Sea, air, land and space updates

Image courtesy of Flickr user Toby.

Sea State

The British Ministry of Defence last week admitted that the Royal Navy’s fleet of frigates and destroyers would be losing their primary over-the-horizon anti-surface weapons due to cost-cutting measures. The Royal Navy will withdraw its helicopter-launched Sea Skua missiles from service in 2017, followed by the retirement of its ship-launched Harpoon missiles in 2018. Those retirements will leave the Royal Navy without any anti-ship missiles at all until 2020, when the Sea Skua’s replacement, the Sea Venom missile, is introduced.

An American warship visited New Zealand last week for the first time since the US suspended its ANZUS treaty obligations to New Zealand in 1986 over a dispute regarding the US Navy’s policy of nuclear weapons ambiguity. While relations between the two have thawed recently, the US hasn’t lifted New Zealand’s suspension just yet. The USS Sampson was to take part in the Royal New Zealand Navy’s 75th anniversary celebrations before it was diverted to provide relief for the earthquake-stricken town of Kaikoura. The vessel was joined in the disaster relief operation by the Canadian warship HMCS Vancouver and the HMAS Darwin, as well as vessels from Japan and Singapore. A short time-lapse video of the USS Sampson’s visit can be found here courtesy of the US Naval Institute.

Flight Path

Australia will have more eyes in the sky soon, with the first of the planned feet of 15 Boeing P-8A Poseidon maritime surveillance aircraft landing in Australia last Monday. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Minister for Immigration Peter Dutton abandoned their usual transport to hitch a ride from Melbourne to Canberra in the new aircraft. The anti-submarine aircraft, which received its third round of upgrades earlier this year, will enhance Australia’s maritime surveillance and attack capabilities. The aircraft will be based at RAAF Base Edinburgh. See the photos of its cute 11 Squadron albatross tail markings here.

India completed its first successful flight test of the indigenously developed TAPAS 201 Rustom-II MALE UAV (medium-altitude, long-endurance unmanned aerial vehicle) in Chitradurga in south India last week. The flight test was performed to a range of less than 100 km but the UAV, weighing 1.8 tonnes with a wingspan of 21 metres, is said to be able to achieve a 250km range, with an endurance of 24 hours. All three of India’s defence services will use the Rustom-II for military ISR missions, target acquisition, target designation and communications relay purposes. See the video of the test flight here. Fun fact: Rustom translates as ‘warrior’ in Hindi.

Rapid Fire

Lockheed Martin has a received a US$27.8 million award from the US Army to upgrade its Q-53 radar systems with an anti-Unmanned Air System (UAS) capability. The ground-based AN/TPQ-53 radar system, or ‘Q-53’, uses an active electronically scanned array (AESA) antenna to ‘detect, classify, track and determine the location of enemy indirect fire’. UASs have typically been difficult to detect by those types of systems because they don’t follow a predictable trajectory. With simple software modifications and hardware additions to improve the system’s quick reaction capability, the AESA radar will be able to control an anti-UAS function simultaneously with its core counter-fire capability.

Strikes by Russian forces in Syria on 15 November revealed that Russian P-800 missiles have a land attack capability. Launched from Bastion-P coastal defence systems, Russian Defence Minister Sergey Shoigu reported that the missiles targeted warehouses with ammunition, terrorist gatherings and training centres, as well chemical weapon production facilities. The use of supersonic anti-ship missiles against static land targets resurrected questions over Russia’s strategy in Syria. In October Rapid Fire reported that the deployment of Russian Triumph air-defense systems had raised eyebrows, given that ISIS forces are singularly land-based. According to Tyler Rogoway at The Drive, those moves reflect an alternative strategic purpose—to use Syria as an operational testing ground.

Zero Gravity

NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration successfully launched the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite-R (GOES-R) on Sunday. The US$1 billion satellite will provide visual and infrared imagery, solar imaging, lightning mapping and space weather monitoring, as well as present meteorological data with speed and accuracy that’s been described as a ‘Quantum leap’ by NOAA Assistant Administrator for Satellite and Information Services Stephen Volz. The satellite will able to provide near real-time environmental intelligence on extreme weather events like hurricanes, while also being able to monitor space weather for rocket launch safety. You can watch the launch here.

Ever wondered where your internet comes from? Soon it could be beamed down from space. SpaceX has filed an application with the US Federal Communications Commission to launch a global network of satellites providing worldwide internet coverage. The plan is for a 4,425 strong satellite network operating in 83 orbital planes below geostationary orbit to deliver 1 gigabit per second internet. Analysis suggests a low orbit network would drastically reduce the latency times currently experienced by ground-to-satellite internet connections. SpaceX will need the FCC to approve use of the necessary airwaves and the initial 800 satellites before construction can begin.