Sea, air, land and space updates

Image courtesy of Pixabay user ewforbess.

Sea State

For an (alarming) maritime security synopsis, check out this Navy Times article which examines today’s five most dangerous at-sea deployments. In reverse order, they are: South China Sea, Black Sea, Persian Gulf, Sea of Japan and Bab-el-Mandeb Strait. Rankings are based on real-time threats faced by sailors and the conflict escalation potential of the area.

Israeli sailors are protecting drilling rigs in international waters. Sa’ar 6-class defensive vessels are on order from Germany for the purpose, but they’re not expected to arrive for another 2.5 years. Until then, 11 missile corvettes are tasked with protecting the economic asset from possible missile attacks in a mission of vital strategic importance. The Israeli Navy acknowledges the mixed mode of operations: ‘a military force is protecting a private asset’ in a display of ‘army-society-economics relations.’

On the home front, HMAS Hobart—RAN’s first air warfare destroyer—successfully completed its final five weeks of sea acceptance trials. The ship will be in the hands of the ADF this June.

Flight Path

Russia’s receiving three additional Sukhoi T-50 PAK-FA fifth-generation fighters from the Komsomolsk-on-Amur Aviation Plant, due for delivery in 2017. Russia’s Deputy Defence Minister Yuri Borisov made the announcement during his recent trip to Siberia and the Far East. Once delivered, the new T-50s will join the eight prototypes still in the first-stage trials, which are due to finish in 2018. Discussions about the aircraft’s serial production were due to commence late last year, but the deputy defence minister now claims that’ll only happen once trials finish. This also comes amid reports that trials for the aircraft’s second stage engine have been delayed until 2018.

China’s CCTV news channel reported last week that its J-20 stealth fighter had entered service and participated in exercises with the PLA’s other service branches. China’s first fifth-generation fighter is often compared to the F-22 Raptor, but experts doubt whether the former can match the latter’s radar evasion capabilities.

That may be especially true once the F-22 receives a new layer of low-observable stealth coating, which the US Air Force asked Lockheed Martin to undertake last week as part of the aircraft’s periodic maintenance. The fighter will also receive new attack weapons that’ll introduce improved air-to-air and air-to-surface strike capabilities. Those upgrades are expected to get underway in the summer of 2019.

Rapid Fire

Hundreds of US marines have been deployed to Syria ahead of a battle to retake Raqqa from Islamic State. The US is also considering sending hundreds of troops to Kuwait to prepare to join in the battle if necessary, according to a senior defence official. Several hundred US Special Forces troops have been in Syria for months, but the Pentagon has avoided sending conventional military forces to Syria. Under the existing limits put in place by Obama, the military can have up to 503 US personnel in Syria, so this development could signal that the new administration will give military officials greater freedom to tackle IS.

An interesting piece by The National Interest looks at the steadily advancing use of unmanned systems in Russian military operations. Apparently unmanned aerial vehicles weren’t enough and the ministry of defence has been actively developing an even wider range of unmanned platforms—including unmanned ground vehicles. The Uran-9 weighs in at 10 tons and is armed with a ‘30mm cannon, 7.62mm machine gun and anti-tank rockets’, making it well-suited to support Russian ground troops operating in Syria, according to Viktor Murakhovsky, Editor-in-Chief of Arsenal of the Fatherland journal.  Russia’s also recently released details of its latest armoured fighting vehicles, the ‘Boomerang’, which is set to replace the BTR-80 amphibious armoured personnel carrier that has been in deployment since the late 1980s.

Zero Gravity

Glass ceilings don’t get much higher than the stratosphere, but women in space have been making headlines around the world. The South China Morning Post has a fascinating piece about Naoka Yamazaki, Japan’s ‘mother astronaut’. Gizmodo assures us that Germany’s ‘Die Astronautin’ competition is ‘as badass as it sounds.’ The competition, designed to find the first German female astronaut, narrowed the field of 400 candidates down to the last six. Ironically, the selection program is organized by HE Space, an aerospace recruiting firm, working in partnership with DLR, the German space research center. The goal is a 10-day mission to the International Space Centre. It’s fascinating to learn about the women shortlisted, and their intention to inspire, but there’s some way to go—the main issue will be finding the funding, intended as a mixture of crowd-sourcing and private sponsorship.

NASA marked International Women’s Day by debuting a virtual tour experience to highlight women in STEM. Titled ‘Modern Figures’, the program builds on the success of the film Hidden Figures to emphasise the women leading NASA’s work today—many of those women are also profiled in the latest issue of Vogue.

Finally, Satellite 2017, the global tradeshow, has just concluded. For those who couldn’t get there, SpaceNews provided some excellent coverage. In the context of the privatisation of space, among the more interesting takeaways was the willingness of the US Air Force Space Command to move away from traditional command and controls structures, as it prepares to allow contractors to fly satellites.