The five-domains update

Sea state

Nineteen Iranian sailors have died in a friendly fire incident, after a missile hit a support vessel during a training exercise in the Gulf of Oman. Iran regularly runs exercises in the gulf, through which 20% of the world’s oil trade passes. The US Navy has offered its condolences to Iran, but also criticised it for holding a training exercise in such busy waters. The incident comes less than a month after the White House instructed the navy to sink any Iranian gunboats that harassed US ships.

Spain has joined the European patrol corvette program to develop a customised, modular naval vessel. This collaborative project, which also includes France, Italy and Greece, was launched in November by the European Council under the Permanent Structured Cooperation scheme. The first of the new vessels will be Italian and is expected to be operational in 2027, and the first French one is set to be delivered in 2030.

Flight path

Donald Trump has threatened to end the offshore manufacturing of parts for the F-35 fighter jet. If the US president follows through with his threat, nine US partners, including Australia, would be at risk of losing thousands of jobs and contracts worth billions of dollars. Prime Minister Scott Morrison cautioned against ‘getting too far ahead of oneself when it comes to reading into the statement that has been made’, saying that Australia would continue to operate under the terms of contracts signed for the F-35 program.

The biennial Australian International Airshow at Avalon, which was scheduled for 23–28 February 2021, has been pushed back due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The Avalon airshow is the largest aviation exposition in the southern hemisphere and last year it attracted a total of 171,830 attendees and 698 companies. The 2021 show is set to be particularly significant as it will coincide with centenary celebrations for the Royal Australian Air Force.

Rapid fire

US Special Operations Command soldiers will be equipped with the ‘next-generation squad weapons’ being designed for the US Army. The new guns will replace the M4A1 carbine and the M249 light machine gun. Three companies, Sig Sauer, General Dynamics and Textron Systems, are vying for the contract and have provided army officials with extremely different prototypes of each of the two weapons. The design is due to be selected by 2022 for a 2023 deployment in infantry and close-combat units.

The Irish army has asked to rent the country’s sole Learjet 45 to repatriate two army officers deployed to the UN peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The men were due to return home but were stopped from doing so in April when UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres halted all peacekeeping rotations to contain the spread of Covid-19 in developing nations. Amid rising concerns about the situation there, around 20,000 UN peacekeeping troops are still deployed in the DRC.

Final frontier

The US Space Force recently launched an autonomous and reusable X-37B space plane atop an Atlas V rocket. On this mission, the X-37B will host multiple experiments and test a system designed by the US Naval Research Laboratory that can capture and beam solar energy back to earth via microwaves. Two X-37Bs have flown six missions since 2010 as part of a platform to test ‘reusable spacecraft technologies for America’s future in space’.

The European Defence Agency has awarded Airbus a new satellite communications contract for military and civil missions. The ‘EU SatCom Market’ will provide access to satellite services for 32 contributing members, including 20 European defence ministries. The project has been operating since 2012 and aims to provide commercial solutions that make satellite communications cheaper, easier to access and more efficient for members.

Wired watchtower

A Defence Department review has found that Australia is unprepared for full-scale cyberattacks. The ABC obtained Defence’s first internal reassessment of war planning and preparedness since the Vietnam War, which calls for an in-depth analysis of Australia’s vulnerabilities and emphasises the need for a whole-of-government approach to preparing for and managing unconventional threats to all sectors of Australian society.

The FBI and the Cyber Security and Infrastructure Security Agency in the US have revealed that China-affiliated ‘cyber actors and non-traditional collectors’ have been targeting American universities and pharmaceutical and other healthcare companies in an attempt to steal information related to potential coronavirus treatments and vaccines. US officials have pointed to intelligence that indicates both Chinese and Iranian involvement in these hacks.