The five-domains update

Sea state

The Japanese government says it won’t join the US-led coalition in the Strait of Hormuz, though it will send its own forces to the area. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Japan plans to deploy warships used for information-gathering purposes to the region to ensure the safe shipment of oil to Japan. This comes as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe seeks to defuse tensions between Iran and the US, with Japan’s longstanding ties with Iran reportedly a key factor in its reluctance to join the US-led initiative.

The Defence Department has opened the Underwater Collision Research Facility at the Australian Maritime College in Tasmania. The facility is a joint initiative under a collaborative research agreement between Defence Science and Technology and the University of Tasmania, and will support Australia’s shipbuilding capability. Defence Minister Linda Reynolds said the facility will allow for ‘better understanding of the impact of underwater collisions’ and help to keep navy personnel safe.

The second edition of the India–Myanmar Naval Exercise (IMNEX) began last week. The exercise is divided into harbour and sea phases, and encompasses a variety of activities including anti-air and surface firing drills, helicopter exercises and seamanship training. This year’s iteration is broader in scope and complexity than last year’s IMNEX, highlighting the growing cooperation between the two navies.

Flight path

Full-rate production of Lockheed Martin’s F-35 fighter plane could be delayed until 2021, due to issues in integrating the jet into its simulation environment, the US defence department says. Acquisition chief Ellen Lord said a ‘late start to initiation of intensive simulator testing’ is responsible for the delay. Production of the plane has been slowed in the past by supply-chain problems and other issues.

The US has bombed its own headquarters in northern Syria in an attempt to prevent it from falling into the hands of Turkish-backed fighters. Two US Air Force F-15E Strike Eagles also conducted an air strike on an ammunition cache so that it couldn’t be seized by the Free Syrian Army. The bombing followed US President Donald Trump’s announcement that troops would withdraw from northern Syria and the subsequent Turkish military offensive against Syrian Kurds, who Turkey views as terrorists.

Despite ongoing delays, Taiwan’s defence minister has said his country’s program to upgrade its F-16 fighter jets is expected to finish on time in 2022. The multimillion-dollar program involves bringing its fleet of 142 F-16s up to ‘Viper’ standard and is part of Taiwan’s effort to bolster its defensive capability in the face of growing uncertainty. Taiwan is also seeking new reconnaissance pods for its F-16s to give the jets the technology to monitor the coastline of mainland China without leaving Taiwanese airspace.

Rapid fire

The ABC reports a newly obtained study by the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission has led the Department of Defence to admit that an Australian soldier fired at protestors outside an Australian base in Uruzgan province in 2010. At the time, NATO claimed one protestor was killed, though the new report claims five civilians were killed and six wounded. An investigation into the incident found that Australian soldiers acted in accordance with their rules of engagement.

South Korean company Hanwha Defence unveiled a prototype of its contender for the Australian Army’s new infantry fighting vehicle at the 2019 Seoul International Aerospace and Defence Exhibition. The AS21 Redback  is based on the South Korean Army’s K21 IFV, and will be fitted with a new active protection system to protect it against guided anti-tank missiles. The Redback has made the shortlist for phase three of the LAND 400 program, which will replace the Vietnam War–era M113 armoured personnel carrier, and provide the Australian Army with up to 450 modern IFVs.

The US Army has dropped the joint Rheinmetall–Raytheon bid to replace the M2 Bradley IFV, leaving only General Dynamic Land Systems in the race. The proposed delivery date for the KF-41 Lynx of 1 October and transport and certification within Germany were cited as issues with the withdrawn bid.

Final frontier

NASA astronauts Christina Koch and Jessica Meir completed the agency’s first all-female spacewalk while carrying out repairs on the International Space Station. The astronauts spent seven hours and 17 minutes outside the ISS and replaced a faulty battery charger that connects the station’s solar panels to its power supply. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine told reporters that it won’t be long before the first woman walks on the moon, and that the first person to walk on Mars could be a woman.

German company Bosch has developed a new AI-based sensor for the International Space Station’s Astrobee robot. Known as the SoundSee module, the sensor has been designed to function as an ‘ear’ for the Astrobee and will hopefully enable the robot to ‘hear’ mechanical issues before they arise. The sensor will use microphones and machine-learning algorithms to develop a sound baseline aboard the station and then continually compare new audio data to the baseline to detect potential mechanical issues.

NASA has released a report of findings and recommendations following a review of the agency’s policies on planetary protection. The independent review found that NASA’s policies no longer reflect the latest knowledge and need to be brought up to date to prevent the contamination of earth and other planets as a result of space research, noting that for many missions the policies are ‘anachronistic and sometimes unrealistic’.

Wired watchtower

A joint UK and US investigation has uncovered a sophisticated operation run by a Russian cyberespionage unit in which a group of Iranian-government-linked hackers were infiltrated. The Iranian group, known as Oilrig, was hijacked and then used by the Russians as a proxy to launch cyberattacks in more than 35 countries, mainly in the Middle East. Security officials involved in the investigation say it’s unlikely that the Iranians knew they had been co-opted.

The Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab has been keeping tabs on a social media disinformation campaign that appears to be accompanying Turkey’s military campaign in the Kurdish-held regions of northern Syria. DFRLab found thousands of bot-like Twitter accounts sharing political propaganda that is aimed at deflecting the international scrutiny directed at Turkey and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike published a new report outlining China’s efforts to fill key technology and intelligence gaps by stealing intellectual property from foreign companies. The report claims that the Comac C919 jetliner is the product of Chinese state-sponsored IP theft. According to the report, between 2010 and 2015, Chinese hackers targeted several overseas suppliers, such as Honeywell, General Electric and Liebherr, and stole information on a number of different components, which Comac then used to build its own model.