The five-domains update

Sea state

A Chinese nuclear-powered submarine has been spotted outside an underwater bunker near China’s Yulin naval base. The base, on the southern end of China’s Hainan Island, is one of Beijing’s most important facilities for naval operations in the South China Sea. It’s home to China’s fleet of nuclear ballistic-missile submarines, and submarine bunkers may be hidden in the large mountain that dominates the southern tip of the island.

The Greek and Turkish navies are clashing in the eastern Mediterranean over a disputed exclusive economic zone. The Turkish frigate Kemal Reis collided with the Greek frigate Limnos while protecting a Turkish exploration ship designed to hunt for undersea oil and gas. Large reserves of oil and gas were discovered in the disputed maritime zone between the two countries. Berlin has called for the two NATO countries to reach a peaceful agreement, while Washington has remained silent.

Flight path

China has unveiled its new advanced Tianlei 500 (‘Sky Thunder’) weapons system amid tensions with the US and Taiwan. Sky Thunder is a 500-kilogram dual precision-guided-munitions dispenser and air-to-surface missile that will boost China’s air capabilities. Analysts have called the system ‘one of the most important advanced weapons for the Chinese military right now’.

The US government is considering selling F-35 Lightning II fighter jets to the United Arab Emirates despite strong objections from Israel, which is currently the only country in the Middle East operating the aircraft. If the sale goes through, Israel’s air superiority in the region will be weakened. Outside of F-35 program partners like Australia, the US has sold the jets to allies including Japan, Turkey and South Korea, as well as Israel.

Rapid fire

Iraqi military base Camp Taji was handed to the country’s defence forces on 23 August, after most of the 2,000 international troops stationed there, including Australians, started their withdrawal. A spokesperson for the military coalition led by the United States said that Iraqi forces are now prepared to fight the Islamic State group. The move follows plans by the US to reduce its forces in Iraq and protect the coalition from attacks blamed on Iran-backed militants.

The French army has finished constructing a new base in northern Mali as part of its military efforts in the Sahel, under the name Operation Barkhane. The camp was built in a star-like shape inspired by fortresses of the European Renaissance period. The project was developed in collaboration with the Malian Armed Forces and aims to establish a stronger military presence against jihadists in the region.

Final frontier

China’s two Xingyun 2 satellites established intersatellite laser communication with each other, expanding their coverage and reducing the need for intermediary ground stations. The satellites were launched in May and are intended to be part of a constellation of 80 satellites by 2023. Chinese state media says the satellites will support China’s ‘internet of things’ project to connect sensors and household objects wirelessly. Like other Chinese space capabilities, these systems may be militarised to manage a networked battlespace.

The US military is planning to foster public–private partnerships to stay competitive in space. A report published by the US Defense Innovation Unit notes the US Space Force is already working closely with entrepreneurs and innovators but recommends that the industry ‘aggressively pursue’ partnerships. Aerospace company Blue Origin says there are no commercial incentives to drive investment in cislunar space and the government needs to develop logistics infrastructure.

Wired watchtower

Amid increased efforts around the world to steal research on potential coronavirus vaccines, government agencies are assisting Australian medical and scientific organisations to ensure their work is safe. The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation and the Australian Cyber Security Centre are working to avert cyberattacks that could target these institutions. There has been an uptick in cyberattacks and espionage activity in Australia in recent months. Experts and members of the intelligence community have pointed to China and Russia as the likely source countries.

The US has announced new sanctions preventing non-US companies from selling chips that are ‘developed or produced using US software or technology’ to Huawei. These measures build on sanctions announced in May and aim to address a loophole that allowed US firms to sell their products to third parties which could go on to sell them to Huawei. The US sanctions have severely limited Huawei’s access to components that are essential for its smartphone business.