The five-domains update

Sea state

The United States has rescinded an invitation to China to participate in the biennial Rim of the Pacific exercise. The move is in response to Beijing’s continued militarisation of disputed islands in the South China Sea. A Pentagon spokesman described China’s behaviour as ‘inconsistent with the principles and purposes of the RIMPAC exercise’ and called for China to remove the ‘military systems immediately and to reverse course on the militarisation of disputed South China Sea features’.

The International Maritime Organization has approved a joint US–Russian proposal to regulate shipping in the Bering Strait. The proposal aims to reduce the risks of collision at sea by demarking six two-way routes across the Bering Strait to help ships avoid the numerous shoals, reefs and islands in the region. Reduced sea ice due to climate change is opening new trade routes, and both the US and Russia have observed a steady increase in Arctic shipping activity over the last 10 years.

ASPI’s 2018–2019 Cost of Defence budget brief finds that this year’s Australian defence spending equals $99,606,202 per day. The report examines how the budget is allocated as Australia faces a deteriorating strategic outlook. Major chapters in the report include analysis of the defence industry and the much talked about Naval Shipbuilding Plan.

Flight path

US Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said that Russian’s highly advanced S‑400 surface-to-air missiles—which China recently acquiredcould shoot down the USAF’s revitalised JSTARS aircraft on day one of a conflict. Testifying before the Senate appropriations committee, Wilson rejected lawmakers’ plan for 17 upgraded JSTARS aircraft. She’s pushing instead for an advanced battle management system, command-and-control technology that integrates multiple domains—land, air, drones and space. Russia is working on its next generation S‑500 air defence missile system.

For the first time China openly discussed its advances in stealth technology. The state-owned Global Times reported that the PLA had successfully tested radar cross-section technology—a measure of detectibility—on fifth-generation aircraft like the J‑20. The J‑20 is regarded as being far stealthier than Russia’s equivalent, the SU-57. The new technology could be used to make earlier generation aircraft more difficult to detect.

The US has expanded the geographical reach of its drone operations, stationing Reaper drones at Larisa Air Force base in Greece while the drones’ usual African bases undergo repairs. The Reapers are unarmed and will be used mainly for surveillance. The move may upset Turkey, which has had tense relations with the US since Turkey’s 2016 failed coup.

Rapid fire

Egypt’s armed forces have been criticised by Human Rights Watch for the widespread and wanton destruction of homes, buildings and farms in North Sinai as part of its counter-terrorism efforts against IS. Since 2014, the Egyptian government has sought to evacuate a 79‑square-kilometre security buffer zone—including the entire city of Rafah—along its border with Gaza. It has displaced close to 80,000 people. The evictions have intensified in recent months, extending well beyond the designated zone. Defeating Islamist militants and restoring stability is a core pledge by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi as he begins a second term.

An Amnesty International report found that women rescued from Boko Haram by Nigerian security forces were systematically abused. It details forced relocations of civilians to government-controlled cities or satellite camps, where hundreds died of starvation. In 2017, Nigerian Vice President Yemi Osinbajo ordered a review of the military’s compliance with its human rights obligations, but the report was never made public.

Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev’s recent visit to Washington was the first meeting between the two heads of state since 2002. US–Uzbek military cooperation is increasingly close: Trump and Mirziyoyev called for greater cooperation in Afghanistan, and Tashkent hosted a major security conference on Afghanistan earlier this year, which was attended by US Under Secretary for Political Affairs Thomas Shannon Jr. Amid claims of a deepening IS presence in Afghanistan, Uzbekistan’s Termez–Mazar-i Sharif bridge provides a strategic supply route for US forces into Afghanistan.

Zero gravity

The changing nature of warfare, which now includes the cyber and space domains, is generating greater uncertainty and unpredictability for military planners. The US Department of Defence made a bold statement that it aims to make its military ‘more lethal in outer space and cyberspace, at sea, on land, and in the air’. This can be seen as a reaction to China’s developments in all military domains, including developing weaponised satellite systems.

With the development of disruptive technologies such as autonomous systems and drones, the internet of things and cyber capabilities, high-speed connectivity is more important than ever, particularly in military technologies. Satellites are vital to military intelligence gathering, visual imaging and instantaneous communications.

At the recent UK Air Power Association’s Defence Space 2018 conference, the Royal Air Force outlined its plans to develop satellite technologies to develop ‘military resilience’. This follows the recent decision that the Royal Air Force will take control of the UK’s military space operations.

The US Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES) collects data and monitors weather events, but it needs a check-up on its own temperature. It has been reported that there are problems with the cooling system of the GOES‑17 satellite, which is interfering with its infrared observations. This could affect the satellite’s ability to provide accurate weather forecasting data.

Wired watchtower

Vietnam’s proposed cybersecurity law is creating concerns in the US. Vietnam’s cybersecurity law would ban anti-government propaganda and implement a new data localisation rule that would require any data collected about Vietnamese citizens to be stored and processed locally. Data localisation rules are controversial—those against data localisation see it as a barrier to the free flow of information. But those who support data localisation, such as China and Russia, see it as a way of making foreign companies comply with local data laws.

Banks continue to be an attractive target for cyberattacks because hackers can cause severe financial damage. Recently, Dutch bank ABN Amro was subject to a large DDoS attack that caused its website server to slow. Bangladesh’s central bank lost about $80 million in a cyberattack, with the stolen money reportedly being transferred to the Philippines. American financial service industry leaders point the finger at the lack of IT professionals in the banking sector, and the lack of coordination between the government and private sector, as factors that leave banks vulnerable to cyberattacks.

Telecommunications infrastructure provider Cisco said that Russia could be preparing to launch a massive cyberattack against Ukraine. According to the company, at least 500,000 Ukrainian routers had been compromised. Though cyberattack attribution is notoriously difficult and rarely certain, Cisco says it is highly probable Russia is behind the router compromise. Since the Crimea invasion in 2014, Russia has been blamed for repeated cyberattacks against Ukraine.