The five-domains update

Sea state

An explosion and fire on the amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard occurred during routine maintenance at the ship’s home port of San Diego. The fire reportedly injured 17 sailors and four civilians. USS Miami was lost in 2012 due to a shipyard fire, and critics have questioned whether both fires were due to poorly implemented safety procedures. Having the Bonhomme Richard out of action will deal ‘a significant blow to the Navy’s plans to have F-35Bs continually deployed in the Pacific’, especially as the US moves to strengthen its response to China’s activities in the South China Sea.

A fleet of Royal Australian Navy vessels have been deployed to Hawaii for the biennial RIMPAC exercise, where they will train with their counterparts from the US and other Pacific nations. Participation in RIMPAC is part of a broader ADF deployment that will also include exercises in Southeast Asia over the next several months. RIMPAC will be held largely at sea and shore-based contingents will be minimised to reduce the potential for Covid-19 transmission.

Flight path

The US State Department has approved the potential US$23.11 billion sale of 105 Lockheed Martin F-35 fighter jets to Japan. If it goes ahead, it will be the second largest US foreign military sale in history, after the US$29.4 billion sale of F-15SA fighter jets to Saudi Arabia in 2010. The Defense Security Cooperation Agency said the sale is ‘vital to US national interest’. Japan’s decision to procure 63 F-35As and 42 F-35Bs has been criticised by Chinese analysts, who have warned that it may ‘further fuel the arms race in Asia’.

Airbus Helicopters has formed a consortium with more than 20 Australian companies in the hopes of securing the LAND 2097 Phase 4 program. The company is offering its H145M for the program, which seeks up to 16 helicopters for Australia’s special forces. The RAN already operates Airbus’s related but smaller EC135 as a training helicopter. Other contenders include the Bell 407GT, Boeing AH-6i Little Bird and Leonardo AW109 Trekker.

Rapid fire

A National Guard soldier has become the first female Green Beret after graduating from US Army Special Forces training on Thursday. Until last week, special forces was one of the few remaining all-male combat units in the US military. It specialises in counterinsurgency, unconventional warfare, direct-action, foreign internal defence and security force assistance missions. The Pentagon opened all military combat positions to women in 2015.

New Zealand Defence Minister Ron Mark says his country will purchase 43 Bushmaster armoured vehicles to replace its ageing Pinzgauers. The NZ government will spend NZ$102.9 million on training, support and the vehicles themselves, which are built by French manufacturer Thales in Victoria. Widely used and tested by the Australian Army in Afghanistan, the Bushmaster provides protection against small-arms fire, mines and improvised explosive devices.

Final frontier

Australia’s and Japan’s space agencies have signed an agreement to strengthen cooperation in space technology, applications and education. The partnership between the Australian Space Agency and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency will support the growing local space industry and extend collaboration between the two nations into new areas. Australia and Japan have a long history of working together on space activities and are currently managing the return of Japan’s Hayabusa-2 spacecraft, which is expected to land in Australia later this year.

Israel launched an Ofek-16 satellite on a Shavit rocket last week. Ofek-16 is built by Israel Aerospace Industries and is an electro-optical reconnaissance satellite with ‘advanced capabilities’ that will be operated by the Israel Defense Forces’ Unit 9900. Israel’s first satellite in the Ofek series was launched in 1988 to collect data on the earth’s magnetic field and environment.

Wired watchtower

The details of thousands of Chinese Australians who follow two social media groups are believed to have been provided to the Hong Kong Police Force. The details were reportedly posted anonymously on the agency’s website, accompanied by a message calling for the groups’ members to be punished for breaking Beijing’s national security law. A Chinese activist in Australia, meanwhile, says she’s been tracked in Melbourne and her family members have been interviewed by police in China because of her social media activity.

Facebook is considering a ban on political advertising in the lead-up to the US election. The platform is facing intense pressure from civil rights advocates to take a stronger stance against hate speech and misinformation, and is currently subject to a boycott from major advertisers. If a ban were to be implemented, it would be an about-face for Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg, who said last year the he ‘would not police politicians’ ads’.