In this week’s flight path, we cover the Germanwings plane crash, Joint Strike Fighter close air support capability, Australia’s next Chief of Air Force, Russia’s bombers and safety deposit boxes in space.
Recent revelations that identified German co-pilot Andrew Lubitz as deliberately locking the cockpit and crashing the Germanwings Airbus into the French Alps has highlighted some of the complex issues in cockpit security. Despite acknowledging Lubitz’s history with depression, the debate has largely focused on the need to enforce a rule that stipulates two pilots must be in the cockpit at all times. In fact, just yesterday, the Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss announced Australia’s airlines would immediately implement the two-person rule for all services operated by aircraft with over 50 seats. In contrast to this approach, Australian pilot Mark Gilmour argues the debate is ignoring the elephant in the room: mental health. Gilmour suggests the solution lies in destigmatising mental health in the aviation industry and avoiding kneejerk reactions such as implementing impractical cockpit rules.
In F-35 news, due to software package delays, the JSF won’t be able to provide close air support (CAS) to ground troops until 2022. Delays in the software package mean the precision guided Small Diameter Bomb II can’t be used to track and hit moving targets up to 40 miles. With USAF’s A-10 Thunderbolt II (aka Warthog) due to be retired in 2019, the software delay potentially creates a CAS capability gap in US Air Force.
Back in Australia, Tony Abbott recently announced Air Vice-Marshal Gavin Davies is to replace retiring Chief of Air Force Air Marshal Geoff Brown from 4 July 2015. One of the key responsibilities facing Air Force’s leadership will be the RAAF units and army instructors involved in the conflict in Iraq. Their attention will also be on recent airstrikes in Tikrit and over Yemen. The Air Force’s Plan Jericho will be the blueprint for the service’s future development.
Turning to Europe, where last Tuesday Russia delivered on its plan to send nuclear-capable bombers to the Crimean peninsula. Although not detected directly over Crimea, NATO jets escorted two Tu-22 type bombers and two Su-27 jets that were flying with their transponders switched off near the Baltic States and Sweden.
In tech news, an Australian-based company Sentient is making drones smarter with Kestrel, its ‘automated detection software’. The software picks out objects from the background of drone footage and highlights them for the human operator to focus on in real time. The software reduces human labour and reduces the potential for human error. Last month, Sentient signed a contract with the US Navy to install Kestrel on US navy MQ-8 Fire Scout drones. To see the claimed accuracy of the software, watch the demonstration video here.
Finally, in an unexpected development, Defense One is reporting that the US Air Force might have to protect money laundering in space. A combination of cyber threats and an increasingly accessible space market has led to a new class of start-ups offering satellite-based data centres safe from physical hacking and law enforcement. Marked as an orbital safety deposit box, those behind cyrptocurrency Bitcoin are seeking opportunities to store encryption keys on their own space satellites. As the US can provide a strategic umbrella in space, one observer even speculates that the US may move to create their own laws and legal jurisdictions in space.