The five-domains update

Sea state

UK Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson has been criticised by China and cabinet colleagues for announcing that the Royal Navy’s flagship, aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth, would sail through the South China Sea. This is not the first time a senior British government official has proposed the idea. In 2017, Britain’s ambassador to the US, Kim Darroch, said that the UK was planning to send the carrier to the Pacific. UK Chancellor Philip Hammond’s trade visit to Beijing has reportedly been postponed due to Chinese ‘irritation’ over Williamson’s comments.

The 38th annual Cobra Gold exercise, led by Thai and US forces, is underway in the northern Thai province of Phitsanulok. It’s the largest and longest-running annual military exercise in the Asia–Pacific and more than 25 nations are taking part. This year, the exercise focuses on jungle warfare, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.

USS Hornet, one of the most important US aircraft carriers in World War II, has been found near Solomon Islands. Research vessel Petrel, which also discovered the wreck of USS Indianapolis two years ago, located the Hornet at a depth of 5,400 metres. The carrier became famous in April 1942 when the Doolittle Raid, the first Allied air attack on the Japanese mainland, was launched from its deck. The Hornet was sunk in October of the same year after also participating in the Battle of Midway.

Flight path

The US Air Force, the Royal Australian Air Force and the Japanese Air Self-Defense Force began the Cope North exercise at Andersen Air Force Base in Guam yesterday. More than 2,000 US service members will participate alongside 850 Australian and Japanese personnel. Cope North started in 1978 as a quarterly exercise between Japan and the US and is focused on building humanitarian-assistance and disaster-relief abilities among the three Pacific allies.

Rafale combat aircraft from the French air force and navy conducted their first test firings of the Meteor beyond-visual-range air-to-air missile on Wednesday last week. The tests were the last step in incorporating the Meteor into Rafale’s arsenal. The Meteor has also been used by the Royal Air Force’s Typhoon combat jet, and will eventually be used by British F-35s.

India’s defence ministry has approved the purchase of 54 Israeli HAROP attack drones for the country’s air force. The unmanned aircraft will be included in ‘Project Cheetah’, which aims to deck out all three of India’s services with high-quality attack drones and improve surveillance capabilities. The new drones will be tasked with patrolling India’s borders with Pakistan and China.

Rapid fire

The United Arab Emirates signed nearly $1.9 billion worth of weapons contracts on the first day of the five-day defence exhibitions known as IDEX and NAVDEX. A contract worth about $444,000 was awarded by the UAE to Australian company EOS Defence for ground and naval systems. Some of the weapons on display are being used in the war in Yemen and have been provided to militia forces by the UAE. Amnesty International has called on all states to halt the sale of weapons that are ‘fuelling war crimes and serious human rights violations in Yemen’.

Kosovo’s new army has paraded for the first time, at celebrations marking the 11th anniversary of the nation’s independence from Serbia. Previously, the Kosovo Security Force was a lightly armed unit used for civil defence and to deal with natural disasters. Kosovo’s parliament voted late last year to turn the service into a 5,000-strong standing army, despite criticism from NATO and anger from Serbia. Photos from the parade can be found here.

As army helicopters drop fodder to cattle stranded by the Queensland floods, farmers have been asked to drop Google Maps pins to direct crews to the right locations. Graziers are also asking the army to help bury up to 500,000 dead cattle killed in the floods.

 Zero gravity

A British satellite has successfully captured space junk using a harpoon, a development crucial to solving the growing threat to satellites and other spacecraft posed by space debris. It’s estimated there are 500,000 pieces of trackable space debris and millions more pieces that are too small to track. Watch a video of the successful capture here.

NASA has requested bids for the development of lunar landers that can carry humans, signalling its intent to establish a permanent human presence on the moon by 2028. The proposal says that NASA is looking for the best approach for getting both commercial payloads and astronauts to the moon using its Lunar Gateway, a spaceship that will sit in lunar orbit and serve as a base for exploration and access.

After 15 years exploring the surface of Mars, NASA has officially ended the Mars exploration rover Opportunity’s mission. The rover fell silent in June last year during intense dust storms and since then NASA has made over 1,000 attempts at re-establishing contact. Even though the rover was only intended to last for 90 days, it far exceeded expectations by travelling over 45 kilometres and delivering indispensable photos of the red planet.

Wired watchtower

An automated text generator model has been deemed too dangerous for public release. It was created by artificial intelligence research group OpenAI and is able to produce remarkably coherent text without any human input. But in the ‘fake news’ era, concerns have been raised over its ability to create convincing false stories instantaneously and its potential for abuse by malicious actors.

Chinese facial-recognition company SenseNet left a database logging sensitive information on over six million people, including nearly three million in Xinjiang province, open and unprotected for six months, Dutch researcher Victor Gevers has revealed. Information in the database included identification numbers, birthdays, home addresses and recent locations.

US prosecutors have unsealed an indictment against Behzad Mesri, an Iranian hacker said to be an associate of the ‘Charming Kitten’ cyber group. The US government alleges that Mesri and Charming Kitten used intelligence provided by US Air Force defector Monica Witt to put US intelligence officials under surveillance. Iranian hackers have an ambiguous relationship with the Iranian government, as the Revolutionary Guard Corps is said to provide lucrative contracts to Iranian hacking groups.