The five-domains update

Welcome to the brand-new five-domains update! Except, not really—it’s just been expanded. The update now has five sections, covering all the domains of the military operating environment: sea (‘Sea state’), air (‘Flight path’), land (‘Rapid fire’), space (‘Zero gravity’) and cyber (‘Wired watchtower’).

Sea state

Vietnam’s defence minister, Ngo Xuan Lich, and the US secretary of defence, James Mattis, announced that a US aircraft carrier will be visiting Vietnam. The move is emblematic of the increasingly close military cooperation between Hanoi and Washington. It’s believed that the visit will occur sometime next year and that the carrier will dock at Cam Ranh Bay. The bay, which has a long history of hosting foreign navies, was a major Soviet naval base during the Cold War and recently opened a new deep-water harbour. The announcement came after Vietnam stopped drilling activities in the South China Sea due to Chinese threats.

A US Navy destroyer has collided with a merchant vessel in the waters east of Singapore. The USS John S. McCain, part of the Japan-based US Seventh Fleet, was headed to Singapore for a ‘routine port visit’ when it collided with the Alnic MC, a 183-metre-long oil or chemical tanker. The McCain ‘sustained damage to her port side aft’, but has been able to sail away ‘under its own power’. The McCain collision comes just two months after another member of the Seventh Fleet, the USS Fitzgerald, also collided with a merchant vessel. The investigation of the Fitzgerald incident has resulted in the ship’s commanding officer, executive officer and command master chief being relieved of command.

Flight path

The Royal Australian Air Force has received the first 10 Pilatus PC-21 basic trainers, which will be used to train up to 165 pilots a year at East Sale air base in Victoria. The RAAF will receive a total of 42 PC-21s and seven simulators, which will replace the aging PC-9/As as part of an East Sale upgrade to be completed by September 2018. Defence Minister Marise Payne has praised the move, saying, ‘The new pilot training system is a significant leap forward.’

Taiwan is keeping a close watch on the Chinese air force after three days of drills through the Bashi Channel last week breached Taiwanese airspace. This comes just a month after China told Japan ‘to not make a fuss about nothing’ following similar exercises in the Miyako Strait. And late last week, the US and Japanese air forces conducted a joint drill in the East China Sea.

A team at the Rutgers University School of Engineering in New Jersey is working on the first hybrid drone—that’s right, a drone that both swims and flies! The Naviator will undergo phase 2 of development in 2018, and could prove useful for ocean mapping and search efforts.

Rapid fire

Romania is one of the few European NATO member states that have already announced concrete plans to boost military spending. The US State Department has approved a sale of high-mobility artillery rocket system (HIMARS) equipment worth US$1.25 billion to the Romanians. The consignment includes 54 HIMARS launchers, 162 guided multiple launch rocket systems, 54 army tactical missile systems, 24 advanced field artillery tactical data systems and 30 M1151A1 Humvees. The sale still requires congressional approval to proceed.

On Saturday, the Lebanese army began its ‘Jroud Dawn’ offensive against ISIS positions close to the northern Lebanese town of Ras Baalbek. Simultaneously, the Syrian army together with Hezbollah fighters closed in on the same ISIS enclave from the east, in the western Qalamoun region of Syria. The Lebanese army and Hezbollah both see their operations as separately organised, although they have the same purpose: fighting ISIS. Iraqi forces also started another operation to free ISIS-held Tal Afar. By yesterday, with support from the US-led coalition, they had already managed to recapture several villages around the city.

On a lighter note—happy birthday, WO2 Courage! The wedge-tailed eagle mascot of the 2nd Cavalry Regiment of the Royal Australian Armoured Corps just turned 30. He has dedicated almost his entire life to serving with the army.

Zero gravity

Last week the SpaceX Dragon cargo ship successfully delivered more than 3 tons of supplies to the International Space Station. The supplies included space station hardware, research equipment, 20 mice, and ice cream for the crew. Check out the SpaceX website for a detailed look inside the spacecraft and for more details on the project.

A recent job opening at NASA as a ‘Planetary Protection Officer’ caught the attention of fourth-grader Jack Davis, a self-described ‘guardian of the galaxy’. He applied for the role with a very cute hand-written cover letter summarising his qualifications, which include his sister stating he is an alien. The reality of the job is less exciting than Jack probably believes. John Rummel, a former NASA planetary protection officer, described the role in Seeker as involving a lot of science, but no alien combat.

This week, the ACT and South Australian governments threw their support behind the recent proposal for an Australian space agency. The federal government is currently considering the move, after announcing a review into Australia’s space capabilities in July. The Northern Territory and Western Australia have also expressed interest in such an agency. A total of 11,000 Australians are currently employed in space-related industries. That number is expected to triple if an Australian space agency is announced.

Wired watchtower

President Trump has announced that US Cyber Command (CyberCom) will be elevated to become a combatant command, placing it at the same level in the US military hierarchy as regional commands such as Pacific Command and Central Command. The announcement comes amid ongoing deliberations about whether the CyberCom should be split from the National Security Agency. Congress reportedly remains concerned about whether an independent CyberCom will be able to operate as effectively.

Deloitte has released a report saying that Asia–Pacific financial regulators, and Australian regulators in particular, need to have a more unified approach. In what might prove to be a positive step in that direction, AUSTRAC has announced that it will be filling gaps in its anti-money laundering and counterterrorism financing regulation by including digital currencies within its financial monitoring regime.

Furthering the trend of attacks against parliamentary systems, the Scottish Parliament has been targeted by a brute-force attack attempting to gain unauthorised access to the email accounts of MPs. So far the attack doesn’t seem to have had much success, which hopefully shows that parliamentary staffers are taking note of how vulnerable they are to cyber attack.