The five-domains update

Sea state

The 2019 Pacific International Maritime Expo was held in Sydney last week. The new vessel designs unveiled at the conference included Navantia Australia’s joint support ship, which was conceived with the needs of the Royal Australian Navy in mind, and Austal’s offshore patrol vessel, which it’s currently pitching to the Philippine Navy. Lockheed Martin also showcased a scale model of a control room that could be used in Australia’s future Attack-class submarines. The company building those submarines, Naval Group, signed an agreement with ASC to have the latter train selected welders under its existing apprenticeship program. Naval Group Pacific, meanwhile, joined 16 governments, universities and other firms in signing onto a research hub for naval industry to be called the Australian Maritime Development Centre.

France and Cyprus have conducted naval drills off Cyprus’s coast, with France sending two frigates to take part in ‘routine exercises’ in Cypriot waters. French Defence Minister Florence Parly said the exercise was aimed at enabling Cyprus to ‘assume its responsibilities in its sovereign waters’. This comes as Cyprus is engaged in a tense dispute with Turkey over offshore gas drilling, with the EU urging Turkey to stop ‘illegal drilling’ within Cyprus’s exclusive economic zone.

Flight path

China has unveiled the naval configuration of its Z-20 helicopter, the Harbin Z-20F, at an expo in Tianjin. The model bears an uncanny resemblance to the US Black Hawk and contains attachments similar to those used by the US Navy’s Seahawks to counter small boat swarms. Once in service, the helicopter will provide a boost for the People’s Liberation Army Navy, which currently doesn’t have a helicopter that can fill the same role as the Seahawk. China tested the ship-based model on its destroyers earlier this year.

The US Air Force’s XQ-58A Valkyrie unmanned combat aerial vehicle has sustained damage during its third flight test. The mishap was caused by ‘high surface winds and a malfunction of the vehicle’s provisional flight test recovery system’. The drone is part of an Air Force Research Laboratory project to develop a low-cost unmanned aircraft capable of performing strike, electronic warfare and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions. A fourth flight has been delayed until a safety investigation can be completed.

The Pentagon has authorised the deployment of two F-15 fighter squadrons, an air expeditionary wing, two Patriot batteries and a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system to Saudi Arabia. This will bring the total number of US troops deployed to the kingdom to 3,000 since a mid-September attack on Saudi oil facilities.

Rapid fire

Prime Minister Scott Morrison revealed in a locker room speech at the Prime Minister’s XIII rugby league match in Suva that Australian and Fijian troops will be deployed on a joint peacekeeping mission to the Golan Heights as early as this week, as part of a ‘longstanding commitment’ to UN operations in the Middle East. Morrison talked up prospects of closer military ties between the two nations and said that Australian troops will be training and supporting the Fijian troops on the mission.

Defence company BMT has offered its Caimen 90 landing craft to the Australian Army, which is looking to improve its amphibious capability under the LAND 8710 program. Phase one of the program will replace the army’s Vietnam War–era Mark 8 landing craft to provide greater flexibility in shallow waters. The Caimen 90 will have a bow ramp and will be able to operate at up to 30 knots while carrying heavy payloads.

The Iranian Army has released pictures of its Heidair-1, a small, cheap robot designed to be an expendable battlefield platform that can be driven under larger vehicles and detonate an explosive payload. Pictures show what appears be a proof of concept that looks very similar to a remote-controlled car. Iran claims that it will eventually deploy an autonomous network of the vehicles, though they are still human-controlled for now.

Final frontier

Boeing’s new spacecraft, the Starliner, is scheduled to take its first orbital flight in December. NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine signalled concerns with the program, however, revealing that his agency is in talks with Russia’s Roscosmos to secure an additional seat on a Soyuz spacecraft. Both Boeing’s and SpaceX’s commercial vehicles have suffered from long delays in development. Bridenstine said the deal was an ‘insurance policy’ to ensure that the US sustains a presence on the International Space Station.

A four-legged robot is set to be the first payload from the UK to reach the moon’s surface. Built by UK company Spacebit, the 1-kilogram robot has secured a place on Astrobotic Technology’s Peregrine moon lander, which is scheduled for launch in 2021. This will also be the first time that a four-legged robot has explored the moon’s surface, as space rovers have traditionally been equipped with wheels. If successful, the UK will become the fourth country to land on the moon.

Northrop Grumman launched the first commercial satellite-servicing spacecraft, MEV-1, atop a Russian Proton rocket last Wednesday. The spacecraft is expected to latch onto Intelsat 901, a communications satellite that has been orbiting the earth since 2001. It will then use its onboard thrusters to gain control of the satellite’s pointing and orbit-maintenance duties. MEV-1’s work will extend the life of the satellite by five years.

Wired watchtower

The organisers of the Australian Cyber Conference in Melbourne reportedly asked speaker Ted Ringrose to edit his speech on Australia’s anti-encryption legislation. Ringrose has said that the organisers considered the speech to be ‘biased’ and disagreed with the comparison he made between Australia’s encryption laws and China’s. While Ringrose resisted the changes and gave his speech as planned, the attempt is likely to add to the controversy surrounding the conference following the last-minute removal of US whistleblower Thomas Drake and researcher Suelette Dreyfus from the list of speakers.

Saudi Arabia has hired Instagram influencers in an attempt to rehabilitate its image in the West. Gateway KSA, a non-government organisation of which Prince Turki Al Faisal Al Saud is an executive member, has been enlisted to provide luxury and all-expenses-paid, supervised trips. The influencers, some of whom are Australian, have unsurprisingly not mentioned Saudi Arabia’s human rights abuses in their posts.

It’s been revealed that Apple is sharing a portion of users’ web browsing history with the Chinese company that owns WeChat, Tencent. The data is being shared as part of the company’s ‘fraudulent website warning’, which uses Google’s safe browsing technology. The data-sharing setting appears to be ‘on’ by default on Apple’s iOS 13, which could mean millions of users’ information has been unknowingly shared with Tencent.