Sea, air and land updates

Sea State

Navigating the dangerous iced-covered waters of the Antarctic just got easier for the British Royal Navy, with the entry into service of its new, low-cost 3D-printed drone. The SULSA unmanned aerial vehicle, which was launched from naval patrol vessel HMS Protector, is designed to utilise real-time imagery to scout a safe route for vessels. The £7,000 drone can cruise at speeds up to 97km per hour, and its four nylon-based parts can be snapped together by hand. Gizmodo has footage of the plane’s test flight off the coast of Dorset.

Adelaide will remain a hub for the shipbuilding industry, with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Defence Minister Marise Payne announcing on Monday that 12 offshore patrol vessels will be built in the city from 2018. Minister Payne confirmed construction of the vessels will begin in Adelaide, before moving to Henderson in Western Australia, and coupled with plans to build up to 21 Pacific patrol boats in Henderson, will directly secure more than 2,500 jobs in coming decades.

It’s official. RRS Boaty McBoatface emerged as the overwhelming winner of a public poll for naming rights of Britain’s new £200 million polar research vessel. Voting closed on 16 April with the memorable winning name collecting more than 124,000 votes. Regrettably, Britain’s science minister told the Daily Telegraph that ministers were unlikely to endorse the result.

Flight Path

Last week, two Russian Sukhoi Su-24 attack planes buzzed over the USS Donald Cook in the Baltic Sea—watch the videos from the deck of the ship here. The US embassy in Moscow issued formal concerns to the Russian government about the incident, which White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest described as ‘unsafe and unprofessional’. A piece on Observer has explained Russia’s actions by likening it to the animal kingdom—Russia was marking its territory in the Baltic Sea. For some background on the topic, The Washington Post looks at the recent history of Russian jets buzzing US Navy ships. And here’s a USN take on why it didn’t shoot down the aircraft. Only a few days after the buzzing incident, a Russian Su-27 Flanker fighter jet did a barrel roll over a US Air Force RC-135 spy plane also in the Baltic Sea. The US is lodging a protest with the Russian government.

In F-35 news, the US Government Accountability Office released a report (PDF) last week looking at the Joint Strike Fighter’s Autonomic Logistics Information System, recommending that the Department of Defense come up with a plan to ensure that the ALIS is fully functional as program milestones approach—such as full-rate production beginning in 2019. What’s been described as the F-35’s ‘brain’ has a few bugs and there currently aren’t any alternatives to ALIS if the problem is persistent. However, Defense One has reported that DoD officials have said that the problem isn’t severe enough to ground the fleet.

Rapid Fire

While Nordic Noir drama ‘Ockupationen’—a fictional drama about Russia occupying parts of Scandinavia—has enraged some in the Kremlin, Sweden’s ability to actually defend against such an occurrence is dubious given Sweden given low force numbers since mandatory conscription was abolished in 2010. With 5,600 full-time soldiers, 10,500 reservists and 22,000 Home Guardsmen’s, it’s only a fraction of the nearly 500,000 troops Sweden was endowed with in the 1980’s. Check out the in-depth article over at Foreign Affairs on Sweden’s military recruitment predicament.

As a part of the annual National Army Day parade in Tehran on April 17, Iran displayed its S-300 air-defence missiles which it recently acquired from Russia. In a speech on the same day President Hassan Rohani maintained that the ordnances are purely for defensive purposes.

And now for something completely different: at a hearing earlier this year for the US Senate Committee on Armed Services, it was revealed that the US Department of Defence spent $6 million on a failed goat-mating initiative in Afghanistan. The effort was part of post-war attempts to rebuild the country, and aimed to bolster the Afghani economy through the production of cashmere by sending nine rare blond male Italian goats to breed with Afghan goats – which was unsuccessful. No kidding.