The five-domains update

Sea state

A Moroccan navy ship fired at a migrant boat headed to Spain, injuring one person on board. The incident occurred as the boat allegedly performed hostile manoeuvres and attempted to collide with the navy ship. Morocco has seen an increase in illegal emigration—over a single weekend, the Moroccan navy and Spanish coast guard had to rescue 1,800 migrants.

US aircraft have landed on HMS Queen Elizabeth in another successful flight trial. The MH-53E Sea Dragon, the largest helicopter in the US Navy, and the MV-22 Osprey tiltrotor landed as part of ongoing flight trials for the Royal Navy’s new aircraft carrier which is on track to be deployed in 2021.

The Indian navy joined the club of countries with deep submarine rescue capabilities after it acquired a deep submergence rescue vehicle. Although the multipurpose deep-sea vehicles are deployed for search-and-rescue missions, they’re also used to lay cables on the seabed.

Flight path

F-35 fighters around the world, including Australia’s fleet, were grounded last week while fuel tubes are inspected after a US Marine Corps F-35B crashed on 29 September. The faulty tubes are estimated to affect more than 250 US jets and 100 from other countries. Some jets, including those in the Italian and Israeli air forces, have been cleared to return to service. The UK paused only some F-35 operations.

A US$30 million Belgian F-16 has been accidentally destroyed by a technician. The mechanic was working on another F-16 in the hangar when he accidentally set off a Vulcan cannon, hitting the plane that had been prepared for an afternoon sortie. See photos here.

Hurricane Michael has damaged an unknown number of F-22 Raptors hangared at US Air Base Tyndall in Florida. While the majority of the Tyndall-based Raptors were able to fly to shelter in Ohio, as many as 22 jets may have been grounded for maintenance and repair. At any given time, only 49% of the F-22 fleet is mission-ready, according to recent assessments. The destruction of any jets is costly, but in the case of the F-22, there are only 187 jets in existence and each costs US$339 million.

Rapid fire

Australia may help Papua New Guinea in its efforts to help rebuild its defence force through restructuring and training. Australia’s nearest neighbour plans to more than double its troop numbers to 10,000 and expand its defence force into separate army, navy and air force branches from 2025. Discussions about the creation of a joint PNG–Australian naval base on Manus Island are ongoing.

The US has announced limits on the sharing of civilian nuclear technology with China, reiterating its accusations of Chinese theft of American technology and intellectual property for military use. The New York Times reports that US officials are concerned that China is planning to develop floating nuclear reactors for use in the South China Sea.

Taiwan will boost its national defence budget in response to an increasing threat from the China. The country’s defence ministry has earmarked US$11 billion to be used for buying more weapons and promoting the construction of indigenous weapons. The spending increase comes after the US announced a US$1.42 billion deal to sell support for early warning radar, missiles, missile components and torpedoes to Taiwan.

Zero gravity

The only shuttle service between earth and the International Space Station has been grounded indefinitely. A Soyuz rocket carrying a NASA astronaut and Russian cosmonaut failed mid-launch last Thursday. While the ISS crew can return to earth via a docked Soyuz before January, when its shelf-life expires, the launch failure raises questions about how long the ISS can remain unmanned and increases pressure on the US and its commercial partners to deliver an alternative. Russia’s space agency is investigating the failure and has reportedly launched a criminal investigation.

China’s space ambitions and growing capabilities present a formidable challenge to US space supremacy and the dynamics of astropolitics. Yesterday, China successfully launched two satellites as part of the BeiDou satellite navigation system, a strategic competitor to the American GPS. There are concerns, however, that China will seek to manipulate dispute settlement forums and to trade access to space for territorial or political acquiescence as it attempts to establish a ‘space Silk Road’.

Canadian mining and robotics company Deltion Innovations has partnered with American space transport company Moon Express to collaborate on lunar mining activities. The companies will provide equipment and transport for both public and private operations engaged in the emerging space-mining market. Deltion is a contractor for NASA and the Canadian Space Agency. Moon Express is also a Canadian Space Agency partner and was the first private company to be granted permission by the US government to travel beyond the earth’s orbit.

Wired watchtower

The UK government is planning to establish a new code of conduct in a bid to curb the growing security threat posed by compromised ‘internet of things’ smart devices. The new guidelines will target easy-to-guess default passwords and off-the-shelf devices with weak security settings that are easy for hackers to crack. The new rules are a response to increasing attacks on the UK by criminals and state-sponsored hacking groups.

In an interview on Sunday, Dutch Defence Minister Ank Bijleveld acknowledged that the Netherlands and Russia are engaged in a cyberwar. Two weeks ago, Dutch authorities revealed they had foiled a Russian cyberattack on the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in April. The minister explained in the interview that her government decided to reveal the incident to combat ‘naivety’ about attempts to influence democracy in the Netherlands.

A cyberattack on a commercial vendor linked to the US Defense Department has compromised the personal information, credit card data and travel records of approximately 30,000 military and civilian personnel. The announcement of the breach comes on the heels of a report released last Tuesday which concluded that military weapons programs are vulnerable to cyberattacks and US federal infrastructure is ill-equipped to protect against them.