The five-domains update

Sea state

The US Navy has three carrier groups in Asia for the first time in a decade. The deployment comes as President Donald Trump prepares for his first visit to Asia. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Joseph Dunford, said the overlapping deployment of the carrier groups wasn’t related to the president’s trip. A Department of Defense spokesperson said the carriers weren’t targeting ‘any particular threat’ but showed that ‘we can do something that no one else in the world can’.

China and Singapore have proposed joint China–ASEAN maritime exercises as part of an initiative to relieve tensions in the South China Sea. The Chinese and Singaporean defence ministers met on the sidelines of the ASEAN security meeting in the Philippines this week. It’s hoped the exercises will ‘build understanding and trust’ between the China and the bloc’s 10 nations, many of which have competing territorial claims with China. The exercises, likely comprising search and rescue operations, would be the first of their kind.

A Taiwanese fishing ship has found two Americans and their dogs who had been lost at sea for five months. The pair had attempted to sail from Hawaii to Tahiti in May but were stranded by bad weather and found 900 miles off Japan.

Flight path

A report (PDF) released last week by the US Government Accountability Office has revealed the latest challenges facing the F-35 joint strike fighter program. Five key issues were identified, including inadequate repair capabilities and a shortage of spare parts. Despite encountering notable obstacles, the program has made great strides, and the US Air Force last week announced the first operational deployment for early November.

Defense News has reported that Turkey has cancelled its multibillion-dollar TRJet program, believing it’s no longer financially viable. The TRJ328 and TR328 were originally due to start flying in 2019, while the larger TRJ628 was to begin production in 2020. The jets would have been used for civilian and military purposes, and would have potentially created thousands of jobs.

Last week the US Air Force ordered six additional A-29 Super Tucano aircraft from the Sierra Nevada Corporation, increasing the fleet to 26. Production will begin immediately, for delivery to the Afghan Air Force at an undisclosed date. The new aircraft will require an additional nine pilots and 20 maintenance staff to be trained. A-29s are used by 13 air forces globally and have been used in Afghanistan since 2016.

Rapid fire

Yesterday, Defence Industry Minister Christopher Pyne visited Warsaw to ‘discuss export opportunity and the wider Australian–Polish relationship’. The Poles are considering purchasing an additional 700 Hawkei combat vehicles, in what would be a lucrative deal for Thales and bring increased job security to Bendigo. The 4×4 vehicles are among the most blast-resistant vehicles in the army and are basically ‘a mobile computing centre’.

A world-first in Brisbane! Explosive Protective Equipment (EPE) was chosen to develop radar technology that can identify IEDs—a major cause of battlefield deaths and injuries of Australian (and other) troops in the Middle East. EPE won a federal government contract worth almost $250,000 to ‘integrate radar technology … with unmanned ground vehicles’.

Australian companies have an extension until 6 November to register in Raytheon Australia’s LAND 19 Phase 7B Supplier Portal to be a part of delivering ‘the Army’s future SRGBAD [Short Range Ground Based Air Defence] capability’, which is ‘based on the proven National Advanced Surface to Air Missile System (NASAMS)’. The system enables ground-to-air defence against ‘wing aircraft, helicopters, cruise missiles and unmanned aerial systems’.

Zero gravity

Saudi Arabia is investing approximately US$1 billion in Sir Richard Branson’s companies Virgin Galactic, The Spaceship Company and Virgin Orbit. Branson wrote, ‘We are now just months away from Virgin Galactic sending people in space and Virgin Orbit placing satellites around the Earth’. Coincidentally, today marks the three-year anniversary of Virgin Galactic’s fourth rocket-powered test flight during which the VSS Enterprise broke apart in mid-air, killing one pilot and seriously injuring the other. The National Transportation Safety Board found the crash was caused by a combination of human error and inadequate safety procedures.

Australia’s own space race is heating up, with the Northern Territory and South Australia battling it out for a slice of the recently announced Australian space agency. NT chief minister Michael Gunner has been advocating for a rocket launch site in the NT, due to its optimal proximity to the equator and sparse population. South Australia is fighting to stay in the race, despite less-than-encouraging words from Defence last week about the suitability of the South Australian Woomera site for modern rocket launches. It remains to be seen if a $4 million investment or marginal federal election seats have the power to move South Australia closer to the equator, at least in the minds of our politicians.

Wired watchtower

Senate estimates were the talk of the town last week. The Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit released report 467, which expressed a number of concerns about cybersecurity noncompliance in Commonwealth entities. The report’s recommendations are ambitious, calling for the government to make compliance with ASD’s recent ‘essential 8’ mitigation strategies mandatory by June 2018, and for Commonwealth entities to be accountable to parliament for noncompliance.

More details about how Kaspersky got its hands on classified NSA data have been released. The Russian company is claiming that the leak came after Kaspersky software detected a compromised version of Microsoft Office on a personal computer, and, in the process, discovered NSA tools and uploaded the data to Kaspersky’s servers for analysis. The alibi hasn’t had much sway in the US Congress; both houses and all sides of the political spectrum have been pouring it on Kaspersky, which is now expecting a (minor) hit to its revenues.

It has been suggested that the US might be about to face a major ‘Sputnik moment’ when it comes to its race with China to build quantum communications and computing. The comments mirror long-standing concerns that the US isn’t a sure bet to be the leader in technological development and innovation in the quest for technological dominance. Australian universities might have inadvertently assisted China over the past few years.

The Verge has published the inaugural edition of its semi-annual tech survey. The results show that there’s been a recent dip in the trustworthiness, popularity and other reputational metrics of big tech companies, which seems to suggest there’s some merit to recent claims that ‘big tech’ is going the way of Standard Oil or Wall Street in facing popular discontent.