The five-domains update

Sea state

China’s ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, Ni Jian, has said that China is considering using its navy to help escort its commercial vessels in the Persian Gulf if a ‘very unsafe situation’ eventuates. China is also contemplating joining the US-led Operation Sentinel, despite the ongoing trade war between the two nations.

Russia is planning to build two new nuclear-powered icebreakers to be delivered in 2024 and 2026. It already has three in production, which are due to be commissioned by 2022. Once in service, the five ships will be the largest and most powerful icebreakers ever constructed and will allow Russia to ‘strengthen its leadership in the development of the Arctic’, according to Alexei Rakhmanov, president of the United Shipbuilding Corporation.

The US Navy has dropped charges against four Navy SEALs for allegedly abusing detainees in Afghanistan in 2012. The navy is currently being plagued by several other scandals, including the recent acquittal of Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher over murder and attempted murder charges dating back to 2017. Newly appointed Chief of Naval Operations Vice Admiral Michael Gilday says that he’s determined to ‘quickly and firmly’ resolve the ongoing investigations into alleged misbehaviour.

Flight path

Last Thursday, US and Canadian fighter jets intercepted a pair of Russian bombers just off the coast of Alaska, according to the North American Aerospace Defense Command. Though the bombers entered the Alaskan and Canadian air defence identification zones, they stayed clear of both countries’ sovereign airspace. Russia’s motives for the excursion are still unclear, but this isn’t the first time a Russian aircraft has entered the North American air defence zones.

The Chinese-made CH-4B drone, which is in the same size class as the US MQ-1 Predator drone, seems to be falling out of favour among its most prominent users in the Middle East. Only one of Iraq’s CH-4Bs is operational out of a fleet of more than 10, according to The National Interest. While maintenance issues are apparently to blame, operators have been dissatisfied with the CH-4B’s overall performance.

A scramjet engine built by Northrop Grumman for the US Air Force Research Laboratory has achieved a record-breaking 13,000 pounds of thrust in hypersonic conditions. The Arnold Air Force Base in Tennessee underwent a two-year upgrade to accommodate the ‘truly remarkable’ scramjet engine. The project is indicative of the desire in the US military to push the boundaries of hypersonic research, and will feed into the development of other designs, such as scramjet-powered missiles.

Rapid fire

As part of Australia’s biggest peacetime investment in defence, the government has approved $500 million in funding for the first stage of Project Greyfin. It’s part of a planned $3-billion investment in Australia’s special forces over 20 years to ensure that they have ‘cutting-edge capabilities’ in intelligence, science and technology. Liberal MP and former SAS officer Andrew Hastie said that the investment would build ‘discreet insertion and extraction capabilities’ akin to those of the US special forces.

An explosion at a Russian missile test site on Thursday killed five nuclear engineers and wounded three others. It was just the latest in a string of explosions at Russian military facilities last week, at least one of which was caused by a lightning strike. Russia expert Jeffrey Edmonds said ‘there’s a tendency for accidents to happen in Russia’ because its ‘culture of aggressiveness and risk-taking’ doesn’t mix well with outdated military infrastructure.

Taiwan’s military budget is set to grow ahead of the upcoming presidential election, after the Chinese defence ministry affirmed its ‘resolve to “liberate”’ Taiwan in a white paper released at the end of July. President Tsai Ing-wen’s government has committed US$11.3 billion for 2019, up 5.6% from last year, as part of her re-election platform. Her government intends to bolster Taiwan’s defence by allocating money for new US weaponry and lobbying the Pentagon to allow the sale of additional F-16 fighter jets.

Final frontier

Chinese startup LinkSpace has successfully completed the third test of its reusable rocket. The RLV-T5 rocket climbed to 300 metres before independently returning to its launchpad 50 seconds after launch. The rocket is part of China’s efforts to reduce the cost of space launches and deploy more satellites. The test is another example of the growing influence of China’s private industry in space—Chinese firm iSpace successfully delivered a satellite into orbit last month.

SpaceX has announced that it will offer rideshare opportunities for small satellite operators ‘looking to put lighter payloads into orbit’. The initiative will allow customers to pre-book a spot on a Falcon 9 for a specific launch date with the guarantee that the rocket will go up. This is a significant development given that other rideshare missions rely on the main payload, which means small satellites are at risk of being delayed by the larger customer.

Arianespace has successfully launched the second satellite to ‘join the constellation of satellites’ that make up the European Data Relay System. The system, also known as the ‘SpaceDataHighway’, uses lasers to transmit satellite images and data to earth in almost real time, enabling faster responses to emergency situations. It’s the product of a partnership between the European Space Agency and Airbus, and is part of the agency’s efforts to encourage more public–private partnerships in large-scale space projects.

Wired watchtower

Researchers from IBM’s ‘X-Force Red’ have developed a proof-of-concept device called a ‘warship’ to demonstrate a cyberattack that can be carried out through the mail. The method of attack—called ‘warshipping’—is a modern take on the Trojan horse, in which an attacker uses a package to conceal a device. Once the package is delivered, the device can be used to infiltrate a targeted wi-fi network and steal data or passwords.

Hackers were given the opportunity over the weekend to take on DARPA’s secure voting machine prototype at Defcon’s Voting Village. Hackers were asked to look for and exploit any vulnerabilities relating to hardware-based attacks. The prototype is part of a US$10 million DARPA-funded project to develop an open-source voting platform using secure hardware.

Zindi—a company that hosts online competitions with a focus on science and technology—is using Microsoft’s cloud-based computing service, Azure, to power the platform. As part of a partnership between the firms, Microsoft will host two competitions focused on African agtech, and Zindi is set to bring together 4,000 data scientists based in Africa to develop and create data-driven solutions to local problems.