The five-domains update

Sea state

ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems has been blocked from bidding to build the German navy’s next generation of warships. The decision results from several embarrassing scandals involving the German shipbuilder. In December the Deutsche Marine refused to commission the FGS Baden-Württemberg (F222) frigate after the ThyssenKrupp-built ship was found to be drastically overweight and suffering from a persistent 1.3-degree list to starboard.

North Korean cargo ships have been caught changing names to avoid sanctions. The Jin Teng and Jin Tai 7 have repeatedly changed names over the last two years and now sail as the Shen Da 8 and Bothwin 7, respectively. Last week the United States announced more sanctions targeting 27 entities and 28 vessels to ‘hinder North Korea’s ability to conduct evasive maritime activities’. A UN report estimates that North Korea earned over $200 million from banned exports in the last year.

The US Coast Guard is set to release a request for proposals for its long-overdue heavy icebreaker replacement. Admiral Paul Zukunft said the Coast Guard wants to establish a fleet of six icebreakers, with the first one in the water by 2023. Zukunft suggested that future icebreakers may be armed to counter Russia’s increasing presence in the region. Russia has 40 icebreakers in service and 11 in production.

Flight path

Singapore’s defence minister, Ng Eng Hen, announced a collaboration between the Singapore Air Force and the Defence Science and Technology Agency to build ‘smart airbases’. The airbases will use drones, artificial intelligence and data analytics to reduce the labour intensity of routine operations. Trials began at Tengah Airbase in January. The smart airbase is part of a larger plan to use technology to overcome labour constraints in the Singapore Armed Forces.

Last week reports confirmed rumours that Indonesia had acquired four Wing Loong I drones from China’s state-owned Aviation Industry Corporation of China. The drones can operate in medium altitudes and have a range of about 200 kilometres. Indonesian Air Force Aviation Squadron 51 already operates Israeli-made Aerostar drones. The acquisition may signal that Indonesia views boosting its drone capabilities as an urgent defence requirement, and is willing to sacrifice some capability and manufacturing experience for speedily delivered, low-cost drones.

To celebrate International Women’s Day, Air India has operated a flight with an all-women crew, from the cockpit to the cabin. Among Indian airlines, 11.6% of pilots are women, far above the global average of 3%.

Rapid fire

A roadside bomb killed four UN peacekeepers in central Mali on Wednesday. The Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali is the world’s riskiest peacekeeping deployment. Greater targeting of peacekeepers is expected because militant groups are now receiving increased support from al-Qaeda and Islamic State (IS). UN Special Representative in Mali, Mahamat Saleh Annadif, claims that closer ties with al-Qaeda and IS has ‘given a new impetus’ to militant groups, resulting in more sophisticated attacks.

The Cambodian defence ministry carried out live-fire drills just south of its border with Laos. The drills took place in Stung Treng province, where brigades have been stationed since last October to ‘defend Cambodia’s national sovereignty’ over border disputes with Laos. The recent drills are seen as underlining Cambodia’s military superiority vis-à-vis Laos as Cambodia heads to elections in July.

Iraq is also going to the polls this year. In the lead up to the election in May, Baghdad passed a resolution to establish a timeline for the withdrawal of foreign troops from Iraq. The vote was sponsored by the chief Shiite bloc to put pressure on Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s pro-Western government. There are approximately 580 Australian troops and aircraft personnel in Iraq.

Zero gravity

China is looking to its citizens to help establish the nation as a ‘space powerhouse’ by widening its astronaut recruitment net to include civilians. It has been reported that the Chinese government intends to increase the number of manned missions in its military-backed space program to around two a year from its current pace of one mission every two to three years. Major General Yang Liwei, deputy head of the China Manned Space Agency, has even extended recruitment to include women, saying that it’s encouraging all types of candidates to apply.

An American company is developing satellites as the way of the future for global internet connectivity. Astranis is creating geostationary satellites to make broadband services available all around the world. It has been reported that Astranis is competing with the likes of Elon Musk’s SpaceX and the Richard Branson–supported OneWeb to offer an alternative to existing internet services. Last month Musk’s SpaceX launched two satellites as part of its mega-constellation Starlink project. Astranis recently received US$13.5 million in funding, which they plan to use to build a new satellite assembly line and boost production.

The US has launched a new weather satellite to collect more accurate and detailed data of natural phenomena and natural disasters. The launch of the GOES-S satellite comes one year after that of its sister satellite, GOES-R. The two satellites will combine to provide a full picture of US weather patterns. Tim Walsh, the acting system program director of GOES-S, said, ‘Its coverage will include North America, Central America and all the way to New Zealand in the Pacific. [The satellite] will provide high-resolution imagery of Alaska and surrounding high-latitude areas previously unavailable or unusable from NOAA’s geostationary constellation.’

Wired watchtower

Reports emerged last week that Chinese internet search engine giant Baidu has developed artificial intelligence that can mimic a voice after listening to only 10 five-second samples of vocal data. At that point, the AI can trick voice recognition systems more than 95% of the time. However, it performs best after 100 five-second sections. Despite useful functions that the technology may perform, it adds to concerns about ‘deep fakes’—a new dimension in fake news.

A serious cyberattack targeted the German government’s main data network. While Berlin remains tight-lipped about who is behind the attack, German news outlets have blamed a hacking group called Fancy Bear that’s believed to be linked to the Kremlin, as well as a Russian group known as Snake. Accusations that foreign intelligence agencies are behind the attack are based on reports that Germany’s Federal Foreign Office was the primary target.

Sri Lanka has opened its new defence cyber operations centre. It features a 24-hour monitoring centre and a cybersecurity analytics lab. Although one report states that Sri Lanka hasn’t experienced many severe cyberattacks, the malicious Wannacry virus was detected there last year. The cyber operations centre will support the work of the Sri Lankan government’s Information and Communication Technology Agency and the National Centre for Cyber Security.