The five-domains update

Sea state

The US Navy sent its guided-missile destroyer Stethem and cargo ship Cesar Chavez through the Taiwan Strait last Monday. This move follows the transit of guided-missile destroyer USS McCampbell and supply vessel USNS Walter S. Diehl in January. Regular US naval movement in the strait aims to reaffirm Washington’s support for Taipei in the face of increasing antagonism from China.

NATO’s submarine warfare exercise Dynamic Manta began off the coast of Sicily last week. Submarines from Greece, Italy, Spain, Turkey and the UK have joined ships, aircraft and personnel from five other NATO states in training exercises in the Mediterranean. By coordinating efforts with air and surface forces, the exercise aims to enhance interoperability between allied nations and improve their anti-submarine warfare capability.

Italian shipbuilder Fincantieri has begun construction of two offshore patrol vessels for the Qatari Emeri Navy. A total of seven vessels will be delivered to the Qatari defence ministry under the €4 billion (A$6.4 billion) contract. The OPVs are based on Fincantieri’s 60-metre fast attack craft and have both surveillance and warfighting capabilities.

Flight path

As tensions between India and Pakistan remain high, the US is investigating reports that Pakistani F-16s shot down an Indian MiG-21 last week. The US delivered dozens of F-16s to Pakistan over the past three decades, but legal restrictions limit Pakistan’s use of the jets in exercises and operations. Pakistan also operates the Chinese-designed JF-17, but it hasn’t said which aircraft was used in operations against India.

RAAF Base Amberley is trialling an air traffic management system that will allow it to conduct flight operations from a virtual control tower. The technology displays radar data and air traffic control information on a 360-degree screen, removing the need to deploy air traffic controllers to remote locations. Amberley’s the first defence establishment in the southern hemisphere to install the system.

Scramble Magazine claims that four F-117A Nighthawk stealth aircraft were used in 2017 to conduct airstrikes in Syria. The US officially retired the F-117 in 2008, but the aircraft has been photographed flying over the Tonopah Test Range in Nevada on several occasions, most recently last month. While there’s no concrete evidence that F-117s were deployed to the Middle East, some experts argue it’s possible that operational requirements in Syria may have required the use of the F-117’s unique capabilities.

Rapid fire

America’s new Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV), which is planned to replace the Humvee, is ‘not operationally suitable’, according to a Pentagon report. The JLTV has had a plethora of problems, including brake system faults and doors that don’t work, and contractors have to be deployed on the battlefield to support it. The vehicle is also large and loud, making it easily detectable and difficult to transport on ships. In 2011, Australia discontinued its financial participation in the JLTV program, later choosing to acquire Australian-developed Hawkei vehicles instead.

In January, the US Department of Defense announced ‘Project Dilithium’, a plan to develop a portable nuclear reactor that could provide power to forward operating bases and run for many years without refuelling. But in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Edwin Lyman has criticised the project, highlighting the risk of meltdown and the threat of proliferation if the reactors run on highly enriched uranium.

As part of an Australian Institute of Sport program called ‘Gold Medal Ready’, athletes training for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics are undergoing intense training with the Australian Army’s special operations unit. The army has worked with sport teams before, but this is the first collaboration with Olympic athletes, including some training for solo sports such as boxing and canoeing. The army believes it will also benefit from knowledge brought by coaches, athletes and sport scientists.

Zero gravity

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft has docked with the International Space Station, the first time a US craft designed to carry humans has done so since NASA’s shuttle program was cancelled. The demonstration flight will last six days and the capsule will return to earth on 8 March. While the docking is a major milestone, the capsule will need to demonstrate a successful landing before it can be approved to carry passengers.

Royal Australian Air Force chief Leo Davies says his force is set to ramp up its capabilities in space. Improved military satellite communications will likely be a RAAF priority, with projects such as DEF-799 and JP 9102 announced already. Davies’ comments come after the creation of the Australian Space Agency last year, though it’s not yet clear how civil and military activity in space will interact and be coordinated in the future.

A South African university has launched a nanosatellite to help track shipping along the country’s coastline. The technology will also be used to track the spread of wildfires and help emergency services respond more quickly. Three more nanosatellites will be launched by South Africa this year, meaning it will no longer have to buy satellite data from other countries.

Wired watchtower

Thailand’s parliament has unanimously approved new cybersecurity laws which have been likened to ‘cyber martial law’. The legislation gives the government sweeping powers, including monitoring online traffic, accessing anyone’s information, seizing information online without a warrant, and impounding any devices suspected to be used for cybercrime for up to 30 days. Civil rights groups have decried the laws for impinging too much on individual freedoms and the right to privacy.

A report from New South Wales Auditor-General Margaret Crawford has revealed serious issues with the database used to manage the state’s firearms licensing regime. The system uses outdated technology reliant on manual data entry and has been slated for upgrade for over five years. The report also revealed the extent of unreliable and incorrect data stored in the database, raising concerns over the integrity of the broader firearms regulation system in New South Wales.

Japan and India have announced that they will hold bilateral talks and work together to combat cybersecurity risks related to 5G technology. Japan has underscored the danger in allowing Chinese companies Huawei and ZTE to dominate the Indian telecommunications market. This follows the agreement between prime ministers Shinzo Abe and Narendra Modi to strengthen security cooperation announced in October last year.