The five-domains update

Sea state

The US has announced a plan to expand its navy from 293 ships to more than 355. The decision comes just two weeks after a Department of Defense report acknowledging that China now has the world’s largest navy, with approximately 350 vessels. In response, the US is shifting focus to building a fleet that includes larger numbers of smaller vessels, with a particular emphasis on developing unmanned ships for deployment in the Indo-Pacific.

Australia handed over a new Guardian-class patrol boat to Palau to strengthen the Pacific island nation’s maritime security. The handover is part of the patrol boat replacement scheme, under which Australia is providing 21 vessels to 12 Pacific island nations and Timor-Leste between 2018 and 2023. The scheme is part of a broader $2 billion commitment to the South Pacific over the next 30 years through the Pacific Maritime Security Program, which itself is part of the Pacific step-up that looks to restore and enhance Australia’s influence in the region.

Flight path

The US Air Force has designed, built and tested a prototype ‘next-generation air dominance’ fighter jet in just a year. The USAF’s acquisition leader, William Roper, said, ‘We’ve already built and flown a full-scale flight demonstrator in the real world, and we broke records in doing it.’ While it remains unclear how many prototypes have been flown, what the aircraft looks like and what company is building it, defence experts note that this experimental jet may ultimately become a serious competitor to the F-35 and F-15EX programs.

Boeing Australia and the Royal Australian Air Force successfully completed an engine run of the loyal wingman drone in preparation for its first flight by the end of this year. The RAAF plans to connect the loyal wingman with manned platforms such as its F-35As, F/A-18E/F Super Hornets, EA-18G Growlers and P-8A Poseidons for a ‘major boost in capability’. You can watch the drone’s engine being tested here.

Rapid fire

Tensions between the Indian and Chinese armies remain as the stand-off between the two countries in the border region of Ladakh continues. Indian villagers are reportedly volunteering to prepare their troops for the heavy winter ahead and are afraid their towns could fall under Chinese control. A decades-long dispute over the territory intensified earlier this year, resulting in the deaths of at least 20 Indian soldiers and an unknown number of Chinese troops in June. After weeks of negotiations, Chinese and Indian officials released a joint statement agreeing to disengage, but that is yet to happen.

The US Central Command said it is scaling up military efforts in northeastern Syria by deploying additional infantry fighting vehicles and about 100 troops to help ensure the ‘safety and security of coalition forces’. An anonymous US official stated the moves were made to counter Russian aggression as relations between the two powers continue to worsen and troops from both countries come into contact.

Final frontier

The CEO of US company United Launch Alliance has revealed that a supplier of software for machine tools at a rocket factory was in part owned by Chinese interests and may have put the company at risk of intellectual property theft. Elements in the software chain of a key supplier were purchased by a company owned in China but no sensitive information was taken. A Govini study released last month found that 70% of firms indirectly supplying goods and services to the US Department of Defense are foreign, although only a small percentage of them are Chinese.

Southern Launch has fired Australia’s first commercial rocket from the Koonibba test range in South Australia. A small ‘dart’ rocket carried a prototype radio frequency receiver unit to the edge of space and tested networked sensor technologies for the Royal Australian Air Force. The government hopes the launch will be a small step as it invests $7 billion in the space industry in the next 10 years, funding that could see the sector employ 30,000 people and turn over $12 billion a year by 2030.

Wired watchtower

The government has proposed new legislation to allow for greater sharing of data between Australian agencies. If passed, the Data Availability and Transparency Act (get it?) would give a national data commissioner oversight of all the data-sharing taking place among agencies such as Centrelink, the Australian Taxation Office, the Department of Home Affairs and the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Data would only be shared to help deliver government services, develop policy and conduct research.

The US Department of Justice has charged five Chinese nationals and two Malaysians over a global hacking campaign. The individuals are believed to have targeted companies in the US and around the world, including software developers, computer hardware producers, social media companies, not-for-profits, universities and think tanks. Hong Kong pro-democracy politicians and activists were also targeted, and government networks in India and Vietnam were reportedly compromised. The hacking has been tied to a group called ‘APT41’, which has links to China’s Ministry of State Security.