Sea, air, land and space updates

Image courtesy of Flickr user PACAF.

Sea State

More plans are surfacing in response to Sen. John McCain’s defence budget white paper and the US Navy’s Force Structure Assessment. The Centre for Strategic & Budgetary Assessments (CSBA) and MITRE have both produced reports that share some common goals: grow the fleet, cancel the LCS and increase the number of attack submarines. But MITRE’s plan is ‘more radical’ than CSBA’s, not least because it recommends the USN expand to a whopping 14 aircraft carriers (up from 11). CSBA’s call for a larger small carrier fleet has created some buzz too; see here and here.

Best steer clear of the Indian Ocean this week, lest you be mistaken for a pirate or a Chinese submarine. India and Pakistan are both carrying out large-scale naval exercises in the region. The Indian Navy’s 30-day long TROPEX 2017 is the ‘largest-ever naval theatre-level’ exercise to take place off its western coast. Exercises will focus on anti-(Chinese)-submarine warfare scenarios. The Pakistan Navy’s AMAN 2017 (involving 36 countries including Australia), focuses on multilateral counterterrorism and counterpiracy operations. It’s worth noting that this is the first time the Pakistani exercise has brought Turkey and Russia into the fold.

And finally, after last week’s heatwave, now might be a good time to take a look at this National Geographic piece about what the US military is doing to fight climate change.

Flight Path

A US Navy P-3C aircraft and a Chinese KJ-200 aircraft came within 305 metres of one another last Wednesday near the disputed Scarborough Shoal. The KJ-200 ‘crossed the nose’ of the P-3C, forcing the latter to make an immediate turn. US Pacific Command characterised the incident as ‘unsafe’, but believes it was unintentional. The news follows two ‘unsafe’ intercepts of US reconnaissance aircraft by Chinese fighters in 2016, which occurred despite Washington and Beijing’s 2015 MoU on unplanned air and sea encounters (PDF).

Following Indian Defence Secretary G. Mohan Kumar’s visit to Jakarta in mid-January, Indian media outlets reported last week that India and Indonesia have agreed to host their first-ever joint air combat exercise. The two sides have also agreed to deepen their existing maritime and land military exchanges, as well as enhance defence industry cooperation. Check out The Diplomat’s commentary on that development within the broader context of India–Indonesia defence cooperation.

A squadron of US F-22 Raptors—the ‘most feared aircraft in the world’has arrived at RAAF’s Tindal base for three weeks of integrated training with Australia’s F/A-18A/B Hornets. Their arrival comes ahead of the massive aircraft contingent that will accompany the sixth rotation of US Marines in Darwin in April.

Rapid Fire

Indonesia’s military chief has accepted a personal apology from the Australian Army chief Angus Campbell over offensive training material that led to a partial suspension on joint language training exercises. Following the ‘defence spat’, Indonesia confirmed President Widodo will visit Australia on February 26.

Trials of Australia’s Land 400 Phase 2 contenders have taken place on HMAS Canberra to determine their suitability for deployment. Contenders for the program include the Rheinmetall Defence Boxer and the BAE Systems-Patria AMV35.

Commander of US forces in Afghanistan, General John Nicholson, recommended to Congress that NATO forces operating in the country require thousands of additional troops. In a surprising twist, he also accused Russia of seeking to ‘prop up the Taliban.’ The Trump administration now faces one of its first major military strategy questions: should America ‘double down’ and commit more troops to this seemingly endless conflict? Will that help make America great again?

Russia’s coming under increasing scrutiny over military training exercises alongside its border with Lithuania and Poland. The exercises, due in September, could involve at least 100,000 troops—a fact US General Phillip Breedlove called ‘a bit alarming’. At the same time, President Putin ordered a ‘snap air drill’ involving 45,000 troops, 150 aircraft and 200 anti-aircraft units. What exactly they’re trying to prove remains highly contested, but readers should watch this space.

Zero Gravity

It’s ‘Old Space’ versus ‘New Space’ in Politico’s account of internal White House documents. Proposed strategies will redirect NASA’s mission to ‘large-scale economic development of space’ by way of increased, near-term privatisation of cislunar space. In headline-speak, The Atlantic reports: Trump’s Advisors Want to Return Humans to the Moon in Three Years. That’s quite an ambition— such a plan would entail a huge pivot toward ‘New Space’ industries. The prize is vast—the current space economy is worth an estimated US$314 billion annually (PDF); if private American investors no longer fear government competition, the US will be head of a ‘trillion-dollar’ table.

That’s the plan, but, as ever, there’s friction between rhetoric and rockets. As NASA astronaut Rick Mastracchio tweets, quoting Casey Dreier, director of the Planetary Society: ‘Just because you have private companies involved doesn’t mean you can ignore physics or the harsh environment of space.’

Forgive us if we tell you to watch this space with some scepticism.

Not to be silenced during the Super Bowl, and perhaps on behalf of ‘Old Space,’ NASA claimed the record for the ‘longest Hail Mary pass ever’ (video). At a cheeky 516,328 metres, that eclipses the previous record of 72 metres. Lesson learned: aim to be moving at 28,000 kilometres per hour when you throw a football in zero G.