The five-domains update

Sea state

Amid rising tensions between Washington and Moscow, the US Navy’s guided-missile destroyer USS McCampbell conducted a freedom-of-navigation exercise near the disputed Peter the Great Bay off Japan to challenge Russia’s ‘excessive maritime claims’ in the region. The US also protested against Russia’s seizure of three Ukrainian ships in the Kerch Strait last month. Meanwhile, a senior Chinese air force officer has called for his country’s navy to block or ram US ships in the South China Sea.

New Delhi plans to induct 56 new warships and six submarines in the next 10 years to fulfil its ambition to be a ‘world-class navy’, Indian naval chief Admiral Sunil Lanba said last week. He added that construction of India’s second indigenously built aircraft carrier was well underway and that the navy was pitching the government for a third, despite significant costs. Meanwhile, Chinese state media quoted military expert Song Zhongping as saying that Beijing planned to operate five aircraft carriers in the ‘near future’, including two nuclear-fuelled ones by 2025.

A Spanish Descubierta-class corvette, the Infanta Elena, illegally patrolled British territorial waters off the coast of Gibraltar last week. A local fisherman posted footage of the vessel sailing past the rock, apparently playing the Spanish national anthem on a loudspeaker as it travelled. Last month, a British ship fired a warning shot after a Spanish Guardia Civil vessel harassed nuclear submarine HMS Talent.

Flight path

Australia’s first two F-35 joint strike fighters have arrived at their new home base, RAAF Base Williamtown, turning the 16-year project into a reality. The two jets departed from Luke Air Force Base in Arizona last week and stopped in Hawaii, Guam and Brisbane, before arriving at Williamtown on Monday. An auditor-general’s report released just before their arrival revealed several concerns with the JSF program, including potential cost blowouts. It’s been a year of firsts for the F-35—initial operating capability was declared in Italy, and Israel and the US started using them in combat.

UPDATE: The US has announced the five missing marines are dead and search and rescue operations involving the US, Japan and Australia have stopped.

A US Marine is dead and five more are missing after an F/A-18 Hornet fighter collided with a KC-130 Hercules tanker. Another crewmember from the Hornet was rescued. The investigation into the accident, which happened in training off the coast of Japan (possibly during refuelling), is ongoing. It is the latest in a series of crashes involving US military aircraft. According to a study released in April, the accident rate for navy and marine corps Hornets has doubled in the last five years.

The US Marine Corps is using a replica Chinese fighter jet for opposition forces, or OpFor, training. The Chengdu J-20 was spotted at Savannah/Hilton Head airport in Georgia last Wednesday and was later confirmed to be a training mock-up, but not before it prompted speculation that it was a prop for the upcoming film Top Gun: Maverick.

Rapid fire

The Australian Army needs to expand its recruitment pool to meet the challenges of the changing landscape of warfare, according to the outgoing head of Forces Command. Major General Fergus McLachlan said that the current paradigm, which emphasises physical testing and mental toughness, needs to be expanded to attract ‘cyber defenders’—tech-savvy individuals who may not be physically fit but have the skills to shut down an enemy weapon system without setting foot on the battlefield.

The US Army has added a new fitness test to its recruitment manual with the aim of improving readiness and reducing preventable injuries in combat. The test, which will be trialled in 2019 before it’s introduced army-wide in 2020, focuses on mental toughness and endurance while requiring recruits to score at least 60 points to pass a physical test. A joint report by the US Army Public Health Center and the American Heart Association shows that low fitness of US army recruits ‘poses a threat to military readiness and national security’.

A Congolese army colonel, Jean de Dieu Mambweni, has been arrested in connection with the deaths of two UN sanctions monitors in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Kasai region. Zaida Catalán and Michael Sharp were killed in March 2017 under murky circumstances while investigating reports of atrocities committed during fighting between government forces and a militia group. Congolese authorities initially blamed their deaths on the militia, but later acknowledged that state agents could have been involved.

Zero gravity

As Australia explores the use of miniature satellites, or cubesats—discussed in last week’s ‘ASPI suggests’—there’s a need for comprehensive regulatory standards. Australia’s commitment to supporting the growth of a domestic space industry presents unrivalled opportunities for jobs, the economy, and defence and technology industries. However, small satellites can increase network interference, exacerbate the space junk problem and raise questions of legal liability.

Space capabilities like those China is demonstrating in its Chang’e 4 mission to the dark side of the moon are an indicator of power and increasingly a frontier for national security. Increased competition has prompted some cooperation, however. Japan and India have announced a ‘space dialogue’ for March that will include sharing satellite data and surveillance technology to improve their national defence capabilities.

The Philippines’ House of Representatives has unanimously approved the creation of a space agency and a policy on space development and utilisation. The agency will be the planning and execution entity for the space policy, which focuses on six key areas, including national security and climate studies. Other Southeast Asian countries are increasing their space efforts, with Indonesia also establishing its own space policy.

Wired watchtower

The head of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service says foreign interference through cyber penetration poses a greater strategic challenge to Canada than terrorism. In a rare public speech, David Vigneault said cheap and easy-to-access tools have sped up activities he characterised as ‘corrosive to democratic systems and institutions’. He said his agency has seen growth in state-sponsored espionage in areas such as Canada’s 5G network and AI.

The US government plans to charge Chinese state-backed hackers accused of launching cyberattacks against major American technology firms. The US Department of Justice’s ‘China initiative’ aims to uncover cases of IP theft amid increasing concerns over China’s use of covert tactics to steal sensitive US corporate secrets.

A report by Stealthcare, a private intelligence firm, has uncovered a sophisticated cyberattack against key Ukrainian government institutions in the lead-up to the Russian seizure of Ukrainian ships in the Kerch Strait. The report found that actors working on behalf of the Russian government coordinated a cyberattack with the aim of stealing information to aid its maritime operations.