The five-domains update

Sea state

A Chinese spy vessel has been making its way towards Australia to monitor the Talisman Sabre exercise, which began this week. Defence sources have said that the Dongdiao-class electronic surveillance ship has been sent to monitor how well the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force functions with US forces and the Australian Defence Force, as Japan takes a larger role in the war games this year.

A Russian officer has said that the 14 sailors killed in the fire on a submarine last week in the Barents Sea ‘saved the ship’ and ‘prevented a catastrophe of a global scale’. Russian media have reported that the incident happened on a deep-water research submarine. The incident has brought back grim memories of the sinking of the submarine Kursk in the Barents Sea in 2000, which claimed 118 lives.

Three thousand military personnel from 19 countries are converging on the Black Sea this week to take part in a multinational maritime training exercise hosted by Ukraine and the US. The Royal Navy destroyer, HMS Duncan, and the French signals ship, Dupuy de Lôme, are among 32 ships and 24 aircraft taking part in ‘Sea Breeze 2019’. The US Sixth Fleet is involved in the exercise and the US is also upgrading naval bases which to give it and NATO allies the ability to dock near Russian-controlled Crimea.

Flight path

Air Marshal Mel Hupfeld has replaced outgoing Chief of Air Force Air Marshal Leo Davies as head of the Royal Australian Air Force. The first deployment Hupfeld will manage as RAAF chief will be the commitment to the US-led coalition against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq which Defence Minister Linda Reynolds announced would be extended. One KC-30A air-to-air refuelling aircraft will continue operations in the Middle East and an E-7A Wedgetail airborne early warning and control aircraft will be redeployed to the region.

Swedish company Saab will reportedly become the first international partner involved in the development of Britain’s ‘Tempest’ sixth-generation fighter aircraft. The announcement is expected to be made at the Royal International Air Tattoo, an air show beginning on 19 July. Saab’s CEO expressed a strong interest in joining the program last year, saying that discussions between Saab and the UK’s BAE Systems had been ‘intensive’.

A day after US President Donald Trump met with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, South Korean fighter jets were scrambled to intercept an unidentified object flying over the demilitarised zone between the two Koreas. South Korean media had speculated that a North Korean helicopter had made its way across the border, but it was quickly revealed by an anonymous South Korean military official that the unidentified object was, in fact, a flock of birds.

Rapid fire

The Australian Army’s Mission Adaptable Platform System (MAPS) unmanned ground vehicles are in action at exercise Talisman Sabre as part of a trial. The MAPS are semi-autonomous unmanned platforms developed by Queensland-based company Praesidium. They are capable of supporting a variety of operations including intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions, transporting casualties, supporting tactical resupply and employing heavy weapons.

A team comprising the French defence procurement agency, the French Army’s technical section, missile company MBDA and tech firm Kalray has developed an award-winning system combining artificial intelligence and massively parallel processing—the use of multiple processors working on a program simultaneously—to develop new detection, recognition and identification technology. The program can recognise still and moving targets through real time processing of images and subsequently direct fire.

The US Army has released podcast versions of some of its instruction materials as part of its effort to modernise training. The Combined Arms Doctrine Directorate of the army training command has released audio versions of two training manuals, which you can listen to here.

Final frontier

A civilian observer has snapped pictures of secretive US Air Force space plane known as the X-37B. It’s a reusable robotic spacecraft, and while its missions and payloads are classified, it’s thought that it undertakes extended experiments of new space technology. This mission has set a new flight record, having been in orbit for nearly two years. It’s not known when it will land.

A weather-monitoring satellite has been offline for more than a week as engineers attempt to fix a technical issue with its positioning system. The satellite, known as DSCOVR, is jointly operated by NASA and the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It monitors solar wind conditions and provides images of earth’s atmospheric conditions.

Space Norway has chosen Northrop Grumman to develop and build two satellites to be launched late in 2022. The satellites will carry defence payloads for both Norway and the US Air Force and they will also form the core of the Arctic Satellite Broadband Mission, which will provide better internet connectivity across Arctic latitudes and improve communications there.

Wired watchtower

A joint investigation by the Guardian has revealed that Chinese border police have been secretly installing surveillance apps on tourists’ phones as they enter Xinjiang from Kyrgyzstan. The app can extract emails, texts and contacts, and scan for specific content, including things relating to Islamist extremism, Ramadan and the Dalai Lama. The pervasive and oppressive level of surveillance in Xinjiang is well-known, but the targeting of tourists is new.

Belgium’s Eurofins Scientific is believed to have paid a ransom to recover its network following a ransomware attack. Eurofins is a leading forensic science firm and is used by UK police to investigate major crimes. Police halted work with the firm following the cyberattack, delaying a number of court cases relying on forensic evidence prepared by the firm. The source of the attack is still under investigation, and the amount paid by the company has not been confirmed.

Tendering has opened for the Australian Defence Force’s new e-health records platform. The platform will replace the Defence eHealth System, which was introduced just five years ago. The procurement of a new system could draw criticism, as the platform will be integrated with the government’s My Health Record, which was the subject of controversy over its ‘opt-out’ system last year.