The five-domains update

Sea state

This week, the US Navy commissioned its newest nuclear-powered submarine, the USS Washington. The Virginia-class ship is nicknamed ‘Blackfish’ after the local Native American name for the killer whale. At the commissioning ceremony, held at Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia, the ship’s commanding officer, Commander Gabriel Cavazos, concluded his address with the ship’s unofficial motto: ‘Fear the Blackfish’. The USS Washington is the 14th Virginia-class submarine to be built.

The aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan has made a port call in Hong Kong on its way to joint naval drills with South Korea. The Reagan, accompanied by the guided-missile destroyer USS Chafee, is the first US aircraft carrier to dock at Hong Kong since the USS John C. Stennis was denied entry by China last year. The crew of the Reagan and the Chaffee were able to play tourist, and Xinhua has reported that some sailors ‘celebrated the Chinese traditional Mid-Autumn Festival with Hong Kong’s primary school students’.

The US Naval institute has released some remarkable footage of the USS John S. McCain being loaded onto a transport to be taken to Japan for repairs after its collision last month.

Flight path

The Afghan Air Force has received the first two Black Hawk helicopters from the US, as part of a plan to deliver a total of 159 helicopters by 2024. The deteriorating relations between Moscow and Washington meant that the Afghans were having a difficult time maintaining the Russian Mi-17 helicopter fleet, prompting the change to the US UH-60 model. The Black Hawks were handed over to the Afghan Air Force on Saturday, marking the 16th anniversary of the start of the Afghanistan war.

The US Air Force’s B-52 bombers are in for a substantial upgrade, with plans to improve the technical capabilities of all 76 aircraft in the fleet. The bombers, production of which was completed in 1962, will receive multiple upgrades, including digital data-links, moving-map displays and next-generation avionics. The upgrades will allow them to operate until at least 2040, for a total of 80 years of service.

Irish aviation company Ryanair had to cancel 18,000 flights between November 2017 and March 2018 because it failed to take pilot leave into account in planning. Ryanair claims that it will need at least 600,000 pilots in the next 20 years to keep up with demand.

Rapid fire

European arms manufacturer MBDA has extended its cooperation with Australian companies. Airspeed and Codan (both based in South Australia), Pennant Australasia and Pelican Trimcast (Victoria), and Hofmann Engineering (Western Australia) joined the cooperation network, which already included Queensland-based Ferra Engineering. MBDA has bid for the missile system for the LAND 400 Phase 2 program with its MMP fifth-generation anti-tank guided weapon. MBDA aims for the MMP ‘to become the first missile that is built, maintained and evolved in Australia’.

The preliminary results of the Defence Blood Challenge 2017 are in! Each year from 1 September to 8 December, members of all branches and Defence public servants are called upon to donate, with each group competing as a team. Last year the army took the title for most donations and, by the looks of it, its chances are high to defend the title—so far, 35.61% of donations have come from army members.

Zero gravity

US vice president Mike Pence chaired the first meeting of the National Space Council in nearly 25 years last Thursday. The council includes senior civil and military government officials. The vice president used the opportunity to call for renewed US leadership in space, and confirmed the Trump administration’s support for NASA. Earlier in the week, Pence wrote about US ambitions to ‘return to the moon—and go beyond’ in the Wall Street Journal.

On the weekend, NASA astronaut Scott Kelly chronicled the physical challenges of returning to earth after a year in space for the Sydney Morning Herald. Scott spent 340 days alongside Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko on the International Space Station, which is the record for the longest continuous time in space. Scott’s body struggled to deal with his return to earth. He suffered from extended periods of pain and exhaustion. One of the purposes of the mission was to establish the effects of long-term space exposure on the human body. Scott has written a book about his experience, Endurance: a year in space, a lifetime of discovery.

Last Wednesday marked 60 years since the Soviet Union’s Sputnik 1 launch. Life magazine’s 1957 coverage of the launch can be revisited online for free. History professor Asif A. Siddiqi also wrote an interesting long read on the subject for The Space Review.

Wired watchtower

At the Council of Australian Governments meeting last Thursday, Prime Minister Turnbull and state and territory leaders agreed to establish a facial biometric database. The database is meant to give law enforcement agencies access to state and territory driver’s licence photos so that they can quickly identify potential terror suspects. The announcement has kicked up some fuss about slippery slopes and mission creep. The debate about reasonable reach and use is ongoing, but there’s a risk that the question will be settled by default by programmers on a deadline.

More information has emerged about the US government’s decision to ban Kaspersky software, after classified NSA data from a contractor’s personal computer somehow ended up with Russia’s security services via a Kaspersky product. The contractor has been heavily criticised, but the jury is still out on Kaspersky’s role in the breach. Questions remain about whether Kaspersky knew it had NSA data, grabbed it intentionally, provided the data to the Russian government, or was itself a victim of Russian government intrusion.

Last week, the Australian government launched its International Cyber Engagement Strategy, which sets out Australia’s plan across seven broad pillars to promote and protect Australia’s interests in cyberspace. You can catch a recording of ASPI’s panel discussion with the strategists behind it here.