The five-domains update

Sea state

The US Navy has announced $1 billion in contracts to supply systems for its new fleet of unmanned ships. Ten unmanned surface vessels are expected to be completed by 2025, and six extra-large unmanned undersea vessels are also planned. The ships could revolutionise the conduct of naval warfare. The navy, like the other services, has had to abandon most of its force-expansion plans to meet a reduced 2021 budget, but it hopes to increase its total fleet size with these vessels.

Georgia’s foreign minister has called for more Western military support in response to Russia’s naval build-up in the Black Sea. Moscow has increased its presence in the region over the past 12 years by expanding into Crimea and Abkhazia. Russia’s support for the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria and for military leader Khalifa Haftar in Libya has opened the Mediterranean to the Kremlin’s influence, leaving Georgian officials worried at the prospect of Russian naval dominance.

A Chinese think tank claims more than 30 Vietnamese fishing boats were spotted near and within Chinese territorial waters off Hainan Island between 19 and 31 January. Hainan serves as a major base for China’s South Sea Fleet and the researchers claim the Vietnamese vessels have gathered ‘peculiarly’ in the area. Chinese fishing vessels have made similar forays into disputed areas in the South China Sea, such as when 275 vessels appeared near Philippine-held Thitu Island last year.

Flight path

More than 100 aircraft and 2,100 military personnel from the US, Japan and Australia are taking part in an annual air warfare exercise based in Guam that aims to enhance stability in the Indo-Pacific region. This year’s Exercise Cope North is focusing on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief training, air combat tactics and large-force employment drills. Satellite images of the aircraft and exercises can be seen here.

Four F-35A fighter jets from the Royal Norwegian Air Force arrived in Iceland last week for their first mission abroad. The purpose of the mission is to provide surveillance and interception coverage over Iceland to ensure the integrity of NATO airspace. The Norwegian F-35s have special drag chutes to help them decelerate after landing on icy runways under windy conditions.

Airbus has offered 18 Eurofighter Typhoon combat aircraft to Colombia to replace its ageing fleet of Israeli Kfirs. Airbus says the deal would give Colombia air-to-air and air-to-ground superiority, as well as access to Europe’s largest defence program. The Colombian Air Force is currently evaluating several other candidates, including the Lockheed Martin F-16V and Saab JAS 39 Gripen E/F.

Rapid fire

The British Army has returned control of its last remaining World War II–era headquarters in Germany. Around 20,000 personnel have withdrawn from Germany since 2010, but around 185 army and 60 civilian personnel are set to remain in the country. The UK Ministry of Defence recently reaffirmed its commitment to NATO, and the German defence minister, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, wants Britain to be offered a ‘privileged third-party status’ in defence cooperation now that it’s left the EU.

Israel has announced a new plan to restructure its military. The ‘Momentum’ plan anticipates conflict on multiple fronts and a ‘high-trajectory threat’ from ballistic missiles. An entire armoured brigade that operates outdated vehicles and a number of ageing tanks will be decommissioned. Future acquisitions will concentrate on unmanned aircraft systems and precision-guided munitions.

The Australian Army has signed a memorandum of understanding with Australian Precision Metal Group to build seating frames for the new Boxer combat reconnaissance vehicles. German company Rheinmetall is set to deliver 211 vehicles under the $5.2 billion phase two of the LAND 400 program. The first 25 vehicles will be built in Germany and the rest will be made in Australia. Defence Industry Minister Melissa Price estimates that the program will create 1,450 jobs across the country.

Final frontier

Prime Minister Scott Morrison opened the Australian Space Agency’s new national headquarters in Adelaide on Wednesday. Meanwhile, other states have been jockeying to increase their involvement with the industry. Soon after Queensland delivered its space industry strategy, committing to accelerate the growth of the sector, the West Australian government invested $1.5 million to build a new robotics space centre in Perth, in partnership with NASA and companies including Woodside and Rio Tinto. The consortium, Australian Remote Operations for Space and Earth, will enable WA businesses and universities to bid for international space projects.

On top of the US Department of Defense’s 2021 budget request for US$18 billion in funding for its space activities, the US military has submitted a list of ‘unfunded priorities’ to Congress. These include an extra US$1 billion for the US Space Force, the newest branch of the armed forces, to fund launch services, satellite upgrades, space warfare technologies and training.

Construction of a new Chinese space station will begin in April with the launch of a “‘trial version’ of a new spaceship” on the Long March-5B rocket, Chinese state media reported last Thursday. The China Manned Space Agency expects to complete the facility by 2022. It will be China’s third space station; the previous two were launched in 2011 and 2016.

Wired watchtower

Canadian academic Charles Burton has called on the Canadian government to complete its long-awaited review of the security threat posed by Huawei 5G. Ottawa hasn’t yet decided whether it will allow the use of Huawei technology in Canada’s 5G network, but the country’s big telecom companies aren’t waiting for an answer. Telus Mobility has announced it will proceed with the installation of Huawei technology, and Bell Canada has left the door open for Huawei equipment, if the government approves its use.

The FBI has filed a criminal complaint alleging that two Twitter employees in the US were spying for the Saudi Arabian government. The two Saudis are accused of accessing data without authorisation on more than 6,000 users and delivering information that could have led Saudi intelligence to identify anonymous dissidents. The full list of user profiles reportedly accessed hasn’t been made public, but the incident has sparked fears that speaking out against the Saudi government on Twitter is now dangerous.

The EU has unveiled proposals to regulate artificial intelligence to ensure that the technology doesn’t infringe upon human rights. The proposal is part of the EU’s strategy for securing ‘technological sovereignty’ and making sure that foreign tech companies understand the needs of Europeans. The Alliance on Artificial Intelligence has described the initiative as a good first step that considers both AI and the human structures around it.