The five-domains update

Sea state

The UK is set to ‘assert freedom of navigation rights’ in the South China Sea by sailing HMS Sutherland through the disputed waters during drills next month as it makes its way home from Australia. Last month the US warship USS Hopper sailed within 12 nautical miles of Scarborough Shoal, territory claimed by China, Taiwan and the Philippines. The UK defence secretary called on Australia to join the UK and US in conducting freedom of navigation exercises, saying ‘This is a great opportunity for the UK and Australia to do more, to exercise leadership.’

Turkish and Greek coast guard vessels collided in the Aegean Sea. The incident occurred near the disputed islets of Kardak/Imia, over which the two countries almost went to war in 1996. Greek authorities claim that the Greek ship, HCG Gavdos, was anchored off the islets when the Turkish boat rammed it. Earlier this month a senior advisor to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan threatened to break the arms and legs of any Greek minister who sets foot on the disputed islands. Video footage of the collision can be found here.

The US Navy has announced the contenders for the next-generation FFG(X) guided-missile frigate. Each of the five shortlisted shipbuilders has been awarded US$15 million to develop concept designs. Two of the proposed designs, Fincantieri’s FREMM and General Dynamics’ F100, are also under consideration for Australia’s future frigate program. Australia is due to announce its preferred design later this year, while an American decision is not due until 2020.

Flight path

Exercise Cope North 18 kicked off last week, with the RAAF joining US and Japanese air forces in the annual combat and humanitarian assistance exercise. The exercise runs until 2 March and concentrates on improving humanitarian relief responsiveness and interoperability between participating forces. The exercise comes just as the RAAF applied its humanitarian assistance procedures for real; on 13 and 15 February the RAAF’s C-17A Globemaster aircraft delivered emergency supplies to Tonga. The relief is much needed in the wake of Tropical Cyclone Gita, which ripped through Tonga in early February, damaging or destroying about 1,400 homes.

Russia tested its new A-135 anti-ballistic missile system last week. The system is designed to intercept and destroy Moscow-bound ICBMs. The system uses high-altitude nuclear explosions. It joins the already-formidable ballistic missile defences around Moscow.

A pilot made an emergency landing in Austria on Saturday when he caught wind of an onboard fight over a man who refused to stop farting. The fight broke out after two passengers sitting next to the man complained to the Dutch budget airline’s unsympathetic staff, who blew off their complaints. Austrian police boarded the flight in response to the pilot’s report about ‘passengers on the rampage’.

Rapid fire

The US is expected to expand its Marines deployment in Darwin after recent high-level visits to Australia by US defence officials, as well as joint discussions held in Washington this week about the Northern Territory’s updated defence and national security strategy. NT Chief Minister Michael Gunner reaffirmed that ‘the Northern Territory has a long and proud relationship with the USA and we warmly welcome ADF and American troops’.

Meanwhile, Pakistan is sending soldiers to Saudi Arabia on an ambiguous ‘training and advice’ mission. The deployment comes rather unexpectedly. Islamabad previously refused to commit troops to Saudi military operations in Yemen, fearing repercussions with Iran. To appease its western neighbour, the Pakistani army claimed that the armed forces ‘will not be employed outside’ the Saudi kingdom.

While North and South Korea are competing as a unified team at the Winter Olympics, South Korean troops are participating in joint military exercises in Thailand this week. The 37th iteration of Exercise Cobra Gold involves 11,075 service members, six warships, 86 aircraft and 34 amphibious assault vehicles, including the recently-acquired South Korean landing ship Cheon Ja Bong. The exercise aims to ‘advance regional security and ensure effective responses to regional crises’.

Zero gravity

Hawaii is a well-known beach holiday location, but how about as a location for a simulated trip to Mars? The University of Hawaii’s Space Exploration Analog Simulation began its sixth Mars simulation mission in a complex situated on the Mauna Loa volcano. Mission VI marks the first mission in which all four crew members come from different countries—Australia, South Korea, Scotland and Slovakia.

The US isn’t alone in eyeing a mission to Mars. The United Arab Emirates is aiming to send an unmanned mission to the red planet by 2021, becoming the first Arab state to do so. And then it wants to build the first human settlement on Mars within 100 years. The Emirati space centre has 200 local employees and has received about $5.3 billion in funding. Its most immediate goal is to send the first entirely Arab–built satellite into space by the end of this year. KhalifaSat has just been sent to South Korea in preparation for its launch.

The International Space Station (ISS) may be up for grabs. According to a report by the Washington Post, the Trump administration will stop funding the ISS as of 2025. The US government’s FY 2019 budget request proposes to ‘end direct U.S. Government funding for the space station by 2025 and provide $150 million to begin a program that would encourage commercial development of capabilities that NASA can use in its place’. The US government has spent about $100 billion to construct and maintain the ISS.

Wired watchtower

Some say beauty lies in the eye of the beholder, but how about the ability to control a drone? Samsung is developing a drone, or flying display device, that’s controlled by physical movements of the user. The drone’s proposed design incorporates a screen and various sensors able to detect such things as pupil movements, head movements and hand gestures. Samsung recently filed a patent application for the drone. Although it seems like an innovative way to develop hands-free technology, there are some skeptics concerned about just how much information the drone would be able to scan.

On Wednesday, Democratic leaders in the US House of Representatives introduced legislation that would provide more than $1 billion to increase the security of US voting systems. The bill calls for updated cybersecurity protocols and the adoption of basic standards for voting systems. It makes an ambitious call for establishing a national strategy to counter foreign influence. While its hefty price tag may prove a barrier to bipartisan support, the bill comes straight after intelligence agencies briefed senior officials about cyber threats to electoral systems in preparation for the midterm elections, positioning electoral integrity as a Congressional priority.

A unit of China’s state media censor investigated tech giants Tencent, Alibaba, Baidu and iQiyi for allowing the streaming of disturbing videos on their video-sharing platforms. The videos target children and depict beloved cartoon characters in horrific or violent scenarios. The companies pledged to increase their censorship and content moderation of such videos.