The five-domains update

Sea state

NATO ships have located 23 mines and four torpedoes in Oslofjord, Norway. A NATO mine countermeasures group and vessels from the Royal Norwegian Navy discovered the WW2-era explosives. Due to the breeding season of cod and other fish species that inhabit the fjord, the ordinance was moved to a safe location rather than detonated in place.

The Israeli Navy shot dead a Palestinian fisherman after his boat allegedly ignored warnings and strayed from a permitted fishing zone. Israel has enforced a naval blockade of the Gaza Strip since 2007 to prevent arms smuggling. The blockade restricts Palestinian fishermen to a seasonally adjusted area of six to nine nautical miles off the coastline. Gaza fishermen called for an immediate two-day strike to protest the shooting.

The US Navy’s (USN) newest ship is to be named after Canberra. At a press conference with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, President Donald Trump announced that the next Independence-variant Littoral Combat Ship will be named USS Canberra (LCS 30) in honour of the ‘enduring friendship between the United States and Australia’. This is the second USN ship to bear the name: the first was a Baltimore-class cruiser that was launched in 1943. USS Canberra will be the only serving USN ship to be named after a foreign capital city.

Flight path

Twelve aircraft from the Chinese PLA Air Force crossed into Taiwanese airspace on 21 February. A Taiwanese Ministry of National Defence spokesperson said that the aircraft weren’t a threat, but that the number of incursions from the Chinese air force is increasing. China conducted 16 military aircraft exercises near Taiwan’s Air Defence Identification Zone in 2017, and the Chinese civil aviation authority unilaterally opened commercial flight routes passing 4.3 nautical miles from Taiwanese airspace in January. The moves might reflect Chinese opportunism at a time when the US needs China to contain North Korea.

A team of Chinese scientists unveiled a plan to build a hypersonic jet last Friday. With multiple countries pursuing similar technology, US Air Force Chief Scientist Greg Zacharias anticipates that hypersonic weaponry and aircraft will be operational game changers.

Japan’s First Airlines last week launched the first virtual reality flight that gives customers the chance to experience plane travel without actually going anywhere. Based in Tokyo, the VR simulates the excitement of take-off, landing and sitting in a plane for two hours. Providing complete authenticity, passengers must pay more for the first-class experience.

Rapid fire

Tensions between Russia and NATO continue to rise as Estonia and Lithuania announced upgrades to their armed forces this month. The upgrades include the transfer of 21 Panzerhaubitze 2000 self-propelled guns from Germany. The announcement coincides with the first anniversary of NATO’s ‘enhanced forward presence’ in Lithuania. NATO is keeping a close eye on the nuclear-capable missile system that Russia deployed in Kaliningrad earlier this month. The system can strike NATO members Lithuania, Estonia, Germany, Poland and Latvia.

US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis delivered his recommendations to the White House on the participation of transgender people in the military. The recommendations aren’t yet public, but Mattis is expected to suggest that transgender troops be allowed to remain in the military. Mattis was previously instructed by the president to issue a divisive memorandum prohibiting transgender troops from serving from 23 March this year.

Meanwhile, women can now apply to serve in Saudi Arabia’s military. Applicants must meet 12 criteria: women raised outside the kingdom or married to non-Saudis aren’t eligible. The decision is consistent with Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030 initiative to modernise and diversify Saudi Arabia’s economy, including improving the economic participation of women.

Zero gravity

British astronaut Tim Peake predicts that humans will land on Mars within the next 20 years. Peake praised Elon Musk’s successful Falcon Heavy rocket launch as a significant step in opening up space exploration possibilities. Peake says that landing humans on Mars by the 2030s is a ‘realistic timeframe’.

It was all systems go at NASA last week as it successfully tested one of its RS-25 engines. The engine was powered to its highest level ever, reaching 113% thrust level. The engine is an integral component of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS). The SLS needs four of the RS‑25s to propel NASA’s newest exploration rocket into space.

Photography might not feature in a pilot’s job description but US pilot Ross Franquemont has shown that the two fields definitely go hand in hand. Franquemont captured some stunning images from a U-2 ‘Dragon Lady’ spy plane. See his photos here.

Wired watchtower

Australia’s Department of Defence is phasing out the use of Chinese-made mobile phones. Huawei phones have been removed from service and ZTE models will be replaced as they age. The move to ban Chinese phones follows accusations by American spy chiefs that the Chinese companies pose a national security risk. The UK has taken an alternative view, allowing Huawei to operate GCHQ’s cybersecurity centre.

Facebook and Google face a new investigation by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC). The ACCC is investigating the role of online algorithms in distributing certain news materials, as well as their influence on our news consumption. The ACCC is concerned that social media sites are creating ‘filter bubbles’ and ‘echo chambers’ that shape and pigeonhole the news content that consumers receive. As part of the investigation, the ACCC released its ‘Digital Platform Inquiry’ issues paper, which also looks at how digital news is affecting traditional media.

Boston Dynamics last week released a video of its dog-like robot opening a door despite a human’s attempts to prevent it from doing so. The company was testing the robustness of the robot’s ability to carry out commands. The robot, which has a claw-arm where its head should be, fended off the human’s attempts to move the claw, shut the door or even forcibly drag the robot away.