The five-domains update

Sea state

Australia’s fleet of 12 new submarines will cost about $225 billion to build and maintain, according to the program’s head. Greg Sammut told Senate estimates that it would cost $80 billion to build the vessels plus $145 billion to ‘sustain, update and upgrade’ them until 2080. ASPI’s Marcus Hellyer said the total cost wasn’t surprising, as submarines are ‘currently our most expensive capability to sustain’. This comes as businesses Berendsen Fluid Power and H&H Machine Tools were selected as the first Australian companies to deliver equipment designs and machines for the program.

Iran has confirmed it will participate in naval exercises with Russia and China later this year. Iran’s navy chief Hossein Khanzadi was reported as saying the drills will ‘ensure collective security and help strengthen security in the northern region of the Indian Ocean’. Tensions remain high between the three nations and the West, and Khanzadi also said that the exercises will show ‘that these three countries have reached a meaningful strategic point in their relations’.

The Netherlands will contribute to a French-led naval mission in the Strait of Hormuz, after France pushed for a European alternative to the US-led coalition there. The initiative could start next year and is meant to ensure the safe passage of ships in the strait. The Dutch contribution will consist of a frigate and a number of officers who will be stationed at the mission’s headquarters, which will be a French naval base in Abu Dhabi.

Flight path

Australia has selected General Atomics’ MQ-9B Sky Guardian to be the country’s first armed medium-altitude, long-endurance drone. The unmanned aerial vehicle will help ‘ensure that [the] Australian Defence Force maintains state-of-the-art capability’, said Defence Minister Linda Reynolds. The next phase of the $1.3 billion project will be to develop an acquisition proposal that includes advice on aircraft numbers and cost profiles, which is scheduled for consideration in 2021–22.

The US Air Force flew a U-2S reconnaissance plane above South Korea following North Korea’s recent test-firing of a rocket launcher. The plane, nicknamed the Dragon Lady, was seen flying at an altitude of around 15,240 metres over Seoul and areas near the demilitarised zone. US monitoring efforts have increased as the end-of-year deadline Pyongyang set for Washington to ‘show flexibility in nuclear negotiations’ nears.

Two Typhoon fighter aircraft were scrambled under the UK’s ‘quick reaction alert’ procedures after a commercial flight from Tel Aviv lost communications over British airspace on its way to the US. Londoners and residents of Hertfordshire were awoken at around 4.20 am by the ‘explosions’ of supersonic booms as the jets chased after the plane.

Rapid fire

The ADF is devising a strategy to develop weaponised robots to ‘modernise levels of protection and lethality’ for soldiers. The Defence tender, which closed last Friday, called for the private sector to partner with the Australian Army to accelerate human–machine ‘teaming’. Much of the technology required already exists but the challenge lies in integrating it with humans to ‘achieve a collaborative effect’ that creates a tactical advantage.

The British Army and its Guards Division are using the controversial app TikTok to recruit soldiers despite concerns over the way data may be used by its Chinese parent company ByteDance. The official social media accounts now have a total of more than 50,000 followers and show soldiers operating tanks and answering questions about life in the military. The US has taken a different attitude towards TikTok, banning soldiers from using their personal accounts while in uniform as it undertakes a security assessment of the app.

The US Army is buying ‘barrier blind’ hollow-point ammunition for its new Sig Sauer M17 and M18 9-millimetre pistols, which are set to become the standard sidearms for the US military. The bullets can penetrate materials like windows, plywood and thin sheet metal, and maintain a uniform shape and therefore their stopping power.

Final frontier

After more than two years of preparation, the European Space Agency has secured €14.4 billion (A$23.4 billion) from its 22 member states to support its programs for the next three years. The agency’s earth observation program Copernicus was awarded more than 10% of the budget. The agency’s director-general, Jan Woerner, noted that efforts to monitor climate change were a strong driver behind  Copernicus funding. Germany, France, Italy and the UK were the top contributors.

France’s national space agency, the Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales, and NASA have published the first global study on the migratory patterns of zooplankton. Between 2008 and 2017, the agencies used a LIDAR laser to monitor diel vertical migrations, which occur when aquatic animals rise to the surface at night and dive again during the day. The study’s lead researcher said the data will help researchers quantify the impact of the migration on the carbon cycle.

Russia has confirmed that its aerospace forces have delivered a classified military satellite into orbit using a Soyuz rocket. The satellite has been sent into low-earth orbit to monitor other Russian satellites and is equipped to take pictures of the earth’s surface. Space agency Roscomos confirmed that the launch was the fifth time this year a Soyuz-2 spacecraft has been launched from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome north of Moscow.

Wired watchtower

Huawei has claimed that Australia’s decision to bar it from the country’s 5G network could result in the loss of up to 1,500 jobs at suppliers and contractors, with the company’s pipeline of work set to ‘dry up’ by the end of 2020. The company has also engaged an Australian law firm, co-founded by former politician Nick Xenophon, to address ‘false and malicious attacks’ on the company. Huawei says it’s engaged the law firm as part of its new ‘strategic counsel’.

Mobile users in China are now required to submit to facial recognition scans when registering a new SIM card. China’s information ministry says the monitoring measure will ensure that the rights and interests of citizens in cyberspace will be protected. Under the new rule, telecommunications companies will use ‘artificial intelligence and other technical methods’ to check the identities of people registering SIM cards.

Facebook has issued its first ‘correction’ in accordance with Singapore’s controversial ‘fake news’ law. Singaporean authorities initially pushed for the author—a news site—to correct the post, which they claimed contained false information and ‘scurrilous accusations’. The correction notice stated that ‘Facebook is legally required to tell you that the Singapore government says this post has false information’ and is visible only to users in Singapore.