Sea, air, land and space updates

Sea State

The Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force’s second Izumo-class helicopter carrier, the Kaga, entered service last week. The warship is expected to embark Mitsubishi-Sikorsky SH-60K Seahawk anti-submarine warfare helicopters and AgustaWestland/Kawasaki MCH-101 aircraft for mine-countermeasures. That commission takes Japan’s deployment capability another step forward (see last week’s Sea State). There’s little doubt where the ship’s resources will be directed—Japan’s Vice Minister of Defence said at Kaga’s ceremony that China is ‘raising security concerns,’ and by exerting pressure ‘is altering the status quo’ in the South China Sea. And Japan isn’t the only one setting sail. Last week, the Philippine Navy sent the BRP Ramon Alcaraz to patrol Benham Rise, an underwater plateau in the Philippine’s extended continental shelf, after Chinese survey vessels performed oceanographic research in the area.

There was an interesting read in Foreign Affairs last week on ‘Why Europe is Floating Egypt’s Navy’. Egypt is being increasingly sought out as a military partner against security threats in the Mediterranean, including sea-faring terrorists and migrants.

The US Office of Naval Research posted a video last week, showing a test fire of BAE’s electromagnetic cannon. The Navy’s railgun project has been in the works since 2005, and is reportedly still expected to be in service by 2025. This article from The Drive talks pros and cons of the experimental weapon. (ASPI’s James Mugg has some views too.)

Flight path

The air forces of Sudan and Saudi Arabia will kick off two weeks of military exercises in Sudanese airspace on Wednesday, reflecting Khartoum’s growing closeness to Riyadh after it joined the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen in 2015. The exercises aim to improve the operational capabilities, and will involve more than two dozen Saudi and Sudanese aircraft, including the MiG-29, Sukhoi Su-25, F-15 and Eurofighter Typhoon.

On 23 March, senior Indian Air Force officials confirmed that India will participate in the ‘Blue Flag’ exercise for the first time later this year. Dubbed the ‘largest and most complex air exercise in history’, the biennial air drills will also involve 100 aircraft from the air forces of America, France, Italy, Poland, Greece and Germany; they’ll manoeuvre in Tel Aviv’s airspace for two weeks.

Finally, if you’re an academic or defence industry wonk and think you can improve the RAAF’s command and control (C2) capabilities, consider participating in the C2 Options Development Industry Workshop taking place in Canberra this May, which feeds into the Command and Control Futures Study. To apply, you just need to respond to some questions about how RAAF should be approaching C2 out to 2027. Details here.

Rapid Fire

Dozens of Russian tanks were seen near the Ukrainian border on Friday. Arriving in the southern Rostov region on cargo trains, the tanks were deployed near a Russian village, just six miles from the border. Russia’s military often holds overt military drills at their bases in the Rostov region however, this most recent development has many worried due to the sheer number of tanks involved. Responding to NATO’s increased military presence in Poland and the Baltic states last May, Russian officials stated that they too would ‘reinforce their western and southern flanks.’ A reporter for Reuters witnessed the movement of tanks and filmed a video.

According to Al Jazeera, Turkish authorities are interested in purchasing advanced S-400 surface-to-air missile defence systems from the Russian Federation. Such weaponry would allow Ankara greater control over Turkish airspace and provide the ability to ‘project air-defence deterrent beyond Turkey’s borders’. As well as increasing Turkey’s knowledge of missile proliferation technologies, that deal could also pave the way to greater Turkish­–Russian defence cooperation. Such a development would arguably worry other NATO members.

Zero Gravity

While times were tough in Washington this week (not that that’s setting any precedents in 2017), the White House zeroed in on the good news, making NASA the subject of the 3/25/17 Weekly Address. The 2017 NASA Transition Authorization Act was signed on 21 March, the first such bill since 2010. It details policy and recommended funding levels and enables appropriations bills. NASA essentially got what it asked for, but not everybody was happy. SpaceX receives billions in contracts from NASA, so Elon Musk’s criticism is rare. Nonetheless, he tweeted his discontent: ‘[it] changes almost nothing… there is no added funding for Mars.’

The worry for critics is that, absent clear prioritisation, the targets discussed in the bill (a potential 2033 Mars mission) will be eclipsed by earthly concerns. That worry isn’t entirely unfounded—during the signing ceremony, the bill’s focus on the transport-oriented Space Launch System led to the suggestion that President Trump would be remembered as the ‘father of the interplanetary highway system.’ ‘Well, that sounds exciting,’ Trump replied, ‘but first we want to fix our highways.

If the Mars focus comes to pass, funding for existing projects will need to be rethought. One such decision point will be the future of the International Space Station. There’s provisional funding out to 2024, but after that, privatisation is on the cards. Lawmakers in the US met this week to discuss the best ways to make that happen. In short: ‘Somebody just buy the ISS already.’

Note: an earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the Kaga was the second Japanese helicopter carrier.