The five-domains update

Sea state

China’s first domestically built aircraft carrier, known as the Type 001A, has sailed into the South China Sea. The Chinese navy says the vessel is there to conduct ‘scientific tests and routine drills’. China previously confirmed that the carrier had cruised through the Taiwan Strait. It is also building the hull of what will be its third aircraft carrier. The new vessel is expected to be equipped with an electromagnetic aircraft launch system, allowing it to handle larger aircraft.

Japan Marine United Corporation has unveiled a preliminary design for a landing helicopter dock amphibious assault ship that it plans to pitch to the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force. Though the Japanese government has not publicly expressed an interest in such a vessel, it has been seeking to improve the country’s amphibious capabilities, including by conducting its largest amphibious drill since 1945. JMU also revealed that it’s developing two amphibious vehicles for the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force.

The US has approved a sale of naval guns and ammunition to India. The deal, worth more than US$1 billion, includes up to 13 MK-45 naval guns and 3,500 rounds of ammunition. The proposed purchase will ‘improve India’s capability to meet current and future threats’, and comes as Pakistan asserted that its relationship with China ‘will never fray’, as the two countries continue their cooperation under the China–Pakistan Economic Corridor project.

Flight path

Boeing Australia has developed and tested a pair of small, unmanned jet-powered aircraft as part of the Royal Australian Air Force’s ‘airpower teaming system’. Drones like these will one day act as ‘loyal wingmen’ for manned platforms like the F-35 in joint missions. At this stage the program is focused on fostering innovation rather than delivering capability and seeks ‘to further explore manned–unmanned teaming concepts’ in Australia.

Two US pilots have been killed in a crash involving two T-38 Talon jet trainers at Vance Air Force Base in Oklahoma. The accident occurred during the landing phase of a training exercise. The two pilots killed were aboard one of the trainers, while two others in the second Talon were uninjured. It’s the sixth crash involving a T-38 in the past two years. All flights at the base have been suspended while officials investigate the incident.

The US has confirmed that one of its drones was lost over Libya’s capital Tripoli while conducting operations to ‘assess the ongoing security situation and monitor violent extremist activity’. It’s not clear what happened to the drone, but its loss came a day after an unarmed Italian Air Force Reaper drone crashed in Libya. It’s also not known what caused the Italian aircraft to crash. The two incidents have led to speculation that sophisticated anti-UAV technology has made its way to Libya.

Rapid fire

UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has dismissed claims made in the Sunday Times that the British Army will be cut to between 60,000 and 65,000 troops and that the country will lease one of its two new aircraft carriers to the US. The report comes amid fears that the UK’s military will have to make cuts after the Conservatives’ election manifesto ditched the government’s commitment to maintain the size of the armed forces.

The US State Department cleared a US$245 million sale of up to 850 jammers for improvised explosive devices to Australia last week. On the same day, it approved the sale of Apache helicopters to Morocco, five C-130J transport aircraft to New Zealand and the naval guns and ammunition to India reported above. The total value of the sales could add up to US$6.9 billion if approved by Congress.

The US Army and other NATO forces will conduct ‘forcible entry’ exercises in Lithuania, Georgia and Poland to prepare rapid-response units for war in Europe. The exercise is part of the larger ‘DEFENDER’ program, which comprises 20,000 US soldiers and 17,000 allied soldiers from 18 countries. These exercises are intended to act as a ‘massive deterrent against any kind of great power European attack on NATO’ and improve interoperability and relationships between countries.

Final frontier

Better late than never. Some time after this wrap did it, NATO has officially identified space as the fifth domain alongside air, land, sea and cyber. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance will take the necessary measures to protect the interests of its member states in space and ensure that their space assets are available in times of peace, crisis and conflict. Stoltenberg confirmed that despite the formal recognition of space as integral to mutual security, NATO has no intention of putting weapons in space.

Scientists from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory are working with the Australian Antarctic Program to test their under-ice rover in Antarctica. The rover has been designed to investigate the oceans concealed by ice on Jupiter’s moon Europa and Saturn’s moon Enceladus. The rover will make use of the buoyancy of the water below to crawl along the underside of the icy surface. Researchers at Australia’s Casey research station will spend three weeks testing the rover.

Researchers working on the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope set to open in Chile have raised concerns over the visual interference caused by the thousands of ‘highly reflective’ communications satellites soon to be launched by commercial firms. Simulations found that in almost every instance a bright streak from a satellite would obstruct their view. SpaceX’s Starlink satellites have already interfered with the work of astronomers from the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory, which is also in Chile.

Wired watchtower

Ambassadors from the EU agreed to adopt a ‘tough line’ when selecting 5G suppliers at a meeting in Brussels last week. According to a draft joint statement obtained by Bloomberg, EU countries will now consider non-technical factors, such as the legal and policy frameworks that the supplier is subject to, when picking a 5G supplier. Following the meeting, Germany’s Christian Democratic Union party approved a motion to reconsider Chancellor Angela Merkle’s decision to involve Chinese tech firm Huawei in the country’s 5G network.

The Australian government has been urged in a submission to the review of Australia’s cybersecurity strategy to reinstate the position of cybersecurity minister. Large parts of the cybersecurity portfolio fall within the remit of Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton. However, in its submission the Financial Services Information Sharing and Analysis Centre wrote that it ‘remains unclear which minister has prime carriage of cybersecurity’.

India’s Computer Emergency Response Team has advised WhatsApp users to update the messaging app after it was discovered that older versions have a potential vulnerability that could be triggered by a malicious video file. The vulnerability would allow attackers to access and makes changes to a device remotely. The advisory comes just weeks after it was revealed that WhatsApp users had been targeted by the Israeli spyware known as Pegasus.