The five-domains update

Sea state

The Royal Australian Navy’s longest-serving ship docked in Sydney Harbour for the last time on Sunday morning. HMAS Success, known by sailors as the ‘Battle Tanker’, is a fuel-replenishment ship which has carried out almost 3,500 fuel and food supply missions. It was used in the Gulf War, East Timor and the search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370.

The US Navy’s newest littoral-combat ship was launched from Fincantieri’s Marinette shipyard into Wisconsin’s Menominee River on Saturday. Built by a team led by Lockheed Martin, USS Minneapolis-Saint Paul is the navy’s 21st littoral-combat ship, which is its second largest ship class. It is designed to counter threats from mines, submarines and fast-surface aircraft in the coastal battlespace.

India’s Scorpene submarine project (known as ‘Project-75’) looks set to be delayed again, after the Indian Navy found serious problems with its second submarine. Built by Mazagon Dock Shipbuilders in collaboration with French manufacturer Naval Group, INS Khanderi was found to have high levels of noise from its engines and propellers, as well as 35 other defects which could cause complications during wartime operations.

Flight path

Dassault Aviation has unveiled a scale model of the Franco-German ‘future combat air system’ at the Paris Air Show. The sixth-generation aircraft is expected to fly for the first time in the 2040s and will replace most fighter aircraft currently in service in France and Germany. The program is in its initial stages, with both Airbus and Dassault recently embarking on a two-year study to explore design concepts for the new aircraft.

Sky News reports Exception PCB, a Chinese-owned manufacturer of printed circuit boards in southwest England, is producing parts for British and American F-35 fighter aircraft. Parts supplied by the company are installed in other countries’ aircraft as well, so there could be security implications for Australia and others. Despite its early involvement in the the UK’s F-35 program, Exception PCB was sold to Chinese company Shenzhen Fastprint in 2013. In 2014, it was revealed that the US waived laws banning Chinese-built components to keep the F-35 program on budget.

New Zealand’s defence minister, Ron Mark, has said that the country’s air force will replace its ageing C-130H Hercules transport aircraft with new C-130J Super Hercules. New Zealand’s five C-130Hs have been in service since the 1960s. The government hasn’t decided how many aircraft it will buy, but the cost of the purchase is expected to be at least NZ$1 billion.

Rapid fire

Australian Defence Force chief Angus Campbell gave a speech at ASPI’s ‘War in 2025’ conference warning the West of the threat posed by ‘political warfare’. He argued that Western nations’ abandonment of political warfare over the past 30 years has put them at a disadvantage in the face of totalitarian regimes that are ‘unrestrained and willing to use information campaigns, cyber operations, theft of intellectual property, coercion and propaganda’.

New Zealand’s newly released Defence capability plan 2019 outlines the country’s planned investment in its defence force to 2030 and highlights potential investments beyond then. The plan says the size of the army will be increased to 6,000 personnel by 2035. Investments in land capabilities include a ‘network enabled army’ program and consideration of a primary combat vehicle to replace the NZLAV (New Zealand Light Armoured Vehicle).

The US Army will begin using robotic mules next year. The ‘small multipurpose equipment transport’ can carry up to 450 kilograms of ammunition, water and other heavy equipment for nearly 100 kilometres over 72 hours. They will also generate enough power to allow soldiers to charge their electronic devices. The prototypes have performed well in recent operational tests, but they aren’t able to negotiate certain types of rough or irregular terrain.

Final frontier

Next week, NASA is scheduled to launch its ‘green propellant infusion mission’, which will test a low-toxicity propellant. This is the first time such a propellant will be tested in space. It is intended to replace hydrazine, a highly toxic compound used in rocket fuel. The new propellant is not only less toxic, but also 50% more efficient than hydrazine, meaning that longer missions can be conducted with the same amount of fuel.

In the race to generate solar power in space, China is pulling ahead of the US, according to a new Foreign Policy article. The US has been considering the feasibility of space-based solar energy generation since 1968, but successive administrations have failed to act on proposals to implement a system. Now China plans on generating space-based solar power from as soon as next year, and space agencies in Japan, the European Union and India are working on similar programs.

The India Space Research Organisation is set to launch its own lunar lander on 15 July. The solar-powered lander is expected to touch down at the lunar south pole on around 6 September and conduct a variety of scientific experiments, including one for NASA on laser signalling.

Wired watchtower

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton has suggested broadening the powers of Australia’s intelligence agencies to combat cyber threats and giving a greater domestic role to the Australian Signals Directorate. Early last year, a similar proposal was abandoned by the Turnbull government. The Australian Signals Directorate currently focuses solely on foreign targets and isn’t responsible for countering domestic cyber threats.

Protestors against the proposed extradition laws in Hong Kong have been using tech-savvy measures to thwart the surveillance and tracking systems of the authorities. By using the encrypted messaging app Telegram, going cashless, taking no selfies and wearing masks to hide themselves from CCTV, the protestors have maintained their defiance against police and the Chinese-directed government. In response, a number of coordinated distributed denial-of-service attacks were directed at the Telegram app, likely originating from China.

As the US continues to shift from a defensive to an offensive cyber posture, US Cyber Command has ramped up efforts against Russia and placed ‘potentially crippling malware’ in the country’s electrical grid. US National Security Advisor John Bolton said that the US has also increased its offensive cyber operations to counter commercial espionage by countries such as China, particularly the theft of intellectual property from US companies.