The five-domains update

Sea state

The US Navy has released a video showing a Chinese navy ship nearly colliding with an American destroyer in the Taiwan Strait. According to a statement from US Indo-Pacific Command, the ship executed ‘unsafe’ manoeuvres as the US and Canadian navies conducted a joint exercise on Saturday. The Chinese defence minister responded by intensifying Beijing’s military posturing over Taiwan in a speech at the Shangri-La Dialogue, saying that foreign naval vessels and warplanes create danger by entering the Taiwan Strait in the first place.

A naval coalition consisting of northern Indian Ocean region countries including Iran, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Iraq, Pakistan and India has been announced. The coalition’s purpose is to guarantee security in the Persian Gulf, an area producing nearly a third of the world’s oil and around half of the world’s crude oil reserves, as well as a significant portion of natural gas reserve. The news came just days after Abu Dhabi withdrew from a US-led naval force.

Flight path

Last week, the Royal Australian Air Force and the Indonesian Air Force conducted joint maritime surveillance missions near Darwin in Australia’s north. Exercise Albatross AusIndo 2023 aimed to enhance cooperation and knowledge sharing through airborne and ground training, employing the RAAF’s P-8A Poseidon and Indonesia’s Boeing 737 maritime patrol aircraft. The decision to host the annual exercise in Australia, following 11 years of being held in Indonesia, contributed to strengthening the bilateral relationship and enhancing the proficiency of Indonesian aircrews.

A Chinese J-16 fighter jet aggressively intercepted a US Air Force RC-135 aircraft on 26 May over the South China Sea. The manoeuvre forced the American jet to fly through the wake turbulence of the Chinese fighter, causing it to visibly shake. US Indo-Pacific Command reaffirmed its commitment to conducting responsible operations in international airspace, while urging all countries in the region to comply with international law. This incident marks the second time since December that China has been accused of an unsafe intercept above the South China Sea.

Rapid fire

Last week, Australian soldiers wrapped up individual unit exercises with partner forces from the US Marine Corps in the Northern Territory. Part of a series of themed exercises across Australia, Exercise Predator’s Walk 2023 emphasised Australia’s 1st Brigade’s transition to shallow waters by incorporating littoral operations. Other exercises such as Exercise Paratus Walk in South Australia focused on combined arms manoeuvres, and Exercise Cobra Run in Queensland stressed chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear defence. Together, the exercises are designed to increase the Australian Army’s understanding of how different units perform across varied terrain.

The UK government has extended its commitment to the NATO Kosovo Force until at least 2026 as a way of strengthening Euro-Atlantic security. The UK has 41 service members currently deployed to the Kosovo mission. The UK Ministry of Defence said a battalion-sized strategic reserved force is also ready to deploy at short notice if necessary. The UK was among the first nations to recognise Kosovan independence in 2008, and this pledge reaffirms its commitment to playing a key peacekeeping role in the country.

Final frontier

North Korea has reportedly failed in its first attempt to launch a military spy satellite into orbit. In a setback for Pyongyang, the Chollima-1 rocket carrying the satellite lost thrust and plunged into the sea soon after launch. The failed mission exposed divisions in the UN Security Council, which prohibits North Korea from conducting any launches using ballistic missile technology. The lack of a consensus on this issue will likely prompt further provocations and inject new uncertainties into the already tense situation on the peninsula.

US Space Command will take over responsibility for missile defence operations from US Strategic Command after the White House approved an update to its ‘unified command plan’. The transfer will centralise the three mission areas of missile warning, missile defence and space domain awareness to ensure theatre commanders can defeat any threat. It builds on prior efforts by US Space Command to bring its various taskforces and operational centres under a single commander.

Wired watchtower

A senior NATO official has revealed that the organisation is seeking to ramp up the role played by military cyber defenders during peacetime. This will involve collective recognition from NATO members that cyberspace is ‘a permanently contested environment’. These developments are part of strategic recalculations of cyber threats following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The aim is to craft a more proactive and resilient cyber defence, shifting from the current structure where the military’s involvement is only triggered by conflict and crisis.

A joint investigation by Access Now, the Citizen Lab and Amnesty International’s Security Lab has revealed that almost a dozen civil-society members in Armenia were hacked using Israeli cyber firm NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware between October 2020 and December 2022. The victims include journalists, human rights defenders and a United Nations official. The investigators found ‘circumstantial evidence’ linking the attacks to Armenia and Azerbaijan’s conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, marking the first suspected instance of Pegasus being deployed in the context of an international military conflict. This incident also sheds light on the increasing vulnerability of human rights defenders to cyber threats.