The five-domains update

Sea state

Angola has been revealed as the buyer of four Super Dvora Mk 3 patrol boats built by Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI). When the boats were ordered in 2015, IAI only stated that they were going to an undisclosed African country. The high-speed Super Dvora Mk3s will be ‘employed in coastal defence, exclusive economic zone protection and homeland security missions’. The Super Dvora class is currently in service with the navies of Israel, Sri Lanka and Myanmar.

HMAS Choules departed Sydney for New Caledonia to participate in Exercise Croix du Sud. The biennial French-led multinational exercise has 12 countries participating, making it the largest humanitarian assistance and disaster relief training exercise in the South Pacific. Australian–French relations seem especially warm at the moment. First there was French Prime Minister, Edouard Philippe’s attendance at the ANZAC Day ceremonies at Villers-Bretonneux last month in the company of Malcolm Turnbull and then the three-day visit to Australia by French President Emmanuel Macron earlier this month.

Her Majesty’s Naval Base Clyde (HMNB Clyde), the home of Britain’s nuclear deterrent, has turned 50. Sitting on the northern shore of Gare Loch roughly 50 kilometres from Glasgow, HMNB Clyde bases the Royal Navy’s four nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines, HM Submarines Vanguard (S28), Victorious (S29), Vigilant (S30) and Vengeance (S31). It’s also home to Britain’s fleet of nuclear-powered ‘hunter-killer’ submarines. The BBC outlines the history of this controversial naval base, which has attracted protests throughout its half century.

Flight path

China conducted its first sea training mission for its J‑20 stealth fighting jets on 10 May. The Chinese military didn’t provide details, but said the training was conducted in ‘actual war conditions’. Analysts noted that any potential conflict between China and the US will necessarily involve the sea domain, particularly in the South China Sea and Taiwan Strait. Only a day after the exercise, Chinese fighter jets and bombers circled Taiwan. According to RAND’s US–China military scorecard, last year China achieved parity in air superiority around the Taiwan Strait. Meanwhile, China’s deployment of missiles to the South China Sea at the beginning of this month prompted reporting that China is catching up to the US in the air domain. China’s improved missiles are a ‘cost efficient way’ of countering enemy aircraft and levelling the playing field.

The US Defense Department announced that it will increase its air support in Niger, even as it reduces its ground assets. The announcement follows the release of findings from a Pentagon investigation into the deaths of four US soldiers ambushed in Niger in October 2017 that found that air support arrived too late. The lack of an over-watching drone may also have been a factor. The US Air Force is in the midst of constructing Niger Air Base 201, a $110 million airbase including a drone launch pad that will support US ground forces across West Africa.

Rapid fire

The US military reiterated its support for the Lebanese armed forces despite strong gains by Hezbollah and its allies in Lebanon’s parliamentary elections. Hezbollah and its aligned parties—which won more than half the seats in Lebanon’s parliament—are considered a terrorist group in the US. Since 2006, the US has given Lebanon more than $1.5 billion in military and security assistance.

Relations between Nicaragua’s government and its army are fraying as anti-government protests in Managua escalate. As of 13 May, the death toll from protests against Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega stands at 51. The Nicaraguan Army—the most trusted state institution in Nicaragua—was deployed to control the popular protests. In an unexpected turn, the army has since distanced itself from President Ortega, claiming that it doesn’t have any ‘reason to repress anyone’.

The National Interest reported this week that the US Army is testing a new 6.8‑millimetre round. The bullet is much larger than the 5.56‑millimetre rounds currently in use across the force, and engineered to be significantly lighter than the alternative 7.62‑millimetre round. The bullet’s development has been matched with increased chamber pressure and new digital sights on the Army’s new automatic rifle, which guarantees a faster and more accurate bullet than ever before. It’s an important development amid calls for the production of a ‘leap-ahead rifle’ in less than two years.

Zero gravity

The UN Office for Outer Space Affairs promotes the development of peaceful space technologies for all countries. Thanks to its KiboCUBE project, Kenya has designed and deployed its very first nanosatellite. The CubeSat 1KUNS-PF is Kenya’s first piece of space hardware. Kenya intends to use this initial technology to test technologies leading to larger earth observation satellites. The satellite was developed by the University of Nairobi in collaboration with Japan’s Aerospace Exploration Agency.

In another giant leap for Elon Musk, the first stage of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 Block 5 rocket successfully landed back on earth. This brings human travel in space that little bit closer, as the latest version Block 5 rockets are designed to carry the Dragon spacecraft, and are expected to be able to fly up to 10 times without the need for any maintenance. NASA requires the Falcon 9 rocket to be tested seven times before people are allowed on board.

A little closer to earth, NASA and Uber have formed a partnership to test the transportation of the future in the sky. The Urban Air Mobility project aims to simulate the flight of small cars. Although this sounds like a scene from a sci-fi movie, the implications could be significant. The UN Development Programme (UNDP) estimates that by 2050 ‘more than two-thirds of the world’s population is projected to be living in urban areas’. That raises concerns about increased strains on public transport, infrastructure and power systems. New technologies may provide solutions to the challenges of urbanisation and population growth in major cities.

Wired watchtower

In Zimbabwe, there have been new calls to create a Cyber Security and Internet Court to deal with the rise in the number of cybercrimes. The Zimbabwe Information and Communication Technologies organisation made the call to raise awareness about the lack of legislators trained in cybersecurity. China is the only other country to have such a court: it established its cyber court late last year. International frameworks such as the Council of Europe’s Budapest Convention aim to harmonise national cybercrime laws. To date, 25 states from outside the Council of Europe have also ratified the convention, including Australia.

The White House announced the formation of an artificial intelligence task force. The task force’s purpose is unclear, as the announcement came with the stipulation that the White House wouldn’t seek to regulate or set an AI national strategy. Meanwhile, different sectors of the US Defence Department have been looking at how to develop AI to promote their own efforts: the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency wants AI image recognition, while the Air Force Research Laboratory is looking at AI and robotics for materials research.

Australia is taking steps towards greater regional cybersecurity cooperation with the launch of the Pacific Cyber Security Operational Network. The Australian-funded network aims to increase response capabilities in Pacific Island countries by bringing together computer emergency response teams and cybersecurity officials from those countries to share best practices and develop regional cyber resilience.