Sea, air, land and space updates

Image courtesy of Airman Magazine.

Sea State

The full ship’s company is now aboard the Royal Navy’s newest aircraft carrier, the HMS Queen Elizabeth. But ongoing delays to the ship’s sea trials have kept it docked in Scotland, exacerbating the dull and boring conditions that have been blamed for a ‘morale crisis’ and the recent resignation of more than 20 sailors. As a result, reports say that sailors aren’t being released to resettlement courses, are having job transfers denied and are working longer hours. The official line, however, denies that morale is low and insists resignation rates are ‘absolutely in line with the fleet average’.

Indian Navy Chief Admiral Sunil Lanba is currently in Tel Aviv meeting with Chief of the General Staff of Israeli Defence Force, Lieutenant General Gadi Eisenkot. The talks come ahead of Prime Minister Modi’s forthcoming visit to Israel—the first by an Indian prime minister—and are intended to deepen security and defence ties. The leaders are expected to announce a ‘raft of mega deals’, including a contract to supply four Navy ships with long range surface-to-air missiles. For the first time, the contract will be executed with Indian government-owned BEL as part of Modi’s ‘Make in India’ policy.

Flight Path

A USAF F-15E Strike Eagle shot down an unidentified armed drone over Syrian skies last Thursday, after it had dropped one of the many munitions it was carrying close to a coalition forces training site near At Tanf. The drone was reportedly a similar size to an MQ1-Predator, and the sole munition it had deployed failed to explode. According to the US, the attempted drone strike was the first such incident in a so-called ‘de-confliction’ zone, in which pro-regime and Russian forces aren’t allowed to operate. Russia’s foreign minister has denied recognition of the concept, however, suggesting it was ‘unilaterally declared’ by the coalition.

The Philippine military announced on Saturday that US special forces had joined the fight against the ISIS-linked rebel occupation of Marawi City, Mindanao, after local media reported a US P-3C Orion and an RQ-20 Puma UAV flying over the city. The P-3C is conducting surveillance and intelligence gathering, while the RQ-20 is performing a similar but more tactical role. A spokesperson for the Philippine Army said that the US is only providing ‘technical assistance’ and won’t be participating in combat operations. US PACOM claims the Philippines government had formally requested assistance, but President Duterte said he ‘never approached America for help’ and didn’t have any advance warning of their arrival.

Rapid Fire

Turkey responded quickly to the Saudi-led blockade on Qatar, fast tracking legislation to allow troops to be stationed at a Turkish military base in the Gulf country. Long-seen as playing the role of mediator in the region, Turkey has been one of the most vocal countries to call for an end to the Qatar blockade for humanitarian reasons. The bill was first drafted in May but passed last week with 240 votes in favour—many from the ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party and the Nationalist Action Party (MHP). While the number of additional troops remains undisclosed, the military base already hosts 200 Turkish soldiers and can accommodate up to 5,000. Analysts who study the area were quick to say that these developments don’t amount to Turkey ‘picking a side’ in the conflict.

For readers who have been following the back-and-forth battle for Mosul, check out Buzzfeed’s insightful profile of the ‘ISIS Killers’—an elite group of Iraqi soldiers leading the fight against the extremist group. The so-called ‘Golden Division’ was formally trained by the US to ‘hunt terrorists’ and is now engaged in brutal urban combat on the streets of Mosul. Embedded Buzzfeed journalists followed the group’s fight to the front lines. It’s a long read, but well worth the time to get a sense of what it’s like to fight against a group like the Islamic State.

(Note added: Strategist reader and contributor Nic Stuart sent this comment: The Golden Division actually has two ‘brigades’ (although we’d probably call them battalions), one of which is mentored by Aussies. Buzzfeed obviously went to the other one. Perhaps the real story here is why the Aussie army is so bad at publicity. We have a number of people embedded with the HQ.)

Zero Gravity

How would you feel if, on your 50th birthday, US Senator Ted Cruz led the world in questioning your relevance? Ask the Outer Space Treaty—a pact that sets out fair usage of space—which faces renewed scrutiny in its golden anniversary year. Is it time for an update? SpaceNews has some helpful legalese and a handful of good arguments against change.

For those who look to the moon and see shades of conspiracy, Wired speculates there might be more to SpaceX’s planned communications satellites than meets the eye. By 2024, the company aims to have thousands of broadband-internet satellites in low-earth orbit. Nice in theory, but tricky to do at the best of times, as satellite internet is notoriously slow. So why are the satellites twice as heavy as their competitors? Why are their orbits so low? And what about the prototypes licensed with NOAA?

If SpaceX is planning to package cameras with their satellites, the picture makes more sense. As the firm goes from strength to strength, a move into the lucrative satellite imagery game would send a clear signal to all the upstart startups that there’s a big boy in town.

And finally, New Scientist catches us up on efforts to deliver the perfect, crumb-free bread to the ISS. Forgive us, but you’re looking at a real-life space wrap.