The five-domains update

Sea state

China and Cambodia have held military naval drills for the first time in Cambodian waters. During the two-hour exercise, the Chinese navy’s Jinggang Shan amphibious landing warship and two patrol boats from the Royal Cambodian Navy established communications before practising coordinated navigation in different formations. This marks a significant step-up in the defence relationship between Phnom Penh and Beijing. The exercise has reignited US concerns about Beijing’s deepening military influence in the Indo-Pacific and the potential for Chinese warships to be staged at what is believed to be a new naval facility at the port of Ream in Cambodia’s neighbouring Preah Sihanouk province.

North Korea claims to have tested a nuclear-capable underwater drone designed to attack enemy ports and warships with nuclear weapons that could generate massive radioactive waves. The Haeil (Tsunami) drone cruised for more than 59 hours at a depth of 80 to 150 metres before its non-nuclear warhead was detonated at the target site in Hongwon Bay. The test followed the biggest field training exercise by the US and South Korea in years, and highlights the role of ‘suicide’ drones as a potential fixture of next-generation naval combat.

Flight path

The US has conducted retaliatory airstrikes against sites in eastern Syria in response to a suspected Iranian-made drone attack that killed a US contractor and injured six others. The precision airstrikes were directed at facilities occupied by groups linked to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and are believed to have killed 11 pro-Iranian militants. The US has warned of further strikes if its personnel are attacked again. Meanwhile, pro-Iranian factions in Syria say they have the capability to launch counterattacks if targeted.

Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden plan to unify their air defences in response to concerns stemming from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. They’ve signed a joint declaration of intent to enhance air force cooperation. The main goal of the initiative is to inaugurate a ‘mini NATO’ with around 250 modern frontline combat aircraft, guided by an air-defence operations concept embracing an integrated management structure, a flexible and sustainable support system, joint air situational awareness and collective training exercises. It is viewed as a foundation for a joint Nordic centre for air operations that could potentially encompass the US and Canada.

Rapid fire

A former Australian soldier has been charged with a war crime under Australian law for the alleged murder of an Afghan civilian in 2012 during an Australian Defence Force raid in Afghanistan. His arrest follows the ADF’s Afghanistan inquiry by the Office of the Special Investigator and investigations by the Australian Federal Police. This is the first such charge brought against a serving or former member of the Australian military out of actions in Afghanistan. Until now, there has been strong criticism of nations whose troops fought in Afghanistan for lack of action in response to war crimes allegations. The Australian investigation and the laying of this charge could set crucial precedents in accountability for war crimes.

Moscow has accused Azerbaijan of violating the 2020 Russia-brokered ceasefire that ended a six-week war with Armenia. In recent weeks, there’s been a rise in allegations of ceasefire violations along the Armenian-Azerbaijani border and increasing confrontation over Nagorno-Karabakh. Armenia has claimed from its capital, Yerevan, that Russian peacekeepers are failing to protect Armenians because Moscow is distracted by its war in Ukraine. Waning Russian influence has created space for the EU and US to play a greater role in negotiating a solution. However, tensions between Azerbaijan and Iran—which Azerbaiijan has accused of backing Armenia—add another layer of complexity to the conflict, posing a significant threat to security in the South Caucasus.

Final frontier

Australia is planning to develop a constellation of military space satellites that can talk to each other and with ground assets, according to a tender issued by the Department of Defence. The ‘request for information’ on the proposed data transport and relay network seeks ideas on how Defence can draw on multiple security domains to rapidly disseminate data. The system would need to be resilient against hacking. An Australian space-based military capability would improve the nation’s situational awareness in space and reduce dependency on overseas satellite networks. It could also complement Australia’s planned force of nuclear-powered submarines and improve air defences against hypersonic weapons.

The US Space Force has requested US$60 million over two years to fund its ‘tactically responsive space’ program in budget papers submitted last week. The initiative aims to develop the commercial space industry’s capacity to deploy payloads at short notice. This would allow the US to replace lost or damaged satellites during a conflict and make it costly for adversaries to deny access to space. A space force mission designated Victus Nox will test the requirements for the new rapid-response concept.

Wired watchtower

The British government has announced its intent to ban TikTok from all UK parliamentary devices and the wider parliamentary network. The decision has been made amid ongoing cybersecurity concerns about the safety of personal data on the Chinese-owned app which was the subject of last week’s US congressional hearing involving TikTok’s CEO. The US, Canada, Belgium and the European Commission have also banned the app from official devices, with Australia expected to follow.

The Department of Home Affairs has announced that a cyber and infrastructure security group will begin operations on 1 May. The group will be responsible for protecting Australia’s computer networks and enhancing cyber resilience. It will include delivering and implementing the government’s new cyber security strategy, which is under development. The group’s creation comes as cyberattacks are becoming more frequent and severe, as seen with the hacking of Optus and Medibank last year and of Latitude Financial this month.