The five-domains update

Sea state

US company Anduril has announced a deal to build three large autonomous submarines in three years for the Royal Australian Navy. The vessels, which could have torpedo tubes and intelligence-gathering capabilities, will be built in Australia in partnership with local small to medium sized businesses. While this proposal may provide some complementary support for the RAN during the transition to nuclear-powered submarines, the three-year manufacturing program is ambitious. Any further delays in RAN submarine delivery will widen Australia’s capability gap in the region.

Almost four weeks after the sinking of the flagship cruiser Moskva, another Russian vessel has been struck in the Black Sea. A Ukrainian-operated Turkish Bayraktar TB2 drone has hit a Serna-class landing craft at Snake Island, engulfing the vessel in flames. Two Russian Navy Raptor-class patrol boats were also reportedly destroyed earlier this month. The continued destruction of key assets by Ukrainian forces has placed Russia’s self-proclaimed world-class navy under great strain in the Black Sea.

Flight path

The cost of a single fighter jet under the US Air Force’s Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) program is expected to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars, according to USAF Secretary Frank Kendall. NGAD is being designed as a family of systems that includes manned aircraft and autonomous ones. The program could potentially strengthen US aerial capabilities in the Indo-Pacific by the 2030s.

A Royal Australian Air Force KC-30A tanker has refuelled a Japanese Air Self-Defense Force Mitsubishi F-2 fighter for the first time. The tanker was deployed to Japan in April as a part of a flight test engineering program, which also featured engineers testing mechanical combability between aircraft in a range of configurations and conditions. The successful air-to-air refuelling marks a new milestone in Australian military relations with Japan and signals the potential for further interoperability exercises.

Rapid fire

The Russian military paraded through Moscow on 9 May as part of annual Victory Day events that commemorate the Soviet Union’s defeat of Nazi Germany. The parade has been a major showcase of Russian military power every year since 2008, featuring Russia’s most advanced weapons systems. This year, the parade included two T-14 Armata tanks and the T-90M, both of which have not seen significant operational use yet, though some T-90s have been lost in Ukraine. Some equipment was noticeably absent, such as the T-80BVM tanks (one of Russia’s newer generation battle tanks), which are largely engaged in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

An advanced force of 350 Danish soldiers, along with nearly 300 vehicles and other pieces of military equipment, has been deployed to Latvia to bolster NATO’s Baltic posture. In addition to armoured and mechanised infantry, the deployment includes logistic, reconnaissance, intelligence and information operation specialists. The remaining 400 members of the 750-strong battalion are to be deployed next year and will form part of a Latvian mechanised infantry brigade. The Danish deployment follows NATO requests in late March and reflects growing apprehension about Russian military adventurism encroaching on NATO members.

Final frontier

Last week, the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency announced that its nuclear thermal propulsion spacecraft project is advancing to the next stage. The Demonstration Rocket for Agile Cislunar Operations, or DRACO, project started a year ago when DARPA reached an agreement with General Atomics to develop a preliminary design for a rocket engine reactor. The next part of the project will focus on developing and presenting a demonstration of nuclear thermal rocket engine operation in orbit by 2026. If successful, DRACO could lead to the emergence of faster spacecraft and start a new era of space exploration.

A new Atlantic Council report warns that the US might not be able to maintain its space superiority over the next decade, partly due to a failure to quickly adopt small-satellite technologies. The small-satellite revolution has fuelled a thriving space economy, but the US national space security program has yet to adapt. In order for the US not to be outpaced by China, the report urged substantial cultural, doctrinal and operational reforms to the US government’s relationship with the commercial space industry.

Wired watchtower

Microsoft has reported that hackers aligned with the Russian government have conducted ‘hundreds of cyberattacks’ against Ukrainian targets since February, suggesting ‘hacking has played a bigger role in the conflict than previously known’. In addition to compromising Ukraine’s public information sources, Russia-affiliated hackers have relentlessly pursued ‘critical infrastructure’, potentially generating ‘second-order effects on the government, military, economy and people’. However, Microsoft anticipates that the worst might be yet to come, warning that ‘Russian actors may be tasked to [conduct attacks] … against targets outside of Ukraine’.

Authorities in Ethiopia successfully neutralised a series of cyberattacks targeting the country’s national institutions last week. The hackers’ primary target was the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, an operation that could potentially have triggered flash floods downstream. The Ethiopian Information Network Security Agency claimed the attacks were ‘sponsored by countries that envy the peace and development endeavours of Ethiopia’ but declined to provide further detail. However, allegations of Egyptian involvement may lead to a further breakdown of relations between the two African nations.