The five-domains update

Sea state

China’s assertive maritime policies and naval ambitions are being met with an increased European presence in the Indo-Pacific. This year, the UK’s new aircraft carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth, will transit the South China Sea in its first operational mission, a German frigate will cross the South China Sea in August for the first time since 2002, and France has sent several vessels—including a nuclear submarine—into the region. Consistent with its 2019 Indo-Pacific strategy to be an ‘inclusive, stabilising mediating power’, France in particular has stepped up its Indo-Pacific maritime involvement and called for its European allies to follow suit.

Royal Australian Navy ships HMAS Anzac and HMAS Sirius have just begun a deployment to the Indo-Pacific that will see them participate in Exercise La Perouse in the Indian Ocean. The manoeuvres are expected to take place at the start of April and will be led by France and attended by Quad members Australia, India, Japan and the US. After the first meeting of Quad leaders on the weekend, the countries reaffirmed their commitment to ensuring a ‘free and open’ Indo-Pacific.

Flight path

The US Air Force has received the first of 144 planned F-15EX fighter jets at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. The new jets will replace ageing F-15Cs and F-15Ds; they feature new cockpit, mission and electronic-warfare systems and will have the capability to launch hypersonic weapons. F-15EX program manager Colonel Sean Dorey noted the jet will be a ‘key element of our tactical fighter fleet and complement fifth-generation assets’. In addition to saving US$3 billion from (compared to replacing the fleet with F-35s), the jet has piqued interest in international markets. Indonesia has expressed interest in acquiring the fighter, and Boeing recently secured an export licence to India.

The Royal New Zealand Air Force is conducting its annual training activity, Exercise Skytrain, deploying a C-130 Hercules and personnel from facilities at Auckland, Ohakea and Woodbourne to the South Island town of Wanaka until 26 March. Skytrain will involve flying over challenging terrain, coordinating pallet drops, and landing and taking off from Wanaka, Timaru and Oamaru airfields.

Rapid fire

The US Army–led Defender Europe three-month joint military exercise has just begun. The exercise is an annual multinational effort that includes US and NATO forces. Twenty-seven nations and 28,000 troops in total will undertake training operations in different areas across Europe, including the Balkans and Black Sea region. US Army V Corps commander Lieutenant General John S. Kolasheski said the exercise will not only to enhance interoperability among allies and partners, but also demonstrate the US’s commitment to Europe more broadly.

Phase 3 of the Defence Department’s Land 400 program, worth up to $27 billion, made a step forward last week with the unveiling of the two contenders for the army’s new infantry fighting vehicles. The KF-41 Lynx by Rheinmetall Defence Australia and the Redback by Hanwha Defense Australia are currently under consideration to replace the Vietnam War–era M113 armoured personnel carriers. Defence expects to make a recommendation to the government next year after it completes testing and evaluation of the two companies’ prototypes.

Final frontier

Russia and China have signed an agreement to jointly build an lunar research station on or orbiting the moon. The proposed facility, which is open to further international partnerships, is expected to be China’s largest cooperative space project yet. Russia chose this project over NASA’s rival ‘Lunar Gateway’, from which China was excluded due to its being barred from working with NASA since 2011. Although the initiative is still in the planning phase, China anticipates that it will include manned moon landings and long-term accommodation for astronauts.

Residents of Indonesia’s Biak island in Papua are fiercely opposed to President Joko Widodo’s offer to space entrepreneur Elon Musk to create a ‘space island’ there. Building is already underway on the island and Widodo made his proposal to Musk in December. Biak’s equatorial location makes it an ideal for launching satellites into low-earth orbit. Nearby nickel deposits (crucial for building rockets and electric car batteries) earlier enticed Musk to verbally offer Indonesia a ‘giant contract … if you mine nickel efficiently and in an environmentally sensitive way’.

Wired watchtower

Last Friday, the US Federal Communications Commission listed five Chinese companies as national security threats: Dahua, Hikvision, Huawei, Hytera and ZTE. In 2019 the US introduced legislation requiring the FCC to identify and disclose companies that make and sell communications products and services that pose a direct risk to national security. The FCC’s move adds to the US government’s halting of Chinese telecommunications operations in the country.

Over the past six months, YouTube has removed more than 30,000 videos that promulgated dis- or misinformation about Covid-19 vaccines. Since February, the video-streaming platform has removed around 800,000 Covid-19 misinformation videos, and in October it introduced a medical misinformation policy that enables its artificial intelligence systems and human reviewers to remove users who violate the policy. A study undertaken in 2020 found that more than a quarter of YouTube’s most viewed videos relating to Covid-19 contained misinformation.