The five-domains update

Sea state

New designs on show at the 2019 International Maritime Defence Industry Exhibition in Busan last week included a full-scale prototype of LIG Nex1’s Sea Sword II unmanned surface vessel and a model of Hanwha System’s large-displacement unmanned underwater vehicle. The Sea Sword is being configured for surveillance and armed reconnaissance missions and Hanwha Systems’ unmanned submarine is being developed for South Korea’s Agency for Defence Development for anti-submarine warfare operations. Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering unveiled its DW200L multi-purpose light frigate design and a new diesel-electric attack submarine concept, the DSME 2000, which is targeted at the Southeast Asian and South American markets. The exhibit also featured the Tiger Shark torpedo, which is expected to be deployed on South Korean submarines by 2020.

Turkey has launched its first national submarine program, called MILDEN, with local defence contractors to develop and construct six R-class submarines at domestic shipyards. The boats will be based on a German design. Ankara’s defence deals have been coming under increased scrutiny after it launched a military offensive in northern Syria and EU countries decided to suspend new defence export licences to Turkey.

Flight path

Two Russian Tu-160 bombers have touched down at South Africa’s Waterkloof Air Force Base near Pretoria on the bomber’s first African visit. The arrival of the ‘White Swans’ coincided with the first-ever Russia–Africa Summit, which was opened by Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi. The deployment is intended to demonstrate Russia’s ability to conduct military operations far from its borders.

For the second time in Canada’s long-running US$15-billion fighter replacement program, the F-35 is looking like the frontrunner for the contract to replace the air force’s 80 ageing CF-18 Hornets. In 2010, the government committed to buy 65 F-35s as part of the joint strike fighter program, but in 2015, newly elected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau decided to pursue a lower cost option. The F-35 has now come back as the favourite ahead of European contenders.

The US Air Force will purchase two to three AT-6 Wolverines and A-29 Super Tucanos to improve its light-attack aircraft capability. This purchase has consolidated the light-attack aircraft experiment, which was put on hold indefinitely in January, and it should be completed in 2020. The affordable planes are considered useful for counterterrorism operations and are valuable support vehicles for air forces conducting operations within their own borders.

Rapid fire

Defence Minister Linda Reynolds and Defence Industry Minister Melissa Price confirmed last week that contracts with Hanwha and Rheinmetall have been signed to begin the risk-mitigation phase of the $10–15 billion LAND 400 phase 3 program. Over the next two years, the companies will conduct evaluations and tests, including testing their vehicles to destruction, while engaging with the Defence Department to clarify, refine and negotiate their tenders.

US troops from Delta Force completed an operation on Saturday in a compound in Syria’s northwestern Idlib province. Their aim was to kill or capture Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Eight US military helicopters remained for more than an hour over the heavily militarised terrority and the Americans had to get prior permission from Russia, Iraq and Turkey to fly over their airspace. According to US President Donald Trump,  Bagdahdi was chased by dogs into a tunnel and ignited his suicide vest, killing himself and three of his children.

A small Australian company, Anywise Consulting, has been awarded a $336,000 contract through the Defence Innovation Hub to develop a next-generation bridging support technology for the Australian Defence Force. Its ‘health and usage monitoring system’ will be modular and scalable so that it can be used for all bridge configurations and sizes.

Final frontier

The US Air Force’s Orbital Test Vehicle-5 completed its mission over the weekend and became the second X-37B spacecraft to land at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center shuttle landing facility. The X-37B is a reusable and unmanned spacecraft, and has been used in the past to test the impact of long periods of space travel on certain technologies. In this instance, the spacecraft had been in orbit for 780 days, beating its previous endurance record by 62 days.

SpaceX plans to begin offering its Starlink satellite broadband service to consumers by the end of 2020. The service is currently being tested on US Air Force planes, but around eight Falcon 9 spacecraft, filled with Starlink satellites, will need to be launched before it can be offered to the public. SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell said that to get global coverage the company will need a minimum of 24 launches. Demonstrating its potential, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk successfully tweeted using the service last week.

Virgin Galactic has begun trading shares on the New York Stock Exchange, becoming the first publicly listed spaceflight company. Company founder Richard Branson announced the move in July, noting that taking Virgin Galactic public would ‘open space to more investors and in doing so, open space to thousands of new astronauts’.

Wired watchtower

The Morrison government’s facial recognition technology bill was rejected by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security over concerns that it could allow the technology to be used for ‘mass or blanket surveillance’. Committee chair Andrew Hastie noted that, while the committee supported the objectives of the bill, more robust safeguards and appropriate oversight mechanisms were required to ensure the protection of people’s right to privacy. The committee recommended that the government completely redraft the proposed legislation and then resubmit it to the committee.

Microsoft has secured a 10-year, US$10 billion contract to work on the Pentagon’s Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure, known as JEDI. That will include replacing the Pentagon’s computer network with a cloud-based system, providing artificial-intelligence-based data analytics, and hosting classified military information. The selection of Microsoft came as a surprise; its competitor Amazon had been considered the favourite to win the contract.

British universities have been warned by the country’s intelligence agencies, MI5 and GCHQ, to put national security ahead of commercial interests amid rising tensions over state-sponsored theft of research and intellectual property. The agencies are reportedly concerned that British universities are becoming dependent on international grants and students from China, with around 100,000 Chinese nationals studying in Britain, and are consequently more vulnerable to Chinese influence and interference.