The five-domains update

Sea state

As Exercise Talisman Sabre continues at Queensland’s Shoalwater Bay and in waters off the north of the state, a Chinese electronic surveillance ship has been filmed travelling down the Queensland coast to monitor the war games. While remaining outside of Australian territorial waters, the surveillance ship is sailing within Australia’s exclusive economic zone. Talisman Sabre began last week with joint Australia–US rocket fire drills and aerial exercises involving US and Australian aircraft. Maritime operations are being carried out with the Australian, US and Canadian navies, and the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force. Vessels involved include the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan and helicopter carriers HMAS Canberra, HMAS Adelaide and JS Ise. Submarines, frigates and other ships are also taking part.

French shipbuilder Naval Group has launched the first of its Barracuda-class nuclear-powered submarines. At a cost of €9.1 billion (A$14.5 billion), the fleet of six submarines will replace the French Navy’s Rubis class. While the program is years behind schedule, the French Navy is expecting to commission the submarine next year.

The Royal Navy has scrambled to deploy the frigate HMS St Albans to monitor the Chinese navy’s Xian destroyer as it transits through the English Channel. The British vessel, a Type 23 frigate, has previously shadowed Russian naval vessels that have passed close to the UK coast.

Flight path

The US government’s approval of the sale of military hardware to Taiwan did not include 60 new ‘Block 70’ F-16V fighter aircraft. The Trump administration reportedly gave tacit approval for the sale of the F-16s to Taiwan earlier this year. But it seems the US may have held back on the deal, as Taiwan’s purchase of US F-16s could threaten trade negotiations between the US and China. The improvement of Taiwanese air combat capabilities has also been labelled a ‘red line’ by China.

Qatar has signed a $US2.2 billion deal with Raytheon for the purchase of an integrated air defence missile system which includes the AMRAAM-ER surface-to-air missile, the National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile System, as well as the latest version of the Patriot missile system. Australia’s former defence minister, Christopher Pyne, confirmed earlier this year that NASAMS had been selected for the army’s short-range, ground-based air defence program.

Germany is the first country to use the Airbus A400M Atlas military transport aircraft for air-to-air refuelling missions. The A400M has replaced one of three A310 tankers deployed to a base in Jordan. France has used its A400M on combat missions in Africa since 2013, but the aircraft has yet to complete testing for air-to-air refuelling operations with the French Air Force.

Rapid fire

Details have emerged of a speech Australia’s defence force chief made at a private dinner last month. In the off-the-record speech, General Angus Campbell reportedly warned that rising sea levels could usher in a new wave of territorial claims in our region. China was not named in the speech, but Campbell did mention that states could reclaim islands abandoned due to climate change and potentially militarise them.

US Army researchers are building ‘smart’ landmines. The networked mines will be able to be accessed through satellite communications, with the aim of creating ‘terrain-shaping obstacles’ (or obstacles reinforced with intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities) that can distinguish between friendly and hostile combatants. The army aims to replace ‘dumb’ landmines with this new variant by 2035.

Paramedical units from China’s People’s Liberation Army have been deployed to Germany for a joint humanitarian training exercise, the first time Chinese armoured vehicles have been used in Europe. During the drill, China displayed its latest field hospital systems, armoured ambulances and epidemic prevention vehicles. Almost 100 Chinese medics, 129 German soldiers and 120 support officers participated in the exercise.

Final frontier

The highly anticipated launch of India’s moon lander, Chandrayaan 2, was delayed less than an hour before launch due to a technical issue yesterday. It’s not yet clear what the problem with the rocket was. The mission would have been India’s biggest space mission yet and there is no indication when a new launch date will be set.

US-based space start-up Made In Space has been selected by NASA to manufacture and assemble extended solar arrays in space using 3D-printing technology. The manufacturing of parts in space has the potential to be a transformative technology. US-owned and New Zealand–based company Rocket Lab will launch the craft in 2022 at the earliest.

The European Union’s geolocation and navigation satellite system—known as Galileo—is offline due to issues with ground infrastructure. Galileo has been in operation since 2016 and consists of 22 satellites. It was created to offer an alternative to the US’s GPS system. No timeline has been given for getting the satellites back online, so Galileo is relying on GPS satellites in the interim.

Wired watchtower

The US Federal Election Commission has approved company Area 1 Security’s offer of anti-phishing services to presidential candidates in the lead-up to the 2020 election as part of its response to cyber-enabled foreign interference. The Federal Election Commission is allowing the company to offer its services despite its own lawyers advising that the offer of discounted cyber services could be in breach of campaign finance laws.

In a speech focused on future technologies, New South Wales Transport Minister Andrew Constance has suggested that facial recognition could be used to replace swipe cards on public transport. Constance said this would make travel ‘easier and faster’, but the idea is likely to face strong backlash due to privacy concerns. In May, San Francisco banned the use of facial recognition technology by police and other government agencies.

Google employees are able to listen to private recordings of people’s conversations through the ‘Google Assistant’ feature. A report by Belgian news outlet VRT NWS says it was able to listen to more than 1,000 recordings, most of which were made by individuals asking the service to provide information on traffic and weather, for example. But 153 of these conversations were recorded without the ‘Ok Google’ command being given, or with similar-sounding words being misheard. In a blog post, Google said that human workers listen to conversations to help improve the technology’s responses in various languages.