The five-domains update

Sea state

The Brazilian navy has started sea trials of its first Scorpene-class attack submarine, Riachuelo. The submarine, which is being developed by French company Naval Group, was first launched in 2018 as part of an R$35 billion (A$12.5 billion) program for four conventional submarines and Brazil’s first nuclear-powered submarine. The program has been delayed, however, and the launch date of the last boats has been put back until 2029. Naval Group is also currently developing submarines for the Royal Australian Navy.

France’s Marine Nationale has become the first European navy to successfully demonstrate ‘cooperative engagement’ between two of its vessels. A video posted to Twitter showed the destroyer Forbin remotely engaging a target with a missile using data shared by the frigate Languedoc. India, Australia and the US have also successfully tested cooperative engagement between their naval vessels. The US is currently developing a ‘cooperative engagement capability’ network that aims to link all its ships and aircraft together.

China has launched its first amphibious assault ship, a Type 075 landing helicopter dock, just months after pictures first emerged of its keel being built. Development work on the Type 075 began in 2011, with the aim of increasing the Chinese navy’s vertical take-off and landing capabilities. The Chinese military says the ship still needs to have equipment fitted and be tested at sea before it’s commissioned. A second vessel of the class is also already under construction.

Flight path 

Australia’s Chief of Air Force, Air Marshal Mel Hupfeld, attended a hangar ceremony at the Bushido Guardian 2019 exercise in Japan, where he welcomed the strengthening of bonds between the Australian and Japanese air forces. Bushido Guardian is the first-ever joint air combat exercise between the two countries, and involves Australian F/A-18 and Japanese F-15 and F-2 jets. Defence Minister Linda Reynolds said the exercise aims to increase Australia’s engagement with Japan, while Japanese Defence Minister Taro Kono said ‘strengthening cooperation between Japan and Australia through [these] exercises will lead to peace in the region’.

The US Air Force has approved the initial production of the Sikorsky HH-60W combat rescue helicopter, following extensive flight tests in Florida. Lockheed Martin says the new helicopters, which are a variant of the Black Hawk, will replace the ageing HH-60G Pave Hawks and serve in US combat search-and-rescue and personnel-recovery operations. The US Air Force plans to buy 113 HH-60Ws.

Italy has deployed six F-35As to Keflavik Airbase to conduct air policing and training over Iceland, marking the first time the jets have been deployed on a NATO mission. This is the fifth deployment of Italian aircraft to Iceland, and also includes a Boeing KC-767 tanker.

Rapid fire

The Australian Army acquired the first of 211 Rheinmetall Boxer combat reconnaissance vehicles as part of the $5.2 billion LAND 400 Phase 2 project last week. The first 25 vehicles, which are being produced in Germany, will be used for familiarisation and training purposes. The remaining 186 Boxers will be produced at a Rheinmetall facility in Ipswich, Queensland, starting late next year.

Taiwan is seeking to modernise its artillery by acquiring BAE Systems’ M109A6 Paladin self-propelled howitzer from the US. Defence Minister Yen Teh-fa has not confirmed the number of howitzers Taiwan is seeking, but local media suggests it’s around 100. Taiwan also wants to triple the range of its artillery rockets to 300 kilometres either by acquiring US-made systems or developing its own.

By 2022, the US Army plans to deploy its first four armoured vehicles equipped with 50-kilowatt lasers in an effort to provide a cost-efficient and effective means to defend against drones. Lasers are particularly effective against slow-moving targets because they have more time to burn through their protective layers. Larger and faster targets like cruise missiles pose a bigger challenge for laser defence and would need to have between 300 and 600 kilowatts of power to reliably bring one down.

Final frontier

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has unveiled his company’s ‘Starship’. Standing in front of a 50-metre prototype, Musk revealed that the aim was to have the spaceship in orbit in less than six months. The reusable craft, which is designed to transport up to 100 people to space and back, is key to the company’s future space travel plans. NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine reacted to the announcement by bringing attention to SpaceX’s partnership with NASA on the commercial crew program, which is reportedly years behind schedule.

Russia’s space agency, Roscosmos, has admitted that the cause of the hole on a Soyuz spacecraft has been determined, though it has refused to elaborate on what it considers to be a ‘state secret’. The hole on the International Space Station, which was discovered on 29 August last year after alarms alerted the crew to a loss of pressure onboard, had been drilled by hand and then concealed using resin.

Tyvak, an American company that manufactures nano-satellites, announced at the 8th Space Forum in Adelaide that it will move into Adelaide’s ‘Lot Fourteen’ innovation neighbourhood. The company has plans to set up a manufacturing and testing facility for space vehicles in its new location. Tyvak’s Australian director Marco Villa said the company’s focus is on growing the ‘local supply chain and national space ecosystem.’

Wired watchtower

Privacy advocates have spoken out against the biometric ‘identity-matching’ bills currently before parliament, claiming that the Australian government’s proposed laws are highly intrusive and lack proportionality. The national database will enable government agencies and private entities to access photos and personal information taken from Australian drivers’ licences and passports. Victoria has already started uploading photos from its licences to the database.

Airbus has named China as the key suspect behind a series of cyberattacks against four of its suppliers. The company revealed in January that hackers had targeted its suppliers, resulting in the unauthorised accessing of technical documents and commercial data. The success of the attacks highlights the fact that hackers can gain access to companies via their suppliers. China has denied any involvement in the attacks.

The Czech Republic’s intelligence agency NUKIB has found that China was likely to have been behind a major cyberattack on the Czech foreign ministry last year. The report of China’s likely involvement comes a month after the Czech Senate’s security committee first revealed findings that a foreign state had carried out the attack against the ministry.