The five-domains update

Sea state

China says its second aircraft carrier is ready for deployment after completing a series of tests and exercises. The Shandong is the first aircraft carrier to be built in China. It was commissioned in Hainan province in southern China, suggesting that it could be deployed in the South China Sea. China now joins a small group of countries that operate multiple aircraft carriers, including the US, the UK and Italy.

The British military has reclaimed control of oil tanker Nave Andromeda in the English Channel after seven stowaways allegedly hijacked it and threatened crew members on board. The Special Boat Service was responsible for retaking the Liberian-flagged tanker and said the operation took less than nine minutes to fully execute. The stowaways were then detained on suspicion of hijacking the vessel. All 22 crew members were unharmed.

Flight path

Boeing Australia’s loyal wingman drone has completed its first low-speed taxi test and is on track to begin flight tests by the end of the year. The test confirmed ‘the function and integration of the aircraft systems, including steering, braking and engine controls’. Boeing said the loyal wingman will have runway independence so that it can self-deploy and land on most surfaces. The drone has also been designed to use artificial intelligence to fly independently or alongside other aircraft.

Japan has selected Mitsubishi Heavy Industries to develop the country’s future fighter aircraft at an estimated cost of US$40 billion. The new fighter, which will replace the Mitsubishi multirole F-2, is slated to be operational by the mid-2030s to ‘counter advanced Chinese aircraft’. The project will likely be a joint venture with foreign partners, with potential candidates including Lockheed Martin, BAE and Northrop Grumman.

Rapid fire

The ABC reports that reserve personnel will take the lead in domestic Australian Defence Force deployments as first responders during emergencies through mandatory callouts, amid the increasing threat of natural disasters due to climate change. News of the shift in strategy came days after the final report from the bushfire royal commission was published. Following last summer’s disastrous fire season, the commission provided 80 recommendations that highlighted the importance of whole-of-government action in response to climate change.

Taiwan has completed its combat readiness week, where its army showcased a series of armoured vehicles with sophisticated camouflage developed for city landscapes. The nationwide drills are designed to test the military preparedness of Taiwan’s armed forces for a potential invasion from mainland China. The methods used included painting vehicles yellow to imitate civilian cranes, although their real effectiveness is under debate. Though not widely used, these mimetic methods can be dated back to World War II.

Final frontier

The US Space Force has revealed the unit organisation of its Space Operations Command. Of the nine units, Space Delta 9 has been tasked with orbital warfare missions and will oversee X-37B spaceplane operations. Four subordinate units have been assigned to Space Delta 9 and they’ll operate surveillance, communication and navigation satellites. The mission of the unit is to conduct experiments, but its focus on orbital warfare will also see it protect US space operations more broadly and defeat adversarial threats when necessary.

The International Space Station celebrates 20 years of continuous occupation by humans living and working in low-earth orbit this month. A partnership between the space agencies of the US, Russia, Europe, Japan and Canada currently operates the station and 241 people from 19 countries have visited so far. Agencies have guaranteed support for the station until 2024, but NASA is leaning on commercial space stations to replace the facility in the near future.

Wired watchtower

The Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency is running a virtual war room during the US presidential election to protect the electoral process from cyberattacks. The operation brings together homeland security officials, ‘intelligence agencies, political parties, social media companies and voting machine vendors’ to implement responses to any attempts at election interference. These could include efforts to ‘manipulate voter registration data or vote tallies, or otherwise prevent large numbers of people from casting ballots’. The operation will run until winners can be declared in most states.

Australia, Japan and the US will fund a US$30 million project to build an undersea telecommunications cable connecting the Pacific island nation of Palau to the wider Indo-Pacific region. The project is the first to be funded by an ‘infrastructure investment partnership’ established by the three countries. The move is being viewed as an attempt to counter increasing Chinese influence in the Pacific by providing an alternative to Chinese financing of infrastructure projects.