The five-domains update

Sea state

Australia is taking part in the world’s largest international maritime warfare exercise, US-led RIMPAC. This year, 26 nations are participating. The Royal Australia Navy’s commitment to RIMPAC 2022 includes 1,600 personnel, three ships and possibly a Collins-class submarine. Australia will also participate in the Pacific Dragon and Pacific Vanguard naval exercises with Japan, South Korea and the US. The ramping up of Australia’s capabilities and regional presence is part of a multilateral effort to ‘promote a free and open Indo-Pacific’ in light of China’s expansive ambitions in the region.

The Guardian-class patrol boats gifted to Pacific island nations by Australia as part of the $2.1 billion Pacific Maritime Security Program have been found to have serious defects, including carbon monoxide leaks. While shipbuilder Austal and the Defence Department plan to repair the defects, the faulty patrol boats may erode trust among Australia’s Pacific partners, at a time when Australia is increasingly threatened by China’s push into the region.

Flight path

Four American B-2 stealth bombers have landed at Royal Australian Air Force Base Amberley in Queensland. The bombers are visiting as part of the enhanced air cooperation initiative between the US and Australia that aims to improve interoperability between their air forces. The US Air Force says the deployment also exhibits the continued ‘readiness and lethality of [America’s] long-range penetrating strike force’. The exercise demonstrates both the ongoing efforts to strengthen the Australia–US alliance and the US’s desire to retain a potent military force in the region.

Last week, the US Navy revealed that a Super Hornet aboard the USS Harry S. Truman was blown off the aircraft carrier’s flight deck, reportedly due to unexpectedly stormy conditions. In such situations, standard practice is for unsecured equipment to be chained to the flight deck to prevent premature disembarkations. The navy is reviewing ways to recover the US$75-million aircraft. The incident is a reminder of the vulnerability of military assets to weather events that are likely to become more extreme due to climate change.

Rapid fire

The US is sending four more M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, or HIMARS, to Ukraine. They’re part of a US$400 million package that includes military equipment and supplies like tactical vehicles, demolition munitions, counter-battery systems and spare parts. The eight HIMARS already received by Ukraine have been particularly useful in destroying Russian ammunition depots in the Donbas region, where the fighting has turned towards an artillery-based war of attrition.

The US Marine Rotational Force—Darwin has joined the Australian Army and Royal Australian Air Force for Exercise Koolendong, which began this week in the Northern Territory and will run until 2 August. The drills are designed to simulate a response to a regional security crisis and will include elements of a combined joint littoral combat operation. Troops and vehicles will move from Darwin to Broome in Western Australia to ‘replicate the long distances and austere environments we might operate in throughout the Indo-Pacific’, a US Marines spokesperson said.

Final frontier

The US Space Force has started drafting a new strategy for procuring services for medium and heavy rocket launches following a fresh push by the US House Armed Services Committee. The space force had awarded five-year contracts to United Launch Alliance and SpaceX for more than 30 planned launches between 2022 and 2027, but those contracts are set to end in 2024. The signing of new deals will allow the force to proceed with planned launches and to test new capabilities.

South Korea announced plans to invest $871 million to develop more facilities at the Naro Space Center, following the successful launch of the nation’s first domestically developed rocket from the centre, which is on an island in the south of the country, on 21 June. An attempt to launch a satellite into orbit in October was unsuccessful, but the recent success has sparked renewed government interest. The successful test and new funds will significantly enhance South Korea’s bid to establish a comprehensive independent space program.

Wired watchtower

Cybersecurity firm SentinelOne recently published analysis suggesting that state-backed Chinese hackers are targeting Russian government agencies at an increasing rate. The research found continued efforts by the Tonto Team APT group, a suspected Chinese state-sponsored cyberespionage group, to compromise Russian entities using malicious documents that exploit system vulnerabilities. These espionage activities highlight the geopolitical complexity of relations between the two countries, despite Beijing’s public support of Moscow and their ‘no limits’ partnership.

The British Army confirmed on Sunday that its official Twitter and YouTube accounts had been hacked. The name, profile photo, banner picture and description of the army’s Twitter page were altered to promote a non-fungible token collection dubbed The Possessed. On the army’s YouTube channel, all videos were deleted and the name was changed to resemble an investment firm called Ark Invest. The two accounts were then used to promote NFT scams and cryptocurrencies. Both accounts were restored on Sunday evening and the army reported on Twitter that an investigation was underway.