The five-domains update

Sea state

The Japanese submarine Kuroshio, helicopter carrier Kaga and destroyers Izanuma and Suzutsuki participated in an anti-submarine exercise in the South China Sea last week. The Japanese government, in an unusual move, confirmed the exercises in the contested waters. Earlier this month, two Chinese frigates tailed the Kaga in the South China Sea. Kuroshio also made a friendly port call at Cam Ranh Bay in Vietnam. Experts say that Japan intends to extend security cooperation with countries that have territorial disputes with China.

The New Zealand and the Fijian navies conducted a joint maritime surveillance patrol and inspected around 160 civilian vessels in Fiji’s exclusive economic zone in patrols starting in June. These exercises are meant to help secure the Pacific country’s waters from illegal fishing and to help protect one of its most valuable resources.

The US Navy is exploring the potential of using blockchain technology to track aircraft parts. Currently, aircraft parts are tracked using paper-based processes and manual database inputs. The US Naval Air Systems Command is hoping the new system will make the process easier and cheaper. The navy is also looking to employ blockchain to increase the security of its 3D printing systems by adding a data-sharing layer to the process.

Flight path

Qatar has made its first payment towards the purchase of 33 jets from the UK. The £5 billion ($9 billion) deal, signed in December, consists of 24 Typhoons and nine Hawks built by BAE Systems and training and cooperation packages. As part of the deal the Royal Air Force and Qatari Air Force will form a new joint squadron; the first to be formed by the UK since World War II. Deliveries are expected to commence in 2022.

Two Russian Tu-160 long-range bombers were intercepted by RAF Typhoons over the North Sea and were escorted north away from UK airspace last week. While they did not enter UK airspace, the bombers were not communicating with air traffic control, prompting the scrambling of the Typhoons. UK Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said the bombers’ actions are ‘another reminder of the very serious military challenge that Russia poses us today’.

The Royal Thai Air Force has ordered four H225M multirole helicopters from Airbus. Currently the RTAF has six H225Ms used for combat and civilian search and rescue missions and troop transport. The latest order will bring the total fleet to 12 by 2021 when the delivery is made. The contract also includes onsite technical support.

Rapid fire

The US Army has missed its recruitment target for the first time since 2005. The drop comes against the backdrop of a strong US economy and increasing competition from a private sector that can offer better opportunities for graduates. Despite offering bonuses and loosening restrictions for recruits with prior marijuana use, bad conduct and health problems, the army fell 6,500 short of its target of 76,500 new recruits.

The UK Ministry of Defence is testing potentially life-saving robots and drones that can detect and test chemical agents, identify casualties and provide 2D and 3D imaging of the surrounding environment. The drones and robots are part of Project Minerva, which seeks to reduce risk to those responding to chemical or biological incidents.

The US Army has fixed a glitch in the selector switch of M4 and M4A1 carbines that could cause the weapons to misfire or fail. A report in June identified more than 3,000 carbines affected by the malfunction, which occurred in 6% of weapons tested. The army has taken measures to have new M4A1s inspected and corrected if the glitch is found.

Zero gravity

The UK’s Surrey Space Centre is leading the way in devising solutions to clean up low earth orbit. Last week the centre launched the RemoveDebris satellite from the International Space Station, which then deployed a net that successfully caught a piece of space junk the size of a shoebox. This marks a revolutionary development in what is known as active debris removal technology. The estimated 166 million pieces of orbital debris present a significant threat to human activity in space.

SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell says her company would consider launching military weapons if such an action was requested by the US government. ‘If it’s for the defense of this country, yes, I think we would,’ Shotwell said at a US Air Force Association conference. The possibility of a privately-launched weapon raises questions about international treaties regulating the weaponisation of space—to which only countries, not companies, are parties.

Unmanned Japanese spacecraft Hayabusa2 has landed on an asteroid known as Ryugu. The probe’s two Minerva II rovers will hop across the asteroid, capturing images of its surface, measuring temperatures and studying surface materials in an effort to shed light on the origin and evolution of the solar system. Launched in December 2014, the spacecraft is expected to return to earth at the end of 2020.

Wired watchtower

Latvia is implementing measures to counter Russian interference in its upcoming elections. With its Soviet past and significant Russian population, Latvia is a credible Russian target. Having studied foreign meddling in the US and Europe, its CERT cybersecurity group is training public officials to recognise threats. Latvia’s government also has good relations with social media platforms, which can help to quickly remove disinformation.

Britain will reportedly fund a £250 million joint Ministry of Defence and GCHQ taskforce to boost UK’s cyber capability in response to a growing threat from Russia and other actors. The taskforce will comprise up to 2,000 personnel from the military and security sector and monitor both domestic crime and malicious cyber activities from other countries.

A Dutch cybersecurity researcher has revealed the Philippine media and entertainment giant ABS-CBN has been hacked since 16 August. Willem de Groot says malware was embedded into two of ABS-CBN’s online stores, capturing customers’ personal and financial data when purchases were made. The malware appears to be part of the Magecart campaign believed to be responsible for attacks on Ticketmaster and British Airways. The Philippines suffers from a high rate of malware infections, with 10.8 million in the second quarter of 2018.