The five-domains update

Sea state

The US Navy plans reactivated its 2nd Fleet in response to a more assertive Russia. The fleet was disbanded in 2011 for cost saving and structural reasons. US Navy Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral John Richardson, made it clear that the move is intended to counter Russia: ‘Our National Defense Strategy makes clear that we’re back in an era of great power competition as the security environment continues to grow more challenging and complex.’

Australia and Indonesia joined forces on a coordinated maritime patrol exercise called AUSINDO CORPAT 2018. HMAS Broome and Indonesian vessels KRI Layang and Kakap departed Darwin on 16 April and sailed to Indonesia over nine days. The eighth iteration of AUSINDO CORPAT aimed to enhance the ability of both countries to combat illicit activity in a shared maritime territory.

Sea Shield 18, Romania’s premier military exercise, is underway in the Black Sea. More than 2,300 troops from Bulgaria, Greece, the United Kingdom, Spain, the United States, Turkey and Ukraine are participating alongside a vast contingent from the Romanian Navy. Two Romanian frigates, two corvettes, two missile-carrying ships and two sea dredgers are leading the maritime element of the NATO exercise. NATO has been enhancing its presence in the Black Sea since the Ukrainian crisis in 2013.

Flight path

Pakistan tested its joint air and land capabilities in a Central Command exercise over the weekend. The exercise was the culmination of a process to integrate firepower assets in the two domains. Each of Pakistan’s armed branches—air, land and naval—is highly autonomous. The air force has tended to be particularly poorly integrated into military planning. With last year’s increase in defence spending and air force procurement, the exercise suggests that Pakistan is placing a renewed emphasis on air power.

The Diplomat did an extensive analysis of a mysterious Chinese stealth bomber that was featured on a prominent Chinese aerospace magazine last month. The article argues that the pictured plane isn’t the highly secret H‑20 project, but rather the so-called JH-XX, said to combine supersonic, stealthy deep-strike capabilities with long range. Such technology is distant though, so it’s possible that the magazine was deliberately obscuring information about the more imminent H‑20.

The US granted asylum to Afghanistan’s first female air force pilot. Nilofar Rahmani was trained by the US and qualified as a pilot in 2013. She fled to the US in 2015 after Taliban death threats. Afghanistan had only two female pilots. Low wages, harassment and a lack of facilities contribute to the ongoing gender imbalance. Rahmani wants to continue flying, helping the US with its own pilot shortage.

Rapid fire

Estonia is undertaking its largest military exercise since restoring its independence in 1991. Involving 15,000 troops from 16 states, Exercise Siil will demonstrate the readiness of Estonian reserves. In March, more than 20,000 Russians participated in military exercises in the three regions adjacent to the Baltic States: Kaliningrad, Pskov and Leningrad oblasts. In April, Russia fired shipborne missiles over Latvia’s exclusive economic zone. However,this piece from The National Interest questions the exercise’s size.

More than 50 UAE troops landed on Yemen’s strategic Socotra Island on Wednesday without the knowledge of the Yemeni government. Socotra’s airport and seaport were seized, and Yemen’s prime minister and 10 other ministers were prevented from leaving the island. Prime Minister Ahmed Bin Dagr claimed that the deployment was an ‘unjustified’ assault on Yemen’s sovereignty, a rare criticism of its military ally in the war against Houthi rebels. The Emiratis have long been expanding their influence in southern Yemen, backing anti-government separatists in southern Yemen since January, while the UAE flag and images of the UAE Crown Prince adorn many official buildings in Socotra.

The US has also proven to be a controversial ally in Yemen. This report by the New York Times reveals that a dozen US Army Green Berets have been stationed on the Saudi border without congressional authorisation. The revelation comes amid criticisms that the Trump administration has repeatedly blurred the lines between train-and-equip missions and combat.

Zero gravity

In today’s budget release we can expect the government to commit $50 million to Australia’s new space agency. Australia’s 2016 Defence White Paper highlights the importance of space-based satellite systems to policing and security agencies. Given the range of critical data that satellites provide, Kim Carr argues that there’s significant risk in relying on foreign technologies. Currently 24 countries have either a national space agency or a space research institute.

Are there laws in space? A group of international experts are creating a manual of how international law applies to space operations. The Woomera manual on the international law of military space operations aims to clarify how the law of armed conflict would apply to warfare in space. As warfare domains expand, so too does the need for international regulations, as seen by the creation of a similar manual for cyber operations in 2013, the Tallinn manual.

The US Air Force will procure new satellites from Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman to improve its missile-warning capabilities. The new satellites will replace the current space-based infrared system. The Air Force will use ‘rapid procurement authorities’ to speed the acquisition process. This reveals an awareness in US policymaking of the need to respond to growing challenges in space. As private companies such as SpaceX continue to develop rockets, satellites and space technologies at a much faster pace than nation-states, the space race is now between companies, not just countries.

Wired watchtower

Locked Shields 2018, the world’s largest live-fire cyber defence exercise, took place in Estonia last week under the auspices of the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence. The exercise featured parallels with actual Russian cyber threats, such as when Latvia’s 4G cellular network was disrupted while Russia conducted naval exercises nearby, as well as recent Russian attacks on the US power grid.

A Canadian government memo obtained by the Globe and Mail accuses Moscow and Beijing of attempting to compromise Canada’s critical infrastructure. The 2016 memo doesn’t go into detail but says that cyberattacks for strategic reasons are ‘focused on gaining access and control of key assets’. It continues, ‘For example, Russia and China have compromised vital cyber systems in Canadian critical infrastructure, placing the safety and security of Canadians at risk.’ The Russian embassy in Ottawa claimed that these ‘groundless allegations’ are part of a conspiracy to promote a ‘Russophobic narrative’.

Implementing cybersecurity strategies involves costs, particularly in ensuring that technologies are kept up-to-date and secure, and in ensuring there’s technical expertise to manage critical ICT systems and data. Equally there’s a cost for not having adequate security measures in place. AIG’s ‘value-at-risk modelling’ project analyses the costs a business would incure if it were victim to a data breach or ransomware attack. The project also analyses how investing in different security measures can reduce potential losses.