The five-domains update

Sea state

Japan and China have agreed to implement a ‘hotline’ to avoid clashes in the East China Sea. No official agreement on the details of the mechanism has yet been reached, but the Japan Times labelled the initial work as a ‘breakthrough’ for Japan–China relations. The hotline would cover the area around the contentious and uninhabited Senkaku/Siaoyu/Tiaoyutai islands claimed by Japan, China and Taiwan but currently administered by Japan.

US Navy Secretary Richard Spencer said continuing resolutions (CRs) that have restricted the Pentagon’s budget are at least in part to blame for the series of fatal collisions at sea this year. The failure of the US Congress to pass a long-term budget has led to the use of CRs as a stop-gap measure to continue funding the government, but unstable budgets have ‘driven hard choices that have caused [the navy] to take risk’. The current CR has been extended until 22 December, but several figures in the defence hierarchy have called for a budget covering at least two years.

The Adelaide-class frigate HMAS Darwin was decommissioned in Sydney this week after 33 years. The Darwin, which had ‘steamed over a million nautical miles’ in its service, is making way for the new Hobart-class guided-missile destroyers.

Flight path

Following the announcement over the weekend that Islamic State has been defeated in Iraq, calls for debating the ADF’s role in the country, and the RAAF’s involvement in particular, are now louder. For example, former army chief Peter Leahy questioned ‘the need for future Australian bombing missions’ and urged a strategic assessment of the situation.

The US Air Force has chosen the MQ-9 Reaper drone as the mascot aircraft—which will be featured on medals and clothing—for the 2018 Air Force Marathon (15 September 2018). It’s only (or already?) the second time a drone has been chosen; the MQ-4 Global Hawk was the contest’s official aircraft in 2009. Meanwhile, the latest research interests of the US Air Force were revealed: training peregrine falcons to become drone hunters—or how to make them ‘key to developing anti-drone interceptor systems’.

This article in The Diplomat discusses opportunities for the Chinese Air Force to acquire practical experience in line with China’s growing international engagement. It particularly focuses on how the lack of capabilities to deploy beyond China’s border is its Achilles’ heel. The main suggestions are based on the RAND Corporation’s recent research report on the Chinese Air Force potentially becoming an expeditionary air force.

Rapid fire

UK Chancellor Philip Hammond caused an outcry after he reportedly told Prime Minister Theresa May that the British Army could make do with only 50,000 troops. Sources say the claim was expressed during a heated meeting about defence cuts. The British Army is currently 4,000 troops short of its goal of 78,000. Cutting it to 50,000 would make it the smallest for 220 years, and would threaten both warfighting capabilities and the UK’s NATO commitments.

The British Army meanwhile tried to show off its snipers’ capabilities, and took to social media to test the Twitter community in spotting a hidden soldier. It backfired quickly as the soldier could be easily spotted, with former Army personnel calling him out for failing the basics of camouflaging.

President Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital has led to a worrying statement in Australia’s neighbourhood. Malaysia’s defence minister, Hishammuddin Hussein, said that the Malaysian Armed Forces were ‘ready, waiting for instructions from the top leadership’ to get involved in the dispute. Amid the protests in Israel itself, the Israeli army faced criticism of a different nature: a sergeant had to be suspended after a video of him stealing fruit from a Palestinian vendor went viral.

Zero gravity

Last week NASA posted a video of Expedition 53 crew astronauts making zero-gravity pizzas aboard the International Space Station. In 2004, NASA released an explanation of the challenges astronauts face eating in space, claiming that they hadn’t yet mastered the pizza. Obviously, progress has been made.

Space X CEO Elon Musk recently announced that he would be launching a Tesla Roadster into space, prompting an in-depth discussion of space regulations in The Verge. While the American Space Commerce Free Enterprise Act of 2017 gives the Department of Commerce oversight of commercial activities in space, many activities still fall within uncharted territory.

Justin Bachman from Bloomberg enlightened us about the low fitness requirements of space tourism. Research suggests that space travel is physically manageable for your average human. The psychological stress of space flight is another matter. It remains to be seen what preparations (if any) will be made to mentally prepare millionaire space tourists.

Wired watchtower

Artificial intelligence could be the next area of superpower competition between the US and China. The Chinese have expressed their desire to be the leader in the AI field by 2025, and while not the overall leader yet, ‘they are not far behind and catching up quickly’. China’s AI surge has both civil and military facets and President Xi Jinping called for military ‘intelligentization’ in his address to the 19th Party Congress.

Germany’s internal intelligence service, the BfV, says Chinese intelligence is using fake social media profiles ‘to gather personal information about German officials and politicians’. BfV announced that over 10,000 Germans were contacted through the fake profiles, mainly on LinkedIn, which were designed to look like ‘headhunters, consultants, or scholars’. The agency published the details of eight of the most active profiles contacting German users. China has yet to deny these latest accusations of cyber espionage.

The Australian government will update sabotage laws to include cyber sabotage, allowing cyber saboteurs to be jailed for up to 15 years. The legislation, designed to help protect critical infrastructure ‘such as telecommunications, power and water’, is part of a broader package of foreign interference laws.