The five-domains update

Sea state

The UK National Audit Office has revealed that the Royal Navy may not be able to form carrier groups with its two new aircraft carriers. After spending nearly $8 billion on the two vessels, the UK is now faced with the difficulty of freeing up enough new funds to afford the aircraft, escorts and support ships required for the ships’ operations. The navy’s plans to build three new support vessels have been jettisoned, and no back-up plan is in place for 2028 when the current support ship is due to be retired.

With new technology set to make the world’s oceans increasingly dangerous in wartime, the US Navy wants to quickly extend its reach, and to match China’s rapidly growing maritime force, by developing a range of unmanned warships for missions on the surface, and below it. If the navy can persuade Congress to provide the funding it wants, these will include large unmanned surface vessels, or ‘robo-ships’, displacing up to 2,000 tonnes fully loaded for reconnaissance and patrol operations and to chase down submarines. An early version, the 40-metre-long Sea Hunter vessel, was launched in 2016 and is the inspiration for the Sea Hunter II, now under construction in Mississippi. Prototypes may be tested during the Trident Warrior 2020 exercises due to be held in early July.

Flight path

China’s People’s Liberation Army continues to step up its assertiveness in the airspace near Taiwan. Chinese aircraft have entered Taiwanese airspace at least six times during the past week, and the Japanese Air Self-Defence Force has also scrambled its fighter jets on a daily basis to intercept aircraft in the East China Sea. The Global Times reported the flights were aimed at ‘gathering military information from Taiwan, and suppressing potential US and Japanese reinforcements’.

The Royal Australian Air Force is on the hunt for a new lead-in fighter training system, or LIFTS, to replace its fleet of 33 Hawk 127 jet trainers between 2022 and 2033. The Defence Department, which gave the AIR 6002 program an approximate investment value of $4–5 billion, is prioritising ‘aircraft performance and aircraft mission systems that bridge between the pilot training system and fast jet conversion courses’. BAE Systems, Boeing, Leonardo and Korea Aerospace Industries are all looking into in bidding for the work.

Rapid fire

Australian special forces are again under fire over allegations of war crimes in Afghanistan after an army officer admitted that the accusations against some Australian soldiers deployed in Afghanistan are true. Major-General Adam Findlay blamed ‘poor moral leadership’ for the soldiers’ behaviour and conceded that there may have been a cover-up. Earlier this year, video of an Australian soldier killing an unarmed Afghan civilian back in 2012 caused a storm, while over the weekend former medic Dusty Miller apologised to the family of another man shot by the SAS for failing to save him.

To improve the efficiency of systems for countering small unmanned aircraft (C-sUAS), the US Defense Department has selected eight solutions after a months-long assessment led by the army. The assortment includes fixed or semi-fixed systems, mounted or mobile systems, and dismounted or handheld systems. The department established a Joint C-sUAS Office last year with the goal of streamlining the systems used to counter the threat from small drones and coordinate action across US armed services.

Final frontier

NASA, the European Space Agency and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency have created a Covid-19 earth observation dashboard which aggregates the agencies’ satellite data to allow users to track short- and long-term impacts of the pandemic on the environment, economic activity and agriculture. The ESA’s Josef Aschbacher said the agencies are already considering expanding the scope of the dashboard to address other global-scale issues.

The UK is moving to create its own global navigation system to rival Europe’s Galileo in the wake of Brexit, but experts say the company the UK is investing in doesn’t have the right satellites. The government plans to spend $727 million on a 20% stake in OneWeb, which operates satellites in low-earth orbit of around 1,200 kilometres (all other navigation systems use satellites at about 20,000 kilometres). Earlier this year, the company filed for bankruptcy in the US and at least three Chinese companies are also bidding to claim the company’s 74 satellites.

Wired watchtower

Data from Australia’s COVIDSafe app has revealed ongoing problems with the platform. The app has been downloaded by more than 6.4 million people, yet information used by state health authorities has not yet identified people not already discovered by manual tracing processes. The app also has a 25% effectiveness rate on iPhones when they are locked and there have been difficulties sharing data between iPhones and Android devices. The government has ruled out using an Apple–Google system, which was recently adopted in the UK.

In the lead-up to the US presidential election, Facebook says it will start to label newsworthy content that goes against its policies and ban ads that promote racist or homophobic views. It will also label content related to voting that contains accurate information. The announcement came after Twitter made similar moves and Facebook employees, US politicians, civil rights groups and a boycott from advertisers put pressure on the company. Almost 100 advertisers are taking part in the boycott, including Coca-Cola, Honda and Unilever.