Sea, air, land and space updates

Sea state

The US Navy released a request for information (RFI) last week seeking proposals for a new guided missile frigate. Its previous plans for a new frigate were based on modifying the current littoral combat ships. But the RFI for the new replacement program, designated FFG(X), calls for a bigger crew and more guns, which the current hulls may not be able to deliver. That could mean a whole new design and a new ship in the seas.

The Chinese Navy has conducted a live-fire drill in the Mediterranean Sea. The Chinese flotilla was on its way to join in exercises with the Russian Navy in the Baltic. According to the China Daily, the flotilla ‘fired several rounds’ during a drill that ‘was aimed at honing crew members’ skills in attacking small targets’. The second phase of the exercises, planned for September in the Sea of Japan, will include ‘an amphibious assault component’.

If you’ve ever wondered what happens when you try to kill a submarine with a nuclear depth charge, War is Boring and Operation Wigwam have some answers.

Flight path

Another hypersonic missile test was conducted in Woomera last week by the joint Australian and US program known as Hypersonic International Flight Research Experimentation (HIFiRE). The $54-million program seeks to advance the design of hypersonic aircraft and missiles, which have the potential to evade air defence systems while travelling at speeds above Mach 5.5. Little detail is known about last week’s test flight, but  Australian Defence Minister Marise Payne has labelled it ‘the most complex of all HIFiRE flights conducted to date.’  The program’s four major contributors are the Australian Defence Science and Technology Group, the University of Queensland, the US Air Force Research Laboratory, and the Boeing Research Group.

In other aviation news, China has again ruffled the feathers in Tokyo by sending six H-6K bombers into the Miyako Strait. While the aircraft didn’t enter Japanese airspace, Japan scrambled fighter jets in response, however the exact number remains unknown. China’s Ministry of Defense didn’t pull any punches in its retort, saying that Japan ‘should not make a fuss about nothing or over-interpret, it will be fine once they get used to it’. China conducted exercises of a similar nature late last year, and the ministry’s strong language suggests that this won’t be the last time it sends bombers to the waters surrounding the southern Japanese territories.

Rapid fire

Is Rheinmetall getting too comfortable in Australia? After participating in the LAND 121 Phase 3B program for medium-heavy trucks and trailers, the German company announced last week that the Queensland city of Ipswich will be the place to be if it succeeds in winning its bid for the LAND 400 Phase 2 program (mounted combat reconnaissance capability). Manufacturers’ Monthly provides an overview on the activities at Rheinmetall’s proposed Military Vehicle Centre of Excellence, ranging from design facilities to a test-firing range. Meanwhile down south, 49% of Adelaide’s Supashock SME now belong to the German firm. After partnering in May to equip Supashock’s military trucks with a ‘revolutionary military suspension and integrated intelligent load handling system’, the Germans’ focus is now on ’lightweight materials, photonics/optronics, autonomous systems and vehicle survivability’.

While the US currently maintains ethical opposition to artificially controlled fully automated weapons (i.e. robots) in combat, Russia is supposedly upping its game in the opposite direction: Kalashnikov claims to be building several new tools that operate based on neural network AI. That’s nothing new really—the Russian Ministry of Defence published footage of a free-wheeling tank last year (quite impressive, and very snowy).

Over in the US, the country’s Army Research Laboratory doesn’t want to rely on AI. Instead, its scientists are using real physical data in their attempts to perfect the soldier (and armoured tools) of tomorrow. Through bio-tracking, they aim to ‘quantify the person, the environment, and how the person is behaving in the environment’.

Zero gravity

The renewed focus on the future of space technologies and capabilities has prompted an interesting article calling for an update to the 50-year-old Outer Space Treaty. In its current state the treaty fails to address modern challenges such as increased militarisation and space debris. That seems understandable: President Lyndon B. Johnson couldn’t have envisioned such issues when he signed the treaty in 1967—ten years before the first theatrical release of Star Wars (though only a year before the release of 2001: A Space Odyssey).

The proposed creation of a dedicated US Space Corps is facing resistance from the White House and the Senate. That means we may have to wait a few more decades until the line between sci-fi and reality is truly blurred. The excellent War on the Rocks Bombshell podcast recently had Amy Schafer (Center for a New American Security) on the show. With hosts Loren Dejonge Schulman and Erin Simpson, the trio discuss the prospect of a US Space Corps, their favourite Space Marines, and North Korean ICBMs.

The announcement of a review into Australia’s space capabilities by the Australian government has spurred debate concerning the foundation of our own space agency. An Australian Space Agency makes a lot of sense, considering that the global space industry is worth $420 billion annually. (Though The Australian’s Jack the Insider is not so keen on the idea.)