Sea, air, land and space updates

Sea State

The US Navy released its much-anticipated 2016 Force Structure Assessment (FSA) last week and the results are sure to please proponents of a large USN The FSA advocates a 355 ship navy, which is a significant increase from the 308 ships advocated by the 2014 FSA. The 47-hull boost comes most prominently from one more aircraft carrier, 18 more nuclear attack submarines and 16 more large surface combatants (cruisers and destroyers). But achieving the 355-ship goal won’t be easy, as analysts are predicting it will take decades (and billions of dollars) to come to fruition. ASPI’s Andrew Davies says that history tells us it probably won’t happen—especially if the emphasis is on big ships.

China’s new (and only) aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, conducted its first ever live-fire exercise last week. According to the People’s Liberation Army Navy, the goal of the exercise was to enhance the Liaoning’s ability to operate as a part of a carrier battle group, as well as verify the capabilities of its sailors and airmen. This video, courtesy of CCTV, shows the Liaoning’s carrier-borne J-15 aircraft participating in the exercise.

After months of speculation, the US Navy’s new class of ballistic missile submarines officially has its new name. Secretary of the Navy Roy Mabus announced last week that the submarines would be called the Columbia-class—named after the District of Columbia.

Flight Path

The RAAF’s new fleet of C-27J Spartan military transport aircraft has achieved Initial Operating Capability according to a statement released by Minister of Defence Marise Payne last week. The RAAF received the first of its C-27Js back in 2015, three years after signing the $1.4 billion contract for 10 aircraft in 2012. Deliveries should conclude in 2017. The C-27J will replace the RAAF’s fleet of Vietnam-era DHC-4 Caribou tactical lift aircraft, adding to the RAAF’s substantial airlift capability.

The US Navy temporarily grounded its fleet of F-18E/F Super Hornets and E/A-18G Growlers after an incident at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island in Washington State last week. While the Navy declined to disclose specifics about the incident, it’s understood that the aircrew of an E/A-18G were injured after an accident involving the aircraft’s canopy occurred before take-off. As the Super Hornet and Growler rely on similar aircraft systems, the Navy decided to suspend flight operations for both types of aircraft as a safety precaution. It’s unknown if the flight status of the RAAF’s fleet of Super Hornets and Growlers has been affected by the incident.

Rapid Fire

The US Army’s developing a ground-launched missile capable of ground-breaking range and precision. The ‘Long Range Precision Fires’, missile is being engineered by Raytheon to destroy targets from 500kms, three times the range of existing weapons. It’ll also use high-tech guidance technology and fire two missiles from a single weapons pod, allowing the Army to inflict significant damage far beyond its current striking capability. It’s slated for service in 2027. Australia may not be far behind—the 2016 Defence White Paper promised a new long-range rocket system for the Australian Army.

Rheinmetall Defence Australia is proposing to build a military vehicle hub in Australia. The Adelaide-based vehicle manufacturer, which is currently bidding for the Australian Army’s Land 400 tender, announced plans for a military vehicle centre of excellence (PDF) to attract suppliers across Australia to supply products for the ADF’s fleet as well as vehicle programs globally through Rheinmetall’s Global Supply Chain. It’s hoped the project will generate more than 250 jobs. This video showcases the vehicles Rheinmettall has supplied and is proposing for the ADF.

When it comes to land warfare, the Russian Army Games, held in August, is a clear 2016 highlight. Relive the glory of this years ‘Tank Biathlon’ here.

Zero Gravity

NASA has released a supercomputer-generated visualisation of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions over 2014–15. The visualisation is constructed from carbon dioxide measurements made by NASA’s OCO-2 carbon observatory satellite. The model captures how carbon dioxide moves in the atmosphere, revealing how it interacts with weather patterns and where focal points for emission and absorption are. Scientists are hoping to confirm the effects of events like mass bushfires or deforestation on climate cycles like El Niño.

Some of 2016’s best photos from space can be found here.

In other news, because 2016 has been devoid of grand scientific discoveries like the reusable rocket or the detection of gravitational waves, humanity attempted to put a pie in the sky. Launched by SentintoSpace from a British pub on a weather balloon, the intent was to study the molecular structure of pies and to promote the world pie-eating championships. You can watch its 150,000 foot journey here.

Destroying planets isn’t that easy, and while the Death Star has annihilated several during the various Star Wars films, including the new Rogue One, it has always suffered a few crucial design flaws. If you want to build your own space station with a concave dish composite beam superlaser it could cost US$850 quadrillion dollars according to White House estimates. It’s also currently not known how one could keep a space station of that size in orbit or fire the super laser without also melting the Death Star. So, luckily, weapons of planetary destruction are a way off. Instead here’s a Death Star made of fireworks to wish you Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.