Sea, air, land and space updates

Image courtesy of Pixabay user alsen.

Sea state

After a tricky few weeks, HMS Queen Elizabeth’s cyber security resilience has been called into question after photos taken during a tour of the ship appeared to show computer screens running the out-dated Windows XP operating system—the same system targeted by the recent WannaCry ransomware attack. In response, the Ministry of Defence said that Windows XP wouldn’t be used ‘when the ship becomes operational’, but many still criticised the claim that the system wasn’t vulnerable to attack. In defence of the carrier’s cyber capabilities, Commander Mark Deller said the crew included a specialist cyber team and that, with respect to naval procurement, we should ‘think more NASA than NHS’.

After Boaty McBoatface set off on its maiden mission earlier in the year, scientists have reported that it has obtained ‘unprecedented data’ from the Orkney Passage, about 800 km from the Arctic Peninsula. Water flow speed, underwater turbulence and temperature data collected by Boaty (from as deep as 4,000 m) will improve scientists’ understanding of ‘the complex ways that mixing ocean waters affect climate change’.

Also, Australia may soon get its very own Boaty McBoatface—the Australian Antarctic Division is running a competition for school students to name Australia’s new Antarctic icebreaker. Any suggestions?

Flight path

It’s likely that we’ve all fantasised about how quick it would be to take a fighter jet to your holiday destination. That was the acting head of the French air force’s thinking as he flew a Dassault-Dornier Alpha Jet from his base in Bordeaux to his home in Provence on more than 10 weekends since August 2016—skipping the six-hour drive and billing taxpayers €14,000–16,000 each time. The defence ministry and air force have launched separate investigations into the allegation. That revelation has coincided with France’s defence funding cuts which limit the use of the gas-guzzling Alpha Jet.

As threats proliferate in the Indo-Pacific, Malaysia’s defence spending is dwindling. The Diplomat’s resident Southeast Asia hand, Prashanth Parameswaran, explains why, and rounds up the Royal Malaysian Air Force’s capability and acquisition outlook (or lack thereof).

Finally, before boarding her China Southern Airlines flight from Shanghai to Guangzhou last Wednesday, an elderly woman threw a handful of coins into the plane’s engine for good luck, delaying its departure for five hours. Flight CZ380 later safely reached its destination.

Rapid fire

The People’s Liberation Army has purportedly tested a new main battle tank on the Tibetan Plateau in Western China. According to a PLA spokesman, the trials were conducted to ‘test the tank’s performance and are not targeted at any country’. Although the spokesman didn’t reveal specific details on the tank, reports from The Diplomat suggest he was referring to the so-called ZTQ light tank, dubbed ‘Xinqingtan’. Designed for operations in mountainous and high-altitude regions such as Tibet, the tank will likely be used for reconnaissance and infantry support.

Speaking of infantry, to enhance their ability to fight against the ‘scourge of terrorism’, the Singaporean Armed Forces announced plans to conduct annual counterterrorism training for 18,000 soldiers. The training will cover scenario-based simulations, search-and-arrest procedures and live-fire training. According to Singapore’s Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen, considering that terrorist attacks in Singapore may increase, it’s better for the SAF to ‘change to meet a heightened need, rather than be caught with inadequate resources’.

And finally, Minister for Defence Industry Christopher Pyne and Minister for Defence Marise Payne announced that the ADF will receive $300 million worth of new equipment to protect against chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) threats. Minister Payne stated that the new equipment will enhance the ADF’s ability to ‘detect, identify, monitor and warn others of CBRN hazards’, a key requirement of the 2016 Defence White Paper (PDF).

Zero gravity

The Long March 5 rocket is meant to be China’s heavy lifter, but its most recent launch ended in failure. State media is keeping mum about the incident, saying only that it was ‘unsuccessful’—but careful examination of the live feed suggests that one of the first-stage boosters gave out. That marks the second failure for the rocket. It remains to be seen how that will affect China’s long-term launch schedule, but there’s no doubting that plans to launch the Chang’e-5 lunar probe in November will be scrutinised.

Japan has announced initial plans to put a human on the Moon by 2030. If headlines are correct, Japan will cooperate with international partners to share the cost. NASA is leading a mission to create a moon-orbiting space station, due in 2025; if Japan were allowed aboard, that might make it possible to leapfrog from there onto the surface. More intriguingly, China has plans for lunar footsteps by 2036, and there’s rumblings of an admittedly-unlikely partnership. Could the Asian space race be a cooperative venture?

And finally, in the age of fake news, it’s everybody’s duty to remain sceptical. But try this one on for size: NASA has denied allegations that it’s responsible for a covert child-trafficking ring on Mars. Unsurprisingly, the conspiracy was peddled by the crazy shock-jock-cum-‘performance artist’ Alex Jones. If, like most of us, you prefer your Red Planet without slave colonies, check out the latest from The Planetary Society, which explains the Opportunity rover’s ‘sprained ankle’.