The five-domains update

Sea state

The US Navy is planning to raise a 1st Fleet for the first time since 1973 in response to China’s naval build-up in the South China Sea. Under the plan, ships would likely be stationed near Southeast Asia and the eastern Indian Ocean in an effort to ensure trade routes are kept open. While US naval secretary Kenneth Braithwaite is due to leave office in January, it’s unlikely President-elect Joe Biden’s administration will reverse this decision in the face of growing tensions with Beijing.

The Royal Australian Navy’s three Hobart-class destroyers, HMA Ships Sydney, Hobart and Brisbane, have conducted their first combined exercise. Held off New South Wales, the exercise demonstrated the vessels’ capability to cooperate closely by sharing data and coordinating missile strikes. The three high-tech destroyers are the first RAN ships to be equipped with the Aegis combat system, which will enable close cooperation with US ships using the same technology.

Flight path

A Royal Australian Air Force F/A-18F Super Hornet jet crashed at Amberley air base near Brisbane during a take-off run last week. Footage showed the jet going off the runway with its nose down, causing damage to its forward starboard fuselage. The jet’s two crew members ejected safely. The incident led to the grounding of Australia’s fleet of 24 Super Hornets and 11 E/A-18G Growlers. The Super Hornets are serving to maintain the RAAF’s air combat capability until the F-35A Lightning II program achieves final operating capability, which is due in 2023.

Charles ‘Chuck’ Yeager, one of the most famous aviators in history, has died at the age of 97. As a former World War II fighter pilot and experimental supersonic pilot, Yeager had a flying career unmatched by anyone else. Yeager was the first person in the world to break the sound barrier during a test flight of the Bell X-1 rocket plane, successfully reaching a speed of Mach 1.06 (1,126 kilometres per hour) in 1947.

Rapid fire

China and France are both exploring the possibility of developing what have been described as bionic ‘super-soldiers’ to increase human capabilities in future conflicts. The French armed forces are considering medical treatments, substances, prosthetics and implants that improve soldiers’ ‘physical, cognitive, perceptive and psychological capacities’. Similarly, China is reportedly exploring exoskeleton capabilities and genetic and other advanced medical technologies for military use. However, these human-enhancement programs raise very serious ethical, social and legal issues.

Armenia and Azerbaijan are blaming each other for breaches of their Russian-brokered ceasefire agreement. According to the Azerbaijani government, four of its troops were killed in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region following an ambush by Armenian soldiers. Armenia claims that six separatist fighters were injured following skirmishes with Azerbaijani troops. Russia’s defence ministry says the ceasefire was broken but has not assigned blame. Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia are in talks to return the parties ‘to their former positions’.

Final frontier

SpaceX successfully tested and launched one of its Starship prototypes, Serial Number 8, before it crashed in a fiery explosion as it attempted to land. The flight tested the Starship’s aerodynamic entry capabilities and it executed a ‘belly flop’, turning horizontally before righting itself at a lower altitude. SpaceX is pursuing an iterative design process, in which the company rapidly tests new spacecraft designs accepting higher risks of failure in order to achieve major technological developments.

China and Russia announced an expansion of their cooperation in space and related technologies during China’s mission to collect samples from the moon. Hong Kong-based military expert Liang Guoliang says, ‘China needs Russia’s deep-space experience’, while Russian research and its scientists could benefit from Chinese funding. They also plan to enhance compatibility between China’s BeiDou and Russia’s GLONASS navigation satellites, as alternatives to the US Global Positioning System.

Wired watchtower

The Australian government has accepted 186 of 190 unclassified recommendations of the recent review of Australia’s intelligence and security laws. A key recommendation includes keeping the cybercrime remit of the Australian Signals Directorate offshore. However, the government will also expand the surveillance powers of the Australian Federal Police—something not recommended by the review—stating that ‘the government disagrees with the review’s position that the AFP does not need powers to disrupt online offending’.

US government departments including Homeland Security, Treasury and Commerce, along with thousands of businesses, have been hit by a ‘highly sophisticated’ cyberattack believed to have been ‘directed by the Russian government’. The campaign used malicious code placed within a software update to target the customers of technology firm SolarWinds, allowing hackers to monitor organisations unnoticed for almost nine months. Given the scale of the attack, it’s expected to be some time before it’s known how many agencies and firms were affected and what information was taken.