The five-domains update

Sea state

The Department of Defence has launched ‘Plan Galileo’, which outlines a program for establishing regional maintenance centres, maturing supply chains and building a skilled workforce to support the Royal Australian Navy and its fleet of ships. The project aims to develop local and regional capacity for naval shipbuilding and maintenance across the country. The Arafura-class offshore patrol vessel program is set to be a proof-of-concept for the plan, showing how Defence expects to create a larger and more logistically complex navy.

Two US Navy ships sailed into the South China Sea last week to support a drilling ship contracted by Malaysia that was being hassled by Chinese vessels. US Pacific Fleet commander Admiral John Aquilino has labelled China’s tactics in the area as ‘bullying’. The civilian ship, the West Capella, has been drilling on the seafloor in waters claimed by Malaysia searching for oil deposits for the past two months.

Flight path

Boeing has unveiled the first of three semi-autonomous ‘loyal wingman’ aircraft as part of a $40 million program supported by the Royal Australian Air Force. Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the aircraft, which has a range of more than 3,700 kilometres, will ‘enhance the agility and capability of the Australian Defence Force so we can protect our nation and our allies’. It’s the first military aircraft to be designed and built in Australia since the Boomerang in World War II, and will allow experimentation in manned–unmanned teaming.

The US Air Force has deployed four B-1B Lancers and around 200 personnel to support strategic deterrence missions and exercises in the Indo-Pacific. The training, which is based at Andersen Air Force Base on Guam, includes participation by key allies and partners. The deployment comes just a few weeks after the US called an end to the continuous bomber presence on Guam which it had maintained since 2004.

Rapid fire

Unnamed officials have reportedly disclosed that the US Department of Defense is likely to withdraw troops from a peacekeeping mission in the Sinai because it has become too costly and dangerous. The troops are part of the Multinational Force & Observers, an independent international organisation that was set up to ensure the Egyptian–Israeli Treaty of Peace is respected. Lately, the US has been under pressure to decrease its military aid to Egypt to avoid its misuse by the authoritarian regime of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. However, Israel is worried that a US withdrawal would only help the Islamic State terror group.

Venezuelan soldiers reportedly seized three abandoned Colombian combat vessels on Saturday, and the Colombian navy is now attempting to retrieve them. The news broke days after the Venezuelan government detained two US mercenaries who were allegedly involved in a plot to overthrow President Nicolas Maduro through an incursion that killed eight people. Maduro accused the US government of backing what he says was an attempted coup, but President Donald Trump has denied any involvement.

Final frontier

Australia’s Office of National Intelligence has issued a request for tender to build a ‘smart’ satellite prototype to ‘demonstrate the application of miniaturised satellite systems with on-board machine learning applications’. In 2019, ONI confirmed that in-orbit processing of imagery and radio data was theoretically feasible and minimised the need to download bulk data. The service provider will work with ONI and the national intelligence community to provide research and development, ongoing application updates and project management services.

China’s new space crew capsule has successfully completed seven unmanned manoeuvres after being launched on the Long March 5B booster. The capsule is designed to carry up to six astronauts to low-earth orbit. According to state media, new heat shielding and 3D printing technology were tested during the orbit. The Long March launch also demonstrated the capability to start carrying modules and constructing China’s planned space station.

Wired watchtower

The source code for the government’s COVIDSafe app was released last week and privacy legislation is expected to be put to parliament this week. More than 5.3 million Australians now have the app; however, a number of MPs and senators have said they won’t download it until privacy rules have been enacted. The head of the Digital Transformation Agency, which was responsible for developing the app, has admitted that it may not work on some phones unless it’s running in the foreground and the devices are unlocked.

In Germany, Der Spiegel has reported that Russian military intelligence hacked into two email inboxes from Chancellor Angela Merkel’s constituency office in 2015. German federal police and the federal cyber agency were able to partially reconstruct the attack and found that emails from 2012 to 2015 were accessed and copied. An arrest warrant has been issued for Russian Dmitry Badin, who is believed to be responsible for the German hack as well as that of Hillary Clinton’s emails in the lead-up to the 2016 US election.