The five-domains update

Sea state

China’s navy has added a new rescue unit to its South Sea fleet. The move increases the battle-readiness and capability of the fleet, which is ‘carrying out more missions’ in the disputed South China Sea. Created in a ‘recent round of military reform’, this unit will be navy’s second rescue unit, in addition to the one already assigned to the North Sea fleet. Having two such units will allow the PLA to deploy submarines to the area more effectively and safely by providing increased support and emergency rescue capacity.

The US Navy is planning to use a hypervelocity projectile (HVP) in its existing five-inch guns. The guns, which have an effective range of 13 to 15 miles, are installed on all cruisers and destroyers. The HVPs were originally intended for use in electromagnetic rail guns, but are being adapted for use in existing weapons systems to shorten the deployment timeframe.

Australia has conducted an annual maritime military exercise with the Philippines. This year, the LUMBAS exercise included the HMAS Adelaide and HMAS Darwin, which were in the Philippines as part of the Indo-Pacific Endeavour Joint Task Group.

Flight path

US Air Force General David Goldfein has revealed that the US is making preparations to have its B-52 bombers on 24-hour ready alert, in case the tensions with North Korea escalate into a ‘global situation’. According to Goldfein, the alert order hasn’t yet been given, but arrangements are being made on a contingency basis. If an order is given, it’ll be the first time since the Cold War that the bombers are on 24-hour ready alert.

India appears to be getting cold feet about its fifth-generation fighter aircraft development project with Russia. A report from Defence News quotes Indian Air Force officers expressing their dissatisfaction with the capabilities being developed. Since its 2007 inception, the program has hit multiple roadblocks, with disagreements on cost, production numbers and technology.

The Russian Ministry of Defense last week revealed that it will receive 10 upgraded Ka-27M helicopters per year to increase anti-submarine capabilities. The total fleet of 46 helicopters will have new radio and tactical command equipment and each will be able to carry four APR-3E torpedoes. The Ka-27s have been in service since the early 1980s.

Rapid fire

Thousands of files from the US embassy in Jakarta have been declassified and released. They document the US government’s ‘knowledge and support’ of the Indonesian army’s mass killing campaigns in the 1960s. The cables sent from embassy officials clearly show that the US knew that the Indonesian army and some Muslim organisations were executing allegedly communist civilians, and viewed the activities positively.

The Daily Mail claims that, due to recruitment shortages, the British Army has changed its drug abuse policy and will allow recruits who test positive once to continue their basic training. Apparently, that’s nothing new in the British Army, but the move has caused criticism, as well as drawing support. An anti-drug activist criticised the ‘normalisation of drug use’ and a former head of the army called it a ‘sad reflection on [British] society’, while another former head of the army argued in favour of ‘a second chance’ for young people.

A new exhibition at the Australian War Memorial casts a light on the activities of Australia’s Special Forces. The ‘From the Shadows’ exhibition was developed in collaboration with the Special Forces Command and provides an insight into a usually hidden world. Visitors learn about the soldiers’ personal stories and can view more than 600 objects.

Zero gravity

Last week, the Australian government signed a space tracking treaty with NASA, preceding the launch of our own space agency. The treaty covers space facilities owned by NASA and located in Australia, such as the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex, which is funded by NASA but managed and operated by Australia’s CSIRO. Australian space collaborations with the US first began in 1957, with the establishment of a radio tracking facility in Woomera. CSIRO’s chief executive, Larry Marshall, observed, ‘From humanity’s first steps on the Moon, to flying past Pluto, to Cassini’s recent descent into Saturn, CSIRO and NASA have partnered to not only see more deeply into our Universe, but inspire the next generation of scientists.’

Philosophy may not be the first thing you think of in relation to space, unless you’re Assistant Professor Emily Thomas, who wrote an excellent article for The Conversation about a debate that began 300 years ago between philosophers on the nature of the cosmos. If space is the distance between objects, and there were no objects, would space therefore not exist? Relationist Gottfried Leibniz thought so, while absolutist Samuel Clarke believed space to be a giant divine container, concluding that space would still exist in the absence of objects.

Wired watchtower

It’s been a week of dire warnings about bad things cyber in Canberra this week. The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner released its 2016–17 annual report last week, which revealed that 114 voluntary data breach notifications had been reported. While that number seems low, it’s likely to spike next year as mandatory data breach notification requirements enter into force.

More ominously, ASIO’s latest annual report stated that the agency is facing an ‘unprecedented security intelligence caseload’. The report has picked out state-sponsored cyber espionage and foreign influence campaigns as notable challenges, though the agency chose not to name names. That hasn’t stopped commentators from trying to pin the tail on the elephant in the room, however. Soon-to-be secretary of the new mega Department of Home Affairs, Mike Pezzullo, spoke in similar tones at a separate occasion, warning that ‘home is not what it used to be’ and highlighting the threat of the ‘global dark web for murder’ in particular.

Lastly, and more optimistically, the United Arab Emirates has appointed its first minister of state for artificial intelligence. The appointment is part of an ambitious body of work that seeks to put the UAE at the forefront of technological development worldwide, and to put UAE homes on Mars by 2117.