The five-domains update

Sea state

Australia has handed over command of Combined Task Force 150 to the United Kingdom. CTF150 is a multinational naval task force established to disrupt terrorist organisations’ drug smuggling operations in the Horn of Africa region. The handover completed Australia’s seventh rotation commanding CTF150. The task force seized 3.1 tonnes of heroin and 36 tonnes of hashish over the past six months.

India, Japan and the United States will conduct Exercise Malabar off the coast of Guam from 7 to 16 June. The exercise features ashore and at-sea training to increase interoperability between the participating forces. Four American warships, including the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76), as well as three Indian and three Japanese ships, are taking part.

The 28th Chinese naval escort taskforce visited Ghana, marking the first time Chinese naval ships have visited the country. Guided-missile frigates Yancheng and Weifang, and supply ship Taihu, arrived at the Port of Tema on 4 June on a four-day visit. The taskforce’s commanders will meet with Ghanaian military and government officials while sailors will hold exchange activities with Ghanaian forces.

Flight path

The French air force announced that it would send a contingent of aircraft to Australia for  the multinational Exercise Pitch Black. The aircraft will then stopover in Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and India on their return. Called Mission Pegase, the deployment aims to deepen France’s ties with countries in the region, where it’s increasing its presence—the French navy sails through the South China Sea more regularly than any other European nation. Mission Pegase will be France’s largest deployment to the Indo-Pacific region.

The US House of Representatives passed a version of the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) with a defence budget ceiling of US$716 billion. The House Appropriations subcommittee unveiled legislation showing how defence priorities will be funded. Following our reporting a fortnight ago, it appears the US Air Force failed to convince lawmakers to shelve plans to upgrade the E‑8 JSTARS aircraft. Instead, the USAF’s new advanced battle management system—which USAF Secretary Heather Wilson had wanted to fund with JSTARS money—will be based at Robins Air Force Base alongside the JSTARS. Funding for the F-35 program remains unknown—one version of the NDAA provides for 93 F‑35s, 16 more than requested.

Rapid fire

Sweden mobilised all 40 of its Home Guard Battalions for the first time since 1975—at the height of the Cold War. The 22,000‑strong volunteer army was asked to carry out patrol, protection and guard duties on Sweden’s national day. The move followed the distribution of ‘If crisis or war comes’ leaflets to more than 4 million Swedish households that encouraged the population to immediately adopt preparedness measures such as storing water and non-perishable foods.

A US Senate committee adopted a draft bill that encourages ‘US participation in appropriate Taiwan exercises’. This is the first time the US Senate had proposed in writing that US troops actively participate in Taiwanese drills. The bill’s release coincides with this year’s Han Kuang drill and a statement by Taiwan’s Defence Minister, Chen Chung-chi, declaring Taiwan’s desire to participate in the US-hosted RIMPAC naval exercise. It was only two weeks ago that the US withdrew its invitation to China to participate in this year’s RIMPAC.

A confidential Defence inquiry has alleged that members of Australia’s special forces used ‘unsanctioned and illegal application of violence on operations’ in Afghanistan between 2001 and 2016. Then Special Operations Commander Major General Jeff Sengelman commissioned the investigation in 2016, and was backed by army chief Angus Campbell. The claims about the behavior of special forces troops, including the alleged killing of a number of unarmed Afghans, have been attributed in part to a lack of accountability, a culture of drug and alcohol abuse and ‘weak leadership’.

Zero gravity

The EU will spend €16 billion on its space program in its next budget. From 2021–2027 the EU proposes to allocate €9.7 billion to its Galileo satellite navigation systems, €5.8 billion to its Copernicus earth observation system, and €500 million to improve government communications and to space and situation awareness capabilities. The increase amounts to €5 billion; the current EU space budget is €11.1 billion.

Just as there’s a strong awareness of the danger that plastic poses for environmental security, there’s a growing awareness of the danger of junk in outer space. Military ethicists from the UNSW have raised concerns over the increasing amount of space debris. Given the increasingly militarised nature of space technologies, they argue that cleaning up space debris could be considered an act of aggression given the equipment and technologies used.

The US is set to pump more money into its low-earth orbit constellation of military satellites. An additional US$100 million will go towards the Blackjack Project, which aims to provide ongoing surveillance of military operations.

Wired watchtower

Australia has jumped from number three to number one in the Economic Intelligence Unit’s technological readiness rankings. The ranking assesses the 82 largest economies on a variety of factors such as access to the internet, digital economy infrastructure and openness to innovation. Australia ranked well in the e-government services, as well as ranking as the best country in Asia for online services. Australia shares equal first place with Singapore and Sweden. Angola, Libya and Nigeria landed at the bottom the list.

US lawmakers attempted to use the 2019 NDAA to maintain pressure on Chinese tech company ZTE after the Trump administration struck a deal with the company to lift crippling sanctions. An amendment bans the government from buying or leasing telecommunications equipment from ZTE or Huawei, both regarded as security concerns. Yet the amendment may have little effect: the president can waive restrictions on national security grounds.

Germany’s intelligence agencies have warned that an increasing number of cyberattacks are ‘ticking time bombs’ that could endanger critical infrastructure. Germany has struggled with weak digital infrastructure leading to doubts that the country can aggressively defend against future cyberattacks.