The five-domains update

Sea state

HMS Queen Elizabeth has re-entered the South China Sea despite warnings from China. The ship leads Britain’s carrier strike group on its global tour designed to showcase post-Brexit ‘Global Britain’ through more than 70 engagement operations, including 40 visits to nations such as Japan, Singapore and South Korea, and various bilateral and multi-navy exercises. Type-45 destroyer HMS Diamond completed an electronic warfare drill with Australia, while other strike group vessels sailed alongside New Zealand’s navy en route to the Five Power Defence Arrangements exercise Bersama Gold 21 with Australia, Malaysia, New Zealand and Singapore.

Russia says it has successfully test-launched a Tsirkon hypersonic cruise missile from the surfaced Yasen-class nuclear-powered submarine Severodvinsk for the first time. The missile was previously tested in July when it was fired from the frigate Admiral Gorshkov and successfully hit a land target. According to Naval News, Tsirkon tests will continue next year before the missile is rolled out for use across the Russian navy from 2022.

Flight path

On Monday, 56 Chinese aircraft entered Taiwan’s air defence zone near the disputed Pratas islands in the largest daily incursion yet, bringing the total number of People’s Liberation Army Air Force aircraft that have conducted flyovers of the zone since last Friday to nearly 150. The largest group included 34 J-16 fighters, 12 H-8 bombers, and two each of Su-30 fighters, KQ-200 anti-submarine patrol planes, and KJ-500 airborne early warning and control aircraft. The latest incursion came amid increasing Taiwan–China tensions and after the US condemned Beijing’s ‘provocative military activity’ on Sunday.

The US Air Force has announced plans to permanently base F-35s in Europe for the first time, marking the occasion by reactivating its 495th Fighter Squadron nicknamed ‘the Valkyries’. The squadron’s first aircraft are scheduled to arrive at UK Royal Air Force Base Lakenheath later this year, eventually growing to a force of 27 F-35s and 60 pilots. NATO and US European Commander General Tod Wolters previously predicted that the US and NATO allies could have up to 450 F-35s based in Europe by 2030.

Rapid fire

Tensions between Iran and Azerbaijan are high after Iran launched a ‘massive military exercise’ near the Azerbaijani border last Friday, in what it says is a response to Azerbaijan’s hosting of ‘archenemy’ Israeli troops and its ‘three brothers’ drills with Turkey and Pakistan. Azerbaijan denies the presence of the Israeli military in the country, but Israeli weapons—including drones, howitzers and helicopters—were instrumental in its 2020 victory in the Nagorno-Karabakh war with Armenia. Estimates suggest that 60% of all Azeri military armaments were supplied by Israel.

The UK military’s beleaguered Ajax armoured cavalry program is now the subject of multiple inquiries, including by the Ministry of Defence, the Infrastructure and Projects Authority and the National Audit Office. Once touted as the cornerstone of a new era of high-tech warfare to facilitate ‘deep reconnaissance strikes’, Ajax has been beset by ‘systemic issues’, including noise and excessive vibration causing ‘hearing damage’ to crews. It remains to be seen if the Ajax program is tenable.

Final frontier

The US Federal Aviation Administration is reviewing allegations of serious safety concerns at Blue Origin, Jeff Bezos’s rocket company, after 21 employees published an open letter exposing both a toxic culture of sexism and pressures to increase launches that ‘were seriously compromising flight safety’. The letter also claims that company executives keep lists of ‘troublemakers or agitators’ in order to suppress dissent. The allegations surrounding its workplace safety culture have unnerved some observers before the company’s next scheduled launch on 12 October.

American actor William Shatner will be the oldest person to go to space when he blasts off aboard a Blue Origin rocket next week. The famous Star Trek captain was personally invited by Bezos (a huge Star Trek fan who cameoed in the 2016 film) for the 10-minute flight to the Karman Line. Captain Kirk is not the first Star Trek cast member to enter space; the late James Doohan’s (Montgomery ‘Scotty’ Scott’s) ashes were smuggled aboard the International Space Station in 2008.

Wired watchtower

Facebook and its subsidiaries Messenger, WhatApp and Instagram experienced a six-hour global outage on Tuesday, with staff locked out of internal systems preventing them from fixing the problem quickly. Facebook released a statement attributing the disruption to backbone routers interrupting the platform’s communication. This latest outage raises questions about the vulnerability of communications platforms and the monopolisation of the internet by a select few companies.

UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has announced plans for the country to launch a £5 billion digital warfare centre, jointly run by the Government Communications Headquarters and the Ministry of Defence. The announcement came in the wake of a series of cyberattacks carried out by Russia, and the centre will be permitted to carry out offensive attacks on the critical infrastructure of states that have attacked the UK. These capabilities, however, will only be used under limited circumstances, the government says. The centre will focus efforts on infiltrating terrorism networks and paedophile rings and is expected to employ thousands of cyber analysts and hackers by 2030.