The five-domains update

Sea state

The relative lull in the South China Sea disputes has been broken. A small flotilla of Chinese ships is reportedly blocking access to Sandy Cay, a small group of sand bars near Philippine-occupied Thitu Island. By claiming Sandy Cay, Beijing would reinforce its claims to Subi Reef, a partially submerged reef on which the Chinese have built a military island. Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte has declined to react or call in support from the US, publicly claiming he has ‘lost trust in the Americans’.

This week, for the first time, a tanker sailed across the Arctic without an icebreaker. The Russian ship, the Christophe de Margerie, sailed from Norway to South Korea via the Northern Sea Route. Vladimir Putin called the voyage ‘a big event in the opening up of the Arctic’. As Arctic waters become friendlier to shipping, the area’s vast oil and natural gas reserves could be up for grabs. The commandant of the US Coast Guard, Admiral Paul Zukunft, has suggested that the US Navy should prepare to arm icebreakers for a potential conflict in the Arctic Sea.

Flight path

Last Friday, a Blackhawk helicopter belonging to a US Special Operations aviation regiment crashed off the coast of Yemen, where six crew were practising hoist drills. Five of the crew members were rescued by nearby ships, but one remains unaccounted for and is the subject of search and rescue efforts. An investigation is underway to determine why the helicopter lost power.

After condemning the US and South Korea for engaging in war games that might irritate Pyongyang, Russia has flown Tupolev Tu-95MS bombers around the Korean peninsula. During the exercise, the bombers also flew over the Sea of Japan and the East China Sea, prompting Japan and South Korea to deploy scrambler jets.

The US Army continues to work closely with Iraqi forces, with both nations participating in an aerial exercise at Camp Taji Military Complex last week. Known as Operation Inherent Resolve, the exercise was part of a larger operation to defeat ISIS. Iraqi forces moved into Tal Afar on the weekend and have since retaken most of the city.

Rapid fire

Major General David Coghlan, head of Defence’s land systems division, has announced that the year-long risk-mitigation activity ‘to help Defence choose the supplier of the new Mounted Combat Reconnaissance Capability’ has come to an end. The testing focused particularly on ‘protection, lethality and mobility’, and involved mine blast testing of both prototypes. The decision on whether Rheinmetall or BAE Systems will be awarded the contract for Land 400 Phase 2 will be announced in the first half of 2018.

During his trip overseas, US secretary of defense James Mattis was caught on camera providing a pep talk and conveying his respects to US troops abroad. Despite the current challenges and turmoil at home, he told the soldiers to ‘just hold the line until our country gets back to understanding and respecting each other and showing it’.

The Washington Post’s bureau chief in Kabul, Pamela Constable, conducted an interview with General John Nicholson, the commander of US forces in Afghanistan, who has long been pleading for a troop increase. Nicholson praised President Ashraf Ghani’s army reforms, which are significant for the country’s future. As Afghanistan has taken the limelight again recently, the New York Times published a photo feature with strong pictures telling the story of the 16 years of war.

Zero gravity

On the weekend, Space X celebrated its eighth successful landing of a rocket in the sea. Sea landings really are impressive and technically ambitious as they sound (video). Landing rockets on sea drones allows for their reuse, which has the potential to significantly cut the cost of satellite launches. Cost-saving measures should be a priority for Space X at the moment, as it’s set to lose millions on a Taiwanese satellite launch.

The US Army’s space forces have doubled in size in the past six years thanks to unprecedented demand. Joan Rousseau, leader of the army’s space training and integration branch, says that the army has become ‘a very space-dependent type of organization’. The growth of this area may suggest that the proposed ‘Space Corps’ really is needed. However, to put things in perspective, all space-related employment in the US military makes up less than 1% of the total force.

Last week, people across the US gathered to watch the total solar eclipse. There are some great photos available from the event, and a video of the first-ever wingsuit formation through a full solar eclipse. Unfortunately, not everyone enjoyed the eclipse safely. A nurse in Ohio reported patients checking into her clinic after putting sunscreen on their eyeballs. In case you were wondering, the safe way to watch an eclipse is through eclipse glasses, not the window of a hospital bed.

Wired watchtower

The Victorian government has launched a new five-year cybersecurity strategy outlining how the government will respond to infrastructure threats, develop systems resilience, and bake security into new digital services being provided by Victorian government agencies. The strategy’s been part of a wider push by the Victorian government to better deliver digital services and nurture tech talent, which come as timely responses after poor showings in state auditor-general reports on Victoria’s cybersecurity. The recent push has been a big part of Victoria’s strong performance compared with the rest of Australia when it comes to digital government readiness.

Telstra has opened a shiny new Sydney-based security operations centre. The opening was keynoted by cybersecurity minister Dan Tehan, who emphasised that cybersecurity is a ‘team sport’ between government and business, and that telecommunications companies have a key role to play in protecting Australian citizens from cyber attacks. The centre will allow Telstra to monitor, detect and respond to security incidents to better protect customers on its networks, suggesting Telstra will be among the first companies to help keep watch on Australian networks. The centre looks the part, featuring the latest and greatest in curved displays, data dashboards, vivid cable management, and a liberal use of colourful LED lighting. Here’s hoping that it (or its Melbourne counterpart, due for launch next month) opens up for tours soon!