The five-domains update

Sea state

The British ministry of defence has released a detailed report and footage of last month’s dangerous ‘interaction’ between the USS Decatur and a Chinese Luoyang-class destroyer near the Spratly Islands. In response, US navy chief Admiral John Richardson has called on China to adhere to a code of conduct on the seas. It’s reported that the US Pacific Fleet has had 18 ‘unsafe interactions’ with the Chinese navy since 2016.

Australian warships will make port calls at an enlarged naval base on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea. Australia and PNG have signed a deal to jointly redevelop the naval base. Canberra has committed to financing most of the upgrade. China had earlier proposed to fund the base, and Australia reportedly signed the deal to prevent Beijing from gaining a foothold in its neighbourhood.

‘Keen Sword’, the largest joint military exercise between US and Japanese armed forces this year, is underway in the Philippine Sea. The exercises include simulated air combat, amphibious manoeuvres and ballistic missile defence trials amid growing Chinese aggression near the disputed Senkaku (or Diaoyu) Islands. The US and Japan are drawing up an operations plan to defend the islands in the event of a Chinese attack.

The French navy is planning to use albatrosses to catch illegal fishermen in its area of responsibility in the Indian Ocean. The birds will be fitted with small, light-weight transceivers to detect the low-frequency signals of illegal trawlers. The data will enable the navy to identify and track vessels; it will also be used by scientists to study the birds’ behaviour.

Flight path

Airbus Helicopters held multi-day demonstrations of its H145M multi-role helicopter at Hungary’s Bakony Combat Training Centre. It follows on from demonstrations held in July attended by delegations from Brazil, the Czech Republic, Iraq and Kazakhstan, among others. The H145M is an upgraded form of the earlier EC145. It comes with standard enhancements plus the new HForce weapons system. Five countries (Hungary, Germany, Serbia, Thailand and Luxembourg) are currently part of the H145M program. Airbus has signalled its intent to offer the H145M as a potential competitor in response to Australia’s recent request for information for 16 special operations support helicopters.

The Netherlands and Italy are talking about cooperating on certification and integration of the MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial vehicle. The Netherlands ordered four Reapers at the UK’s Farnborough International Airshow in July, which are scheduled to be delivered by the manufacturer, General Atomics, in 2020. Italy already has six Reapers and was one of the first European countries to operate medium-altitude, long-endurance UAVs. The Reaper is one of two contenders for Australia’s AIR 7003 project.

Watch China’s dramatic new video of the CH-5 UAV, which it says is the country’s ‘largest and most powerful drone bomber’. The film was released before the start of the biennial Airshow China which kicked off today in Zhuhai. It is China’s largest aerospace expo, but analysts predict that no big deals will occur due to the US–China trade war and China’s slowing economy.

Rapid fire

Yemeni forces, backed by a Saudi-led coalition, have been mobilised in a bid to recapture the strategic port city of Hodeidah from Iranian-aligned Houthi rebels. On the eve of the operation, the Houthis were reported to have acquired a new guided missile that can carry out a precision strike. The move came in spite of calls from the US and UK for an end to the conflict.

A Chinese defence company is planning to unveil a new short-range precision laser weapon this week at Airshow China in Zhuhai. The LW-30 is a truck-based laser system that can track objects and destroy them with an energy beam of up to 30 kilowatts. The company claims it can bring down light aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles within a 25-kilometre radius. The US Army is working on a similar laser weapon that’s expected to be ready by 2023.

The US has announced that it will hold low-level military exercises with South Korea despite plans for  denuclearisation talks to be held between the US and North Korea in New York at the end of the week. The drills will involve a total of 500 American and South Korean Marines. Washington has suspended this year’s full-scale military drills with South Korea to increase the chance of a deal with North Korea, which has threatened to resume its nuclear program if the US doesn’t ease off on pressure and sanctions.

Zero gravity

NASA’s hard-working Kepler telescope has been shut down after running out of fuel. Affectionately referred to by NASA astronomer Jessie Dotson as ‘the little spacecraft that could’, Kepler discovered 2,720 of the known 3,800 exoplanets over the past nine and a half years. Kepler’s more advanced successor, Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), was launched in April and is expected to continue the hunt for new planets. Kepler was declared dead in 2013 but was successfully revived; NASA is certain, however, that this time really ‘marks the end of a glorious … era’.

Russia’s space agency has announced that the launch failure of a Soyuz rocket last month was caused by a malfunctioning sensor. The rocket, which was carrying a NASA astronaut and Roscosmos cosmonaut to the International Space Station was forced to execute an emergency landing and has since been grounded. The next launch may be as early as 3 December, which means crew members left stranded on the ISS when the rocket failed may still be able to return to earth by Christmas.

For the past seven years NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory has held a Halloween pumpkin-carving competition. The lab, which was established on Halloween in 1936, is contracted to design and construct robotic space technology and its employees take the competition very seriously. They’re given just one hour to ‘decorate’ their pumpkins—you can see some of their handiwork here, here and here.

Wired watchtower

Russia is reportedly targeting the US military in social media disinformation campaigns in a bid to establish ‘reflexive control’ of personnel, a tactic that seeks to predispose individuals to making decisions that are favourable to an adversary. The US military’s social media security focus has previously been on scams or inappropriate or unlawful behaviour rather than on disinformation. Experts have warned that disinformation targeting the military is the ‘uncovered stone in the Russian influence effort’ and risks being overlooked if it’s treated as simply a part of Russia’s overall attempts to sway American society. Moscow’s broader efforts haven’t stopped either: a Russian woman has been charged in the US over attempted interference in today’s midterm elections.

Hackers claiming to have access to 120 million Facebook accounts have attempted to sell the private details of Russian and Ukrainian users (among others). Facebook has denied that its security has been breached, but cybersecurity company Digital Shadows confirmed on behalf of the BBC that private data from more than 81,000 profiles has been compromised and a further 176,000 accounts were affected in some way. The cyberattack comes amid the summoning of Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg to appear before a joint committee of UK and Canadian MPs.