The five-domains update

Sea state

On 28 July, Iran tested missiles on an American aircraft carrier replica in the Strait of Hormuz, putting US troops based in Qatar and the United Arab Emirates on high alert. Iranian state media further escalated tensions by releasing an image of the carrier photoshopped to appear like a casket, along with a caption quoting Ayatollah Ali Khamenei calling for vengeance in response to the US drone strike that killed former Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps head Qasem Soleimani.

The sinking of an amphibious assault vessel on 31 July during a training exercise off the Southern California coast has left at least nine US marines dead. Of the 15 marines and one navy sailor on board, seven were rescued from the water, two of whom suffered serious injuries. Extensive search and rescue efforts were concluded after 40 hours and eight missing marines are now presumed dead. The Marine Corps has temporarily suspended use of the vessels while it investigates the cause of the accident.

Flight path

Japan’s Ministry of Defence confirmed on 30 July that it will reinstate local production of F-35 Lightning II fighter jets at the final assembly and check-out facility in Nagoya. Japan ceased manufacturing at the facility in 2018 but says it is now cheaper to produce the jets locally than import them directly from the US. This decision followed the US government’s approval of a potential US$23 billion deal to supply an additional 105 F-35 jets to Japan, which would bring the total Japanese F-35 fleet up to 147.

The Royal Australian Air Force and the Serbian Ministry of Defence are each considering Boeing’s T-7A Red Hawk jet trainers to upgrade their jet trainer and light fighter fleets. Australia is replacing its BAE Hawk jet trainers, while Serbia seeks to replace both the G-4 Super Galeb advance trainers and the J-22 Orao light fighters. The T-7As will improve sensors, communications and munitions capabilities ‘in a small and relatively cheap package’.

Rapid fire

In a 29 July announcement, US Secretary of Defence Mark Esper confirmed the Pentagon’s plan to withdraw 12,000 troops from Germany. Relocating personnel from the European and African commands will cost billions of dollars and take years to complete. Around 5,000 soldiers will be relocated to Belgium and Italy, while the remaining troops will be sent back to the US. Grafenwöhr, the largest NATO training base in Europe, will lose 4,500 personnel and is likely to be the most affected. Many see the move as a loss for NATO and Russian deterrence, but an additional 1,000 US personnel will be stationed in Poland in what US officials said was a separate initiative.

British troops have commenced intensive training to prepare for a joint UN peacekeeping operation in December. Their non-combat roles will include patrolling and intelligence collection, as well as supporting the UK’s strategic engagement in the Sahel. Established in 2013, the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali supports local political processes, security duties and civilian protection.

Final frontier

A Russian satellite called Kosmos 2543 fired an anti-satellite weapon in space, according to the US and UK. Russia claims it was testing specialised equipment, but the same probe was caught shadowing a US reconnaissance satellite earlier this year. US and Russian officials met in Vienna to discuss regulating the militarisation of space in a ‘space security exchange’. Russia and China have sought to ban space weapons through a proposed treaty preventing the placement of weapons in space, but the draft text doesn’t provide precise definitions and would favour Russian and Chinese advantages in anti-satellite capabilities while limiting US systems.

A recent US Senate committee report says the Pentagon is continuing to collect and report on unidentified flying objects. The Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon Task Force operates from within the US Office of Naval Intelligence and evolved from the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program that began in 2007. Some unclassified findings of unidentified aerial phenomena are expected to be made public within the next six months.

Wired watchtower

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has instructed intelligence agencies to investigate potential security risks posed by the app TikTok. Another investigation is also being conducted by the Department of Home Affairs examining ‘privacy and data security risks’ presented by TikTok and Chinese social media app WeChat. The inquiries come amid concerns that TikTok collects huge amounts of user data and that the app’s Chinese parent company, ByteDance, could be required to share this data with the Chinese government.

The European Council announced on 30 July that the EU will impose sanctions against six individuals and three entities involved in a number of cyberattacks. This is the first time the EU has enacted such measures, which include travel bans and asset freezes. The announcement doesn’t name those involved, but they reportedly include actors in Russia, China and North Korea. The sanctions are intended to ‘prevent, discourage, deter and respond to malicious cyber activities’.