The five-domains update

Sea state

HMAS Anzac has deployed to Southeast Asia supporting the international effort to enforce UN Security Council sanctions on North Korea. The lead ship of the Royal Australian Navy’s six Anzac-class frigates will participate in two major interoperability exercises: Bersama Shield between Australia, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore and the United Kingdom, and Exercise Lumbas between the RAN and the Philippine Navy.

Australians could see changes to these and other long-running continuous engagements in the region following the release of the Defence Strategic Review (DSR). The review says major exercises must ‘be informed by and reflect Australia’s strategic, operational and preparedness requirements’. The goal is to ensure that exercises ‘build preparedness including minimum viable improvements in key areas’. That will now include a strong focus on deterrence. Changes may start from 2024, when the Anzacs will be equipped with Naval Strike Missiles giving their armament greater range and lethality.

Flight Path

A leaked US military assessment has revealed that China is rapidly improving its ability to target US warships and regional military bases to make it harder for the Americans to intervene in the event of an invasion of Taiwan. China’s imminent deployment of high-altitude spy drones, capable of flying at three times the speed of sound, would substantially increase its surveillance capabilities. That could provide real-time mapping data to improve the accuracy of missile strikes, and other quality intelligence. The assessment reveals more about China’s spy balloons and also raises concerns about Taiwan’s vulnerability to early Chinese aerial dominance in the event of an invasion.

The Royal Australian Air Force has acquired three Defence Deployable Air Traffic Management and Control Systems (DDATMCS) to bolster its expeditionary capability and airspace management. These systems manage en-route air traffic and facilitate swift deployment through air, land, or sea for short-term operations, such as humanitarian aid and disaster relief. The DDATMCS technology ensures the safe regulation of airspace and airfields during war or disaster, particularly when in areas where there is no infrastructure, or where infrastructure had been damaged.

Rapid Fire

The DSR sets new force structure priorities for the Army, which will now be ‘optimised for littoral operations in our northern land and maritime spaces and provide a long-range strike capability’. This restructure is deemed necessary for the Army to support an ‘integrated force’ operating across the land, sea, air, space and cyber domains. Efforts to create an ‘amphibious-capable combined-arms land system’ in Australia’s north may involve deeper integration between the Australian Army and the US Marines’ newly established littoral regiments which are part of Marine Rotational Force-Darwin.

Meanwhile, Ukraine has received the US-made Patriot surface-to-air guided missiles Washington agreed to send last October. The truck-mounted launching system targets enemy aircraft, ballistic missiles and cruise missiles and consists of eight launchers that can hold up to four missile interceptors each, a ground radar, a control station and a generator. The capability should provide a major boost to Kyiv ahead of its planned counter-offensive in which some 40,000 soldiers are expected to take part.

Final Frontier

US Space Command has signed an enhanced memorandum of understanding with Australia’s Defence Space Command that ‘deepens military cooperation in the space domain’. The non-legally binding agreement seeks to improve interoperability and coordination between the US and Australia in space with the collective aim of maintaining freedom of action there. Key focus areas reportedly include force development, combined training, academic and professional education opportunities, modernisation and future capabilities development, and enhanced information sharing. This agreement comes alongside US attempts to engage with other allies including Italy and Peru to help maintain a safe space environment as threats there grow more potent.

North Korea has reportedly built its first military spy satellite that its leader, Kim Jong Un, says would enable it to use preemptive military force. Un said a constellation of such satellites was necessary to strengthen his country’s intelligence capabilities, especially to counter ‘threats’ from the US and South Korea. As North Korea endeavours to advance its space program, the US has bolstered its military presence with the activation of US Space Forces Korea which will provide warning of missile attacks and improve satellite communications.

Wired Watchtower

A leaked US intelligence report claims that China is building cyber weapons to hijack enemy satellites and control critical communications in wartime. The weapons would disable enemy surveillance or communications satellites by mimicking signals received from their operators or causing them to malfunction during pivotal moments. Rapid developments highlight the importance China is placing on information surveillance and control in the event of war. Taiwan is seeking to build a resilient communications infrastructure that could withstand such attacks from China.

The Quad countries of US, Australia, Japan and India are aiming to create a system of information-sharing on cyber attacks that target critical infrastructure. This would enable cyber sections of all four governments to immediately share information with each other on cyber attacks, helping develop better defence mechanisms. This builds on the countries’ 2022 commitment to enhance cyber cooperation and relates to the call in Australia’s DSR for much stronger cyber capabilities. The review recognised cyber and information threats as one of the government’s five strategic priorities.