The five-domains update

Sea state

Construction of a third Arafura-class offshore patrol vessel for the Royal Australian Navy is underway in Western Australia. Two are already being built in South Australia, but this is the first of 10 to be built at the Henderson shipyard near Perth as part of the government’s $90 billion continuous naval shipbuilding program. The program aims to grow both capacity and workers’ skills to build and maintain Australia’s maritime capability.

The Royal Navy has reported ‘unusually high’ Russian warship activity in the North Sea and English Channel. Nine British vessels, with support from NATO allies, shadowed a flotilla of seven Russian ships as they travelled through the area over the past week. Some UK politicians are concerned that non-allied navies might exploit the coronavirus pandemic to test NATO’s perceived weaknesses, and have promised to continue to deliver NATO’s ‘deter and defend’ message and provide maritime security.

Flight path

Germany is considering replacing its Tornado combat jets with a mixed fleet of about 90 Eurofighter Typhoons, 30 Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornets and 15 EA-18G Growlers to maintain a nuclear-capable fleet as part of NATO’s nuclear sharing agreement. However, the replacement plan has drawn some criticism, as the Luftwaffe will have to build new infrastructure costing ‘tens of billions’ in order to accommodate a relatively small number of aircraft.

The US Army announced that Bell Helicopter Textron Inc. and Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation have been selected to design and test prototypes for its future attack reconnaissance aircraft program. An army spokesperson said the new vertical-lift aircraft will provide ‘significantly increased speed, range, endurance, survivability and lethality’ over older helicopters. Prototyping efforts may be delayed, however, after congressional funding cuts of US$55.3 million to the program’s 2020 budget.

Rapid fire

The Australian Defence Force wrapped up its Operation Bushfire Assist operations last weekend and began shifting its efforts to the Covid-19 emergency. Troops have been deployed to help enforce quarantine and self-isolation measures and to provide logistics and transportation services. Some army personnel joined medical mask factory Med-con to help ramp up production, and reservists have been called up to support Covid-19 operations more broadly.

Many nations are pulling troops out of Iraq amid concerns about the spread of Covid-19 there. Australia has moved troops to its main logistics base in the Middle East and sent home those who were about to complete their deployments, as training missions were suspended in both countries. Among the countries temporarily withdrawing all troops from Iraq are New Zealand, France, Spain, Portugal, and the Netherlands, while the US has announced a partial withdrawal.

Final frontier

The European Space Agency has released data from the Copernicus Sentinel-5P satellite showing lockdown measures in Europe have led to reductions in nitrogen dioxide emissions. The satellite averages measurements over a week or two and can accurately observe atmospheric gases that affect the climate and human health. Satellite images of China while it was locked down in February also showed reduced night lighting on roads as transportation of people and goods decreased.

The US Space Force has launched its sixth satellite in the Advanced Extremely High Frequency system to extend communication capabilities for the US military and its international partners. The protected satellite network is a constellation of secure and jam-resistant satellites that support strategic and tactical missions. The system is designed to replace the older Military Strategic and Tactical Relay satellites.

Wired watchtower

An investigation by ProPublica has uncovered more than 10,000 Twitter accounts thought to be involved in a coordinated influence campaign tied to the Chinese government. The accounts appear to target ethnic Chinese living outside of China and have sought to promote the Chinese government’s image abroad, praising its response to coronavirus, as well as attacking Beijing’s political opponents and the Hong Kong protest movement. Twitter has previously suspended state-controlled accounts and released data about them, but has yet to do so in this case.

The White House has released its National strategy to secure 5G. The document seeks to meet the requirements outlined in the Secure 5G and Beyond Act and aims to ensure the security of 5G systems and infrastructure. The strategy focuses on the domestic rollout of 5G in the US, identifies the core security principles of 5G infrastructure, assesses the risks to US economic and national security during 5G’s development and deployment worldwide, and outlines how the US plans to promote responsible global development and deployment of 5G.