Sea, air and land updates

F-16 Chase Plane Lockheed MartinSea State

In a move that’s shocked the Asia–Pacific and rattled the US, Thailand’s military government has announced that it will purchase Chinese submarines. There are several likely reasons for this decision, which effectively moves the country away from the western orbit. After Thailand’s military coup in May 2014, reduced US presence at the annual Cobra Gold military exercises led to tensions between the two countries, as did the US’s ‘cold shoulder’ when it came to planning future exercises. Thai generals also found support from Beijing in both the 2006 and 2014 coups. The US$1 billion purchase of three Type 039A attack submarines took place last week, and is expected to exacerbate the drift in US-Thai relations.

The UAV debate is so ten years ago—now, it’s all about unmanned naval systems. Check out David Blagden’s piece at War on the Rocks, which looks at DARPA’s Anti-Submarine Warfare Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel (ACTUV) project. ACTUV, if realised, will allow the US Navy to maintain a surface trail on its adversaries’ submarines to overcome the threats they pose to US freedom of maritime manoeuvre. But what impact will this technology have on the survivability of western nuclear arsenals and, as a result, strategic stability? Read here to find out.

And finally, will Japan become a permanent fixture in the US and India’s Malabar naval exercises? Ankit Panda at The Diplomat discusses the strategic impact of Japan’s potential inclusion.

Flight path

If you missed the uproar last week about the F-35’s limited performance against a much older F-16, ASPI’s Andrew Davies makes sense of the recent tests, and explains that there are other more serious questions to be raised about the F-35. However, the critiques have continued. Joseph Trevithick from War is Boring has questioned the F-35’s long-range fighting capability, arguing that the F-35’s limited sensors, compromised stealth and too few weapons leaves it outclassed even in a long-range fight.

It doesn’t seem that Australia’s likely to operate two different models of the F-35. Plans to purchase up to 12 short-take-off and vertical-landing F-35Bs for Navy’s two Canberra-class amphibious ships have reportedly been dropped due to significant costs related to ship modification.

Chinese news media reported last week that China’s air force (notably labelled China’s ‘strategic force’) is in need of a long-range strategic bomber capable of striking adversaries in the second island chain­, which stretches from Japan through to Guam and Indonesia. Whether or not China’s aviation industry can deliver a bomber within a short period of time is another matter.

Last Friday Airbus completed the ‘first’ all-electric flight across the English Channel. While the title is contested by a French pilot who completed the same flight a day earlier, their successes mark positive advances in electric and hybrid aviation.

Rapid Fire

The 2nd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment has begun training aboard the amphibious ship HMAS Canberra. The training follows the decision to have 2RAR as the Army’s dedicated amphibious unit. Training will culminate in a joint amphibious warfare validation exercise during Talisman Sabre in 2017, with post-2017 plans yet to be finalised.

The logistics of the planned cut of 40,000 soldiers from the US Army were announced last week, alongside an additional reduction of 17,000 civilian roles. The plan is to reduce Army numbers from 490,000 to 450,000 by the end of the 2017 financial year. To put these numbers into perspective, the Australian Army currently has less than 30,000 full-time military personnel and less than 19,000 active reservists.

Rumour has it that Russia is considering reinvigorating plans from the 1980’s to develop tanks with laser capability to blind enemy cameras, scopes and seekers. Due to an outrageous price tag and limited capability there’s little chance of laser tanks making a comeback

Finally, for those who missed ASPI’s ‘Army’s Future Force Structure Review Options’ Conference last month, videos from the conference can now be found on ASPI’s YouTube channel.