The five-domains update

Sea state

The European Union Naval Force (EU NAVFOR) and the People’s Liberation Army Navy conducted the first joint exercise at China’s base in Djibouti. The medical evacuation exercise followed EU NAVFOR’s operational commander’s visit to the base in August and a cross-decking exercise between the two navies earlier this year. Western militaries have rarely been invited onto the Djibouti base and this latest exercise may signal growing cooperation on countering piracy in the region. This article in The Diplomat provides useful strategic analysis.

A US Navy research vessel, the Thomas G. Thompson, docked in Taiwan’s southern port of Kaohsiung last week to refuel and make crew changes. The ship’s second visit to Taiwan comes at a time of heightened tensions between the US and China over arms sales and trade tariffs. China, which opposes any military or government contact between the US and Taiwan, condemned the visit. Beijing also demanded that the US cancel the sale of spare parts and related support for Taiwan’s US-made F-16 fighter jets and other military aircraft.

Italy has gifted the Libyan Navy the patrol boat Fezzan as part of the two countries’ joint cooperation to combat illegal immigration and human trafficking. Italy announced provision of the vessel in July to enhance Libya’s coastal monitoring capabilities. A second boat is expected to arrive next month as part of an agreement to supply Libya with 12 patrol vessels.

Flight path

Australia’s Defence Department announced that two of its F-35s have ‘suspect hydraulic fuel tubes’ but the seven other joint strike fighters in its fleet have been cleared. The UK also revealed that five of its F-35s need repairs. The global fleet was grounded after a crash in September revealed potentially faulty fuel tubes. The F-35 program office estimates that ‘more than 80% of operational F-35s have been cleared’.

The UK tested an experimental landing technique for its F-35B during flight trials on HMS Queen Elizabeth. Instead of conducting a vertical landing, which is standard for the F-35B, a test pilot conducted a slower, rolling landing—watch a demonstration here. The new technique allows the jets to land with heavier loads on a carrier that lacks the arresting gear needed for normal landings. The UK is the first country to use the manoeuvre, which has been in development for 17 years.

Two pilots died during Clear Sky 2018 in Ukraine, just days before the military exercise finished. US pilot Colonel Seth Nehring and Ukrainian pilot Colonel Ivan Petrenko died on Wednesday when a Ukrainian Sukhoi Su-27 crashed during a training flight. The cause is being investigated. The exercise, which involved personnel from nine nations and focused on interoperability, wrapped up on Friday.

The last Italian BR-1150, a maritime patrol aircraft weighing almost 11,400 kilograms once disassembled, was airlifted from Practica di Mare air base to its new home at the Italian Air Force Museum northwest of Rome.

Rapid fire

Australian military veterans are having difficulty finding employment after discharge. Some veterans attribute their lack of success with potential employers to the popular perception that post-traumatic stress disorder is linked with military service. According to a report by research firm Conrad Liveris, commissioned by the WA opposition, the veteran unemployment rate in Western Australia exceeds 30%. Defence disputes that figure, producing its own estimate of 8% unemployed veterans in the state.  The report found that misunderstandings and negative assumptions made about veterans are affecting their employability.

The Australian Army may soon consider arming drones to counter the increasing use of weaponised drones by adversaries. The head of the army’s unmanned aerial systems program, Lieutenant Colonel Keirin Joyce, told the ABC that while the idea is still being debated, if approved, it could save the lives of countless Australian soldiers on future battlefields.

A major US – South Korea military exercise has been suspended for the third time this year in a bid to encourage North Korea to abandon its nuclear program. The cancellation comes after a meeting between the US defence secretary and defence ministers from South Korea and Japan during the ASEAN defence ministers’ meeting in Singapore. The Pentagon says that the suspension of Vigilant Ace will enable the diplomatic process to continue and give North Korea the opportunity to prove that it’s serious about denuclearisation.

Zero gravity

China has announced plans to launch an ‘artificial moon’ by 2020. The project involves deploying orbital mirrors from China’s southwestern Sichuan province to reflect sunlight back to earth. The ‘illumination satellites’ would provide light eight times brighter than the moon, replacing streetlamps and saving an estimated A$240 million in electricity costs each year. The technology would also remain active during natural disasters and blackouts. However, concerns have been raised over potential military applications of the technology.

A UK Ministry of Defence report warns that space stations could launch nuclear attacks on earth by 2050. The Future starts today report was developed over two years by the MoD’s think tank, the Development, Concepts and Doctrine Centre. It identifies several primary threats to the UK’s national security that are applicable globally and highlights how technological advancements fuel the prospects of space militarisation.

A large piece of space debris was found in a California walnut orchard last week. Officials from Vandenberg Air Force Base said it was likely to be a fuel tank from Iridium 70—a defunct satellite owned by US-based mobile communications company Iridium. The satellite was launched in 1998 and fell out of orbit on 10 October. The debris highlights some implications of failing to address the problem of space junk.

Wired watchtower

The Nigerian Army Cyber Warfare Command was launched last week. The new corps is the first of its kind in Africa and will focus on preventing and countering identity theft and cyberattacks. Army chief of staff Lieutenant-General Tukur Buratai, who opened the command, also acknowledged that there had been complaints about soldiers’ unprofessional behaviour and launched an app allowing citizens to anonymously submit complaints and information directly to the Nigerian Army.

The Czech Security Intelligence Service intervened in a Hezbollah malware campaign targeting men in the Middle East and in Central and Eastern Europe. The campaign used servers located in the Czech Republic to engage targets via Facebook and convince them to download a mobile app infected with spyware, enabling operatives to access the phone’s content. Hezbollah has been increasing its exploitation of the cyber domain in recent years.

Researchers in the US have discovered potentially critical vulnerabilities in maritime-related technologies produced by Auto-Maskin, a Norwegian company that is a leading equipment provider for companies such as Cummins, Caterpillar, Yanmar and Scania. The researchers found that Auto-Maskin’s Marine Pro field devices and Marine Pro Observer app for Android could be exploited by an attacker, who could then gain access to control systems and do anything including turning a vessel’s engines on or off, changing firmware, and installing a back door or other malware.