The five-domains update

Sea state

The wreckage of Indonesian submarine KRI Nanggala 402 was found on the sea floor following a five-day search with support from India, Malaysia, Singapore, Australia and the US. All 53 crew members and passengers on board are presumed dead. Australia sent two warships, including HMAS Ballarat, while the US sent aircraft with search-and-rescue equipment. The submarine was conducting a torpedo drill at the time of its disappearance, and was found in three parts, which may indicate an explosion. Indonesian authorities hope to salvage the wreckage, but the 800-metre depth makes recovery difficult and expensive.

China commissioned three new warships on the 72nd anniversary of the forming of the People’s Liberation Army Navy earlier this month. The new ships are a Type 055 Renhai-class guided-missile cruiser, a Type 094 Jin-class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine and a Type 075 Yushen-class amphibious helicopter carrier. The commissioning ceremony was held on Hainan Island’s Yulin naval base, which is responsible for China’s South Sea Fleet and its South China Sea operations. The event highlights China’s ongoing efforts to boost its naval capabilities.

Flight path

The US State Department has approved a potential sale of 12 MQ-9B medium-altitude, long-endurance unmanned aerial vehicles to Australia for US$1.65 billion following the Commonwealth government’s purchase request. The US Defense Security Cooperation Agency noted that the proposed sale, pending congressional approval, will ‘support the foreign policy and national security objectives of the United States’ and ‘enhance interoperability between the US Air Force and the Royal Australian Air Force’.

On 12 April, four US Air Force F-16s conducted an armed patrol over the South China Sea, performing an overflight of the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt. The patrol coincided with the Chinese People’s Liberation Army’s largest daily air incursion into Taiwan’s air defence identification zone to date—a record 25 aircraft. The F-16s were equipped with one AIM-9 Sidewinder missile and five AIM-120C-7 advanced medium-range air-to-air missiles, or AMRAAMs. All weapons were live, indicating the flight was more than just a training mission, and may have been intended to signal to the Chinese military that its regular incursions into Taiwanese airspace won’t go unanswered.

Rapid fire

Incorporating quantum technology into the armed forces is a key interest for the Australian Army. From 19 to 20 April, Army Innovation Day 2021, the Army Robotics Exposition 2021 and the Quantum Technology Challenge 2021 were held concurrently with the inaugural Chief of Army Symposium in Brisbane. Announcing the launch of the army’s ‘Quantum technology roadmap’, Major General Simon Stuart said he expected quantum and other ‘disruptive technologies’ to change the landscape of warfare because of their robust capabilities in sensing, communications and computing and their ability to integrate applications among different domains.

Last Friday, Russia started removing the troops and equipment that had been massed on its southern and western borders with Ukraine for the past few weeks. Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said that the tens of thousands of troops were there for military exercises and will move back to their permanent bases by 1 May. Although the withdrawal has been viewed as a de-escalation of Russian–Ukrainian tensions, permanent Russian troops and heavy military equipment are still deployed close to Ukrainian border.

Final frontier

On 19 April, NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter took its first flight on Mars, also making it the first rotorcraft operation to take place somewhere other than earth. The chopper’s flight lasted around 30 seconds and it reached 3 metres in altitude. During its third flight on 25 April, the drone made it to 5 metres high and travelled around 50 metres. Craft like the Ingenuity are expected to help humans collect extra data while undertaking Mars missions.

Senior US Space Force official General David Thompson has said that the increasing global activity in space will create greater complexity for space operations, suggesting there needs to be a civilian agency monitoring space debris, managing space traffic and regulating unsafe activities. Thompson noted that air force and space force personnel currently serve as ‘space traffic cops’, tracking objects in space and providing collision warnings, but that these duties should be transitioned to a civilian agency responsible for regulatory rules and norms in space.

Wired watchtower

The US Justice Department has established a new taskforce responsible for dealing with the increasing threats posed by ransomware. The decision highlights President Joe Biden’s commitment to managing cybersecurity risks following what are thought to have been state-sponsored attacks on US companies, including the hacking of Microsoft’s email server and the hacking campaign on SolarWinds. The taskforce will coordinate efforts to track and disrupt ransomware attacks across federal agencies.

Facebook, Instagram and Twitter have faced backlash for acceding to the Indian government’s request to remove around 100 posts criticising its handling of the Covid-19 pandemic. The posts were mainly from Indian politicians and civil society and their removal came as new cases in the country surged to more than 350,000 a day and hospitals and crematoriums struggled to cope. The government claimed that the posts would hinder its response to the pandemic and could incite violence. The Indian government and media outlets, particularly small and independent digital news media, have been at odds over the government’s attempts to censor online content.