The five-domains update

Sea state

Indonesia has tested its first domestically built submarine in the Bali Sea. Indonesia’s state-owned shipbuilder, PT PAL, has said the contract for the submarine is about 90% complete, with the submarine expected to be deployed later this year. Indonesia has increasingly looked to collaboration with South Korea to strengthen its naval capabilities and technical knowledge.

The Royal Navy is planning to move 1,000 naval staff into frontline roles, halving the number of staff at the Portsmouth headquarters. The ‘flattened structure’, explained First Sea Lord Admiral Anthony Radakin, ‘will give us more people and more money to reinvest at sea’. Britain’s navy has around 30,000 sailors, down from 39,000 in 2000, and defence spending reduced from 3% to 2% of GDP over a similar timeframe.

A Turkish Navy submarine was photographed passing through the Bosphorus Strait with what looks to be an anti-torpedo defence system. The ‘Zargana countermeasure system’ was developed in Turkey and uses small torpedo-like objects as acoustic ‘deceptors’ and ‘jammers’ to misdirect enemy homing torpedoes. Turkey has exported this technology to countries such as Pakistan and Indonesia, and is rapidly emerging as a leader in the international submarine defence sector.

Flight path

Poland has signed a US$4.6 billion deal with the United States to purchase 32 F-35A Lightning II fighter jets, with the first round of deliveries to start in 2024. This is Poland’s second most expensive acquisition of high-technology military equipment after the US$4.75 billion deal for the MIM-104F Patriot anti-missile system in 2018. The new F-35A jets will ‘improve Poland’s ability to provide collective and self-defence’, particularly in a time of increased Russian military activity.

The US Forces Afghanistan confirmed that a US Air Force E-11A surveillance aircraft crashed last week in Ghazni province, Afghanistan, during an intelligence mission, killing two crew members. The E-11A is deemed a ‘very high-value asset’ because it’s fitted with a specialised electronic system that provides real-time battlefield communications between US air and ground forces in Afghanistan. While the Taliban has claimed the aircraft was brought down, the cause of the crash remains uncertain.

The oldest F-4EJ Phantom in Japan is due to perform its last flight later this year. Imported from the US by the Japanese Air Self-Defence Force in 1971, the Phantom has replaced the temporarily grounded T-4 in the task of collecting air samples and detecting radioactive particles as part of periodic environmental pollution surveying. Japan has been increasing its atmospheric radioactivity measuring capabilities in the wake of North Korea’s recent nuclear weapons tests.

Rapid fire

Russia and Laos have reached a new level of defence ties with the recent deliveries of T-72B1 White Eagle main battle tanks and BRDM-2M armoured reconnaissance vehicles. The deliveries coincided with the commemoration of the 71st anniversary of the founding of the Lao People’s Armed Forces, and formed part of an agreement that involves Laos handing over Soviet T-34 tanks to be rebuilt by Russia and used for annual celebration parades, museum exhibitions and patriotic film projects. This delivery constitutes one of the many defence collaborations between Russia and South East Asian countries.

Turkey’s defence ministry has reported that five Turkish soldiers and three civilians have died as a result of Syrian army shellfire in the Syrian province of Idlib. Syrian state media has reported no Syrian casualties as a result of the Turkish retaliatory fire. The soldiers are understood to be part of a Turkish military convoy which recently entered Syria’s opposition-held province of Idlib. The UN estimates that over the past two months around 390,000 Syrians have been displaced to the province, which is now home to around 3 million people.

Zero gravity

Rocket Lab launched a classified payload into orbit last week for the US National Reconnaissance Office on its Electron rocket. Neither party has said what the payload contained, but the launch marks the first of up to a dozen the company plans to carry out this year. The mission also furthers Rocket Lab’s research in recovering and reusing the Electron’s first stage.

The space-tracking company LeoLabs recently calculated that two old satellites missed colliding by 12 metres. It was estimated that there was a 1 in 20 probability of collision. Most satellite owners rely on monitoring by the US Air Force, which issues alerts when probabilities are higher than 1 in 10,000. LeoLabs notes that ‘Events like this highlight the need for responsible, timely deorbiting of satellites for space sustainability’.

A Russian inspector satellite is reportedly shadowing a US image-gathering spy satellite. The Kosmos 2542 synchronised its orbit with USA 245 and now has a ‘consistent view’ of the exterior of the US satellite. Russia is known to be interested in anti-satellite capacities, but insists that its inspector satellites only approach other space-based systems so they can be available to examine them if they break down or otherwise malfunction.

Wired watchtower

The German newspaper Handelsblatt has reported that Chinese-owned telcom Huawei has been cooperating with China’s security authorities, citing a confidential foreign ministry document shared by US intelligence officials. Huawei has fervently denied the reports. The EU recently released guidelines recommending limiting, but not banning, Huawei from a 5G rollout; however, the German government remains split on the issue.

Armenia is working on developing its high-tech sector as a way of connecting with the rest of the world. The country is geographically landlocked and the borders to its east and west have been closed due to unfriendly relations with Azerbaijan and Turkey. Drawing on the country’s human capital and focusing on IT innovation, software development and high-tech start-ups have become key for Armenia’s economic development.

In light of security concerns surrounding China’s increasing dominance of the global drone market, Japan is stepping up support for its own domestic drone industry. The government plans to submit a bill to parliament allowing for preferential treatment for Japanese drone makers and increased government procurement of drones for infrastructure inspection and disaster relief. The emphasis is on making safe and secure drones which are cost-competitive with Chinese-made rivals.