The five-domains update 

Sea state

North Korea has launched its first submarine able to fire nuclear-armed missiles. The diesel-electric-powered Hero Kim Kun-ok is intended by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to counter the nuclear-capable forces of the United States and its Asian allies. The boat, believed to be a modified Soviet-era Romeo-class submarine, has been described by the North Korean government as a ‘tactical nuclear attack submarine’. Kim has promised an accelerated program to build more of them, and to build nuclear-powered submarines. The International Institute for Strategic Studies says it appears that a large missile compartment containing vertical-launch tubes has been added to the vessel’s sail. It may be able to fire both ballistic and cruise missiles.

The Philippine Navy has upgraded its two Jose Rizal–class frigates with an advanced anti-torpedo system as tensions rise in the South China Sea. The system, equipped with the Contralto reaction module, autonomously calculates evasive manoeuvres upon detecting threats. Together with an upgraded combat-management system from Hanwha Systems of South Korea and C-Guard decoy launcher systems from Terma of Denmark, this enhancement completes the armament of the two warships acquired as part of the modernisation of the Philippine fleet.

Flight path

The ability of Britain’s combat aircraft to deter and defend against enemy aggression has been called into question in a new report to the UK parliament which warns that cuts to the air fleet set out in the 2021 defence command paper have created an unacceptable shortfall in aircraft numbers that will persist into the 2030s. The report calls on the government to urgently increase the number of aircraft available to the Royal Air Force and to quickly integrate planned fleet upgrades.

The Royal Australian Air Force has conducted air-to-air refuelling training with the Indonesian Air Force for the first time. Seven Indonesian F-16 Fighting Falcons were refuelled by a RAAF KC-30A multi-role tanker transport, and more than 60 F-16 sorties were flown during last month’s exercise in Indonesian airspace. Australia is one of a small number of countries to have conducted this training with Indonesia, with airborne refuelling a vital force multiplier for that nation’s air operations.

Rapid fire

The US has reportedly approved a military transfer to Taiwan under its foreign military financing program, which is normally reserved to help sovereign states. The US$80 million deal will allow Taiwan to purchase weapons and services to strengthen its self-defence capabilities, including armoured vehicles, drones, ballistic missile and cyber defences, air and coastal defence systems, and advanced communications equipment.

UK-based firearms wholesaler Edgar Brothers has been awarded a initial US$18.7 million contract to supply elements of the British Army with a new Armalite rifle. The rifle, designated L403A1, features an enhanced optical sight system and a ‘signature reduction system’ to lessen the likelihood of exposure in complex and high-threat environments. The Special Operations Brigade’s newly formed Ranger Regiment is expected to receive the first rifles by the end of 2023 and will work alongside UK allies to share skills and drills more efficiently.

Final frontier

The US Space Force and the National Reconnaissance Office have launched ‘watchdog’ satellites to monitor the activities of satellites operated in geosynchronous orbit by potential adversaries, including Russia and China. The goal is to track satellite movements and monitor potential threats to high-value assets of the US and its allies. US Space Command says this mission seeks to fill satellite-tracking gaps and is necessary to deter aggression in an increasingly contested domain.

The South African National Space Agency has signed a memorandum of understanding with the China National Space Administration, bringing South Africa into the fold of the China-led International Lunar Research Station Cooperation. This project aims to construct research facilities on the moon, competing with NASA’s Artemis program. Earlier this year, China revealed a roadmap of the project indicating that a basic version of the research station would be completed by 2028. Russia, Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates, Venezuela and the Asia-Pacific Space Cooperation Organization have also signed agreements to engage with the project.

Wired watchtower

The Royal Australian Navy is investing in the development of uncrewed, AI-controlled submarines against the backdrop of growing US–China competition in military artificial intelligence. The project is run by Anduril’s Australian subsidiary and seeks to develop three Ghost Shark submarines to be delivered by mid-2025. At $23 million each, the Ghost Shark will reportedly cost less than a tenth of 1% of the cost of each nuclear-powered submarine Australia is to receive under the AUKUS agreement. The Ghost Sharks’ low cost and prompt delivery timeline underline how AI-based weapon systems are likely to revolutionise warfare.

The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Karim Khan, has announced that it will now investigate and prosecute cybercrimes that violate the Rome Statute. While experts have often called for new international laws and conventions focused on cyberspace, Khan has argued that existing international law applies there. Noting that ‘digital front lines can give rise to damage and suffering comparable to what the founders of the ICC sought to prevent’, the announcement highlights that the court is adapting to advance international law in the face of evolving methods of warfare. This development is salient against the backdrop of the Russia–Ukraine conflict, which is frequently described as the world’s first full-scale cyber war.