The five-domains update

Sea state

The Chinese and Russian navies are conducing joint exercises in the waters off Vladivostok. The exercises include, among other things, simulations of detaining intruding vessels and rescuing ships in distress. Vladivostok locals were able to go on board the Chinese missile frigate Daqing before the start of the exercises and ‘become familiar with the … everyday life of Chinese navy men’. This is the first time that the annual exercises have been conducted in the Okhotsk Sea and they represent a high point for Russian–Chinese naval cooperation.

HMAS Adelaide has arrived in Jakarta as part of the Indo-Pacific Endeavour Joint Task Group, to be showcased as Australia’s ‘flagship’ vessel. Indo-Pacific Endeavour has seen Australian forces sent into the region to demonstrate their humanitarian and disaster relief capabilities. The Adelaide arrived in Jakarta on Sunday after delivering a portable hospital to Dili.

The US Navy has decided that sailors need to get more sleep, following two collisions at sea that cost 17 sailors their lives. The head of naval surface forces has given captains until 20 December to ‘establish routines … that will give sailors predictable watch schedules and sleep periods’.


The US sent B-1B Lancer bombers and F-15C Eagle fighters into international waters just off North Korea’s coast on Saturday, in an attempt to display US military might to Kim Jong-un’s nuclear-armed regime. A Defense Department representative said that the flights were made to send a ‘clear message that the president has many military options to defeat any threat’. Saturday’s display came after a tense week of name-calling between President Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un.

An Israeli air force base in southern Israel will house a permanent US military facility after the two countries reached a landmark agreement. Israel and the US will work together to improve air defence and surveillance.

Development of Boeing’s KC-46 tankers has reportedly hit a new snag after a number of issues surfaced. The biggest concern is that there have been instances of the fuel-supply boom scraping the receiving aircraft during refuelling. More trials in October and November will determine the extent of the problem. The US Air Force placed an initial order for 18 of the KC-46 tankers in 2011, the first of which were originally scheduled to be delivered this year. The new delivery date is October 2018, with an approximate price tag of $4.8 billion for the initial order.

Rapid fire

A second communication line has been established between Russian and US forces in Syria to ‘deconflict’ their operations (we would probably say ‘cooperate’; however, US law prohibits cooperation with the Russian military). A phone line has been operating between the air forces of the two countries since 2015, but now another channel allows exchanges between ‘the top US and Russian ground commanders’, according to coalition spokesman Colonel Ryan Dillon.

An innovation by the US Army Research Laboratory will improve energy access for soldiers in the field while simultaneously making the use of electronics safer. A ‘new hydrophobic polymer gel coating means [electronic devices] can be powered by lithium-ion batteries, without the risk of explosion’. The new technology will also be used in hybrid vehicles and a portable electronic warfare system that the US Army is currently developing.

Australia’s defence attaché to Saudi Arabia, Colonel Bradley Robertson, claims that Defence is far from prepared for the consequences of climate change. While he appreciates that the topic has been on the agenda, he suggests that a blind eye has been turned to ‘direct climate effects that could impact future capabilities’, and calls for a climate change adaptation strategy, among other things.

Zero gravity

This week Adelaide is hosting the International Astronautical Congress 2017. The event attracts approximately 4,000 delegates from around the globe and is the world’s largest space conference. South Australia–born astronaut Andy Thomas will be delivering a keynote speech at the conference.

Yesterday at IAC 2017, the Turnbull government’s minister for education and training, Simon Birmingham, announced the establishment of an Australian space agency (video). That prompted celebrations from many in the scientific community, most notably pop-science icon Bill Nye. Details about the agency are scarce, and the government has not yet announced where it will be based. Australia’s space industry is currently enjoying strong bipartisan support: federal Labor has announced plans to double the size of Australia’s space industry within five years of building an Australian space agency.

US billionaire and CEO of SpaceX Elon Musk will also be at IAC 2017 to unveil his company’s plan to colonise Mars. SpaceX won’t be alone, as Lockheed Martin plans to present its own Mars exploration blueprint at the conference. ASPI’s resident space expert, Dr Malcolm Davis, is currently at the conference. Follow him on Twitter for updates.

Wired watchtower

Australia’s Department of Defence has confirmed that it had only recently assessed the security of drones from Shenzhen-based manufacturer Da-Jian Innovations (DJI). The drones in question have been reportedly still flying in unclassified roles, while there’s no end in sight for a US Army ban.

The concern over DJI drones highlights the general problem of trust in technology supply chains. That has proven to be a sticking point for CCleaner, a widely used PC cleaning and optimisation tool that was hijacked and used to deliver malware to over 2.27 million users. While the scale of the damage is worrying, subsequent analysis has suggested that the malware was targeting technology companies that used CCleaner, specifically Google, Microsoft, Akamai, Samsung, Sony, VMware, HTC, Linksys, D-Link and Cisco networks.

Encryption and corporate cooperation has proved topical of late. Last week, Australia took to the UN stage to ask tech companies for help in countering violent extremism online. Similar discussions have taken place in the UK, where tech companies have said they shouldn’t be tasked with the security work of governments. While there’s still no good answer to how government should balance its responsibilities with those of the private sector, Denmark’s dedicated tech ambassador has expanded on the steps he’ll be taking to engage with tech companies.