The five-domains update

Sea state

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced a new maritime security agreement with Timor-Leste, which includes a deal for Australia to fund a new wharf at the Hera naval base and provide two Guardian-class patrol boats to the country. The announcement was made during a visit by Morrison to Dili, where he declared a ‘new chapter’ in relations between Australia and Timor-Leste. The commitment bears similarities to the one in Papua New Guinea, where Australia and the US will help redevelop the Lombrum naval base on Manus Island.

China has denied a US Navy warship’s request to visit the Chinese port city of Qingdao, according to a US defence official. It’s the second time China has denied a request by the US Navy in the past month, having previously rejected a request for two US Navy ships to visit Hong Kong. While China’s defence ministry has yet to comment, experts claim that the refusal was a ‘natural result of the worsening bilateral ties between China and the US’.

British defence company QinetiQ has won a £18.7 million (A$34 million) contract with the Royal Navy. Technology known as ‘Operational Assessment of Signatures Informing Susceptibility’, or OASIS, will help reduce the acoustic and electromagnetic signatures of the Royal Navy’s submarines and ships, making it harder for them to be detected. QinetiQ’s Steve Fitz-Gerald said that the contract will ‘play a significant role in the modernisation … and development of capability for our forces’.

Flight path

Aerospace company Saab completed the maiden flight of its first Brazilian Gripen E fighter last week. President and CEO Hakan Buskhe said the milestone was a ‘testament to the great partnership between Sweden and Brazil’. The aircraft is the first Gripen E fighter produced for Brazil and is part of a US$5.4 billion deal signed back in 2014, which called for the construction and supply of 36 Gripen fighters, comprising 28 single-seat Gripens and eight two-seaters.

A US Air Force B-2 Spirit stealth bomber has become the first B-2 ever to land in Iceland. The aircraft arrived at Naval Air Station Keflavik, where it spent five hours. The USAF said the purpose of the flight was to ‘conduct theater familiarization … and to demonstrate US commitment to allies and partners’. It also highlighted Keflavik’s potential as an emergency diversion or staging location for B-2s.

Russia’s Kronstadt Group showcased a new drone at the MAKS 2019 aerospace and defence exhibition in Zhukovsky. Kronstadt says the medium-altitude, long-endurance unmanned aerial vehicle has a payload of 1,000 kilograms and will be able to conduct patrols over the Arctic and Pacific oceans as well as monitor Russia’s exclusive economic zones. The UAV has a claimed cruising speed of 295 kilometres per hour and a flight endurance of 40 hours at full load.

Rapid fire

Three contenders have submitted their final bids to replace the Australian Army’s fleet of Tiger armed reconnaissance helicopters from the mid-2020s as part of the LAND 4503 program. The army wants a ‘proven and mature, off the shelf-manned armed helicopter’. The candidates to replace the Tiger are Bell’s Viper and Boeing’s Apache, while Airbus is offering what it says would be a more than $3 billion saving by extending the Tiger’s service life to the 2040s.

The Australian Army’s 51st Battalion is hosting a trilateral military exercise with forces from the US and China in Far North Queensland. The exercise, called Kowari, promotes ‘friendship and co-operation’ by encouraging military personnel from the three countries to work together in the Australian bush. It’s hoped activities such as hiking, canyoning and sea kayaking as well as bush survival training will enable ‘important people-to-people connections’ and enhance regional security.

Poland has expressed an interest in joining the European main battle tank project, which is being spearheaded by France and Germany. The project is part of an initiative founded in 2017 to allow EU member states to engage in joint military projects. Poland’s desire to join the scheme reflects a broader trend among Eastern European countries that are seeking to replace their Soviet-era tanks with modern Western ones.

Final frontier

Following a ‘mysterious explosion’ at Iran’s Imam Khomeini Space Center on Thursday, US President Donald Trump posted a high-resolution image of the location to Twitter, though he denied any US involvement in what’s thought to be a failed rocket launch. Trump has been questioned over his choice of image, as a redacted classification appears to be in the top left-hand corner of the image. The quality and detail of the now very public image have enabled observers to identify the satellite used as one of the US National Reconnaissance Office’s classified KH-11 Evolved Enhanced Crystal satellites.

NASA activated its Deep Space Atomic Clock on Friday, marking the official beginning of its year-long mission. The atomic clock is the first onboard clock that’s ‘stable enough to map a spacecraft’s trajectory in deep space’ and will enable spaceships to calculate their own trajectories and navigate through deep space independently.

Engineers from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory have attached the first extraterrestrial helicopter to the agency’s Mars 2020 rover. After landing on Mars, the helicopter will detach itself from the rover and conduct a series of tests to determine whether or not the autonomous vehicle can be flown in the planet’s extremely thin atmosphere.

Wired watchtower

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has confirmed in an article for Prospect that a cyberattack on one allied nation constitutes an attack on them all, triggering a ‘collective defence response’ pursuant to Article 5 of the organisation’s founding treaty. He wrote that NATO will operate and defend itself in cyberspace in the same way it does ‘in the air, on land, and at sea’.

US Cyber Command carried out a covert cyber operation against Iranian intelligence systems in June amid ‘an undeclared cyberconflict’ between the two countries. The systems targeted by the US were reportedly being used by Iran’s paramilitary arm to target commercial vessels in the Gulf. While Iran is still in the process of recovering from the intrusion, it’s thought that it may have learned critical information about Cyber Command’s capabilities.

Security researchers from Google have uncovered a hacking campaign involving a number of malicious websites which exploited software flaws in iPhones over a two-year period. It’s reported that the websites were used to target the Uyghur community in Xinjiang in what appears to have been a state-sponsored attack. By gaining access to a phone, hackers would have had access to the target’s messages, passwords and location, which, if true, is worrying given the Chinese government’s detention of more than a million Uyghurs in ‘re-education’ camps.