The five-domains update

Sea state

As tensions between the West and Iran escalate in the Strait of Hormuz, the Royal Navy has sent a nuclear submarine to the Persian Gulf. The deployment of the Astute-class submarine follows the Iranian Quds Force’s seizure of the British-flagged Stena Impero tanker on Saturday. The navy has said that the submarine is to be used for ‘covert intelligence’ against the port of Bandar Abbas and Iran’s fleet of midget submarines. The UK plans to continue to increase its maritime presence in the Persian Gulf. The Type 23 frigate HMS Kent is scheduled to be deployed to the region in September.

Vietnam has demanded that China remove an oil-survey vessel that is accused of engaging in ‘unlawful activities’ in its territorial waters. The Chinese survey ship Haiyang Dizhi 8 continues to operate in Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone, where there has been a standoff between the two countries for several weeks. China and Vietnam have disputed control over this area of the South China Sea for a number of years.

India has delivered the first of its indigenously built torpedoes to the Myanmar Navy. The Advanced Light Torpedo Shyna units are being delivered under a US$37.9 million deal signed in March 2017, and are designed to be launched by surface warfare vessels against submarines. The Indian Navy has provided the Myanmar Navy with technical support, training and capacity-building, although its assistance to Myanmar is outstripped by both China’s and Russia’s.

Flight path

US Southern Command has released footage of a Venezuelan Air Force Su-30MKI fighter intercepting a US Navy EP-3E Aries II aircraft over the Caribbean Sea. The EP-3E is a signals reconnaissance version of the P-3 Orion, which became famous in 2001 when one of them was involved in a mid-air collision with a Chinese J-8IIM fighter. An EP-3E was also intercepted by a Russian Su-27 over the Black Sea in January 2018.

Desk Aeronautico has reported that a Russian Antonov An-30B carried out reconnaissance flights over Italy under the ‘Open Skies’ treaty. The treaty, which entered into force in 2002, states that all of a party’s territory can be overflown, including prohibited areas. Open Skies flights have priority over all other traffic except for emergency, search-and-rescue and other security flights.

According to Mark Esper, who is expected to become the next US secretary of defence, the US F-35 joint strike fighter fleet won’t reach the desired 80% mission-capable target by the end of the current fiscal year, which finishes on 30 September. It currently sits at 52%, and the shortfall is likely to be exacerbated by the US government’s decision to remove Turkey from the F-35 program. The Pentagon has taken money set aside for spare parts to find new suppliers, and a US government audit official has warned that Australia’s supply of spare parts for its F-35s may be at risk.

Rapid fire

US troops are on their way to Saudi Arabia for the first time since 2003. It’s believed the US is deploying Patriot air-defence missile batteries to Prince Sultan Air Base near Riyaadh, along with a squadron of F-22 fighter jets. Amid increasing tensions with Iran, US Central Command said the move ‘provides an additional deterrent and ensures our ability to defend our forces and interests in the region from emergent, credible threats’.

In an Australian-led beach invasion drill, 2,000 troops landed at Shoalwater Bay in Queensland as part of the Talisman Sabre exercise. Australian, US, Japanese, New Zealand and British troops participated in the exercise—the largest Australian-led amphibious war game since World War II. US Marine Colonel Matthew Sieber said the exercise aimed to assess the ‘combat readiness and interoperability between the coalition forces’.

The US has imposed sanctions on Myanmar’s military chief Min Aung Hlaing and three other senior Myanmar army officers. The US State Department said the decision came after credible evidence was uncovered of the officers’ involvement in the 2017 brutal crackdown against the Rohingya minority group. The US imposed sanctions on some more junior military officials last year, but Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the US is now ‘the first government to publicly take action with respect to the most senior leadership of the Burmese military’.

Final frontier

SpaceX’s recent static fire test of its Starhopper Raptor engine ended in a dramatic fireball, according to footage released last week. The engine has previously been successfully trialled, but the latest hiccup means that the next planned ‘hover test’ will be delayed for at least a week. Successful testing of Starhopper’s engine is critical for the development of SpaceX’s fleet—the Raptor engine is used on all of its spacecraft.

A Chinese space lab module burned up upon re-entering the earth’s atmosphere, marking a successful conclusion to its three-year mission. Known as Tiangong 2, it conducted a range of scientific and engineering experiments during its mission which was one year longer than planned. It was taken out of orbit safely to avoid an uncontrolled atmospheric re-entry—the fate of its predecessor Tiangong 1.

After celebrating its one-year anniversary earlier this month, the Australian Space Agency has signed a strategic cooperation agreement with Myriota, an Australian space start-up focused on ‘internet of things’ connectivity through nanosatellites. Myriota has highlighted the suitability of its services—notably its satellites’ long battery life—for military applications.

Wired watchtower

The US Navy has launched its new data platform. The platform was designed to support decision-making by helping to better manage risk in supply chain operations. It aims to provide people in the navy without knowledge of data science and statistics with a business intelligence capability. To aid in decision-making, the platform can generate reports, dashboards and predictive analysis which can identify supply chain issues before they arise.

Optus has been granted an exemption from the provisions of Australia’s controversial metadata laws which require information that’s stored to be encrypted. Optus was granted a limited exemption to store data from legacy systems unencrypted. Considering the controversy surrounding these laws, an exemption like this calls further into question the security of the data collected under these laws.

The hacking group ‘0v1ru$’ has obtained vast amounts of data from SyTech, a major contractor for Russia’s Federal Security Service, the FSB. Data stolen from the contractor includes information about social media scraping projects and plans to de-anonymise users of the Tor browser. While the scale of the hack is noteworthy, it seems no state secrets were exposed by the hackers. As reported by the BBC, the projects linked to the FSB’s Military Unit 71330 had been known about for several years.