The five-domains update

Sea state

The UK plans to send HMS Queen Elizabeth, one of its two new aircraft carriers, to East Asia next year. The ship could even be permanently based in the Pacific, though it’s not clear where. The UK’s stepping up of its naval presence in the Indo-Pacific is seen as a bid to support the US in countering Beijing’s claims in the South China Sea. China’s ambassador to the UK, Liu Xiaoming, responded with a warning that joining the US in pressuring Beijing would be a ‘dangerous move’.

The Chinese navy is doubling the number of destroyers in its fleet to 39 by 2025. The People’s Liberation Army Navy has already eclipsed the US Navy in terms of sheer numbers of vessels, and is expanding rapidly. There are concerns China will use its navy to achieve greater control of its maritime approaches in the East and South China Seas. China has also been expanding PLAN bases, including its facility in Djibouti.

Flight path

The US Air Force has put in an order for its first eight Boeing F-15EX fighter jets and supporting equipment for US$1.2 billion. The new aircraft come with increased missile capacity, enhanced electronic warfare functions, and mission systems to launch hypersonic missiles from stand-off distances. The air force has said that at least 144 F-15EXs will be purchased as part of a US$23 billion replacement program for its ageing F-15C/D fleet.

The Royal Australian Air Force’s C-27J Spartan program is under review due to problems with its electronic warfare self-protection system that render it unable to fly in battle. The system protects the aircraft from attack and allows it to continue missions in contested environments. The C-27J contributed to Australia’s recent bushfire relief efforts, and Defence says the aircraft can still be used in disaster-relief missions and Pacific engagement programs. The 2020 force structure plan highlights Australia’s plans to invest in a countermeasures system to enhance the survivability of aircraft like the C-27J.

Rapid fire

The Wall Street Journal reports that the Trump administration is considering reducing the number of American troops in South Korea after it failed to reach an agreement with Seoul over military cost-sharing back in April. Tensions have grown between presidents Donald Trump and Moon Jae-in, but a final decision on the possible troop cuts is yet to be made. The Pentagon has been reviewing overseas deployments, a move which has caused concerns about the US’s commitment to allies in Asia.

There’s a challenge that every soldier in history has faced in the field: what do you do when nature calls? Deployed soldiers encounter several obstacles to relieve themselves in the most disparate settings, from the freezing Himalayas to scorching deserts. It’s no secret that everyone, including those in uniform, needs to defecate, and despite the perfecting of several techniques over time, it’s very often an arduous task, especially for women soldiers.

Final frontier

The United Arab Emirates became the first Middle Eastern country to launch a mission to Mars. The Hope probe will collect data on the planet’s climate and atmosphere using a high-resolution camera and spectrometers. There are currently eight active missions to Mars, and China, Europe and the US are all planning future missions.

The US Department of Defense has contracted Sierra Nevada Corporation to build an experimental space station that can operate from low-earth orbit out to cislunar space. The company will repurpose its Shooting Star vehicle, which was developed for NASA resupply missions and requires only a few components to meet the Pentagon’s needs. The orbital outpost will be scalable to meet the needs of defence experimentation in space. It will also boost Sierra Nevada Corporation’s opportunities to use its Dream Chaser spaceplane.

Wired watchtower

Following India’s banning of Chinese apps and the US’s weighing up of a similar proposal, Australia is likely to launch an investigation into Chinese social media platforms TikTok, WeChat and Weibo. A parliamentary inquiry into foreign interference through social media is already underway to assist the government in forming a position on these particular platforms. Any new review would focus specifically on the security threats posed by these companies, given concerns about the provision of user data to the Chinese government.

After its decision to ban Huawei from its 5G network, the UK is now looking to Japanese firms NEC and Fujitsu as potential alternative providers of 5G equipment and technology. UK government officials met with their Japanese counterparts in Tokyo last week to talk through their options. The move reflects the UK’s desire to work more closely with allies to foster more competition and lower the costs of implementing new wireless technologies.