The five-domains update

Sea state

The Russian navy says it repelled a drone attack in the bay of Sevastopol in the Crimean peninsula, where Moscow’s Black Sea Fleet is based. Russia claimed that all aerial and maritime drones were destroyed and that its ships only suffered minor damage. The same fleet stationed in the port was hit by an armed drone in August. Moscow has accused British specialists of assisting with the latest attack, though it has not provided any proof of its claims. The level of success of the attack is still unclear.

Japanese and US coastguards are training their Philippine counterparts in a continuation of similar drills conducted earlier this year. Japan has supplied a large patrol vessel for a towing exercise and will lead the training in arrest techniques, small-boat operation and onboard damage control. The aim of the exercises is to boost the Philippines’ maritime capabilities in the contested South China Sea, which remain outmatched by the better-equipped Chinese coastguard.

Flight path

Based on joint Australia–US decisions supported by a bilateral force posture working group, Royal Australian Air Force Base Tindal in the Northern Territory will be upgraded to accommodate US Air Force deployments of up to six nuclear-capable B-52 bombers. The planned works include a ‘squadron operations facility’, maintenance infrastructure and an expanded parking area to accommodate the B-52s. Despite concerns that upgrade and deployment of the bombers could fuel tensions with China, Ashley Townshend, an expert on Indo-Pacific strategic affairs, believes the move aligns with Australia’s strategic aims and will contribute to a stable regional order.

On Tuesday, the US Air Force began withdrawing its two permanent F-15C Eagle fighter squadrons from Kadena Air Base in Okinawa. It says a rotational force of newer and more advanced fighters will be deployed to fill the gap and maintain regional deterrence during the two-year phased withdrawal. The Pentagon is still determining whether it will stick to the current rotational model or eventually have squadrons permanently deployed to Kadena once again. The uncertainty has sparked concern among Republicans in Congress about a ‘tangible reduction in American forward combat power in the Indo-Pacific’.

Rapid fire

Up to 70 Australian Defence Force personnel will be deployed to the UK after Christmas to help train Ukrainian troops, and 30 additional Bushmaster protected mobility vehicles will be supplied to Ukraine. The deployment will support the British-led multinational training effort known as Operation Interflex. The additional Bushmasters bring the total number sent to Ukraine to 90, with Australia’s total financial support for Ukraine now reaching $655 million.

The US Army has begun evaluating its future main battle tank needs beyond the M1 Abrams. The SEPV4 is the latest upgrade of the Abrams and is now reportedly undergoing testing, but army leaders are starting to analyse next-generation combat vehicles as potential long-term replacements. The army is shaping many of its new requirements on facts gained from the war in Ukraine and other battlefields. By initiating early tank evaluations, the US hopes to be in a better position to determine the capabilities needed for its future armoured forces.

Final frontier

The Australian government has pledged to refrain from conducting kinetic anti-satellite weapons tests. Since the US first proposed the moratorium in April, Canada, New Zealand, Germany and Japan have signed onto the initiative, which aims to limit the build-up of space debris in the earth’s orbit. This comes after a UN resolution was introduced by the US last month banning such practices, which has faced pushback from China, which says it’s ‘opposed to any attempt to expand unilateral military advantage’.

NASA has convened a panel to investigate ‘unidentified aerial phenomena’ (more commonly known as unidentified flying objects or UFOs) amid a growing catalogue of unexplained sightings. The panel will focus on unclassified data and publicly release its findings in the middle of next year, and will run in parallel with investigations in the US Department of Defense’s newly established All-domain Anomaly Resolution Office. The US government is taking these reports seriously, noting that they are based on more than anecdotes and potentially represent an adversary’s breakthrough military technology.

Wired watchtower

The Australian Defence Department confirmed on Monday that the company that operates ForceNet, a communications platform contracted by Defence for use by current and former military and civilian personnel, was the target of a cyberattack. While it was initially reported that no data relating to the 40,000 personnel profiles hosted by ForceNet had been compromised, the ABC has indicated that ‘some private details’ including birth and enlistment dates may have been stolen. In response, Assistant Defence Minister Matt Thistlethwaite emphasised that, while no Defence websites or systems were breached, the department is reinforcing its cybersecurity.

US cybersecurity firm Mandiant has reported that a pro-China influence group, dubbed Dragonbridge, is attempting to aggravate political divisions in the US before next week’s midterm elections. The group has been spreading disinformation attributing known Chinese cyberattacks to US intelligence, spreading panic over an imminent ‘civil war’ and entreating potential voters to boycott the midterms. While Dragonbridge’s efforts appear to be more sophisticated than past Chinese-sponsored attempts at US election interference, they have reportedly had little effect on voters.