The five-domains update

Sea state

A former commander of Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force’s antisubmarine air wing has argued that Beijing wants to turn the disputed Senkaku (Diaoyu) Islands into a ‘safe haven’ for Chinese nuclear submarines. Speaking to the Japan Times, Sumihiko Kawamura urged the Japanese government to ease restrictions that prevent the MSDF and Japanese Coast Guard from firing live warning shots at ships approaching the islands. A Chinese ‘second-strike’ capability with submarine-launched ballistic missiles that reach the US mainland could dissuade the US from intervening in a conflict between China and Japan or Taiwan.

The United Arab Emirates has claimed that four commercial ships were hit by ‘sabotage operations’ on Sunday. The country’s foreign ministry said that it was investigating an incident near Fujairah and that there were no fatalities. While Emirati officials have declined to attribute the attack, the incident follows US warnings about attacks on maritime traffic by ‘Iran or its proxies’.

An investigation has been opened by the Defence Department over allegations that navy contracts were inflated with millions of dollars in unsubstantiated expenses. An external investigator will examine reports that the contract for BAE Systems’ Adelaide-class frigates was inflated by up to $33 million and that Thales was paid an extra $16 million as part of its maintenance contract for the vessels.

Flight path

A KPMG report has found that RAAF F-35 jets based at Williamtown near Newcastle are at risk of ‘intergranular corrosion’ due to salty air and other climatic conditions. The report says that an aluminium alloy used in the F-35s has increased susceptibility to corrosion, which can cause metal stress and cracking. The nearby production of coal may also be a contributing factor. KPMG suggested that the base use dehumidification units to protect the aircraft.

The head of the US Air Force in the Pacific says China may declare its Chengdu J-20 stealth fighter aircraft ready for operations this year. The J-20 prototype flew for the first time in 2011. The aircraft bears a resemblance to the USAF’s F-22 stealth jet, but it’s not certain how formidable the aircraft actually is. The J-20 has reportedly had major engine problems, and it may not be as stealthy as the F-22 at supersonic speeds.

Two Boeing F/A-18F Super Hornets have undergone testing and evaluation for the Swiss Air Force. Switzerland is currently assessing the capabilities of different fighter jets to replace its Northrop Grumman F-5 Tigers, which were acquired in the 1970s. In a 2014 referendum, the Swiss rejected the parliament’s plan to replace the F-5s with Swedish Saab Gripens. A video of the Super Hornets can be found here.

Rapid fire

Two French commandos have been killed in a special forces operation to rescue four people in Burkina Faso. Two French men taken hostage while on safari in Pendjari National Park in Benin, as well as an American woman and a South Korean woman, were saved. US intelligence and troops from France’s Operation Barkhane supported the mission, demonstrating the importance of the US–French alliance in the region.

The US Army is testing the ability of robots to undertake complex and dangerous breach operations. General Mike Murray said the difficulty is not in using the autonomous technology but in figuring out how the robots interact with their environment and with soldiers. A test at Yakima training centre on 7 May challenged the robots to overcome obstacles like minefields, concertina wire and anti-tank trenches.

The Russian Army has begun using ‘silent’ mortars. The 82-millimetre 2B25 ‘Gull mortar’ is capable of shooting targets around a kilometre away and can fire 15 rounds a minute while ‘producing very little smoke or muzzle flash’. A former dean of the US Army War College said the weapons are likely to be popular with countries like Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Final frontier

India will reportedly land a spacecraft known as Chandrayaan-2 on the moon in September and, when it does, will become the first country to explore the moon’s south pole region. After a number of delays since 2013, the Indian Space Research Organisation has announced that the spacecraft will be launched in July. If the mission is successful, India will become the fourth country—after the United States, the Soviet Union and China—to land on the moon.

SpaceX will launch 60 satellites in a step towards creating its ‘Starlink’ megaconstellation this week. The satellites will be launched in a Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral and will be the first of many launches to come—thousands of ‘Starlink’ satellites will eventually be launched to provide internet access to people around the world.

If elected, a Coalition government will provide funding for small and medium-sized enterprises to improve Australia’s capability and readiness to provide space launch services. Around $2.5 million will be dedicated to testing space equipment in Australia instead of overseas and about $900,000 will be allocated to exploring legislation and policy issues to ensure that Australia complies with its international obligations while conducting launches.

Wired watchtower

The countries of the G7 will conduct a simulation of a cross-border cybersecurity attack to test the resilience of the financial sector next month. This joint simulation involving Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the US will be the first of its kind and aims to demonstrate that greater multilateral efforts and cooperation are needed to combat cyberattacks.

US Cyber Command has begun to deploy personnel overseas to disrupt foreign electoral interference in the lead-up to the 2020 presidential election. During last year’s midterm elections, personnel were deployed in Eastern Europe to respond to threats and collect intelligence. One of Cyber Command’s key priorities in its mission to disrupt foreign electoral interference will be improving coordination with other departments.

A US-based photo storage app known as ‘Ever’ has come under scrutiny after millions of photos shared by users were used to train the company’s facial recognition technology. In April, the company’s privacy policy was updated to reflect this practice even though it had been going on for years without users’ knowledge or permission. The technology has only been sold to private companies, though Ever AI has pitched it to law enforcement agencies and the military.