The five-domains update

Sea state

Australia is set to enhance its submarine capability through sonar upgrades to all six Collins-class boats. The $230 million contract with Thales is part of a bigger $542 million project to upgrade the submarines’ sensor capabilities and extend their life. The upgrades will be carried out at Thales’ underwater systems centre of excellence in Rydalmere, Western Sydney, supporting more than 140 jobs.

Exercise Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) kicked off on 14 June between the Royal Thai Navy and the US Navy and Marine Corps. The 24th iteration of the multi-nation exercise is designed to enhance naval capabilities in the region, ‘ensuring a free, open, and stable Indo-Pacific maritime security environment’. The Royal Thai Navy participated in exercises with the USS Mustin, USNS Brunswick and USNS Salvor and the marines conducted jungle warfare training and live-fire drills.

Thirty-six Russian warships have sailed out to the Barents Sea in Russia’s biggest naval manoeuvre in 10 years. Large areas of the Barents Sea have been closed off to civilian shipping and commercial aircraft. The Russian Ministry of Defence described the surprise exercise as a full-range defensive-aimed drill designed to combat a massive enemy attack. It’s expected to last until the end of this week. A Norwegian military spokesman confirmed that Norway hadn’t been informed about the drill.

Flight path

A contingent of A-10 ground support aircraft from the US Air Force went to the Baltics to practise rough landings on improvised runways as part of NATO’s annual Saber Strike 18 exercise. The training is based on the assumption that an enemy would immediately attempt to destroy airfields in the event of conflict. Meanwhile, the Russian air force held a large drill over the Black Sea, with over 100 aircraft practising hitting enemy air and ground targets. Russian officials criticised NATO’s new ‘Four Thirties’ plan, a strategy for NATO forces to be deployed within a month.

Details emerged about an attempt by state-owned Beijing Skyrizon Aviation to grab a majority stake in Ukrainian aerospace company Motor Sich. Ukrainian authorities argued that Motor Sich was strategically vital to Ukraine’s defence industry and the bid was blocked by a court. The attempted takeover by Skyrizon dates back to 2017, and analysts have differed on whether the dispute over Motor Sich reflects domestic power struggles or a larger technology transfer from Kiev to Beijing.

Bryn Jones, a former chief combustion technologist at Rolls-Royce, was arrested in Britain for allegedly passing on classified information about the F-35 fighter jet to Beijing. Rolls-Royce is one of the subcontractors for manufacturing the jet, the first of which were delivered to the RAF early this month.

Rapid fire

Iraq’s Ministry of Defence announced that it would swap its US-made M1A1 Abrams tanks for 39 Russian T-90S tanks. The change comes after the US complained of M1s ending up in the hands of Iran-backed Popular Mobilisation Forces. Analysis of the decision argues that it’s a sign of the Kremlin looking to increase its influence in Iraq by positioning itself as a key weapons supplier. Indeed, Iraq has also expressed its willingness to purchase Russian S-400 anti-aircraft missile systems—an idea that has been widely criticised in the US and elsewhere.

The US Army is prototyping an extended-range artillery cannon—a modified M777A2 mobile howitzer—that boasts a maximum range of 70 kilometres, more than double the existing capability of 30 kilometres. The modifications involve adding almost 500 kilograms of weight and an additional 2 metres of cannon tube to the weapon. The trend to add weight across the gamut of combat vehicles, to the detriment of mobility and transportability, has been criticised by National Defense. However, these hefty developments also address a modified threat environment: pivoting force from counter-insurgency to preparedness for massive force-on-force warfare under the US Army’s Operations 3.0 doctrine.

Zero gravity

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency launched its eighth reconnaissance satellite last week. The IGS Radar 6 satellite will be used to assist in intelligence-gathering for the Japanese military, as well as disaster-management operations. The IGS program was originally created in response to North Korea’s 1998 missile test. It has been reported that Japan is planning another launch later this year.

China’s ‘next generation’ of radars may be able to track ballistic missiles. The state-owned China Electronics Technology Group Corporation said that its newest quantum radars can monitor ‘high-speed flying objects in the upper atmosphere and above’. These capabilities would enable China to track aircraft such as stealth jets and low-orbit satellites.

But it’s not only live space technologies that countries need to monitor and track; space debris also needs close attention. Russia intends to transform its optical telescope into a laser canon that’s capable of vaporising space debris. However, the potential weaponisation of such technologies raises security concerns, which is an issue that’s been on the minds of analysts since the start of this year.

Wired watchtower

An EU report has called for EU institutions to stop using cybersecurity software made by Kaspersky Lab. Many EU countries have raised concerns that Kaspersky Lab’s products are under the control of the Russian government, although Kaspersky has denied these allegations. The European Parliament voted overwhelmingly in favour of the report, which also called on the European Commission and other EU offices to improve their cybersecurity and intelligence strategies.

‘Red-teaming’ exercises conducted by the US Department of Homeland Security have broken into the networks of three federal agencies. The goal of the exercises is to highlight vulnerabilities in the agencies’ cyber systems, allowing officials to ‘quickly realize when a hacker has a foothold in their systems to keep them from exfiltrating data’. The DHS official leading the exercises has declined to name the agencies that were hacked.

Thales has partnered with Microsoft to develop a cloud storage system for military use, to keep sensitive defence data within an organisation’s own infrastructure. The technology will enable armed forces to stay connected on any device at any time, and can be configured and updated remotely to ensure complete autonomy in the field. Cloud storage has garnered much attention as a response to what Colonel Darlene Straub calls a ‘cultural shift’, where the security of increasingly important data is more crucial than data availability on the battlefield.