Institution Name Country Amount
    2012 Research Award Lieber Society, Richard R. Baxter Military Prize American Society of International Law, Lieber Society United States USD500
  • Education

    Date Institution name Country Title
    2013 McGill University Canada Master of Laws
    2007 University of New South Wales Australia Graduate Certificate in Defence Studies
    2007 Australian Defence College Australia Australian Command and Staff Course
    2005 University of Melbourne Australia Master of Laws
    1996 University of Western Australia Australia Bachelor of Laws
    1996 University of Western Australia Australia Bachelor of Economics
  • Certifications

    Date Title Institution name Country
    2020 Associate Fellow Higher Education Academy United Kingdom
    2013 Certificate IV in Training and Assessment RAAF School of Administration and Logistics Training -
  • Journals

    Year Citation
    2020 Blake, D. (2020). Australia’s Essential Contribution to ‘Space Domain Awareness’. The Bulletin - Law Society of South Australia.
    2019 Blake, D. (2019). I Am Not a High Priest in a Secular Military!. Adelaide Law Review.
    2011 Blake, D., & Henderson, I. (2011). Military Use of Civil-Registered Aircraft.
    2011 Cronan, P., Hanna, C., Blake, D., Henderson, I., & Keane, P. (2011). Operations Bastille and Falconer: Legal Support to Commanders. Australian Defence Force Journal, (184).
    2010 Blake, D. (2010). ’Bloodless Weapons’? The Need to Conduct Legal Reviews of Certain Capabilities and the Implications of Defining them as ’Weapons’. Air Force Law Review.
  • Books

    Year Citation
    2013 Blake, D. (2013). The Law Applicable to the Military Strategic Use of Outer Space.
    2013 Blake, D. (2013). Military Strategic Use of Outer Space.
  • Conference Papers

    Year Citation
    2017 Blake, D. (2017). Maintaining United States leadership in the space domain.
    2016 Blake, D. (2016). Space Law Issues in the Regulation of National Space Activities.
    2012 Blake, D. (2012). Australian Interests in Transparency and Confidence-Building Measures for Outer Space.



My focus in the near term is on completion of my PhD research and I am not involved in any teaching at University of Adelaide at this time. However, while completing my PhD part-time, I am employed full-time at UNSW Canberra where I am the Convenor for a distance course titled ‘Space Cooperation, Conflict and Competition’ at the postgraduate level, and Co-Convenor for a course titled ‘Law, Force and Legitimacy’ at the undergraduate level (for ADFA cadets).


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