The five-domains update

Sea state

The US Navy has christened its new littoral combat ship USS Canberra, the second US vessel to be named after the Australian capital and the only ship in the current fleet to be named after a foreign capital. Australia’s defence attaché to the US, Commodore Matthew Hudson, said the ship’s naming, coinciding with the 70th anniversary of the ANZUS treaty, speaks to the ‘strength of friendship’ between the US and Australia. Independence-class trimarans like the Canberra have faced ongoing engine problems and other issues, which the US Navy has recently launched a taskforce to address.

Iran’s largest warship has sunk in the Gulf of Oman after a mysterious onboard fire. The supply ship IRIS Kharg was evacuated, with its crew suffering 33 minor injuries and no casualties. The incident occurred near the sensitive shipping corridor of the Strait of Hormuz. The sinking of the Kharg represents a significant loss to Iran’s naval capabilities, as the purpose-built oiler and cargo ship was often relied on for the country’s long-distance naval operations.

Flight path

On 4 June, the US Navy conducted a historic aerial refuelling using a Boeing MQ-25 Stingray UAV to refuel an F/A-18 Super Hornet, the first time an unmanned tanker has refuelled a manned aircraft. The head of the navy’s unmanned aviation and strike weapons program, Rear Admiral Brian Corey, said, ‘This flight lays the foundation for integration into the carrier environment, allowing for greater capability toward manned–unmanned teaming concepts’, noting that the MQ-25 ‘will greatly increase the range and endurance of the future carrier air wing.’

Forbes journalist David Axe has examined the US Air Force’s plans to expand its base network and distribute airpower across the Indo-Pacific to mitigate the threat of Chinese missile barrages during wartime. Two bases, Kadena on the Japanese island of Okinawa and Anderson on Guam, have long been home to the majority of the USAF’s assets in the region and are within range of China’s missiles. In response to this threat, the air force plans to spread its warplanes across potentially dozens of smaller bases throughout the Indo-Pacific, prepositioning weapons and equipment to reinforce the smallest air fields.

Rapid fire

Rheinmetall has delivered 25 Boxer combat reconnaissance vehicles as part of phase 2 of the Australian Army’s LAND 400 project. These early Boxers were built in Germany, where there are currently more than 30 Australians learning production processes before manufacturing shifts to Australia. Rheinmetall Defence Australia boss Gary Stewart says the Boxers’ ‘survivability and mobility’ will be a major boost for the army’s armoured cavalry. Along with Hanwha, Rheinmetall is also in the running for phase 3 of the LAND 400 program with its Lynx infantry fighting vehicle.

Under Chinese President Xi Jinping’s military modernisation goal, the People’s Liberation Army Navy Marine Corps is undergoing an evolution. The PLANMC has focused on enlarging its multi-domain and multi-mission capacities, especially broadening the navy’s ability to undertake land operations. State television recently showed PLANMC troops inspecting ZTQ-15, or Type 15, lightweight battle tanks as some infantry units transform themselves into ‘combined arms’ outfits.

Final frontier

NASA has announced two new missions to Venus to be launched by 2030 as interest in the planet heats up. The DAVINCI+ probe will collect data about the composition of Venus’s atmosphere and the VERITAS orbiter will map the topography and temperature of the planet using radar and infrared sensors. The missions will be NASA’s first to Venus in more than three decades, but it won’t be alone—the space agencies of Europe, India and Russia and private companies, like California-based RocketLab, are all developing their own Venus missions.

The Australian National University is leading a multinational project that will provide high-quality images to shed light on some of the mysteries of distant galaxies. The MCAO Assisted Visible Imager and Spectrograph (MAVIS) instrument will be fitted to a telescope at the European Southern Observatory and is being developed in collaboration with Australia’s Macquarie University and institutions in Italy and France. In addition to helping explore the solar system, Macquarie University’s Richard McDermid says the project also demonstrates Australia’s capability to develop sophisticated instruments.

Wired watchtower

The US Justice Department has recovered more than half of the money extorted by the hackers that caused the Colonial Pipeline shutdown. The department’s digital extortion taskforce seized a bitcoin wallet containing 75 bitcoins, representing around US$2.3 million of the company’s US$4.4 million ransom payment. Cryptocurrency has become the preferred method of payment for hackers because it enables them to hide their identities, and many analysts have noted that the rise of ransomware attacks has coincided with the rise of cryptocurrency.

On 4 June, the Nigerian government announced that it was suspending Twitter indefinitely due to ‘the persistent use of the platform for activities that are capable of undermining Nigeria’s corporate existence’. The announcement came two days after Twitter removed a post by the country’s president, Muhammadu Buhari, for violating its terms of use by threatening to punish groups responsible for recent attacks on government buildings. Despite few Nigerians using the social media platform, it is a popular site for people to organise anti-government protests.