The five-domains update

Sea state

The Australian government has gifted a Guardian-class patrol boat, the RSIPV Gizo, to the Solomon Islands. It’s the fifth Guardian-class boat that Austal Australia has delivered to the Australian Department of Defence under the Pacific patrol boat replacement project since the company was awarded the contract in 2016. The vessel will replace the RSIPV Lata, which has been in service since 1988. Twelve Pacific island nations and Timor-Leste will receive a total of 21 patrol boats through to 2023 under the project.

Japanese shipbuilder Kawasaki Heavy Industries launched the 12th and final Soryu-class diesel-electric attack submarine, the JS Toryu, for the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force. The submarine is the second of the class to use lithium-ion batteries, making Japan the first country in the world to equip attack submarines with the technology, which provides almost twice the storage capacity of lead–acid batteries. The Toryu is set to be delivered in 2021. The Soryu-class was offered to Australia in 2015 as a replacement for the navy’s Collins-class submarines.

MAN Energy Solutions has been selected to provide 16 engines for four refuelling tankers being built for the French Navy. The order is part of a logistic support ships program for France and Italy led by the Organisation for Joint Armament Co-operation. The ships are expected to be delivered between 2022 and 2029, and will provide logistic support to the French navy.

Flight path

Norway has declared that its F-35A Lightning II joint strike fighters have reached initial operational capability, making it the eighth country to achieve this milestone. The announcement came after testing confirmed that the jets can be operated away from their home base at Orland. Norway currently has 15 of the 52 F-35As on order, and plans to deploy them to Iceland next year to conduct NATO air-policing missions.

A US F-16 fighter jet accidentally dropped a dummy bomb onto private land in northeastern Japan near a bombing training site close to Misawa Air Base during a training mission. Filled with concrete, the dummy bomb landed in a meadow west of the training grounds. There were no reports of injuries or damage to buildings. The Japanese government has since issued a stiff protest, demanding answers from the US over the incident. US Forces Japan said that it’s investigating the cause of the event and has suspended all inert drops until further notice.

The US State Department has cleared a US$830.3 million sale of 10 CH-47F Chinook cargo helicopters and associated equipment and systems to the United Arab Emirates. If the deal gets approval from Congress, it will be the UAE’s 10th planned acquisition under the US’s foreign military sales program since 2017, bringing the total to around US$11.3 billion.

Rapid fire

The British Army has secured a £2.8 billion ($5.3 billion) contract for around 500 Boxer high-mobility, networked mechanised infantry vehicles, with first delivery slated for 2023. Australia bought 211 Boxers under the Land 400 phase 2 project, but is paying around $25 million per unit compared with $10 million paid by the UK. The reason for the price differential is that the Australian investment reflects lifetime sustainment costs in addition to the cost of the vehicle. Also, the decision to build locally rather than import raises project costs.

US Army General Mark Milley has said 500 to 600 US personnel will remain in Syria after Donald Trump approved an operation to secure oil fields in eastern Syria. The decision has locked in a more complicated American presence, but has appeased many senior military officials in their push to remain in Syria to prevent a resurgence of the Islamic State group, counter Iran and support the Kurds.

The US National Guard Bureau has contracted Hollywood special effects company Westefx to transform its Humvees by making them look like Russian T-72 main battle tanks and BTR-90 personnel carriers. A total of 60 ‘visual modification’ kits will be fitted on the vehicles to make training more realistic for brigade combat teams exercising at Orchard Combat Training Center. T-72s are exported around the world and have recently been used in Syria and Ukraine.

Final frontier

Scientists at NASA’s Johnson Space Centre have opened an untouched lunar sample from the final Apollo mission, Apollo 17, as part of the agency’s preparations for a return to the moon. The sample, which was collected almost five decades ago, was put into long-term storage by scientists working on the Apollo mission so that it could be examined in the future using more advanced technologies.

A bipartisan group of US senators have proposed a new NASA authorisation bill, in which they outline their intention to extend the International Space Station’s mission until 2030. The extension will depend on whether the ISS has support from others involved in the international project, notably Russia, the European Union and Japan. One of the sponsors of the bill, US Senator Ted Cruz, said that the legislation ‘will help grow [the US’s] already burgeoning space economy’.

Sudan launched its first remote sensing satellite (SRSS-1) in partnership with China from the province of Shanxi in northern China. The satellite was developed by a private Chinese company, Shenzhen Aerospace Oriental Red Sea Satellite. It will be used for research purposes, and will have both military and civilian applications. The partnership is indicative of China’s growing influence in the region.

Wired watchtower

The International Committee on Disinformation and Fake News has called for online micro-targeted political advertisements to be suspended until proper regulatory measures are in place. The committee, made up of lawmakers from Australia, Finland, Estonia, Georgia, Singapore, the UK and the US, met in Dublin and heard testimony from Facebook, Twitter and Google and other online platforms about how they’re managing false and misleading information and political advertising on their sites.

Shutterstock, known for its archive of stock images and photographs, has become the latest US company to comply with the Chinese government’s strict censorship regime. Software engineers from the company were asked to develop a blacklist of search terms deemed ‘politically sensitive’, such as ‘President Xi’, ‘Taiwan flag’ and ‘yellow umbrella’. Employees from the company were quick to criticise the move, with almost 200 signing a petition against the search engine’s censorship feature.

The Cyber Institute and National Security College at the Australian National University have been chosen by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to run a cyber bootcamp for government officials from the Indo-Pacific as part of Australia’s Cyber Cooperation Program. The cyber bootcamp will be held three times a year over the next four years and will focus on developing good cyber awareness and responsiveness.