The five-domains update

Sea state

China’s People’s Liberation Army announced fresh military drills near Taiwan on Monday, a day after concluding its largest-ever exercises in six designated areas encircling the island. The PLA’s Eastern Theatre Command said the new drills would focus on anti-submarine and sea-assault operations. Live-fire military exercises were staged in response to last week’s visit to Taipei by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. In talks with visiting US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman on Monday, Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong called for ‘restraint and de-escalation‘ on China’s part.

On Friday, Austal Australia announced the delivery of the second of eight evolved Cape-class patrol boats to the Royal Australian Navy. Austal CEO Paddy Gregg said that the 58-metre aluminium monohull vessels brought the navy more capability than the original Cape class and that the project further strengthened Australia’s sovereign shipbuilding capability.

Flight path

China’s aggressive retaliation for the Pelosi visit to Taiwan featured unprecedented demonstrations by the PLA Air Force. The exercises, designed to intimidate Taiwan, included multiple waves of aircraft simulating a large-scale ‘island attack campaign’. More than 60 jets participated in Sunday’s exercises and at least 20 briefly crossed over the median line in the Taiwan Strait—an unofficial line separating Chinese and Taiwanese airspace—further raising global concerns over Taiwan’s security.

Last week, the US and UK grounded their entire fleets of F-35 joint strike fighters fearing ejector seat malfunctions. A routine inspection in April revealed that magnesium power was missing from an ejection apparatus, an oversight traced back to a manufacturing fault. Israel also temporarily grounded its F-35s, impacting air operations in the Gaza Strip.

Rapid fire

Australia, Japan and Singapore have this year for the first time joined the US and Indonesia in their Garuda Shield training and interoperability exercise, which runs in Indonesia for two more days. A further nine nations are observing the amphibious operations, urban terrain training and command post simulations alongside exercises in the sea and air domains. The US has tagged the exercise ‘Super Garuda Shield’, saying it enhances efforts to build cooperation for a free and open Indo-Pacific as China’s expands it military presence in the region.

As part of a $75 million upgrade, Australia’s Bushmaster protected mobility vehicles are set to be fitted with electronic warfare systems. The modifications are expected to be complete by late 2025 and will provide Australia’s land forces with enhanced capabilities to monitor and coordinate electronic environments and neutralise adversary electronics. Minister for Defence Industry Pat Conroy said these capabilities would improve Australia’s ability to deter, deny and defeat threats against Australia and its interests.

Final frontier

SpaceX has confirmed that it will send a team to recover the three pieces of debris from one of its launches that fell in New South Wales over the past month. This is the first major fall of space junk reported to have landed in Australia since the 1979 plunge of Skylab debris into the Indian Ocean and across Western Australia, for which NASA was fined $400 for littering. While the SpaceX debris appears to have caused negligible damage on the ground, the incident follows a near miss when debris from the uncontrolled re-entry of the first stage of China’s Long March 5B rocket landed just metres away from residential areas in Indonesia and Malaysia. The Space Liability Convention, adopted in 1972, states that countries from which objects launch are liable for any damage caused by the object, though it has only been used once, in 1978. These recent cases highlight the growing relevance of this convention as space activities intensify.

Last week, Chinese state media reported the successful launch of a highly classified reusable spacecraft, speculated to be a spaceplane capable of space transport missions. The purpose of the unmanned spacecraft is not clear, though its role may be similar to that of the US Air Force’s Boeing X-37B, which is believed to be used for the testing of military and surveillance technologies.

Wired watchtower

Several Taiwanese government websites were hit with distributed denial-of-service attacks during the Pelosi visit. The attacks overwhelmed the websites with traffic and caused an outage. The following day, the systems of some 7-Eleven outlets were hacked to display messages saying Pelosi should leave Taiwan. It appears likely that the cyberactivity originated in China to demonstrate its hybrid warfare capabilities.

The US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency and the Australian Cyber Security Centre released their list of the top malware strains of 2021. Many have been in use for at least five years and are evolving as defences against them become more sophisticated. The most prolific users are cybercriminals who use the malware to deliver ransomware or steal personal and financial information. The agencies’ recommendations to security teams include updating software, enforcing multi-factor authentication, and securing and monitoring potentially risky services.