The five-domains update 

Sea state

Australia is hosting Exercise Malabar, an Indo-Pacific military drill involving forces from India, Japan and the United States. This 27th iteration of Malabar aims to enhance interoperability among the regional partners. The Quad’s naval leaders have emphasised the role of joint operational capabilities in keeping Indo-Pacific trade routes free and open and addressing regional challenges, particularly in the South China Sea. Participating naval forces will engage in exercises crucial to interoperability, including air defence, anti-submarine warfare, joint use of naval aviation, communications and ship-to-ship replenishment. Australian F-35 joint strike fighters are working with six participating ships from the partner nations.

Ukrainian marines have undergone a rigorous five-week training program led by specialist instructors from Britain’s Royal Marine Commandos. The intensive course encompassed a range of skills, including the use of anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles, mortars and drones; demolition of obstacles with explosives; field survival; battlefield first aid; close-quarters combat; and strategic unit planning. Nearly 1,000 Ukrainian personnel took part in the program over six months. The goal is to advance Ukraine’s maritime combat capabilities.

Flight path

China has maintained its pressure on Taiwan with its second military incursion within a week. While 25 Chinese air force aircraft, including J-10 and J-16 fighters and H-6 bombers, conducted maritime operations, 10 of them crossed the Taiwan Strait’s median line or intruded into the southwestern sector of Taiwan’s air defence identification zone. This activity coincided with ‘combat readiness’ patrols by five Chinese warships. Taiwan’s military responded by dispatching ships and aircraft to keep the Chinese forces under surveillance. The intruders did not breach Taiwan’s territorial airspace.

Despite strained bilateral relations, Germany has agreed to a request by Warsaw to extend its deployment of three Patriot air-defence systems in Poland until December 2023. The Patriot systems were due to return to Germany in June and the extension aligns with NATO’s push to fortify its eastern flank following Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Berlin has said the Patriot deployment was unlikely to be extended beyond this year because of its obligations to NATO’s rapid-reaction force.

Rapid fire

The US has agreed to transfer technical data to support the production of M795 155-millimetre artillery rounds in Australia. The announcement followed the 33rd AUSMIN meeting of US and Australian defence and foreign secretaries and ministers. The US Army is under pressure to produce 1 million artillery shells per month to replenish American stocks depleted by the need to supply Ukrainian forces fighting the Russian invasion, which reportedly consume 4,000 to 7,000 heavy artillery shells daily.

Drone warfare is going to ground in the Russo-Ukraine war as both sides increasingly use uncrewed systems on land. According to Ukraine’s deputy defence minister, Volodymyr Gavrylov, Ukrainian troops will field uncrewed ground vehicles or ‘battle robots’ armed with machine guns or anti-tank mines against Russian troops. The military innovation could help facilitate a breakthrough for Ukraine as its forces attempt to advance through dense Russian fortifications en route to occupied Melitopol, Berdyansk and Mariupol.

Final frontier

China’s ‘tactically responsive space launch’ capabilities have surpassed those of the US, according to a report from the Center for Security and Emerging Technology. The report attributes the rapid Chinese advancement to accelerated investment in mobile, solid-fuel launch vehicles that don’t depend on complex launch infrastructure. Alongside this effort, Chinese military researchers want to develop a network of 13,000 satellites able to operate in orbits lower than SpaceX’s Starlink satellite constellation. If realised, this would make it more difficult for the US to disrupt China’s space systems in a crisis.

The Pentagon has taken a bold step in developing a response to China’s growing ability to infiltrate and block US defences in the space and cyber domains. At DEFCON 2023, the US Air Force and Space Force allowed ethical civilian hackers to remotely seize control of the Moonlighter satellite in earth’s low orbit. The first-of-its-kind ‘hack-a-sat’ contest’ was established to help the US build more secure space and cyber systems and identify security gaps that could be exploited by potential adversaries.

Wired watchtower

Ukraine has exposed and blocked a Russian cyberattack aimed at penetrating its armed forces’ combat data exchange system. The hack was attributed to the Russian state-controlled hacker group Sandworm, which attempted to access sensitive information about Ukraine’s military operations, locations, equipment and movements. Since Russia’s full-scale invasion began in February last year, Ukraine has reported increased Russian attempts to hack its government systems, an accusation Russia has repeatedly denied.

The Washington Post has revealed that cyberspies from China’s People’s Liberation Army compromised Japan’s classified defence networks in 2020, gaining access to plans, capabilities and assessments of military shortcomings. The incident raised concerns about the potential leaking of sensitive information provided to Japan by the US. Despite Washington’s concerns about the severity of the hack, current and former US officials noted that it took a year for Tokyo to take sufficient action to secure its networks after the incident.