The five-domains update

Sea state

The Royal Navy has received HMS Forth, the first of five new offshore patrol vessels designed to beef up protection of UK fishing waters. Following Brexit, the rules governing fishing rights in UK waters will become increasingly uncertain. Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson stated, ‘with these state-of-the-art, vastly capable ships we stand ready to protect our fisheries once Britain leaves the EU.’

China’s Coast Guard has been placed under military control. On Tuesday the National People’s Congress voted to make the Coast Guard subordinate to the People’s Armed Police Force, which reports to the Central Military Commission. The move comes as the Chinese Coast Guard brings into service the world’s largest coast guard vessel, a 12,000-ton cutter. In contests between coast guard vessels, when size does matter, these ‘monster cutters’ will play an outsized role. Data from CSIS shows that the Chinese Coast Guard has been involved in 75% of the major incidents that have occurred in the South China Sea since 2010.

The US Navy has commissioned its newest submarine, the USS Colorado (SSN-788). The nuclear-powered attack submarine is the 15th Virginia-class boat to be commissioned and the first submarine named after the state of Colorado. The navy redesigned about one-fifth of the space in Block III submarines such as the Colorado to reduce costs.

Flight path

Canberra hosted Australia’s 2018 Air Power Conference last week. Presenters discussed developments such as the integration of cyber-training into simulations, the use of artificial intelligence in warfare decision-making, and the move towards autonomous systems in the air domain.

Ukraine’s Air Force Command put all of its air defence systems on high alert on 22 March after Russian fighter jets and bombers allegedly carried out ‘provocative’ flights along Ukraine’s border, approaching as close as 40 kilometres to the Black Sea coastline. It was the second time this month that Russia has flown aircraft near Ukraine’s border. The incident occurred soon after the reported suicide of the Ukrainian pilot blamed by Russian media for shooting down Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 in 2014.

Rapid fire

Chinese President Xi Jinping announced the complete withdrawal of personnel engaged in civilian affairs from the People’s Armed Police Force. They’ll now report to local administrations. The move rationalises a complicated chain of command in China’s military forces. The move comes amid ongoing concerns about corruption and the control of the Party over security forces, reasserting the absolute leadership of the CCP over its armed forces.

India’s plans to build a US$500 million military base in the Seychelles have been blocked by the Seychelles parliament. Under the plan, Indian soldiers would have been deployed on one of the archipelago’s outlying islands, and would have trained Seychellois troops to patrol the country’s coastal waters for illegal fishing, drug trafficking and piracy. But the Seychelles warned of unwanted ripples in its ties with China, as India and China compete for influence in the region.

India–China tensions remain high in Doklam, a disputed area claimed by China and India’s ally, Bhutan. On Thursday, India and China held the 11th round of the Working Mechanism on Consultation and Coordination for India–China Border Affairs. Allegations have since emerged that China is building infrastructure and increasing its troop presence in Doklam. Indian Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman warned yesterday that India will maintain its territorial integrity, threatening another showdown comparable to last year’s 73-day standoff in Doklam.

Zero gravity

The US is developing a satellite communications system that can survive a nuclear exchange. The projected cost of the four-year project is $761.4 million. This is just one of 14 multi-million dollar projects outlined in the report that will contribute to US ‘space superiority’.

In comparison, Australia is taking small steps towards a national space capability. After months of consultations, a review of Australia’s space industry capability will be released by the end of March. In the lead up to the much anticipated report, ABC Radio has produced a podcast that discusses the economic benefits of a domestic space capability. Topics include the importance of remote sensor satellite data and space-based imagery for agriculture and mining. Australia and Iceland are the only two OECD countries that don’t have space agencies.

The Indian government is also capitalising on the utility of satellite imagery by mapping its railway network. The project aims to map the entire network of tracks, as well as India’s railway land assets. The use of satellite technology will improve service and safety on India’s notoriously antiquated railways. The mapping project should be completed by the end of the year.

Wired watchtower

China has cracked down on parodies and videos that distort, mock or defame socialist values. The government has released a directive banning the dissemination of videos that ‘had been edited to distort the original meaning’. The directive is ‘extra-urgent’ and demands immediate compliance. The directive only applies to online videos—China largely already controls its film and television industries. Just last week, the Communist Party’s Central Committee announced that all national and international radio and television broadcasters will be merged into a new Voice of China under the authority of Central Propaganda Department.

One of Uber’s self-driving cars killed a woman crossing a road in the US last Sunday. This is the first incident of death-by-autonomous vehicle, but not the first death by robot. Observers note that humans pose a far greater danger to other humans on the roads than does AI. Yet the incident re-ignites debates about legal liability and risk in the artificial intelligence era, particularly as state militaries incorporate AI and raise the possibility of lethal autonomous weapons.

Cyber theft is exploding in the world of cryptocurrency. A new report by American software company Symantec states that ‘crypto-jacking’—hacking a computer to mine cryptocurrency—increased by 8,500% in the last quarter of 2017 alone. This was the most significant trend in the cybersecurity threat landscape. The rise in crypto-jacking is attributed to cryptocurrencies’ rise in value. Crypto-mining causes a range of negative effects, such as slowing devices’ processors and causing batteries to overheat.