The five-domains update

Sea state

Chinese media have reported that the People’s Liberation Army Navy is testing a tactical laser system similar to the US Navy’s laser weapon system. They say that the weapon will be deployed on both land and sea and is intended for air defence and close-in surface-to-surface force protection. The media also suggested that it might be used aboard the PLAN’s Type 055 destroyers as an alternative to the HHQ-10 surface-to-air missile.

A ‘suicide’ submarine and its mothership have been sighted at a military base in Nampo, North Korea. The vessel is tied up alongside other Korean People’s Army Naval Force ships at the port, and is approximately 30 metres long. In 2010, South Korean media reported on the existence of ‘human torpedoes’ made up of elite North Korean combat swimmers who are trained to operate one- or two-person mini-submersibles.

The Royal Saudi Arabian Navy has fired several missiles towards Houthi defences in northern Yemen. The Saudi missile strikes on the town of Mahatrah were accompanied by a ground assault from pro-government tribal forces and the Yemeni army attempting to push closer to the city of Hajjah. Gains by pro-government forces have been minimal, as the Houthis have been able to use the unforgiving terrain near the city to aid their defence.

Flight path

An Airbus solar high-altitude pseudo-satellite drone has reportedly crashed in the remote north of Western Australia. The ‘Zephyr’ reconnaissance drone is claimed to be the world’s first stratospheric unmanned aircraft and is able to fly for months without needing to land. Airbus chose Wyndham as its first operational testing site for the Zephyr in June last year, as the Kimberley region has unrestricted airspace and optimal weather conditions for flight tests.

US Africa Command has resumed airstrikes in Somalia after it admitted that two civilians had been killed in strikes in April 2018. Amnesty International alleged that it had credible evidence that US airstrikes had killed Somali civilians. US military officials denied any wrongdoing, but on 5 April, AFRICOM officials said US airstrikes were responsible for the deaths of two civilians last year. The US has carried out 29 airstrikes in Somalia since the start of the year.

An environmental group and seven residents of Boise, Idaho, have filed a lawsuit against the US Air Force to stop proposed training exercises over nine cities in the state’s south. The 336th Fighter Wing stationed at Mountain Home Air Force Base wants to train its F-15E fighter pilots and joint terminal attack controllers in urban close-air-support drills to reduce the risk of collateral damage in real combat operations.

Rapid fire

French investigative website Disclose has published leaked French military intelligence showing that French-made arms are being used in the war in Yemen and that French weapons sold to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates ‘may have been used to commit war crimes’. The French weapons used in Yemen include Leclerc battle tanks, Mirage 2000 fighter jets, Cobra radar systems, Aravis armoured troop carriers, Cougar and Dauphin helicopters, Caesar truck-mounted howitzers, and anti-armour ammunition. This information contradicts statements made by the French government, which has always insisted that French arms have been used only in defensive circumstances.

US President Donald Trump’s policy banning transgender troops from the US military has come into effect, reversing Barack Obama’s 2016 decision to lift the restrictions on trans people in the military. From Friday, people who have transitioned or are openly trans will be barred from enlisting. Personnel who come out as trans while serving will be discharged. According to a 2016 study by the RAND Corporation, more than 10,000 trans people may be serving across the US military.

Zero gravity

The world’s biggest plane, operated by space company Stratolaunch, has flown for the first time. The plane’s wingspan is an enormous 117 metres, significantly more than the previous record-holder, the Antonov An-225 Mriya at 88 metres. The plane is intended to carry rockets to be launched from the air, a method that should be cheaper than traditional ground launches. The first flight was successful and the plane landed after a two-and-a-half-hour flight.

US Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson has provided an interesting insight into the role of the US as space becomes an increasingly contested domain. In a speech to the Space Symposium, she said that the US needs to demonstrate its space-based capability to show its adversaries that it will continue to dominate this domain. She also emphasised that uncertainty is an important aspect of deterrence and that it’s important to leave adversaries questioning the true extent of US space capabilities.

NASA has awarded SpaceX a launch contract for a mission to test asteroid-deflection capabilities known as the ‘double asteroid redirection test’. This first-ever attempt to intercept an asteroid will seek to knock the asteroid Didymos’s moon, Didymoon, off course in October 2022. There had been tensions between NASA and SpaceX after the company filed a complaint against NASA for awarding a launch contract to United Launch Alliance. SpaceX dropped the complaint last week.

Wired watchtower

Defence Minister Christopher Pyne has announced that the Royal Australian Navy will spend $600 million upgrading its IT systems. The aim of the project is to improve and modernise the navy’s ‘fleet information environment’ computer networks. The new systems will be rolled out over the next decade.

In Finland, a website that publishes vote tallies was the target of a denial-of-service attack several days before national elections were held on Sunday. Finnish police are investigating the incident, but so far no suspects have been identified. Authorities have been on high alert over the threat of Russian election interference during the election period.

US submarine cable company SubCom has been selected by Singapore’s H2 Cable company to lay a new $531 million internet cable between Sydney and Hong Kong. The cable will also help link Australia to Taiwan, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Guam and Hawaii. H2 chairman Remi Galasso says the cable will meet market demands, but Jonathan Pryke from the Lowy Institute says it could help prevent Huawei from laying its own cables in the region.