The five-domains update

Sea state

The Pentagon will soon begin executing scheduled freedom-of-navigation operations in the South China Sea. It’s a shift in policy from that of the previous administration, under which FONOPs were conducted on an ad hoc basis and often postponed due to political factors. The potential for conflict in the South China Sea could be exacerbated by the Chinese government’s lifting of a ban on fishing in the disputed waters. The ban lasted 108 days and was ‘imposed to preserve fish stocks’. Around 18,000 Chinese fishing boats, emboldened by their Chinese coastguard escort, were expected to enter the South China Sea.

The US Navy’s new littoral combat ship (LCS), the USS Little Rock, has completed its acceptance trials and will be prepared for delivery. The Little Rock scored better in the five-day trials than any other Freedom-variant LCS. The LCS, designed for flexibility, has had more than its fair share of problems, prompting the US Navy to launch the FFG(X) guided-missile frigate program to build a successor.

The Swedish Navy has asked a local town to stop video streaming its submarines. As a tourism draw, the town of Karlskrona installed web cameras to stream images of the Swedish coast. Unfortunately, the cameras also caught a nearby naval base, home to the country’s submarine fleet.

Flight path

The Australian Department of Defence has been accused of unfairly managing the evaluation process for a new drone contract. The two contenders are the US’s MQ-9 Reaper and the Israeli Aerospace Industries’ Heron TP drone. While Defence Minister Marise Payne has said that no decision has been made, Shaul Shahar from the IAI has complained of an ‘absence of an open competitive tender,’ ultimately favouring the US. Until earlier this year, the RAAF was leasing two different types of Herons from Israel. When the program finished, the RAAF was left without a medium-altitude, long-endurance unmanned aerial vehicle.

Reports last week revealed that subject-matter-expert exchanges took place between the US and Philippine air forces in late August. The exercise covered a variety of topics, including ‘guided missile and munitions operations, command and control tactics, and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief response’.

The US has received two warnings in the past six months from Iranian air defence bases after reportedly breaching airspace with a RQ-4 drone and a U-2 spy plane. Iran’s chief of air defence is quoted as saying, ‘We do not allow such rabid aircrafts to enter our territory and if necessary, will not hesitate to destroy them.’

Rapid fire

Rheinmetall recently embarked on a roadshow in Queensland, visiting cities all along the state’s coastline. If the German defence company wins the Land 400 bid, numerous businesses in the Sunshine State are set to benefit from the $5 billion project. The tour, which kicked off last Friday, gives small to medium enterprises a chance to meet with Rheinmetall representatives to discuss potential deals and industry cooperation.

The US Army’s rapid reaction force in Europe seems to be anything but flawless: a self-assessment report showed that the 173rd Airborne Brigade, which is based in Vicenza, Italy, is ‘underequipped, undermanned and inadequately organized to confront military aggression from Russia or its high-tech proxies’. Furthermore, the report found that the brigade lacks ‘[the] essential capabilities needed to accomplish its mission effectively and with decisive speed’. Those deficiencies had already caused the brigade to call in allied personnel to help fill knowledge gaps, particularly in the field of military communication, a key skill in preventing jamming and spoofing.

Something for the military history fans out there: the Australian Army continued its ’Origin of rank’ series yesterday. The army’s Facebook channel provides pictures with background and historical data on the rank of gunner and its Twitter feed features (short) video footage of gunners in action.

Zero gravity

Ilya Tarasenko, director general of the MiG corporation, has said that the Russian MiG-41 fighter jet, which is still in development, will be ‘invisible to enemy radars and even be able to work in outer space’. RIA Novosti, the Russian news agency that interviewed Tarasenko, found that vague statement to be puzzling—stealth is a standard feature of modern fighter jets, but space capabilities are not. MiG says the fighter will enter production in the mid-2020s, though some analysts think that it’ll likely be delayed until 2035–40.

On Friday, asteroid ‘Florence’ flew past the earth in a record-breaking flyby. The asteroid was 4.4 kilometres wide and came within 7 million kilometres of earth. To give you an idea of scale, that’s 18 times the distance from our planet to the moon. We’re lucky it wasn’t much closer, or we may have had to give Bruce Willis a call.

The US Air Force will be launching its X-37B space plane again next week. Payloads and most of the activities of the X-37B are classified, in typical military fashion. There is one exciting detail we can share with you about this launch: the unmanned and reusable space plane will be launched by the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket! (And that fulfils my (unofficial and self-imposed) quota of one SpaceX mention per week.)

Wired watchtower

The Commonwealth Bank has called a tender to outsource some of its cybersecurity operations to offshore contractors, such as firewall, proxy server and identity management. Similar outsourcing plans are reportedly being considered at Westpac and NAB. The majority of cybersecurity operations, including government outreach and engagement, are reportedly to remain in-house, and Commonwealth Bank will likely continue to play a leading role in providing advice and assistance to government.

The US Food and Drug Administration has ordered a recall of 465,000 pacemaker devices in coordination with the vendor, Abbott, after finding that a vulnerability in the devices could allow hackers to take control and stop pacing. The pacemakers will be given a firmware update by local healthcare providers to remove the vulnerability. Commentators have welcomed the move as a shift towards a more proactive model in securing the internet of things.

And for budding bot watchers, one writer has issued a warning: stop using Google translate to translate Russian bot tweets, as the translated snippets are fed into the learning-by-example algorithm and could corrupt future results.