The five-domains update

Sea state

Exercise Komodo 2018 will begin on 4 May. Over 30 countries will participate in the biennial multilateral naval exercise, including all 18 ASEAN-Plus nations—the 10 ASEAN countries plus Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, Russia, South Korea and the United States. Hosted in Mataram, Indonesia, Komodo 2018 will ‘enhance the relationship and cooperation among participating navies in building common understanding about humanitarian assistance [and] disaster response operations’. Over 4,000 sailors, 50 ships, 15 helicopters and 14 fixed-wing aircraft will participate in the exercise.

The Royal Australian Navy’s two air warfare destroyers, HMAS Hobart and NUSHIP Brisbane, have successfully demonstrated a cooperative engagement capability. Cooperative engagement capability ‘combines radar and fire control data into a common picture, allowing one ship to engage an adversary based on the other ship’s data’. Australia is the first nation outside the United States to receive this cutting-edge technology.

The RAN has released stunning underwater video footage of the wreck of HMAS AE1. Australia’s first submarine, the AE1 was lost at sea with all hands in September 1914 after leaving Rabaul, Papua New Guinea. It took 103 years before the wreck was found near the Duke of York Islands. Survey video of the wreck shows it to be well preserved and teeming with marine life.

Flight path

The air forces of Singapore and Malaysia conducted a new, three-day exercise called SAREX Malsing. The search-and-rescue exercise aimed to improve bilateral interoperability and professional knowledge exchange. Though there are challenges in the two countries’ relationship, the regular bilateral and multilateral military interactions between Malaysia and Singapore are a bright spot in strengthening Southeast Asian security.

Over the weekend China’s air force released a multilingual promotional video describing the PLA’s duty to defend every inch of ‘the motherland’. The video showcased recent military flights in and around the Taiwan Strait. Meanwhile, India’s Air Force chief said that China has been increasing its air activities in Tibet, The US Air Force also regularly flies bombers near the South China Sea, noting that those missions were ‘in accordance with international law’.

Building on last week’s reporting, US Air Force (USAF) Secretary Heather Wilson gave an extended interview laying out the USAF’s top priorities for the future. Secretary Wilson said (0:55) that Russia and China’s development of capabilities to deny US space use is driving USAF policy. She also explained USAF’s need to shift to multi-domain operations (3:40) to ensure air power survival in contested airspace.

Rapid fire

India and Pakistan will be conducting joint military drills for the first time. Scheduled for August, a multinational military exercise—dubbed the ‘Peace Mission’—is being organised by the Shanghai Cooperation Council in Russia. But rapprochement remains unlikely: tensions remain high along the Line of Control, and Pakistani and Indian soldiers already cooperate in UN peacekeeping missions, which the so-called ‘Peace Mission’ parallels. The drills thus provide greater insight into China’s influence in the region than they portend new developments in India–Pakistan relations.

After Saudi Arabia declared its willingness to deploy troops in Syria, Riyadh threatened Qatar with the withdrawal of US ‘protection’ if Doha does not fund the US military presence in Syria. This so-called protection refers to the al-Udeid airbase in Qatar, which is an integral part of the US war effort. It hosts roughly 11,000 US military personnel, and is the launch pad for US airstrikes in Syria. As the US draws closer to Qatar, it seems that Saudi Arabia is eager to portray US–Qatar relations as being far more unstable than they are in reality.

The crisis in the Gulf region has spilled into the Horn of Africa. Somali troops killed six other Somali soldiers during an attempted takeover of a former UAE training facility in Mogadishu, Somalia. The incident follows ongoing tensions between Qatar-backed Somalia and the UAE over a banned port development project in the breakaway region of Somaliland. However, it also speaks to the difficulties in rebuilding unified armed forces backed by foreign governments: Qatar swiftly moved in after the UAE abruptly disbanded its assistance program to train and fund Somalia’s military.

Zero gravity

2018 continues to be a productive year for Nigeria’s space developments. Nigeria has established its inaugural Centre for Atmospheric Research that will conduct research in atmospheric sciences. This follows promises by the Nigerian federal government earlier this year to increase funding to space research and development. Earlier this year, it signed a US$550 million satellite deal with China to buy two communications satellites. So far, Nigeria has launched (from Russia) three earth observation satellites and one communications satellite.

Europe’s Copernicus earth observation satellite system is the largest system of its kind, and collects vast amounts of data on climate change, oceans, land masses, and disaster and humanitarian situations. The seventh Copernicus satellite, Sentinel-3B, was launched last week. The data it will collect will contribute to Copernicus’ environment program. Despite this advancement in European technology and the US military’s reliance on European weather data, the US House Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces recently called on the US Air Force to decrease its reliance on foreign weather data. US Air Force director of weather Ralph Stoffler said that Central Command receives 95% of its data from the international community, yet aims to completely eliminate its reliance on foreign support for weather data by March 2019.

It might not be a palace fit for a king, but China hopes to create a palace fit for scientists in space. On China’s National Space Day last week, the China National Space Administration proposed creating a lunar ‘palace’—a scientific outpost on the moon. China says it has the technological capacity for a manned lunar landing, one of the many space exploration objectives it aims to fulfil in the next few years.

Wired watchtower

The European Union laid out its ambitions to lead in setting guidelines and boosting investment in artificial intelligence (AI). The aim is to have a coordinated plan by the end of the year. While a little late to the ‘race’ for AI dominance, the EU hopes to capitalise on a uniquely ethical approach to AI’s challenges and opportunities.

The 32nd ASEAN Summit in Singapore last week brought together heads of state to discuss ‘resilience and innovation’. One outcome was the creation of the ASEAN Smart Cities Network. This initiative aims to use technological and digital solutions to resolve the challenges that increasing urbanisation pose to the delivery of key services. Twenty‑six cities will participate in the pilot, and will develop city-specific action plans at a smart cities governance workshop this month in Singapore.

Huawei phones—which US intelligence officials previously warned Americans not to buy—are being sold on American military bases in Germany. There are fears that the Chinese-made phones may be used to gather sensitive information from service members. In February the heads of the CIA, FBI, NSA, DIA and other agencies testified that ‘Americans should not use Huawei products because of the security risks they pose.’