The five-domains update

Sea state

The US has announced a plan to deploy a hospital ship to Colombia to assist with the Venezuelan refugee crisis. The schedule for the departure of the ship, most likely to be USNS Comfort, is unclear. It has the capacity to carry 1,215 medical personnel, conduct 12 simultaneous surgeries, host 1,000 hospital beds and transport casualties by helicopter. US defence secretary Jim Mattis says the mission is a humanitarian one, emphasising that it’s not a military intervention. This is the first instance of Washington’s direct involvement in South America’s ‘biggest migration crisis’ caused in part by Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro’s economic policies.

Australian shipbuilder Austal is finalising a contract to build six offshore patrol vessels for the Philippine navy. At 80 metres long, the proposed OPVs will be larger and more capable versions of the Cape-class patrol boats the company has supplied to the Australian Border Force and the Royal Australian Navy. They’ll be built in Austal’s Philippine shipyard.

The US Navy and Coast Guard participated in a trilateral exercise with the Iraqi and Kuwaiti navies in the Northern Arabian Gulf on 15 August. The exercise, which included live-fire gunnery and search-and-rescue operations, aimed to improve interoperability among the three navies and help ensure freedom of navigation in the region.

Flight path

The Indian Air Force has released footage of an assault landing exercise carried out by the large Indian contingent which took part in Australia’s exercise Pitch Black. The IAF practised inserting special operations vehicles in the shortest possible time. The exercise ended on Friday and was covered in our updates here and here.

The Royal Australian Air Force has a new suite of flight simulators and training systems for its P-8A Poseidon surveillance aircraft. Provided by Boeing Defence Australia, the simulators are housed at RAAF Edinburgh. The South Australian base now has the largest such facility outside the US. The 2015 acquisition is part of the $5.2 billion purchase of 12 P-8s. It’s also part of the plan to create an intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance hub at the base.

Ten Russian aircraft, including two nuclear bombers, conducted drills over the Chukotka Peninsula near Alaska, in an apparent demonstration of how close they could get to the US. It’s the first time such a drill has been conducted so close to Alaska by the Tu-160 bombers, which can carry 12 short-range nuclear missiles. The number of Russian exercises in the area has increased in recent times.

Rapid fire

The US Army is testing a new emergency system that can be used to save a paratrooper whose static line fails to open the parachute. That can happen if the line, which is intended to tear open the parachute pack, becomes wrapped around the soldier’s arm. The resultant ‘towed jumper’ can be dragged behind the aircraft and could be badly hurt, or killed, in attempts to drag them back inside. The towed jumper recovery system includes a specially designed emergency parachute that jumpmasters can attach to towed jumpers before cutting them loose from the aircraft.

China’s military is reported to have undergone a sweeping overhaul, expanding its capacity to ‘strike the US and its allies’. A Pentagon report says China may be giving its nuclear-capable bombers increasingly sophisticated delivery systems and training crews to target the US and its allies. Beijing has strongly denied the claim.

Zero gravity

Manoeuvres carried out by Russia’s new Kosmos 2521 satellite have triggered concerns that it may be an anti-satellite weapon. Russian space commander Aleksandr Golovko says that a main task of his space force is to assimilate new weapons into his units. This satellite may be capable of corrupting vital services such as the internet, phones and GPS should tensions deteriorate into extraterrestrial warfare.

Nigeria’s National Space Research and Development Agency wants the African giant’s government to sponsor the launch of a satellite to help develop smart and precise agriculture. In a communiqué following a conference in Abuja, the agency emphasised that Nigeria’s space policy could fuel economic growth and improve food security.

A number of other African countries are embracing non-military applications of space technologies. Satellite imagery can help predict food shortages, forecast natural disasters and enhance the provision of health services in remote areas. But as they tap into these opportunities, countries have been warned that they must develop robust legal frameworks to ensure rights and obligations under national and international law are satisfied.

Wired watchtower

China is deploying flocks of surveillance drones disguised as birds to spy on its citizens. In an operation code-named ‘Dove’, the life-like ‘birds’ are being used to target the Muslim Uyghur community in the Xinjiang region, which the government considers a hotbed of dissent and separatism. A new UN report has found that Uyghurs are subject to a campaign of repression that includes mass incarceration and torture.

The Japanese government has revealed plans to launch its first regional cyberspace defence unit, with an eye on China’s growing cyber capabilities. The new unit will begin operations next year in Japan’s Ground Self-Defense Force Western Army. It will be tasked with responding to cyberattacks on wireless communication networks around southern Japan.

Jeremy Fleming, the head of UK spy agency GCHQ, has warned that the 5G network will increase the threat of digital terrorism. The network is expected to expand beyond its current domain of mobile broadband and be increasingly integrated into critical infrastructure. Fleming writes that these changes will bring huge benefits by transforming health care, creating smart, energy-efficient cities, making working lives more productive, and revolutionising the relationship between businesses and consumers. But he says they’ll also bring risks that, if unchecked, could make us more vulnerable to terrorists, hostile states and criminals.