The five-domains update

Sea state

Indian Naval Chief Admiral Sunil Lanba expressed concern at China’s naval presence—including submarines—in the Indian Ocean. India fears that the Chinese navy’s plan to deploy warships to Gwadar, a Chinese-owned port in Pakistan, is part of a strategy to encircle India. If Gwadar is used for military rather than civilian purposes, India ‘will have to think of ways to mitigate the challenge’.

China’s navy has inducted two new warships in the last three weeks. The Guangyuan and Suining are Jiangdao-class corvettes that specialise in stealth and anti-submarine warfare and are designed to operate within 200 nautical miles of China’s coast.

The Russian navy announced that its Pacific fleet will receive 10 new warships in 2018. The expected additions include two advanced corvettes, an improved Kilo-class diesel-electric submarine, and anti-sabotage and support ships. But the fleet continues to emphasise its submarine, rather than surface, capability: it plans to upgrade its existing Oscar II-class nuclear-powered submarines.


Flight path

The US announced that it will spend A$1.1 trillion on its military in 2018, the third-largest US military budget behind those of 2010 and 2011. The commander-in-chief will get a shiny new toy in the form of a VH-92 helicopter to replace the current VH-3D and VH-60N models. The 20 B-2 stealth bombers currently in use will get an A$68.6 million facelift.

The F-35 made headlines again last week over fears that data from foreign air forces is being sent back to the United States. Norway received the first of 40 F-35A jets with a software package that improves situational awareness. Reports indicate that the software sends information from Norway back to Lockheed Martin’s Texas base. The F-35 is undergoing testing in Norway to determine if it can safely land on icy runways.

Russia and Egypt signed a draft agreement to share military air bases. If the five-year agreement goes ahead, it could increase Russia’s involvement in conflicts in the Middle East. The agreement signifies great improvement in the countries’ military relations after the hostilities caused by Egypt’s expulsion of Soviet military advisers in 1972.

Rapid fire

After supporting the liberation of Raqqa, the roughly 400-strong 1st Battalion, 10th Marines artillery battery is set to return to the US. Surprisingly, the battery won’t be replaced. Brigadier General Jonathan Braga, director of operations for the US-led joint task force against ISIL, called the unit’s departure a ‘sign of real progress in the region’.

The Australian Army’s The Cove hosted its last webinar for 2017 with Chief of Army Lieutenant General Angus Campbell. The video (49 min) discusses the future of the army. Campbell summarises the four components of Plan Beersheba and underlines the need for a ‘conversation’ about how the army builds a joint force. He urges young people especially to participate.

A blog post by Australian Army Captain Sally Williamson in the army’s Land Power Forum earlier this month caused an outcry, according to the Daily Mail. Williamson reportedly suggested contracting ‘Australian male and female sex workers to service troops in forward operating bases and air bases’. She reportedly argued that these measures could help overcome loneliness and assist in PTSD recovery. The post has since been removed from the blog.

Zero gravity

The Department of Industry, Innovation and Science has released three new reports on the future of Australia’s space industry. The reports were commissioned as part of the expert review of Australia’s space industry capabilities, which is being led by CSIRO chief Megan Clark. The reports contain some possible clues about Australia’s future in space, such as the statement that a southern hemisphere ground launch station is ‘highly sought after’.

The Colorado School of Mines’ Center for Space Resources will offer the world’s first space mining degree in 2018. The course has attracted attention the world over. Prospective students shouldn’t get any ideas about a modern gold rush, however: space mining research is currently focused on returning resources for use in space rather than on Earth.

Elon Musk will launch one of Tesla’s new Roadsters on the new SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket in January. The Falcon Heavy rocket will be the world’s most powerful rocket, able to launch 54 metric tons into space. Musk made the announcement after a hilarious Twitter exchange with the Flat Earth Society.

Wired watchtower

Last Friday, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced that Nick Warner will be the director-general of the soon-to-be-formed Office of National Intelligence. The new post will make Warner head of Australia’s intelligence community, which is undergoing a significant reshuffle as part of the establishment of a Home Affairs portfolio. Telstra executive Mike Burgess was appointed director-general of the Australian Signals Directorate, which will be a statutory agency within the Defence portfolio.

The US has charged three Chinese nationals employed by Guangzhou Bo Yu with ‘hacking, theft of trade secrets, conspiracy and identity theft’ over a six-year period. In announcing the indictment, the FBI took the opportunity to promote cooperation in cybersecurity, saying that ‘law enforcement must come together and transcend borders to target criminal actors no matter where they are in the world’.

Australia’s geographic position used to give us a heads up about newly emerging security threats. But the ransomware attacks of 2017 showed that no such advantage exists for cyber threats. Tony Jarvis of cybersecurity firm Check Point warns that, as a tech-hungry nation, we need to be particularly wary of the dangers of the internet of things.