The five-domains update

Sea state

The Defence Department and Naval Group have released a joint statement reaffirming their commitment to the Royal Australian Navy’s future submarine program. The statement lists ‘sovereign control’ and ‘maximising Australian industry involvement’ as two of the program’s primary objectives. The statement came after Naval Group’s CEO in Australia last week told The Australian that companies based here may end up with less than half of the work on the new submarines.

In response to a personnel shortage on ships, the US Navy plans to hire more than 7,000 sailors, requiring a US$2.1 billion increase in personnel funding in 2021. The cost will be offset by US$4.1 billion in cuts to the US shipbuilding program. Meanwhile, the navy’s ‘optimised fleet response plan’, which was meant to streamline the maintenance and deployment of ships, has failed to reach many of its key targets and is under review.

The US Navy is planning a five-year research, testing and design effort for its next-generation large surface ship. It has requested US$46.45 million for the project in 2021, with funding expected to triple in the following year. The navy will aim to test more systems on land before they’re put to sea, hopefully reducing delays. It also wants to install larger vertical launch system tubes on the new ship to accommodate bigger, faster missiles with longer range.

Flight path

The US has approved the sale of Lockheed Martin’s Long-Range Anti-Ship Missile, or LSRAM, to Australia. Under the foreign military sales program, Australia will buy 200 missiles, training assets and test equipment at a cost of $1.47 billion. The missiles, which are able to detect and destroy specific targets at sea, will be employed by the Royal Australian Air Force on its F/A-18F Super Hornet aircraft to enhance the country’s anti-ship capabilities.

Boeing Australia, in partnership with the RAAF, has completed the fuselage structure for its first ‘loyal wingman’ unmanned aircraft. The fighter-sized aircraft is being designed with the help of advanced digital engineering and artificial intelligence technology to achieve a range of more than 3,000 kilometres. This project is a major milestone for Australia’s aerospace industry, as it’s the first high-performance military aircraft to be developed in the country since World War II.

The UN reported that more than 31 civilians were killed in Saudi-led airstrikes in Yemen after one of the kingdom’s multirole Tornado jets was shot down. Iran-backed Houthi rebels have since claimed responsibility and said the plane was downed by advanced surface-to-air missiles equipped with new technology. It’s unclear whether the new missiles were delivered to the Houthi rebels directly by the Iranian government.

Rapid fire

Only 81% of positions available in Taiwan’s military were filled in 2018. The island’s defence ministry employed 153,000 people, despite budgeting for 188,000 uniformed roles (it has funding for 215,000 jobs when civilians are taken into account). An army lieutenant colonel told Foreign Policy that in some frontline units, effective manpower is between 60% and 80%, meaning that at least a third of Taiwan’s tanks are inoperable. The transition from a conscription-based military to one made up of volunteers has been blamed for the shortfalls.

Defence Minister Linda Reynolds and Defence Industry Minister Melissa Price have announced that the army’s logistic vehicle fleet has achieved initial operating capability. Under Project Overlander, 3,751 vehicles, 4,730 modules and 2,565 trailers will be delivered across the ADF. The new fleet will support a range of operations and has already assisted in the aftermath of natural disasters. The army’s new vehicles are helping to clear roads and deliver supplies under Operation Bushfire Assist.

Indian company Bharat Dynamics has signed a memorandum of understanding with Raytheon and Lockheed Martin to explore the possibility of manufacturing Javelin anti-tank missiles and launchers in India. Foreign vendors currently provide more than 50% of India’s defence equipment, something that ‘Make in India’ projects are meant to change. Of India’s US$73.65 billion defence budget, only US$18.52 billion is allocated for weapons purchases.

Final frontier

The Queensland government has released an $8 million plan to push the growth of the space industry and establish the state as a space leader in the region. The government says its aim is to add 6,000 jobs and generate $6 billion annually by 2036 by focusing on launches, ground systems, space-enabled services and robotics. The media statement highlighted how Queensland’s location close to the equator and its suitable weather conditions will be key assets in the space race.

NASA launched a Northrop Grumman rocket from its Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia on Saturday. The rocket carries the Cygnus resupply spacecraft, with supplies for the International Space Station and experiments to study the effects of microgravity on humans. It’s set to arrive at the ISS at 8.05 AEDT tonight.

Researchers at North Carolina State University have developed a new method to shield electronics from ionising radiation. The new approach is lighter and cheaper than the aluminium shields currently used and consists of a protective coating of polymer mixed with powdered rust. Researchers are conducting more tests and looking for industry partners in the space and military fields to develop the technology for commercial use.

Wired watchtower

A diplomatic rift has emerged between Australia and the UK following the leaking of details of a meeting in which the deputy chair of the parliament’s joint intelligence committee, Labor’s Anthony Byrne, rebuked British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab over the UK’s decision not to ban Huawei from its 5G network. After the UK’s high commissioner to Australia protested the leak, committee members cancelled a visit to London and are instead planning to visit the US.

China has developed an app that allows people to check if they have been in close contact with someone who has the coronavirus. The app was created by government departments and the state-owned China Electronics Technology Group and draws on data collected by health and transport authorities. The effectiveness of the app is unclear given that mild cases of the virus sometimes go undiagnosed, and there have been reports of false negative tests.

Social media played a key role in the safe rescue of people trapped in a shopping centre during a massacre in Thailand earlier this month. While the gunman was able to use social media to publicise what he was doing and track police movements, Thai commandos were also using Facebook to communicate with people inside the mall, allowing them to find out what was happening inside, how many people were trapped and how best to coordinate escape routes and the timing of evacuations.