The five-domains update

Sea state

Attention is back on the South China Sea as China and ASEAN officially announced negotiations on the text of a code of conduct in the disputed waterway. There’s little optimism that the negotiations will yield any concrete results. The code of conduct would build on the provisions of the largely ignored 2002 ASEAN Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, though it’s not clear whether it would be legally binding. There are also concerns that US naval commitment in the South China Sea is waning, with President Donald Trump’s attention monopolised by North Korea.

The Australian government has begun the $367 million redevelopment of Western Australia’s HMAS Stirling naval base. The development will upgrade infrastructure and services ‘such as wharves, power, water and security systems’, said Defence Minister Marise Payne. HMAS Stirling will be the home port for many of Australia’s future warships and is the key base for operations in the Indian Ocean. The redevelopment is scheduled to be completed by 2020.

Another collision has occurred featuring a ship from the US 7th Fleet. A Japanese tugboat lost propulsion and drifted into the destroyer USS Benfold in Sagami Bay off Japan’s east coast. A statement from the 7th Fleet said that no one was injured and the Benfold ‘sustained minimal damage’ and remains at sea.

Flight path

The US concluded six consecutive days of air strikes in Somalia last week, targeting the al-Qaeda–linked al-Shabaab terrorist group. Al-Shabaab was responsible for last month’s truck bombing in Mogadishu that killed more than 350 people. Over 45 al-Shabaab and ISIS fighters have been confirmed killed in the air strikes.

Poland has signed a deal to obtain Patriot anti-missile systems from Raytheon, worth an estimated US$10.5 billion. The deal was approved by the US State Department on Friday, and includes 208 PAC-3 missile segment enhancement missiles, four radars, 16 launching stations, four control stations and a variety of other equipment.

The first RAAF fast jet ‘aggressor’ training missions were completed last week in a joint effort by contractors Air Affairs Australia and the Discovery Air Defence Services. Two Alpha Jets and four Learjets participated in the exercise as part of a two-year trial contract for the ADF, which is seeking to develop a fast jet adversary air capability.

Rapid fire

According to Fox News, a controversial change to the US Army’s recruitment policy was revoked. USA Today had recently reported that the army was now allowing people with a history of mental health issues to obtain waivers in order to join. Issues that could qualify for waivers included ‘self-mutilation, bipolar disorder, depression, and drug and alcohol abuse’. Deputy chief of staff for army personnel, Lieutenant General Thomas Seamands, denied that medical entrance standards had changed but admitted that the army had changed its rules about who could approve waiver requests.

After 22 years without military forces, Haiti has reinstated its army. President Jovenel Moise promised a different military to the one that became infamous for human rights abuses after Haiti’s independence. Critics say he will use the army to persecute political opponents. Eventually, 5,000 soldiers are supposed to ‘protect Haitian borders, fight terrorism, curb illegal trade and aid Haitians affected by natural disasters’.

The US faces one mass shooting a day on average. Last week’s shooting in Tehama, California, is a recent addition that made international headlines. This US Army veteran has some powerful words on gun ownership and the myth of ‘good guys with guns’.

Zero gravity

Wired released an interesting analysis of China’s space program and its ambitious goals, such as capturing an asteroid and sending an orbiter, lander and rover to Mars by 2020. Wu Yanhua, the deputy chief of China’s National Space Administration, said in January that their ‘overall goal is that, by around 2030, China will be among the major space powers of the world’.

This week an article in Futurism outlining the inherent difficulties in colonising Mars brought many space nerds back to earth. Human colonisation of Mars has been the subject of much attention lately, as space industry heavyweights Space X and Lockheed Martin have presented detailed plans of possible future attempts.

The Independent newspaper was embarrassed yesterday after the BBC discovered that its ‘live from space‘ Facebook stream wasn’t live at all. Rather, the footage was from a two-year-old spacewalk recording (video) from the International Space Station. The Independent deleted the stream from its Facebook page after the BBC contacted the paper for comment. The stream attracted over 180,000 views. Oddly enough, the phenomenon of transmitting old recordings of space walks as ‘livestreams’ is a common social media promotion technique. NASA isn’t too bothered by this practice. It has previously stated that it’s still very ‘excited‘ that people are interested in space.

Wired watchtower

Cybersecurity firm Kaspersky is claiming that classified files downloaded from an NSA contractor’s computer were obtained unintentionally. That news comes as part of a larger investigation into whether Kaspersky helped Russian spies obtain the files. The Russian firm says the files were downloaded because they contained malicious material from threat actor Equation Group, and that CEO Eugene Kaspersky ordered their deletion when they were discovered.

Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley have partnered with Google to research stolen credential sales on the dark web. The research revealed that there are 1.9 billion user names and passwords available for purchase. The researchers recommended that consumers make use of password managers to create and remember complex passwords, and even showed that pass phrases can be more effective than passwords.

The US is one step closer to appointing a cyber ambassador after a cyber diplomacy bill passed through the House Foreign Affairs Committee last week. The legislation would pave the way for the creation of an office of cyber issues in the State Department aimed at ‘countering foreign threats on the internet’. Because the bill is sponsored by both Democrats and Republicans, it’s expected to have a strong chance of becoming law.