Sea, air, land and space updates

Image courtesy of Flickr user Metziker.

Sea State

Indonesia is continuing with its program of literally blowing up illegal fishing boats in its waters. On Saturday, authorities simultaneously destroyed 81 foreign vessels at 12 different locations, in what Maritime and Fisheries Minister Susi Pudjiastuti called ‘a victory for Indonesia’s war against illegal fishing’. Since ramping up its anti-poaching efforts in 2014, Indonesia’s special maritime task force Satgas 115 has captured 317 illegal boats, primarily from Vietnam, the Philippines and Malaysia; all have been confiscated and destroyed. The Indonesian government has linked the crackdown with its plan to revive its fisheries industry and re-establish itself as a maritime power.

Israeli defence electronics firm Elbit Systems has completed operational testing of its Seagull Unmanned Surface Vessel. The Seagull can carry out underwater mine hunting and clearing, as well as anti-diver and anti-submarine missions, enabling navies to use a single platform (with interchangeable modules) for different purposes. Its strategic value isn’t bad either—according to the brochure, Seagull’s ASW capability ‘returns the asymmetric advantage’ to those seeking to counter threats from terrorists, who are increasingly using midget submarines to target bigger and more powerful forces.

Ever heard of Project Combo? If not, you can read all about the US Navy’s Cold War plan to develop a secret communication system by mimicking sea mammal noises here.

Flight Path

In latest Pentagon version of ‘air-to-air combat’, Boeing’s apparently been stealthily circulating an unbranded one-page white paper making the case for more F/A-18s and fewer F-35Cs on US Navy aircraft carriers. The white paper argues that the USN’s plan to change the composition of its Carrier Air Wing from three F/A-18 squadrons and one F-35C squadron in 2028, to having two squadrons of each aircraft in 2033, will result in a capability gap and inventory shortfall. Experts say even the advanced F/A-18 is no match for the F-35’s stealth capabilities, which the Air Force Secretary nominee Heather Wilson seems to agree with. To judge for yourself, check out DefenseOne’s video and analysis comparing the Advanced Super Hornet with the F-35C.

The Trump administration is poised to approve the sale of 19 Lockheed Martin F-16s to Bahrain in a deal worth US$4.87 billion. In addition to the jets, the sale also includes 23 engines, radars, avionics and air-to-air and air-to-ground artillery. The State Department notified Congress of the sale in September 2016, but it was halted by the Obama administration due to the Kingdom’s lack of progress on human rights—particularly its continued suppression of dissenters. The Obama administration also suspended an arms deal with Bahrain in 2011 after it violently suppressed pro-democracy protests.

Rapid Fire

Say hello to some of the toughest women on the planet. Established in 2014 in Norway, the Hunter Troop—or Jegertroppen, as it’s known in Norwegian—is the world’s first all-female special-forces training program. The unit was created in response to the war in Afghanistan and the ‘operational need’ that existed for ‘highly-trained female soldiers who could gather intelligence and interact with women and children.’ 22-year-old Venderla passed the course last year: ‘Women think outside the box,’ she says. ‘Men just do what they are supposed to do. Maybe we are more capable of seeing another solution, a better solution.’ A sentiment echoed by Lieutenant General Angus Campbell, who advocates for more women in army combat units so as to ‘make those units smarter’ and enable them to ‘work more effectively with local communities’.

In other news, the United States might seek a cap of 15,000 troops in the UN’s peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The operation is the UN’s largest and most expensive operation of its kind. According to diplomats, the US wants the troop cap to be cut down from the current cap of 19,815. In related news, Japan abruptly announced that they’ll be ending their peacekeeping mission in South Sudan this May and withdrawing the Ground Self-Defense Force’s engineering troops there. Approximately 4,000 Japanese troops have spent the last five years stationed in the country as part of the United Nations Mission in the Republic of South Sudan.

Zero Gravity

Everything’s coming up SpaceX this week, after the successful launch of a world-first reusable rocket. The ‘flight-proven’ first-stage engine was successfully used to launch the SES-10 satellite; as icing on the cake, the engine was recovered after the flight. The protective payload fairing was also recovered—another first! If rooms full of cheering nerds excite you (and why wouldn’t it?), check out the launch replay. Beyond the inspiring headlines and updated goals, the significance lies in monetary costs, with SpaceX predicting that the cost of future launches could be shaved by 30%. That’ll mean more companies with more access to space, even if it’ll be a while before the savings diffuse to more sensitive government and military missions.

Finally, for interested readers, Wired just published a piece on space opera’s current renaissance. Let’s give a particular nod to ‘the best show about international relations on television right now.’ Spoiler alert: it’s set in space. The solar system imagined in ‘The Expanse’ TV series (and the books it’s based on) is shaped by a great power rivalry between Earth and Mars, but it’s still very much grounded in the physics and gritty politics of today. The first season’s up on Netflix while the second season is receiving rave reviews on SyFy.