Sea, air, land and space updates

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Sea State

Last week’s US Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) report, Iranian Naval Forces: A Tale of Two Navies, says Iran’s developing a new Besat-class submarine with anti-ship cruise missile capability. It’s believed the development aims to better enable Iran to target the US Navy in the Strait of Hormuz. Analysts caution however, that the Iranians tend to overstate their abilities and reports that they’re already “building” should be ‘take[n] with a grain of salt’. ONI also reports Iran’s likely to ‘go on an international shopping spree’ for naval capabilities come 2020 when the UN’s conventional weapons acquisition ban is due to expire.

US defence budget increases in 2018 apparently won’t extend to the Coast Guard, which is facing a US$1.3 billion cut. Already reported to be under-resourced and overstretched, the Coast Guard protects 95,000 miles of coastline with a force of just 56,000. Proposed cutbacks would eliminate the counterterrorism unit and all regional Maritime Safety and Security teams—some of which provide security for President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago visits.

Flight Path

There was no shortage of air capability news to emerge from last week’s Avalon Air Show. US F-35 program head Lt. Gen. Chris Bogdan predicted the F-35A could cost US$80 million per unit by 2019–2020, a figure that’s at the lower end of his earlier projection that it’d would cost between US$80–85 million by 2019. He attributes the price drop to accelerated production, with 60 aircraft in 2015’s LRIP-9, 134 in 2017’s LRIP-10 and a predicted 160 in each lot due from 2020 onwards.

On the back of the air show, Air Force Chief Air Marshal Leo Davies launched the Air Force Strategy 2017–2027, which will guide RAAF towards becoming a fifth-generation force. The strategy contains five ‘vectors’: joint warfighting capability, people capability, communications and information systems, infrastructure and international engagement.

As a freshly-converted airpower geek, allow me to treat you to this Avalon highlights reel. See fly-bys from the F-35A (6.30) and F/A-18F (14.40), but the F-22 Raptor really stole the show with its vertical ascents (15.40).

The US enjoyed its own Air Warfare Symposium last week, but it was gate-crashing Chinese military officers that really made headlines. First in uniform but then in plain clothes, the three officers snapped pictures of the US military’s latest technology and apparently inquired into one company’s communications programs, which US officials declined to disclose.

Rapid Fire

In a historic vote, Sweden decided to reintroduce military conscription by 1 July after struggling for years to meet enlistment requirements. The decision comes amid increasing military activity by Russian forces based in the Baltics. Around the same time, General Sir Andrew Bradshaw, NATO’s highest-ranking operational European Officer, stated that the EU must work together with NATO to formulate a grand security strategy in Europe, warning that NATO alone can’t deter Russia.

Following testing in Australia and Europe, the Australian Army is nearing a key stage in the selection process for their new ‘armoured combat reconnaissance vehicle’. Phase 2 of the Army’s LAND 400 project will see the final two contenders, the AMV-35 and Rheinmetall’s Boxer, ‘put through their paces’ by ADF troops. The process is part of Defence’s ‘risk-mitigation activity’, a sort of “try before you buy” exercise where the vehicles are tested to the point of destruction.

The Australian Army is also looking to introduce a new robotic target system to sharpen soldiers’ skill-sets. The system simulates live combat missions, teaching soldiers to shoot ‘under the most realistic conditions possible’. Developed by Australian company Marathon Targets, the robotic system allows ‘rapid development of precision marksmanship, enhanced combat skills and adaptive tactical thinking’ and is currently used by the UAE Armed Forces, the US’s Marine Corps and Air Force, Australian Special Forces and others.

Zero Gravity

When SpaceX CEO Elon Musk signalled an announcement last week, the rumour mill kicked into high gear. Speculation centred on forthcoming ‘Iron Man’ spacesuits—instead, the company detailed plans to fly two fee-paying tourists around the Moon in 2018. The flight would take about a week, and use the Dragon 2 spacecraft and Falcon Heavy rocket. (If you’re feeling jealous, remember that would-be space tourists will have to contend with ‘non-stop vomiting, a puffy face and the constant need to pee’ as they slingshot around the Moon).

The natural question is asked on Could SpaceX Really Launch People Around the Moon Next Year? It’s a good one, because SpaceX hasn’t launched a single crewed mission to date, and both launch and crew modules are as-yet untested. One analysis found SpaceX has tended to miss publicly-stated deadlines by about 2.1 years.

With healthy doubt hanging over the exact timeline, it might be better to focus on the broader headlines. NASA stresses their productive partnership with SpaceX, but there’s talk of increasing frustration with what’s seen to be untethered ambition. That said, amid new murmurs of a public-private space race, a “lunar gold rush” and Amazon-style delivery to future lunar bases, it’s private industry that’ll likely take us back to the Moon (and back).