The five-domains update

Sea state

A Royal Australian Navy task group joined the Indian Navy last week in Visakhapatnam for the third iteration of the biennial Australia–India naval exercises. This year’s AUSINDEX goes until 14 April and will focus on anti-submarine warfare operations. The Australian joint task group is made up of over 1,000 Australian personnel as well as HMA Ships Success, Parramatta, Canberra and Newcastle, a Collins-class submarine and a P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft.

In a decision that’s been described as a snub to China, the US Navy won’t be sending warships or senior military officers to celebrations later this month commemorating the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Liberation Army Navy. The US embassy’s defence attaché office in Beijing will represent the US at the fleet review and a symposium in the eastern port city of Qingdao. Japan, South Korea and India are all expected to send vessels and officials to the celebration.

The US government is spending US$63 million to investigate the potential for sea life to protect warships from enemy attack. The project, titled ‘Persistent Aquatic Living Sensors’ and referred to as ‘PALS’, will look at how marine creatures respond to changing conditions in the ocean and whether they can detect enemy submarines, drones and underwater vessels. Ocean organisms react audibly or visibly to sound, as well as to optical, electromagnetic and chemical changes around them.

Flight path

The Royal Australian Air Force has received two more F-35s. The aircraft arrived at RAAF Base Williamtown and will be assigned to No. 3 Squadron. The RAAF is expected to take delivery of six more aircraft in 2019, bringing the total to 10 by the end of the year. South Korea also welcomed its first two F-35s last week.

For the second time in two months, the US Air Force has halted delivery of new Boeing KC-46 tanker aircraft. Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson has said that loose objects and debris continue to be found in the closed compartments of some aircraft. This problem is likely to strain the relationship between the USAF and Boeing even more, as delays and technical failures have plagued the KC-46 tanker program for years.

Leeuwarden Air Base in the Netherlands is hosting Exercise Frisian Flag, a large-scale air combat exercise involving more than 50 aircraft from six different countries. Nearly 180 members of the Minnesota Air National Guard are taking part in this year’s exercise. France, Germany, Poland, Switzerland and the United Kingdom are also taking part.

Rapid fire

The Libyan National Army, backed by army commander Khalifa Hifter and aligned with the eastern-based administration, is reportedly trying to take Tripoli from the UN-backed government. The capital is protected by various militia. The recent fighting has so far killed more than 25 people and left many more injured.  Hifter’s forces have also launched an air raid on Tripoli’s international airport, which the UN has called a violation of international humanitarian law. The UN has unsuccessfully called for a two-hour truce for the evacuation of civilians and casualties, saying that 2,800 people have been displaced by the clashes. The US has reportedly removed some of its forces from Libya due to security concerns, though it hasn’t indicated how many of its troops remains. India has also evacuated a small number of peacekeepers.

Following recent violence, the French Barkhane force is building a new base at Gossi in central Mali. The Barkhane force is an anti-jihadist operation in Africa’s Sahel region. Gossi is an economic hub, and thus an important place for terrorists to get supplies. The United Nations has also increased its patrols, as have Malian police.

Zero gravity

In last week’s budget, the government unveiled further details about its plans for the Australian Space Agency. In a bid to foster the growth of Australian space industry, $6 million has been earmarked for the building of a mission control centre in Adelaide. The facility will be available for use by space start-ups and other small space businesses.

Slingshot Aerospace has been awarded a two-year contract by the USAF Space and Missile Systems Center to develop its predictive software to assist with space situational awareness in a military context. The software uses artificial intelligence to track objects and debris in real time and provides modelling to predict collisions, a useful function in an increasingly contested domain.

NASA’s Curiosity rover detected a spike in methane on Mars in 2013, and this week researchers confirmed the finding. The existence of methane on the red planet raises questions about whether there really is life on Mars. Some commentators have noted that methane can be product of biological changes; however, others have pointed to geological changes as the more likely cause of the spike.

Rumours are flying that the first photograph of a black hole will be unveiled by the US National Science Foundation at 9 am on 10 April (Washington time). Watch this space!

Wired watchtower

Facebook has announced that it won’t allow ‘political’ ads to be bought by anyone outside Australia during the election campaign. However, it isn’t planning to roll out other features that promote transparency in political advertising until after the election. On Thursday last week, in response to the livestreaming of the Christchurch terror attack, the Australian government passed world-first laws that created criminal penalties for social media companies that fail to remove ‘abhorrent video material’ from their platforms.

A top cybersecurity official in the UK has said that mobile phone equipment from Chinese tech company Huawei could be banned from Westminster and other sensitive parts of the UK’s network. The UK government is expected to reveal in May whether it will restrict or even ban the company’s 5G technology. In a related move, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has cut ties with Huawei and another Chinese telecoms provider, ZTE, as US officials investigate the firms for alleged sanctions violations.

A Chinese woman carrying two Chinese passports, four mobile phones, a laptop, an external hard drive and a thumb drive containing computer malware got into Mar-a-Lago, the resort owned by US President Donald Trump, by claiming she was there to use the swimming pool. The FBI is looking into the case and its priority is to determine what the woman was doing at the Florida resort and how she bypassed security procedures. The incident is being investigated as a potential case of Chinese espionage.