The five-domains update

Sea state

Ethiopia is planning to build a navy, despite having no direct access to the coast. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announced the plan at a briefing with heads of the country’s National Defense Force, saying, ‘We must strengthen our capacity for [a] naval force in the future’. Ethiopia has been investing heavily in port infrastructure. It has agreed to develop Port Sudan on the Red Sea and has swapped shares in state-owned ports, airlines and telecommunications with neighbouring Djibouti. A landlocked country having a navy isn’t unusual; Bolivia, Mongolia and Rwanda all maintain a small naval service.

China is leading the development of drone technology by building robo-boats. Video from late May shows a swarm of 56 small unmanned surface vehicles manoeuvring in the South China Sea. While the vessels are aren’t armed at this stage, the primary purpose of the test was to demonstrate how the PLA envisages using a swarming autonomous weapon system. By holding this world-first technology demonstration in the South China Sea, China is sending a clear message to the United States that it won’t back down from its ownership claims in the region.

Exercise Baltic Operations (BALTOPS) kicked off in the Baltic Sea on 1 June and will run for two weeks. The 46th iteration of the premier maritime-focused exercise in the Baltic region brings together 16 participating nations and will involve around 5,000 personnel, 60 aircraft, and 43 ships and submarines. The exercise will focus on interoperability in air defence, anti-subsurface warfare, maritime interdiction, mine countermeasures and amphibious operations.

Flight path

The Turkish government said that opinions expressed by military experts in favour of acquiring the Russian stealth fighter SU-57 didn’t reflect the official policy of the government ‘yet’. The speculation came after the US Senate indicated that Turkey wouldn’t be among the recipients of the F-35 stealth fighter program. Questions about Turkey and the F-35 became prominent when Turkey signed an agreement with Russia for the delivery of the S-400 anti-missile system, reflecting a larger geopolitical problem with Turkey’s status in NATO.

China successfully tested its newest version of the ‘Silent Hunter’ lasers that can destroy drones from 300 metres away. The lasers were featured at the fifth international weapons systems and military equipment exhibition held in late May in Kazakhstan. China unveiled a civilian version of the Silent Hunter, noting that militant groups within and outside of conflict zones increasingly use drones. Yet the timing of the test may be significant—at the beginning of May the United States deployed MQ-4C Triton drones to the South China Sea.

Adding to the tensions in the South China Sea, the South China Morning Post reported that China is ready to begin building a powerful radar system on the island province of Hainan. If that’s correct, the radar system would be the most powerful in the South China Sea and could potentially disrupt communications as far away as Singapore.

Rapid fire

Poland expressed its willingness to spend up to $2 billion to build a US military base on its territory, to encourage the US to move its troops stationed in Germany to Poland. Bloomberg makes the case for the move, arguing that the US troop presence in Germany is a remnant of the Cold War and that Poland now makes more sense as a theoretical frontline between Russia and NATO. Moscow, however, would consider the move a breach of the 1997 NATO Russia Founding Act, under which NATO agreed not to deploy permanent forces in Eastern Europe. The proposal coincides with a major US-led military exercise, ‘Saber Strike’, held along NATO’s eastern flank, including Poland.

The US Army released footage of a ‘third arm’ exoskeleton prototype. The exoskeleton is designed to stabilise and lighten the load of larger weapons such as the 12-kilogram M240B machine gun, ultimately improving marksmanship. Despite its bulky size, it doesn’t undermine mobility: the arm is lightweight and doesn’t need batteries, and soldiers can quickly assume the prone posture.

The appointment of Nasirul Mulk—a retired judge—as caretaker prime minister of Pakistan could signal a shift away from the country’s long history of military leaders. However, Abbas Nasir writes in the New York Times about a ‘return of tutelary democracy’, where the military disempowers unfriendly politicians from behind the scenes. Critics of the military are faced with extreme censorship, intimidation and even assassination.

Zero gravity

Many countries have a coast guard to monitor maritime security and a defence force for the land and air domains. But what should we have for outer space? That issue was discussed in Los Angeles last month at the International Space Development Conference. Instead of a ‘Space Force’ within the US Air Force, some have proposed an independent ‘Space Guard’ model. They envisage it as an adaptable and flexible organisation that can carry out policing and monitoring duties in times of peace, but then have integrated functions with the defence force in times of warfare.

The private sector is continuing to make significant headway in satellite technologies and rocket launches. But, as this article from Smithsonian points out, what are we doing to combat the increase in space debris? How does sustainable development apply in space? These are questions that the new Institute for the Sustainable Development of Space will attempt to answer. As countries develop their space capabilities, it’s vital that they take responsibility for space debris and the sustainability of both the public and private sectors’ space pursuits.

Wired watchtower

Indian President Narendra Modi’s recent trip to Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia is a clear manifestation of India’s ‘Act East’ foreign policy. Although the focus of India’s foreign policy is often on maritime security, cyber security was an important component during this trip. India and Singapore have signed a memorandum of understanding on cyber security. The agreement aims to strengthen cooperation between the Indian and Singaporean CERTs. Cyber warfare was also discussed during Modi’s visit in Malaysia.

Google has announced that it won’t seek to renew its contract with the US Department of Defense for Project Maven, the controversial AI imaging program. Under Project Maven, Google provides artificial intelligence to the department for analysing drone footage. The project drew heavy criticism from staff and academics and caused internal strife at the company. Thousands of Google employees signed a petition asking Google to cancel the project, and several resigned in protest. The current contract expires in 2019.

Australia is slated to become a top aerial electronic warfare power, second only to the US. The RAAF has acquired twelve EA-18G Growlers, which can perform escort and traditional standoff jamming missions. And Defence Science and Technology has just signed an agreement with Raytheon to develop and prototype ‘a sovereign, integrated electronic warfare solution’. DST will advance the multi-function integrated receiver/exiter system (known as MFIRES) to improve electronic attack capability as well as develop its radar warning receiver, which provides electronic support and protection.