The five-domains update

Sea state

Naval Group has engaged Australia-based PMB Defence and Greece-based Systems Sunlight to develop the main storage batteries for the Royal Australian Navy’s future submarines. The batteries will power the fleet of 12 boats being built under the Attack-class program. PMB Defence has been asked to explore alternatives to lead–acid batteries that may offer significant improvements in effectiveness and durability.

The German Navy is planning to sail its frigate Hamburg to the Indian Ocean to conduct port visits and engage in talks with key powers in the region. Visits to Australia and the French island of Réunion in June are highlights of the three-month deployment. The move is part of Germany’s efforts to increase its naval presence beyond the Atlantic and Mediterranean.

The UK government has provided £1 million for the development of an extra-large autonomous submarine by Plymouth-based MSubs Ltd. The vessel will be about 10 metres long and have an operational range of up to 3,000 nautical miles. Unmanned submarines could be the next big thing in naval warfare. The US Navy spent more than US$3.7 billion on unmanned vessels in 2019 and is seeking another US$4.7 billion for new unmanned systems over the next four years.

Flight path

Last month, a Royal Australian Air Force C-130 Hercules aircraft flew from Hobart to Antarctica for the first time since 1989. The 7.5-hour flight, which is one of the longest range missions undertaken by an Australian C-130J, demonstrated the aircraft’s ability to land on ice runways and provide medical support to expeditioners working in Antarctica.

The US Department of Defense has awarded Sikorsky a US$525.4 million contract modification to manufacture 40 UH-60M Black Hawk helicopters. The arrangement also includes options to manufacture an additional 103 helicopters worth US$5.2 billion. The UH-60M is the newest Black Hawk variant and incorporates General Electric T700-GE-701D engines, enhanced rotor blades and a fully digital glass cockpit.

Russian aircraft manufacturer Beriev has lodged a patent for a ‘carrier aircraft for airborne laser system’. Illustrations submitted with the application indicate that the new aircraft is a conversion of the Il-76 heavy transport jet. The laser system would counter land-, sea-, air- and space-based surveillance systems through infrared sensors. Russia has reportedly been developing airborne laser technologies for more than 40 years.

Rapid fire

The Department of Defence has set up a taskforce to contribute to Australia’s response to the novel coronavirus crisis, with representatives from the public service and the defence force. The taskforce will be led by a three-star general, John Frewen, who is the deputy director of the Australian Signals Directorate and a former commander of Australian troops in the Middle East. The selection of Frewen is unprecedented, as disaster and recovery units are usually led by two-star generals.

The British Armed Forces will soon test a virtual reality platform based on the engine of the video game Fortnite as part of a new training program that simulates real-life exercises. The UK Defence and Security Accelerator has awarded software company SimCentric £300,000 to develop the simulator. Using virtual reality for military training is expected to reduce costs while enabling personnel to safely experience what it’s like to operate in dangerous settings.

The Pentagon is currently looking for 5G prototypes of smart warehouses to manage inventory and provide logistic support. The US military expressed an interest in using 5G technologies to enhance military capabilities last year when it sought collaboration with private companies in a push to gain ground on the 5G race with China.

Final frontier

The vice commander of the US Space Force says the branch needs to develop its own intelligence capabilities. The US Space Command currently relies on intelligence from the National Space Defense Center and the National Air and Space Intelligence Center to track objects, monitor traffic and prevent satellite collisions. Last year NATO declared space an ‘operational domain’, signalling a shift its view of space from a benign environment to a warfighting domain.

SpaceX aborted a launch of 60 Starlink internet satellites after its Falcon 9 rocket experienced an engine power issue. The Starlink network will form a megaconstellation of low-orbit satellites to provide internet as an alternative to fibre-optic cables. The coronavirus outbreak, meanwhile, has also disrupted projects in the space industry. For example, travel restrictions have led to the cancellation of a working meeting to discuss the ExoMars rover launch by the European Space Agency and Russia’s Roscosmos.

The European Space Agency has developed a radiation-detection module to be hosted on the Gateway, a NASA-led international research outpost orbiting the moon. The experimental unit will monitor solar activity and high-energy particles to provide information for future missions sending astronauts to the moon. The data is expected to improve space weather forecasting and assist with designing better-protected spacecraft.

Wired watchtower

In an attempt to deflect blame from the Chinese Communist Party, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian has been spreading a conspiracy theory on Twitter that the US army brought the coronavirus epidemic to Wuhan. While Twitter is banned in China, screenshots of the tweets have been circulating on WeChat and Weibo. A hashtag related to Zhao’s tweet has been trending on Weibo and has been viewed at least 150 million times.

A Romanian-language post claiming that lemons can kill coronavirus spread rapidly across Facebook last week, underlining the difficulty of identifying and taking down misinformation that is in a language other than English. Facebook has devoted significant resources to combating misinformation; however, it’s much harder to tackle when a user copies a story, translates it into multiple languages, and posts it on multiple groups and pages.

Facebook and Twitter have removed a number of accounts linked to a Russian-led network of professional trolls in Ghana and Nigeria. A combination of real and fake accounts amplified polarising content seemingly aimed at inflaming divides around race and civil rights in the US. Researchers have pointed out the similarity to tweets sent by the Russian company the Internet Research Agency in 2016, raising fears about Russian interference in the US 2020 presidential election.