The five-domains update

Sea state

Last Wednesday, a Chinese naval warship collided with a Taiwanese freighter in the Taiwan Strait at around 8 pm local time. Both vessels suffered hull damage. The cargo ship made it safely to Liaoluo Port in Kinmen but the Chinese vessel kept going. The Taiwan coastguard caught up with the ship at around midnight but was unable to identify its hull number in the darkness. Authorities are now investigating the incident to determine whether it was an accident or a deliberate act.

Germany’s foreign minister, Heiko Maas, has said that his country won’t participate in a US-led naval patrol mission in the Strait of Hormuz. The announcement came amid rising tensions between Iran and the West as Iran continues to seize foreign oil tankers in the area. However, Germany has not ruled out joining a European-led initiative to protect shipping in the Gulf.

The US Justice Department has filed corruption charges against the head of a Korean port services company. The department alleges that the CEO provided a former US navy captain with various gifts and paid expenses in exchange for sensitive and confidential naval information. This comes as another blow to the US Navy, with observers pointing to similarities with the ‘Fat Leonard’ scandal that has troubled the navy since 2013.

Flight path

Scientists at the Sandia National Laboratories have been studying the dragonfly to see if its hunting abilities can be mimicked in missile defence systems. Led by neuroscientist Frances Chance, the research examines the insect’s neural network and aims to build computer algorithms that simulate its information-processing skills to help improve missile capabilities. While it’s unknown whether the research will lead to more efficient missile systems, such a model could also have benefits in other fields, such as artificial intelligence and self-driving cars.

Israeli company BIRD Aerosystems has received an additional order from the UN for airborne missile protection systems to protect helicopters engaged in peacekeeping operations in Africa. BIRD claims that its system offers ‘the most enhanced protection’ against surface-to-air missiles. The newly ordered systems will be installed on Russian-made UN Mi-17 helicopters, which are currently operating in West Africa and the Sudan.

The German government has disclosed that only 512 of the Luftwaffe’s 875 pilots met the mandatory 180 training flight hours last year. Chronic underfunding has contributed to equipment shortages and extensive maintenance issues, with only 39 of Germany’s 128 Eurofighters in a state of operational readiness in 2018. Defence spending currently accounts for just 1.35% of Germany’s GDP and falls short of NATO targets. The US has continued to pressure Germany to lift defence spending to meet the NATO target of 2% of GDP.

Rapid fire

The soaring murder rate in Cape Town is generating an undercurrent of fear in the port city. The over-crowded poverty-stricken townships on the Cape flats are being terrorised by gang violence and local police have been unable to quell the disturbances. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has deployed a battalion of several hundred soldiers to help ‘restore law and maintain order’ in the troubled areas. The three-month operation has been welcomed by local residents. However, critics argue that it is a band-aid solution for deeply rooted social problems stemming from the systemic oppression of the apartheid era.

Within months, the US could have ground-based conventional intermediate-range missiles deployed in Asia. US Defense Secretary Mark Esper made this announcement en route to Australia for the AUSMIN meeting, which was held on Sunday. The US plan comes on the heals of the demise of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said last week that the treaty’s breakdown ‘will likely heighten, not reduce, the threat posed by ballistic missiles’.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has affirmed his support to end the ‘unfair trials’ of British soldiers being prosecuted for their role in the Troubles in the early 1970s in Northern Ireland. The appointment of Johnny Mercer, who has labelled the prosecution of veterans as an ‘abhorrent process’, as veterans affairs minister reflects a wider desire in the Conservative Party to halt historic prosecutions of veterans. Sinn Fein fears that an amnesty would slow reconciliation and prevent ‘public consultation on dealing with the legacy of the past’.

Final frontier

Following French President Emmanuel Macron’s announcement last month that he had approved the creation of a space command in the French air force for defence and surveillance, the scope of the unit’s role has been clarified. French Defence Minister Florence Parly confirmed in a speech last week that France plans to defend its constellation of military satellites using a new generation of Syracuse satellites armed with defensive weapons.

The European Space Agency has selected Airbus to build the European component of the ‘Solar-wind Magnetosphere Ionosphere Link Explorer’ (SMILE) satellite. The satellite is part of a joint mission between the ESA and the Chinese Academy of Sciences to monitor and understand space weather.

Astronauts on the International Space Station are set to bake chocolate-chip cookies in space for the first time thanks to a partnership between Double-Tree Hilton, Zero G Kitchen and NanoRacks. While the astronauts won’t be able to consume their creations—the first batch will be sent back to earth for analysis—this experiment will bring them one step closer to understanding the art of baking in microgravity.

Wired watchtower

In response to growing concern about the changing nature of warfare, the UK is establishing a specialist army hybrid warfare division that will study unconventional warfare, below and above the threshold of conflict. The 6th Division, as it will be known, will focus on intelligence-gathering and information operations, as well as cyber and electronic warfare.

Industrial cybersecurity firm Dragos has identified a new hacker group targeting the telecommunication and energy sectors across the Middle East, Central Asia and Africa. The group, which Dragos has named ‘Hexane’, has become more active in recent months and is likely targeting telecommunication companies as a means of gaining third-party access to oil and gas companies.

Young hackers accused of committing cybercrimes will be offered a second chance thanks to a joint initiative between the British and Dutch authorities called ‘Hack_Right’. Instead of opting for legal proceedings against first-time offenders, police in the UK and the Netherlands will set out to educate young hackers about the consequences of their actions and engage them in ethical computer training.