The five-domains update

Sea state

Australian Anzac-class frigates Anzac, Ballarat and Parramatta transited through the South China Sea with replenishment vessel HMAS Sirius. It was the navy’s fourth transit of the area this year, after six trips in 2020, demonstrating the increased tempo of Australia’s operations in the region. All operations have steered clear of disputed zones, and have incorporated regional partners, including the United States, Japan and France. Defence says the deployments indicate ‘Australia’s resolve for an open, inclusive and resilient Indo-Pacific’.

A US Coast Guard cutter fired warning shots after 13 Iranian speedboats came within 130 metres of a US convoy entering the Strait of Hormuz on 10 May. Six US Coast Guard and Navy vessels were escorting guided missile submarine USS Georgia and the US Navy said they attempted de-escalation techniques including bridge-to-bridge radio transmissions prior to firing. This is the second US–Iran maritime incident in the last month after the US fired warning shots at Iranian vessels during a patrol in the Persian Gulf on 26 April.

Flight path

The first of the Royal Australian Air Force’s seven MQ-4C Triton drones on order from the US will arrive in Australia in 2024, a year later than expected. They’ve been delayed by a lack of hangar space, maintenance facilities and other supporting infrastructure at RAAF Bases Edinburgh and Tindal. This is the second major delay to the Triton acquisition after a ‘production pause’ in early 2020.

The US has deployed six additional B-52 long-range bombers and 12 Super Hornet fighter-bombers to Afghanistan to protect withdrawing US and coalition troops as intense fighting continues between Afghan government troops and the Taliban. Despite the fighting, Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley said the troop pull-out was going according to plan and should be completed no later than September. US air bases will be turned over to Afghanistan’s defence ministry and the US may continue supporting aircraft maintenance from outside the country.

Rapid fire

Defence has ended a $2 billion contract with Elbit Systems, an Israeli software company which was to provide a sophisticated battle management system to the Australian Army. The project, which dates back to 2005, was reportedly once the army’s highest priority project until concerns were raised about the security of highly classified data, though Elbit has rejected these concerns. Defence has yet to find a replacement for the system.

Indonesia has deployed 400 elite soldiers from Infantry Battalion 315, nicknamed ‘Satan’s forces’, to Papua after Brigadier General I Gusti Puta Danny Karya Nugraha, the head of military intelligence in the province, was killed on 26 April. Although the troops were sent to conduct what have been called peacekeeping operations, it remains unclear whether they will hunt down the rebels Indonesia regards as terrorists or not. The killing has further worsened tensions between people in the region and the Indonesian government. In response to the deployment, Indonesian human rights lawyer Veronica Koman said President Joko Widodo ‘is burning the bridge for a peaceful resolution to the conflict’.

Final frontier

On Sunday, remnants of a Chinese Long March 5B rocket crashed into the Indian Ocean near Maldives, following days of speculation over where the out-of-control rocket would land. This followed the re-entry of another Long March 5B, whose remnants damaged buildings in Ivory Coast last year. NASA administrator Bill Nelson questioned China’s safety standards, saying spacefaring nations must minimise the risks to people and property on earth of re-entries of space objects. China characterised US criticism as ‘hype’, denied wrongdoing and argued the damage risk was ‘extremely low’.

Air Vice-Marshal Catherine Roberts will be Australia’s first space commander. The Conspicuous Service Cross recipient, who has served for 35 years in the RAAF, will assume her new role as head of space division in 2022. ASPI’s Malcolm Davis argues a permanent ADF space command with formal career paths for space professionals will ‘lift Australia’s ability to manage both space capability acquisition and space policy development’. Australia’s space command will join others, including those of Canada, France, Japan, India and the UK.

Wired watchtower

Colonial Pipelines, a major US fuel pipeline operator, shut down its entire network following a ransomware attack on its back-office operations carried out by the cybergang DarkSide, exposing vulnerabilities of US critical energy infrastructure to cyberattacks. The pipeline supplies approximately 45% of the US east coast’s fuel and while US President Joe Biden has said he will speak with Russian President Vladimir Putin about the incident, but so far intelligence agencies have found no evidence that Russia is involved. Darkside claims it’s an apolitical group intent on making money and says it does not want to create problems for society.

A UNESCO report details rampant and escalating online violence against women journalists who are disproportionately targeted by networked groups propagating misogyny. The study examined the experiences of 901 journalists from 125 countries and found that trans women, lesbians, women of colour and women of Jewish or Islamic faith experienced the most severe online attacks. These findings mirror trends in politics, including a study showing how US Vice President Kamala Harris was targeted in a racist and sexist disinformation campaign.