The five-domains update

Sea state

Taiwan’s plans to build domestically designed submarines has received a boost following the Trump administration’s approval of the marketing licence required before American companies can sell technology to Taiwan. News of the approval was reported by Taiwan’s Central News Agency, but has yet to be confirmed by the US State Department. After an unsuccessful, decades-long search for a foreign partner willing to sell it attack submarines, Taiwan now plans to design and build its own submarine force to replace its aging four-boat fleet.

Russia is preparing to hold its second Main Naval Parade in St Petersburg later this year. The event will see more than 40 warships, 25 aircraft, and 4,000 troops on display. The first Main Naval Parade took place last year and is now set to be an annual event. Russian Defence Minister General Sergei Shoigu described the event as reviving ‘the country’s glorious maritime traditions, show[ing] the strength and the power of the Russian Navy’. Video of last year’s inaugural parade can be seen here.

Canada has requested more time to study the effects of banning heavy fuel oils (HFOs) in the Arctic. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and President Barack Obama had previously committed to reducing the use of HFOs in the Arctic before a proposed ban by the International Marine Organization comes into effect in 2021. Heavy fuel oils have been banned in the Antarctic since 2011 as a potential HFO spill could have ‘devastating and lasting effects on fragile Arctic marine and coastal environments’.

Flight path

The US has sent three B-52 strategic bombers to train in Darwin as part of the bilateral initiative Enhanced Air Cooperation. Meanwhile, the RAAF deployed a C-130J Hercules and 23 personnel to participate in the major US Air Force exercise Green Flag, which runs from 4 to 17 April. Both training exercises are designed to improve air power interoperability between the two close allies.

India’s biggest ever war exercise, Gagan Shakti, kicked off on 8 April. The fortnight-long exercise simulates a real-time battle to test the India Air Force’s (IAF) war capabilities and concepts. India’s armed forces came under scrutiny after service chiefs described outdated equipment, poor resource allocation and convoluted equipment acquisition procedures. Recent analysis by aerospace research company Forecast International observed that the IAF is in a particularly dire condition, capable of fielding at best two-thirds of the 45 squadrons deemed necessary to counter a potential China–Pakistan ‘collusive threat’. Other analysis suggests abandoning the 45-squadron target, eliminating the IAF’s costly duplication of platforms in favour of a smaller number of highly capable multi-role fighters, and developing a modern integrated air defence system to deter China. To address these shortfalls during Gagan Shakti, the IAF will for the first time conduct ‘surge operations’, which reduces maintenance downtime between sorties but requires higher availability of aircraft maintenance personnel, including from third-party support organisations.

Rapid fire

Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid called for US troops to be deployed in Estonia as a deterrent to Russian aggression. NATO has deployed UK, French and Danish troops to Estonia, but Kaljulaid stressed the importance of deploying US soldiers. The demand comes after talks between Trump and the leaders of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in Washington coincided with Russia testing of live munitions in the Baltic Sea on 3 April.

The British Army, meanwhile, showed off its strength at the annual war games in Kenya last weekend. Involving 1,000 UK troops alongside members of the Kenya Defence Force, these war games are the UK’s third largest. The UK is Kenya’s longest-standing defence and security partner, and its military presence contributes around US$57 million to the local economy.

Lockheed Martin plans to be a top defence trade partner with Saudi Arabia under Donald Trump’s US$110 billion arms deal with the country. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is visiting the company’s California facilities this week, and Lockheed Martin hopes to sell weapon systems worth more than US$28 billion as part of the arms deal announced by Trump last year. This in-depth report by War on the Rocks remains skeptical of the partnership’s benefits, claiming that the arms export policy will do little to create jobs in the US while undermining American influence abroad.

Zero gravity

US Air Force General John Hyten says that US space policy is going in the right direction to counter an increasingly contested environment. In a recent interview with SpaceNews, Hyten said there was a need to accelerate the building of US warfighting capabilities in space, including cutting launch costs to below US$100 million and reducing military satellite development timelines to three-to-five years.

From self-driving cars to speech recognition, artificial intelligence (AI) already has various applications in our everyday lives. But AI could soon be applied in space. Researchers from the Centre for Robotics and Neural Systems at Plymouth University are developing AI to analyse large quantities of data to determine the possibility of life on other planets. The AI technology is called an ‘artificial neural network’, which is a computer system that can identity patterns from complex data. The researchers hope to use this technology on NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope and the European Space Agency’s ARIEL space mission.

In addition to India’s new space partnerships covered in the five-domains update a couple of weeks ago, the Indian Space Research Organisation is continuing to strengthen its presence in space. India is expecting to launch its lunar Chandrayaan-2 rover this year to map the moon’s surface. This is India’s second planned mission to the moon, after its successful first mission in 2009. Although there is some skepticism regarding India’s space capabilities, particularly when it comes to matching China, India’s space program has notched up some impressive achievements in recent years.

Wired watchtower

On 6 April Taiwan’s cyber chief said that Taiwan was now the target of at least 40 million cyberattacks each month. While most originate in China, Taiwan’s unusual geopolitical need for cyber resilience has perversely meant that it’s also a testing ground for North Korean and Russian attacks. According to Kaspersky Lab’s real-time map of worldwide cyberattacks, Taiwan is the 33rd most-targeted country.

US and British troops used robots to clear obstacles for troops in a world-first robotic breach in Germany. Breaching enemy obstacles is typically one of the most dangerous tasks undertaken by soldiers on the battlefield. The clearing was undertaken by a range of specialised systems, including drones to scout enemy defences and spot targets, remote-controlled mortars, and conventional tracked armoured vehicles that could generate smoke cover, bulldoze mines and fill in ditches.

The UK is tackling both its military veteran unemployment and cybersecurity skills shortage with one new project. The not-for-profit initiative called TechVets is training veterans in technology and cybersecurity, capitalising on their skillsets and the high unemployment rate they face. Currently only 4% of military veterans work in the ICT sector.