The five-domains update

Sea state

Last week, the guided-missile cruiser USS Chancellorsville conducted a freedom-of-navigation operation near the Paracel Islands to challenge China’s ‘excessive maritime claims’ in the South China Sea. Guided-missile destroyer USS Stockdale and oiler USNS Pecos also transited through the Taiwan Strait, to send a message to Beijing in the lead-up to the G20 summit in Argentina over the weekend. Two weeks ago, China allowed aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan and three other US warships to dock at Hong Kong in an apparent goodwill gesture after refusing a similar request in September.

The British and Indian navies’ annual bilateral naval exercise, Konkan, is underway off the coast of Goa in the Arabian Sea. The Royal Navy’s Type 45 destroyer HMS Dragon and India’s Kolkata-class destroyer INS Kolkata are participating in the operation along with an Indian submarine and maritime patrol aircraft. India and the UK agreed earlier this year to expand naval cooperation to include carrier battle group operations.

Iran launched an indigenous destroyer, which state media claims has stealth properties, at the Bandar base in the Persian Gulf on Saturday. Sahand is equipped with a helicopter deck, torpedo launchers, and anti-aircraft and anti-ship weapons, among other features. In a meeting with naval commanders last week, Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said that the country should enhance its military capability and preparedness.

Flight path

Australia will send a P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft to Japan this week. Defence Minister Christopher Pyne said in an announcement on Friday that the deployment was part of Australia’s commitment to the mission to prevent sanctions evasion by North Korea. Another Poseidon was deployed in April and two AP-3C Orions were deployed in September.

On 30 November, Italy became the first European country to achieve initial operating capability (IOC) of the F-35 joint strike fighter. The Italian Air Force is the fourth service to declare IOC, after the US Air Force and Marine Corps and the Israeli Air Force. Royal Air Force F-35s are taking part in their first operational exercise and are due to achieve land-based IOC by the end of 2018.

The UK Ministry of Defence may not have given due consideration to Saab-Airbus’s and Israeli Aircraft Industries’ contenders before selecting the Boeing E-7 Wedgetail early warning aircraft. Jane’s reports that British officials flew in the Boeing model but not the other aircraft and met with Boeing more often than with the other companies. The UK’s defence procurement minister said a formal competition wasn’t put in place because of the ‘pressing need’ to find a replacement for the UK’s ageing Boeing E-3 aircraft. The decision still requires Treasury approval.

Iran’s annual aviation event concluded last week. The ninth Iran Air Show featured 110 companies, both local and foreign, showcasing products and services. There was a large emphasis on Iran’s domestic capabilities due to the reimposition of US sanctions. Photos of the four-day event can be found here.

Rapid fire

Microsoft has signed a US$480 million contract with the US Defense Department to supply an augmented-reality system called HoloLens that will be able to increase lethality and enhance soldiers’ ability to detect and engage with an enemy on the battlefield. The military-grade HoloLens will come with features that include ‘night vision, thermal sensing, hearing protection, plus the ability to read vital signs’. The US Army had tested HoloLens in training and plans to purchase 100,000 headsets for use in combat.

A journalist for Russia’s state-owned Channel One set off a high-level security alert in the UK after he was observed filming outside a barracks in Berkshire. The base is home to the 77th Brigade, which is believed to be a cyber unit that deals with countering online propaganda material from terror groups and states that try to infiltrate and disseminate disinformation to the public. Last month, the UK’s army chief warned that Russia poses a greater threat to the country than Islamic terror groups.

Major General Alenka Ermenc has been chosen as the head of Slovenia’s armed forces, the first woman in the country’s history to hold the post. She starts in the job tomorrow and will be the only female armed forces chief in NATO. Ermenc has had a decorated military career, having been a member of the territorial forces that fought for Slovenia’s independence from Yugoslavia and served in the NATO-led peacekeeping mission in Kosovo.

Zero gravity

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx arrived at the Bennu asteroid on Monday. The spacecraft has been in pursuit of the asteroid since 2016 and will spend a month observing its surface and mapping its chemical composition. OSIRIS-REx will then commence a slow descent, aiming to collect some regolith (space dust) in mid-2020. The sample—expected to arrive back on earth in 2023—will assist scientific research into asteroid trajectories, the origins of the solar system and the viability of asteroid-mining technologies.

Harvard researchers are preparing to test a geoengineering tactic that could stall the effects of climate change. In 2019, the lab will send a steerable balloon into the stratosphere to release and monitor the effects of a light-reflecting chemical compound, calcium carbonate. A Nature analysis describes the small-scale test as an opportunity to weigh the risks and benefits of geoengineering efforts, which, while controversial, have gained traction due to the threat of climate change.

The first manned space mission since the failure of a Soyuz spacecraft launch in October arrived at the International Space Station on Monday. Despite the success, Russia’s space agency Roscosmos is plagued by technological and economic issues, which, according to Russian space consultant Pavel Luzin, have damaged its reputation as a ‘trusted partner in space’.

Wired watchtower

Government and private companies in the United Arab Emirates and Lebanon were targeted in a two-pronged attack by an unknown hacker group. The first part involved imitating job websites to deliver a remote administration tool dubbed ‘DNSpionage’. The second campaign was a domain-name hijacking attack that targeted the finance ministry and Middle East Airlines in Lebanon, and the UAE’s police and telecommunications regulator. The source, success rate and motivation of the attacks are unknown.

Last Tuesday, South Africa’s National Assembly and National Council of Provinces passed several bills, including a Cybercrimes Bill, at their plenary sittings. The bill criminalises the distribution of content that is deemed harmful, allows interim protection orders to be granted and regulates the powers to investigate alleged cybercrimes. While there is support for the stance the bill takes against non-consensual dissemination of information, critics pointed out significant ambiguity in the draft bill regarding circulation of fake news. Those found guilty of ‘malicious communication’ could be imprisoned for up to three years.