The five-domains update

Sea state

The second phase of Exercise Malabar, which involves the US, India, Australia and Japan, will run from 17 to 20 November in the northern Arabian Sea and aims to enhance interoperability among the four countries’ navies. The drills will include US and Indian aircraft carriers engaged in joint ‘high-intensity’ naval operations. Phase one ran in early November and featured high-end tactical training and weapons exercises. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, all activities have avoided physical contact and are being conducted at sea only.

China has reportedly hit a moving ship in the South China Sea with long-range ballistic missiles. During an exercise in August, People’s Liberation Army forces are reported to have fired missiles from mainland China that hit a moving vessel near the Paracel Islands. If true, this would be the first demonstration of China’s long-range anti-ship missile capability. The missiles used have a range of more than 1,500 kilometres, meaning they could strike targets including Guam from mainland China, enhancing its control over the contested waters of the South China Sea.

Flight path

Following an agreement to normalise relations with Israel, the Trump administration has approved a US$23.4 billion sale of aircraft and weapons to the United Arab Emirates. If it passes Congress, the sale will include up to 50 F-35A fighter jets, 18 MQ-9B drones, and air-to-air and air-to-surface munitions. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the deal is ‘in recognition of our deepening relationship and the UAE’s need for advanced defense capabilities to deter … Iran’. However, the sale may not go through in its current form, as a representative of Joe Biden’s campaign said it could be up for ‘re-examination’.

US companies Red 6 and EpiSci have recently completed the world’s first dogfight between a real aircraft and a virtual fighter jet powered by artificial intelligence. The dogfight involved a Berkut 560 experimental plane and a simulation of a Chinese J-20 stealth fighter that was projected inside the Berkut pilot’s helmet-mounted display. If successful, this technology could significantly reduce the costs of organising air-based combat training exercises.

Rapid fire

‘Such actions go against the very purpose of who we are as an organisation’, wrote a group of soldiers from the Australian Special Air Service Regiment in relation to more than 50 allegations of war crimes in Afghanistan, which have been investigated by the inspector-general of the Australian Defence Force. This is the first time special forces personnel have published an open letter. The report on the alleged crimes will be released on Thursday and is expected to reveal details of protracted and illegal use of force by Australian soldiers during the war in Afghanistan.

US President Donald Trump has reportedly decided to cut the number of soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq again, continuing his plan to bring all American troops back from overseas deployments. The idea has sparked opposition from Republicans including Senate leader Mitch McConnell, as well as Afghan officials who fear the peace deal brokered with the Taliban will fail. German officials are hoping President-elect Joe Biden will reconsider troop withdrawals from Europe, but his policies in this area remain unclear.

Final frontier

SpaceX has become the first private human spaceflight operator after its Crew Dragon carried four astronauts to the International Space Station. Elon Musk’s company will remain NASA’s primary launch provider while the next competitor, Boeing, fixes issues with its CST-100 Starliner. SpaceX’s planned missions for the remainder of 2020 include launching a classified mission for the US National Reconnaissance Office and a Sentinel 6-Michael Freilich satellite which will monitor sea levels.

Enrico Palermo, chief operating officer at Virgin Galactic and president at the Spaceship Company, will be appointed head of the Australian Space Agency in January. Industry, Science and Technology Minister Karen Andrews said Palermo’s extensive and multidisciplinary background would provide ‘strong leadership and direction for the agency’. The Australian government is working with the agency to triple the size of the country’s space sector by 2030 and create opportunities in several areas, including manufacturing.

Wired watchtower

US President-elect Joe Biden is expected to maintain the Trump administration’s approach to Chinese technology. Experts believe measures such as restrictions on technology exports to Chinese companies will remain in place. But it is also likely that a Biden administration will seek greater support from allies to confront challenges posed by Chinese tech. Biden’s approach will in part be shaped by Congress, with Republicans and several Democrats calling for ‘more curbs on Chinese technology and on trade with China’.

Microsoft has identified three state-sponsored hacker groups—Russia’s Strontium and North Korea’s Zinc and Cerium—that carried out cyberattacks on at least seven companies engaged in research on vaccines and treatments for Covid-19. The groups relied on ‘brute force login attempts’ and spear-phishing emails to gain access to people’s credentials and steal information. These attacks are the latest in a series of hacking attempts targeting research and healthcare organisations during the pandemic.