The five-domains update

Sea state

Australia and South Korea have held their annual joint naval exercise. Code-named ‘Haedori-Wallaby’, the drills included joint manoeuvres and firing exercises, and involved six ships, six aircraft and a submarine on the Korean side and a Hobart-class destroyer and MH-60 helicopter on the Australian side. The drills were aimed at ‘improving cooperation in the implementation of joint naval operations’. The exercise comes as the Royal Australian Navy sent the frigate HMAS Parramatta to the region to help enforce sanctions on North Korea.

The Russian navy has launched its first missile-armed icebreaker, the Ivan Papanin, which is one of two ordered under a 2016 contract. The vessel will be part of a fleet dubbed Russia’s ‘trump card’ in the Arctic, and will escort vessels, deliver cargo and participate in rescue operations. The ship is scheduled for delivery in 2021, and is expected to be equipped with a helicopter, Kalibr-NK cruise missiles and 76.2-millimetre main gun.

BAE Systems has been awarded a US$120 million (A$174 million) contract to build 30 amphibious combat vehicles for the US Marine Corps, which will be used to transport marines from ship to shore. The vehicles’ design is based on that of the Italian Superav 8×8 amphibious armoured personnel carrier, and will replace the Marine Corps’ ageing amphibious assault vehicles. Production will take place mainly at BAE’s manufacturing facility in Pennsylvania.

Flight path

A US$34 billion deal for the next three lots of F-35 joint strike fighters has been reached. The contract for lots 12, 13 and 14 of the jet includes the delivery of 478 F-35s of all variants and could see the average price per aircraft drop by 12.8%. Under the US budget for 2019, Australia will receive 15 F-35As, costing US$82.4 million in lot 12 and US$79.2 million in lot 13, down from the lot 11 cost of US$89.2 million per unit. Lot 14 F-35As are expected to come in at a cost of US$77.9 million each.

Boeing has delivered the first Poseidon aircraft to the UK’s Royal Air Force. The ‘Pride of Moray’ will be used in maritime patrol and anti-submarine warfare duties. The P-8A is stationed in Florida, where its crew are being trained, and will be transferred to its permanent base in Scotland next year. While the RAF is acquiring nine Poseidons, the Royal Australian Air Force is already operating 10 of the jets and its final two should be in Australia by January.

The US State Department has given its approval for Japan to upgrade 98 of its F-15J interceptors into a ‘Japanese super interceptor’ configuration, which will be the first fleet-wide upgrade since the 1980s. The US$4.5-billion deal is still awaiting congressional approval, but, if accepted, it will include advanced electronically scanned array radars, mission computers, electronic warfare equipment and new munitions.

Rapid fire

A factory that has been manufacturing small arms for Australian soldiers since World War I is building the world’s most modern rifle after a five-year research and development program conducted by Thales Australia. The ‘future soldier weapon system’ being built in Lithgow, New South Wales, is a networked and digital weapon that can use computerised sight and automated firing systems to increase a soldier’s accuracy by up to 400%. It can also identify targets like enemy fighters and drones.

The US and Germany have released a strategic vision statement outlining an unprecedented level of interoperability between the two countries’ ground forces by 2027. Operating at the ‘integrated level’, the aim is for both forces to work seamlessly together. For example, a German brigade or division could work under the operational command of the US Army as a ‘peer formation’ to American units, and vice versa.

The Indian Army has approached the country’s defence ministry in an attempt to keep the acts of homosexuality and adultery punishable offences despite their being separately decriminalised last year. The army wants to both to be categorised as offences under section 45 of India’s army act, which deals with ‘unbecoming’ behaviour. The army says allowing homosexuality and adultery to go ‘unnoticed or unpunished’ could ‘lead to severe discipline issues’.

Final frontier

NASA has provided funding to a Texas-based non-profit to study the feasibility of sending an orbiter mission to Pluto. The Southwest Research Institute will develop the spacecraft and payload design and conduct a preliminary assessment of the cost and risk of the mission. It’s one of 10 different studies being funded by the agency to inform the development of the next decadal plan for space programs.

China has launched a Gaofen-7 earth-observation satellite into orbit using a Long March 4B orbital carrier rocket. A grid fin (or lattice fin) system was attached to the rocket to guide the descent of its boosters to a designated area, reducing the risk of debris landing in populated areas. The addition of a such a system represents a step towards controlled descents and precision landings.

The US Air Force Space Command is set to hold an interagency exercise to come up with ideas for transforming the air force’s launch facilities into multi-use spaceports so they can better accommodate national security, civil and commercial launch demands. Major General Nina Armagno said there’s a need for launch ranges to function more like airports by providing space for both military and commercial uses.

Wired watchtower

Investigate Europe has published an article outlining journalist Katarzyna Pruszkiewicz’s experience working undercover in a Polish troll farm. Pruszkiewicz spent six months working at Cat@Net, a self-styled ‘ePR firm’ in Wroclaw, where she ran multiple fake social media accounts. Following a short trial period, Pruszkiewicz gained access to the company’s Slack channel, where employees shared and received ‘guidance and instructions on what issues to engage with, who to promote, and who to denigrate’.

Anonymous online forum 8chan is back online after being shut down in August due to its connection to three mass shooters and their manifestos. It has been relaunched as 8kun and features a new disclaimer about the content posted on it. Jim Watkins, the site’s owner and operator, told the US Congress in September that it would come back online once measures were in place to block illegal content. However, 8chan’s creator, Fredrick Brennan, has said that 8kun is a ‘bad faith rebrand’ and is no different from 8chan.

WhatsApp, a messaging service owned by Facebook, has filed a lawsuit against NSO Group, an Israeli technology firm. Malware was used to hack into the phones of WhatsApp users, including high-profile government, military and civil-society figures from US-allied states. WhatsApp is claiming that NSO knowingly built and sold a hacking tool that could exploit a flaw in WhatsApp’s servers. The cyber intrusions occurred between 29 April and 10 May 2019 and spread across at least 20 countries.