The five-domains update

Sea state

The Royal Navy’s survey ship HMS Enterprise has been deployed to Beirut to support Lebanon’s recovery from last week’s explosion that damaged infrastructure and left at least 150 people dead. The UK has committed to helping Lebanon reopen its capital city’s port, along with pledging £5 million (A$9 million) in humanitarian aid. This aid package is part of over A$400 million pledged worldwide, including A$100 million from the European Commission and A$5 million from Australia. The US has also contributed funding, as well as sending three C-17 cargo aircraft to Lebanon with medical supplies and food.

Australia’s Defence Department is looking to incorporate maritime unmanned aircraft systems, or MUAS, to bolster the navy’s presence at sea. Australia recently committed up to A$1.3 billion for a new MUAS development program, which would focus on small unmanned aerial vehicles weighing between 25 and 300 kilograms. The program includes upgrading the systems on a five-yearly investment cycle starting in 2024. This investment is part of a much larger expansion of Australia’s naval capabilities outlined in the 2020 force structure plan.

Flight path

Taiwan’s air force has launched two F-16 fighter jets armed with live AGM-84 Harpoon anti-ship missiles ahead of potential Chinese military exercises that seek to simulate the capture of the Dongsha Islands in the South China Sea. As cross-strait relations become more tense, Taiwan has increasingly moved to defend its territory from China, with billions of dollars spent to purchase additional F-16s from the US and upgrade its naval capabilities.

DARPA, the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, has announced an aerial combat simulation face-off between a human F-16 pilot and an artificial intelligence algorithm to enhance air-to-air combat capabilities and build trust in human–machine teaming. The ‘Alpha Dog Trials’ will include teams from eight different defence companies who will compete virtually due to Covid-19.

Rapid fire

Defence Minister Linda Reynolds has announced that the Australian Army will receive a $12.2 million boost over the next three years to invest in autonomous vehicles and other ‘disruptive technologies’, which she says will be key for future operations. A contract worth $7.7 million was awarded to BAE Systems Australia to deliver a fleet of 20 optionally crewed combat vehicles. The government’s commitment to developing greater robotic capabilities was set out in the 2020 force structure plan.

The US Military Health System Communication Office will begin a survey on women in active duty roles and their reproductive health this month, after a 30-year gap in research on the subject. The survey will assess the impact that certain health issues have on the military readiness of women, to better inform military health policy and help with both recruitment and retention of women across defence services.

Final frontier

Space companies are testing techniques using tethering tape and lasers to clear space junk. Debris is a growing problem in orbit. More objects were sent into space in the past five years than ever before, and 57,000 new satellites could be in orbit by 2030. The increasing risk of collisions pushed the US Federal Communications Commission to update and clarify rules that require satellite companies to disclose their debris mitigation plans.

The US Army is exploring space-based imaging, sensors and artificial intelligence to supply operational data directly to troops in the field. Imagery is processed by algorithms in the army’s TITAN ground station program before it is distributed to weapon systems. Documents last year also revealed that the US National Reconnaissance Office was developing Sentient, a classified machine-learning tool that will digest geospatial, military and cyber data.

Wired watchtower

The Australian government has released its cybersecurity strategy, which focuses on preventing and minimising damage from, and responding to, malicious cyberattacks. Specific areas of emphasis include protecting critical infrastructure, centralising the management and operations of Commonwealth networks (rather than individual government departments handling their own cybersecurity), employing offensive cyber capabilities to target criminals overseas, and providing more cybersecurity assistance to businesses.

Japan will lead a cyber drill with more than 20 countries including the US, UK, France and the 10 ASEAN members. The exercise will be conducted virtually and could take place before the end of this year. It will be the first time Japan has led an exercise of this scale and will involve a scenario in which a cyberattack has been mounted on critical infrastructure that requires information-sharing within the Japanese government and with partner countries.