Sea, air, land and space updates

Sea State

The US Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) program is back in the headlines this week with new footage of the LCS Jackson’s June shock trials. The trials involved detonating a 10,000 pound (4,546 kilogram) explosive device near the vessel to simulate an attack and examine its survivability. The LCS Jackson appears to have fared well in the trials, which is good news for a program in troubled waters recently. A recent review has led to numerous changes to the program, including new crewing schemes, limits to the vessels’ vaunted modularity features, and deployment limitations for the first four LCS ships.

In news closer to home, HMAS Hobart, the Royal Australian Navy’s first Hobart-class air warfare destroyer, began builder’s sea trials last week. The trials are taking place in the Great Australian Bight and are designed to test the vessel’s non-combat features, including its propulsion and navigation systems. The Hobart will undergo further trials early next year to test its combat systems before initial operating capability is declared. However, as a recent ASPI report explains (PDF), the AWDs will become operational with an earlier version of the Aegis combat system than new build USN vessels, making them unable to operate the latest versions of some missiles like the SM-6.

Flight Path

Last week saw the release of declassified US Air Force footage of the fourth confirmed rescue of an aircraft by the Automatic Ground Collision Avoidance System (Auto-GCAS). The incident occurred when an international F-16 student pilot experienced G-force induced loss of consciousness (G-LOC) while undergoing fighter manoeuvre training. Auto-GCAS was developed in the mid-1980s by Lockheed Martin, NASA and the Air Force Research Laboratory, and was introduced into the USAF F-16 fleet in late 2014. Check out this second video released by Air Force Research Laboratory explaining the tech behind Auto-GCAS.

The USAF T-X Trainer Competition is stirring up excitement among aviation enthusiasts, with four industry teams competing to win the contract to build 350 T-X aircraft and associated training systems. The new fleet of aircraft will be used to train the next generation of F-35 pilots. The four proposed aircrafts have been made public and this Aviation Week gallery gives us a glimpse into the specs of each design.

The wait is finally over. The USAF has announced the name of its new B-21 bomber at the annual Air, Space & Cyber conference this morning. Hint: The name pays tribute to the 1942 Doolittle Raid on Tokyo in WWII. It looks like the new stealth bomber will definitely be flying under the ‘Raider’.

Rapid Fire

The US Army is going old school in its weapons development, commencing work on its first new lethal hand grenade in 40 years. The Enhanced Tactical Multi-Purpose (ET-MP) hand grenade is designed to be more versatile than the old pineapple, by allowing soldiers to adjust the effect of the grenade at the flick of switch. The ET-MP is being developed by the Army’s Armament Research, Development and Engineering Centre, and is projected to enter into service in five years.

Last Thursday marked 100 years since tanks made their debut on the front line in the Battle of the Somme. This video by Al Jazeera commemorates the first century of the ‘king of road’ and its enduring relevance in modern warfare.

It’s been a big week for Russia’s Kalashnikov Group, which unveiled two new fire platforms at the Army-2016 Expo  held in Moscow from 6–11 September. The new RPK-16 light machine gun is an upgrade of the RPK-74 fire support weapon, replacing the bipod with a Picatinny rail for optical/red dot scopes. Kalashnikov also showcased the BAS-O1G BM Soratnik (‘Companion’), an unmanned ground vehicle designed for use in forward reconnaissance, which can also be equipped for direct infantry support. But why stop there? The RPK-16 can be matched with a suppressor for added stealth, while Kalashnikov’s subsidiary group ZALA Aero has two UAVs on offer, the perfect complement to the Soratnik.

Zero Gravity

Departing US Ambassador John Berry has reflected on the future of the US–Australia relationship in space. Berry highlighted the importance of ‘our powerful current history’ as he discussed the AU$120 million dollar antennae upgrade to the Tidbinbilla deep space communications link in Canberra. The Tidbinbilla facility is one of the most advanced in the world and communicates with NASA assets throughout the solar system, from Mars rovers to the Juno space probe.

Back in the US, NASA’s future is being placed under the microscope by the Chair of the Senate subcommittee on Space, Science and Competitiveness, Senator Ted Cruz. Cruz introduced the bipartisan NASA Transition Authorization Act last week, in an attempt to address a number of policy issues facing the agency The bill would require NASA to evaluate funding on current projects such as the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM), develop a strategic framework for human exploration, transition away from or extend the life of the International Space Station, study astronauts medically after space travel and bequeath extra funding for fiscal year 2017.

Spaceworks has released research on how to put humans in ‘stasis’ for manned missions to Mars. Putting astronauts in stasis for periods of the trip could significantly reduce the amount of food, water and resources a normal crew would consume, decreasing the size of the spaceship required. It could also reduce the amount of physical and psychological health issues that can arise from long-term space travel. From liquid cooling humans to tricking the brain into hibernation, the paper explores the wackiest and most practical concerns for getting humans to go the distance.