Sea, air, land and space updates

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Sea State

The USN needs an extra $2.1 billion this year to address immediate readiness shortfalls, says Chief of Naval Operations Admiral John Richardson. Testifying last week before the House Armed Services Committee on the impact a new Continuing Resolution would have on naval readiness, Richardson argued deterrence would be diminished without the extra funds. But, according to The Diplomat, the Navy’s deterrent effect is already blunted, with its fleet ‘still more-or-less deploying at peacetime levels’.

Norway will start construction of the world’s first ship tunnel in 2019. The Stad Ship Tunnel will allow vessels to avoid a particularly nasty patch of sea on Norway’s south-west coast (apparently even the Vikings were intimidated!) The tunnel will accommodate cruise and freight ships up to 16,000 tonnes and allow leisure boats access. The passageway will be 1.7km long, 37m high and 26.5m wide, and is estimated to cost 2.7 billion kroner (AU$416 million). Wired explains a bit more about the engineering process and how exactly you go about removing nearly eight billion kilograms of rock from a mountain.

Fancy a low-risk life and death experience? Check out ‘Titanic the Exhibition’, which opened in Sydney this weekend. Attendees receive a ticket which correlates with a real-life former passenger, and upon leaving find out if they were among the 1,500 casualties.

Flight Path

Following unconfirmed reports that the US is considering a fresh round of arms sales to Taiwan—with the F-35 Lightning II, upgraded F-16 and the THAAD on the table—the Taiwan government has welcomed the prospect of acquiring the F-35, but says it doesn’t need a THAAD (sparing us Beijing’s reaction). According to The Diplomat the F-35’s a bad option for Taiwan because it’s too expensive, and the runways and support infrastructure it needs would be quickly taken out of action by the PLA Air Force and missiles fired from the mainland. The Diplomat suggests that upgrading Taiwan’s SAM capability would be a better investment.

US military officials and commercial airline executives will come together at a summit in May, to examine ways of stemming the flow of military pilots to more lucrative civilian airline positions—a symptom of the nationwide pilot shortage. Military pilots are highly sought after by civilian airlines, since they only require 750 practice hours before flying for a major airline, compared with 1,500 hours for regular civilians. The US Air Force could lose 1,600 pilots in the next four years as they become eligible to leave the service.

Rapid Fire

‘You try to be friends with everybody, but we have to maintain our jurisdiction now’, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said last Thursday, as he ordered the military to deploy to the country’s unoccupied islands and reefs, excluding Scarborough Shoal, in the disputed South China Sea to assert its sovereignty. Duterte’s order is likely to displease China, representing a potential provocation of the country he moved to embrace just months ago, after declaring a ‘separation’ from the United States. 

Last week, China announced details of a recent donation of military equipment to Guyana. According to reports, China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has gifted the equipment ‘in a bid to enhance bilateral ties and bolster the South American country’s defence capabilities’. The donation consisted of 31 pieces of equipment, including patrol boats, bulldozers and fuel tankers, as well as a team of officers to assist and train Guyana Defence Force troops in the use of the equipment.

And speaking of unlikely military coupling, Canada and the Ukraine have signed a new defence cooperation agreement aimed at identifying areas of mutual cooperation, including ‘defence policy, defence research, development and production, and military education’.

And tanks are in order it seems for one lucky man who found $2.5 million worth of gold bars in an ex-Iraqi army tank he bought off eBay! The lucky man told reporters, ‘you can’t exactly take five gold bullion bars down to Cash Converters without questions being asked, so we called the police.’ Moral of the story: buy more tanks on eBay.

Zero Gravity

The 33rd Space Symposium has just finished up in Colorado and there’s been plenty of decent coverage: gives some bite-sized highlights, while SpaceNews relayed comprehensive perspectives and some interesting op-eds.

SpaceX’s recycling success is still reverberating (now in GIF-form) as focus shifts to the Falcon Heavy reusable rocket, and a clearer picture of future targets and savings emerges. After initial scepticism about the whole idea of using a pre-loved rocket, the success has reportedly interested Russian space agencies. Jeff Bezos has revealed he’s been selling stock in his company Amazon (US$1 billion annually!) to fund Blue Origin, his space venture. It seems to be paying off—at the symposium, the company teased its lunar-landing program Blue Moon for the first time, reiterated plans to begin suborbital space tourism in late-2018, and detailed three new rockets that may be flight-tested this year.

It’s also been an active week for space news in the Pentagon. The US Air Force announced a number of changes to space command and control structures, including a new three-star position and a rebranded National Space Defense Center. Gen. Jay Raymond, head of USAF Space Command, argued that a space war is ‘not a fight that anybody wins’. There may be no choice about fighting one, however, and in a separate speech Gen. John Hyten, Commander of US Strategic Command, warned that ‘if deterrence fails, [the US] will be prepared to deliver a decisive response’.