Sea, air, land and space updates

Sea state

Russia has laid down the hulls for two new diesel-electric submarines to be deployed in the Pacific. The Varshavyanka-class subs, due to be completed in November 2019, are ‘primarily designed for anti-submarine and anti-surface ship warfare’. Submarines have become an increasingly important element of the Russian Navy since its rate of shipbuilding slipped behind that of other powers in the region, particularly China. Its existing surface ships are predominantly Cold War remnants.

China and ASEAN have adopted a framework for negotiation for a code of conduct in the South China Sea (SCS). The framework seeks to build on the 2002 Declaration of conduct for parties in the SCS and was hailed by Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi as ‘really tangible progress’ in SCS negotiations. Many pundits do not share Mr Wang’s optimism and see the adoption as a time-buying measure from China. The adoption comes after Vietnam’s ‘kowtow to Beijing’ over drilling activities in the South China Sea last week.

The Chinese flotilla that conducted joint drills in the Baltic with the Russian Navy has now docked in Finland. The Finnish defence minister welcomed the arrival as a sign of Finland’s ‘friendly relations with China’.


The economic sanctions on Qatar have forced Doha to consult the International Civil Aviation Organization about accessing flight paths over international waters. Qatar has been unable to fly in airspace belonging to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt or Bahrain since June, when they cut ties with Qatar.

Russian jets were intercepted flying close to Estonian airspace on Tuesday, just hours after US vice president Mike Pence visited Estonia and pledged support to the Baltic States in overcoming ‘aggression from your unpredictable neighbor to the east’. Russia sent two MiG-31 jets and an aircraft carrier into the region, for reasons that remain unknown.

Romania plans to acquire 36 F-16 fighter jets in the next five years, as part of its US$11.6-billion defence upgrade. The plan also involves purchasing a High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, missile launchers, and other vehicles and equipment.

The US is proceeding with plans to sell 12 A-29 Super Tucanos to Nigeria, a deal that was halted after the Nigerian Air Force mistakenly bombed a refugee camp. The deal will proceed in an effort to help defeat Boko Haram, on the understanding that the fighter operators will also be trained in ‘human rights and the law of armed conflict’.

Rapid fire

The cause for the crash of a Tiger helicopter in Mali last week that left two German soldiers dead continues to remain unclear. The Australian Army is probably watching closely, as it already has a list of issues with its own 22 Tigers, including running ‘seven years late in achieving final operating capability (FOC) and only then with a series of caveats’.

As we’ve observed before, the battlefield of tomorrow is being studied intensely. Captain Ted Taber from the US Army School of Infantry says that infantry ‘requires a capability beyond the reach of its infantry fighting vehicle (IFV) and 7.62mm machine gun’. Here in Australia, Major Troy Mitchell looks at the potential of (and need for) an Australian amphibious strategy that ‘enables anticipating, preparing, and organizing for forward power projection to support national interests and security’.

Armies from 28 countries have taken to Siberia: Russia is staging the third International Army Games, which began last Friday. Russia sees the games as an ‘opportunity to demonstrate that Russia has international partners’ despite cooling relations with the West. Commander-in-Chief of Ground Forces Salyukov claims that invitations were sent to NATO members, but Greece was the only one to accept and participate.

Video footage of an obstacle course for tanks? You’re welcome.

Zero gravity

The US Department of Defense has been investing in various Silicon Valley satellite technology startups, through its Defense Innovation Unit Experimental (DIUx) branch. These public–private investments could potentially assist in defence of the US mainland in the case of a North Korean missile strike. DIUx has been actively supporting the development of new technologies and companies since August 2015, serving a similar role to the CIA’s venture capital firm In-Q-Tel. Such partnerships are often mutually rewarding. NASA backed Space X in a private–public arrangement under its previous administrator, Mike Griffin (also previously president of In-Q-Tel). Space X is now valued at $21.3 billion. Australia should consider developing its own DIUx—or its own In-Q-Tel, as Brendon Thomas-Noone argued on The Strategist.

More information has emerged about Russia’s latest ICBM, the RS-28 Sarmat. The new weapon improves on older Russian ICBMs, with additional penetration aids and the ability to withstand a first strike. The Russian media has claimed that the weapon is a replacement for the SS-18, a huge ICBM given the NATO codename Satan (video). Experts in Washington believe the weapon is more likely to be a replacement of the SS-19, a significantly smaller missile (video). This news comes as a shock for those among us who thought SS-18 referred only to next year’s spring/summer fashion collections.