The five-domains update

Sea state

The Royal Australian Navy has deployed to Sri Lanka to begin the first set of activities under Indo-Pacific Endeavour 2019. HMA Ships Canberra, Success, Newcastle and Parramatta will train with the Sri Lankan navy for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations. While the RAN plans to deepen its interactions with Sri Lanka’s navy, 110 Sri Lankan sailors will also undergo training on a Chinese frigate before it is handed over later this year.

The US Navy’s surface warfare chief says he wants to deploy a laser aboard a destroyer within the next two years. The navy plans to install a ‘high-energy laser and integrated optical-dazzler with surveillance’ to be used against small boats. Developed by Lockheed Martin under a US$150 million contract, the 60-kilowatt HELIOS system is three times more powerful than the AN/SEQ-3 laser weapon system the navy unveiled on USS Ponce in 2014.

Russian activity in the Middle East has increased over the last week, as its navy prepares for a new offensive in Syria’s Idlib province. Regional observer Yörük Işık has alleged that the Russian Black Sea Fleet transport Orsk 148 passed through the Bosphorus Strait en route to Tartus in Syria. Russian media also reported that the Black Sea frigate Admiral Essen has held military drills off the coast of Syria to practise defence against a ‘hypothetical enemy’ in the Mediterranean.

Flight path

Bloomberg reports that the US administration has given tacit approval for the sale of 60 new ‘block 70’ F-16 fighter jets to Taiwan. Anonymous sources say that President Donald Trump’s advisers have told Taiwan to submit a formal request for the jets, but it’s unclear if that’s happened. Although the US hasn’t sold new fighter jets to Taiwan since 1992, the Obama administration did agree to upgrade 145 ‘block 20’ F-16A/B aircraft in 2011.

UK Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson has announced that the country will purchase five E-7 early-warning radar aircraft to replace the RAF’s increasingly obsolete E-3D Sentry. The sale will open up more opportunities for bilateral cooperation with Australia, which operates six E-7 Wedgetails from RAAF Base Williamtown in New South Wales. Defence Minister Christopher Pyne said the UK’s purchase of the E-7 will create more jobs in the Australian defence industry sector.

The US has ramped up its deployment of B-52 bombers recently. Two bombers flew to the East China Sea for training exercises with the US Navy and the Japan Air Self-Defense Force. Meanwhile, six B-52s have flown to Europe to participate in ‘theatre integration and flying training’ exercises. Four of the bombers conducted flights over the Baltic Sea, where Russia says two of its Su-27 jets intercepted them.

Rapid fire

The Australian government has announced plans for a new short-range air defence capability. In a statement, Pyne said it ‘will be based on the Raytheon/Kongsberg National Advanced Surface to Air Missile System which is used by several countries including the United States’. The Australian version of the system will use Australian-made radars and much of the production will take place at the new Raytheon Australia Centre for Joint Integration in South Australia.

The French army has been deployed for the first time to maintain security during the ‘yellow vest’ protests. President Emmanuel Macron’s decision followed last weekend’s violence when protesters vandalised and looted shops and restaurants on the Champs-Elysées, leading to claims that the government is failing to devote adequate resources to security. The decision to deploy the army has been heavily criticised by opposition parties.

Two Russian air force planes carrying nearly 100 troops landed at Venezuela’s main airport in Caracas on Saturday. The move comes after a series of events that signal growing ties between Russia and embattled President Nicolas Maduro. Three months ago, the two countries held military exercises in Venezuela, and in December last year two Russian bombers capable of carrying nuclear weapons landed in the country. The arrival of Russian troops could complicate any US plans for a diplomatic or military intervention.

Zero gravity

The RAAF’s SpaceFest 2019 is underway at the Woomera Test Range in South Australia. SpaceFest is a capability demonstration and equipment trial that gives the ADF an opportunity to test Australian space capabilities, particularly the ability to detect and track objects in space. Earlier this month, RAAF chief Leo Davies announced that the defence organisation intends to ramp up its space capabilities.

The US and Brazil have signed an agreement to allow US companies to launch commercial spacecraft from the Alcântara launch centre in northern Brazil. Despite the fuel efficiency and increased speed benefits that come from launching close to the equator, it’s not clear whether US companies will take up the opportunity. Considerable construction needs to be done at Alcântara to make it fit for purpose.

The Dream Chaser, a planned commercial cargo freighter for the International Space Station, is one step closer to take-off. Last week, it passed NASA’s ‘integrated review milestone 5’. The process involved demonstrations of flight computers and software development, as well as a mockup of the craft’s design. The first test flight is expected in 2021.

Wired watchtower

Facebook is rethinking its procedures for moderating content following criticism for its slow response to the live-streaming of the Christchurch terror attack. The company said that videos that are reported for suicide content are prioritised, but because the Christchurch video wasn’t flagged for suicide it was handled differently. Facebook is now looking to expand the categories that prompt an accelerated review. The company’s former head in Australia and New Zealand has called for Facebook to consider banning live-streaming.

Republican Senator Elijah Cummings, chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, is investigating White House officials’ use of private email accounts and WhatsApp to conduct official government business. In 2017, Democrats raised concerns that Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump were violating the Presidential Records Act because messages and emails were not being forwarded to official White House accounts. But the former chairman of the committee, Trey Gowdy, reportedly refused to deal with the issue.

In South Korea, an estimated 1,600 hotel guests were secretly filmed and the footage was live-streamed online for paying customers. The police investigation reportedly spans 10 cities and 30 motels and hotels in the country. Cameras were hidden in digital TV boxes, wall sockets and hair-dryer holders. Illegal filming is a growing problem in South Korea: the number of cases has quadrupled since 2011.