The five-domains update

Sea state

The US Navy says one of its P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft was hit by a laser fired from a Chinese destroyer in international waters about 610 kilometres west of Guam. The US Pacific Fleet says that the incident violates both bilateral and multilateral agreements between the US and Chinese navies. While US and Australian air crews have been targeted by lasers before, this is the furthest it has occurred from any known Chinese military bases.

The last of three air warfare destroyers, NUSHIP Sydney has been officially handed over to the Royal Australian Navy. These ships are unique in their use of the Aegis combat system, pioneered by the US Navy and Lockheed Martin, currently in use by countries including Japan and Spain. The Australian destroyer is a variant of a Spanish-designed frigate.

Australia’s Department of Defence detected a high-tech Chinese research vessel operating close to the West Australian coast in January and February. Submarines are known to regularly transit through the area on their way to the South China Sea. Last year, Chinese ships were also observed near Papua New Guinea as Australia worked on upgrading the base on Manus Island.

Flight path

Pakistan is considering buying Chinese Z-10 attack helicopters to replace its ageing Bell AH-1 Cobras after US sanctions halted the proposed sales of Turkish T-129s and American AH-1Zs. Pakistan’s urgent deadline of July was reportedly driven by India’s growing fleet of Boeing AH-64E Apache attack helicopters. Pakistani Major General Syed Najeeb Ahmed says the Cobras ‘are no match for the Apaches that the Indians are getting’.

The Royal Thai Air Force has released its 2020 white paper highlighting an extensive procurement and development plan for the country’s air capabilities. Thailand intends to replace and upgrade existing equipment and purchase new combat, transport, training and VIP aircraft as well as helicopters. Financial limitations and strict domestic scrutiny indicate that new air capabilities will focus mainly on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.

The Philippine Air Force has deployed three Italian-built SIAI‐Marchetti S.211 jet trainers to increase its maritime presence and enhance its patrolling duties in the South China Sea. The aircraft will operate out of the Antonio Bautista Air Base on Palawan Island. It’s not yet known whether this will be a one-off deployment or a rotational operation.

Rapid fire

Australian firm SPEE3D and Charles Darwin University will jointly develop metal 3D-printing technology for the Australian Army. The $1.5 million project will train 20 soldiers in ‘advanced additive manufacturing’ as part of a 12-month pilot program. The Royal Australian Navy is currently using SPEE3D technology and last year the US Army issued a directive supporting the broader adoption of 3D printing.

For the 2021 fiscal year, the US Army is requesting US$364 million to conduct an exercise in the Indo-Pacific region. Last year the Pacific Pathways series of exercises shifted to longer visits in fewer countries in an effort to improve bilateral relations in the region. However, coronavirus outbreaks in South Korea have forced the postponement of annual exercises, and the disease may cause further delays in the region.

Reuters reports that five ethnic Rohingya in Myanmar’s Rakhine state were killed after the country’s army retaliated against the rebel Arakan army after it attacked a convoy. Journalists are barred from the remote area, but an Arakan Army spokesman said that a Myanmar army artillery shell hit a village, killing civilians. In January, the International Court of Justice ordered Myanmar to protect Rohingya against further violence, but clashes between government troops and the Buddhist rebels have intensified.

Final frontier

A joint NASA–Boeing review found that two software glitches obstructed December’s Orbital Flight Test, when Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner failed an uncrewed test flight, risking an in-space collision between the capsule and its service module. Boeing defended its staff, saying previous tests were considered to be ‘adequate and comprehensive’, but admitted things could have been done differently.

China will complete its Beidou navigation and positioning system (BDS) in May, SpaceNews reports. BDS will consist of 35 satellites in three different orbits and will optimise the coverage of China and neighbouring countries. The system will improve Chinese military’s capabilities in several areas and reduce its reliance on the American GPS. It will also provide an alternative to GPS for other countries, though concerns have been raised about China’s ability to gain control over security, economic and diplomatic activities once the system is completed.

Astronomers at the US Naval Research Laboratory have documented the biggest explosion ever seen in the universe, which originated in a black hole in a distant galaxy. They used x-ray data from NASA and the European Space Agency, as well as radio data from Australia’s Murchison Widefield Array and India’s Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope.

Wired watchtower

Google and Microsoft are taking steps to shift production from China to Southeast Asia in response to the coronavirus outbreak. Production of new phones, personal computers and other devices is expected to start in Thailand and Vietnam as soon as April. The US–China trade war has prompted many tech companies to consider the risks of overreliance on China for manufacturing, with the coronavirus only adding to their concerns.

Despite the rise of mis- and disinformation in the US presidential election campaign, many of the candidates don’t have a plan to tackle it. While a few of her fellow Democratic candidates mention the issue in passing, Elizabeth Warren appears unique in committing that her campaign will not engage in or benefit from disinformation and will hold industry and social media platforms to account. If elected, Warren promises to implement a plan to deal with mis- and disinformation.

This Institut Montaigne analysis says Japan’s quick decision on 5G, which amounts to a ‘polite de facto ban on Huawei’, has allowed it to focus on local technological solutions, drawing the focus away from management of the Huawei risk and towards government support for domestic alternatives such as Fujitsu and NEC. While these providers support open standards and interoperability, they need to secure international clients to drive global 5G supplier diversification.