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Emerging Threats and Opportunities

Major Power Competition

From The Diplomat, an analysis of the Type 076 LHD being developed by the People’s Liberation Army. Of note is that it is believed capable of conducting fixed wing flight operations via electromagnetic catapult, suggesting the intent to operate UAVs, in addition to the capability of conducting well-deck operations. If accurate, this might suggest an expanding scope of naval power projection made possible by using unmanned systems, at lesser expense than traditional aircraft carrier platforms.

From the Centre for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, Australia’s Professor Ross Babbage analyses potential futures for China and the implications for the region. This analysis complements his recent piece for the Australian Journal of Defence and Strategic Studies, where he tests ten questionable assumptions about future war in the Indo-Pacific. By testing these assumptions about war, Babbage challenges the lexicon being employed within Defence.


The deterrence dilemmas of the proliferation of hypersonic weapons and the erosion of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty compress decision-making timeframes. These issues are the subject of a report from the Carnegie Endowment, which examines the resultant risk of inadvertent escalation stemming from ambiguity about whether a weapon is nuclear-armed or not.

Regional View

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has stepped down due to health reasons. ‘Widely seen as the architect of the ‘quad’ – a four nation strategic consultation framework involving the US, Australia, Japan and India and he led the way for the emergence of the Indo-Pacific as a single integrated theatre’. Abe’s resignation ‘comes amid a growing debate in Japan around the extent to which the country should arm itself, given Japan’s post-World War II pacifist tradition.’ Recently Japan reported they were considering the acquisition of weapons able to ‘strike enemy missile launchers to bolster defence against North Korea’ after they decided to cancel the Aegis Ashore missile defence system. Japan’s Defence Minister Taro Kono stated they would need to ‘clearly define what it meant by a pre-emptive, or first strike, before considering whether it was a viable option.’ This is because without an Aegis Ashore substitute, Japan would have to rely on radar-equipped ships in permanent patrol in the Sea of Japan and Patriot missile batteries as their last line of defence.

Irregular Warfare and Terrorism

A female suicide bomber has killed at least fourteen people wounded several others in Jolo in Southern Philippines. Jolo is ‘one of a chain of mainly Muslim islands in the southwest of the majority Roman Catholic country.’ The islands are known as a stronghold of Abu Sayyaf Group, which is one of the ‘smallest and most violent jihadist groups in the southern Philippines. Its name means ‘bearer of the sword’ and it is notorious for kidnapping for ransom, and for attacks on civilians and the army.’ This incident is notable in that it continues an increasing trend in suicide bombings in the region, examined by this report from the Combating Terrorism Centre at West Point.

From the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensics Lab, an analytic piece examining the role of social media platforms as tools to support armed militia mobilisation prior to the Kenosha shooting. This analytic piece is of note as it speaks to the methods that are being employed and emulated globally in contemporary irregular warfare. 

Defence Innovation

The tactics of small commercial drones on the battlefield is now being used by Mexican drug cartels to assassinate enemy targets. The Drive reports on cartels ‘making use of small quadcopter-type drones carrying small explosive devices to attack its enemies.’ This follows similar usage by non-state actors around the world, including using drones to drop small bombs on American troops guarding oil sites in Syria earlier this year. The use of commercial drones and small quadcopters with ‘various kinds of improvised munitions has steadily proliferated among terrorists and other armed groups.’ Recent examples include: ISIS, Yakuza and Iranian-back militias.  US Marine General Kenneth McKenzie argues that the future of flight is ‘vertical and unmanned’.

Cyber and Information Domain

The IISS reports on Japan’s plan to increase their investment in military cyber capabilities. This will increase their size by one-third from 220 to 290 by March 2021. This follows Japan already doubling its spending on cyber between 2018 and 2019 following the 2018 Defence Strategy (although this was from a low starting base). In addition to their small cyber force and current external cyber-threats, Japan ‘is struggling to operationalise its defensive and offensive cyber capabilities. ‘Under Japanese law, cyber-attacks are initially investigated as ‘crimes’ by the Metropolitan Policy Agency; they are not investigated as ‘armed attacks’ until they are attributed to the military force of another state.’ This presents challenges and constraints for the JSDF in responding quickly and effectively to incoming future threats.

From RUSI, a detailed report examining the idea of Information Manoeuvre through Persistent Engagement activities. A starting premise of this report is that ‘with the boundary distinction between peace and conflict becoming increasingly blurred, and with the collapse of the distinction between domestic and foreign affairs due to connectivity and globalisation, the British Army is now called upon to persistently compete against a diversified array of threats both above and below the threshold of warfighting.’

Also from the Digital Forensics Lab (DFR), a series of posts have examined the Belarus protest movements, with particular focus upon Russian dis- and mis-information efforts as they are unfolding. This report is important in that the time-lag between dis- and mis-information has markedly reduced from similar activities undertaken in the Euromaidan protests of 2014. Also significant is this post that demonstrates near real-time open-source intelligence work tracking military movements inside and outside Belarus. The normalisation of such intelligence methods has implications for military planning in what is now an environment of near omnipresent open-source, globally-connected surveillance systems. 

Climate Change

The topic of climate change implications upon Defence is being examined by the AARC’s Al Palazzo as part of the seminar series on 10 Sep. The framing of the Climate Change topic by the U.S. Department of Defence is notable in that the acronym RECESS is used: Resource Competition, Environmental Security and Stability. The implication being that it is not Climate Change per se that poses a security challenge, but rather the second-order effects flowing from climate change that present as military challenges. This discussion is timely in the context of the Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements releasing their Interim observations on 31 Aug.


  • The AARC Seminar Series will be hosting Dr Al Palazzo discussing the impact of Climate Change on War in the R1 Theatre at 1200-1300 on 10 Sep. This talk will be followed by Levi West of the CSU’s Terrorism Studies program (1300-1400) reflecting upon the past 20 years of counter-terrorism operations, the current terrorism threat in Australia, and hypothesising about what future threats Australia might face. Registration for both events is via EventBrite here.
  • On September 9 and 10, the U.S. Department of Defence Artificial Intelligence symposium is being virtually held, with a broad range of speakers. Details are available here.
  • Also on 10 Sep, ASPI is hosting the 2020 Counter-Terrorism dialogue 1700-1800, with details available here.
  • 10 Sep is proving a busy day, AIIA is hosting former Permanent Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Singapore, Ambassador Bilahari Kausikan examining the topic of whether ASEA will survive until 2030 from 1800-1900. Details are available here.

The views expressed in this article and subsequent comments are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Australian Army, the Department of Defence or the Australian Government.

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