Sea, air, land and space updates

Sea State

The USS Mason, a US Navy Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, was attacked twice (and had one false alarm) last week off the coast of Yemen. The attacks were launched from territory held by the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels and were suspected to have been conducted with Chinese-built but Iranian-supplied C-802 anti-ship missiles. While the USS Mason wasn’t damaged in any of the attacks, the ship did deploy defensive countermeasures each time. The US Navy responded to the attacks by destroying three Yemeni radar sites suspected of providing targeting data to the rebels. The attacks on the ship come a few weeks after a UAE catamaran was severely damaged in an anti-ship missile attack in the same region.

Russia continues to beef up its naval presence in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea, announcing last week that it was deploying three warships to region. Two of those warships also conducted cruise missiles attacks against targets in Syria back in August. The move comes on the heels of Russia’s only aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov, departing for the region, as was announced in September.

Flight Path

Russia appears to have given ‘air force’ a whole new meaning. Revealing the latest trick up its sleeve, Russia has teamed up with Rusbal, a hot air balloon company, to develop a growing arsenal of inflatable tanks, jets and missile launchers. The lifelike appearance of an inflatable S-300 missile system which pops up and then disappears again within minutes may have Russia’s adversaries thinking their eyes are playing tricks on them. Take a closer look at the inflatable ‘suite’ here. This BBC documentary explores Russia’s long-standing history of ‘maskirovka’ (Russian military deception) tactics.

Last week, The New York Times reported that Kurdish forces fighting IS in northern Iraq shot down an unlikely target: an exploding drone. The device exploded upon inspection killing two Kurdish fighters. This is the first fatal, and third known, IS drone attack in Iraq. Acknowledging the threat of IED fitted drones, the Pentagon announced $20 million toward counter-drone weapons earlier this year. Watch this space for a forthcoming report from the Combating Terrorism Centre which is set to examine the expected use of off-the-shelf drones that may be able to ‘carry heavier payloads, fly and loiter longer, and employ secure communications links’.

Rapid Fire

The development of the Apache attack helicopter may have peaked. A spokesman for the US Army’s deputy chief of staff for program development told FlightGlobal that the Army won’t buy into developing an AH-64F model, instead preferring to replace the legacy copter with the Future Vertical Lift (FVL) program. Boeing proposed the AH-64F as a bridge between the current AH-64E model and the FVL, but Major General John Murray ruled out concurrent development of the two platforms as unaffordable. Despite the setback, Boeing will reportedly press ahead with the F model.

The Australian Army held its third Army Innovation Day on 12 October. The annual event is an opportunity for direct engagement between army and industry, with a view to fast-tracking new technologies to enhance army capabilities. Themed ‘manned and unmanned teaming for the soldier’, this year’s Innovation Day saw 20 companies (domestic and international manufacturers) present 24 new products, including ‘autonomous vehicles, small unmanned aerial vehicles, counter-improvised threat systems, electronic weapons sights, 3D immersive displays, mobile automatic targets, information fusion displays, and robotic exoskeletons’. Watch here as Major General Fergus McLachlan outlines the value of the event and army–industry engagement.

Finally, Raytheon is championing the use of small-satellite technology to bolster protection of ground troops. The company’s Tucson team is looking to produce tiny, disposable satellites capable of providing ground troops with high resolution images of the battlefield within 90 minutes.

Zero Gravity

A consortium of scientists, space investors and legal experts have announced their plans for the first space nation ‘Asgardia‘. As a giant space station on low earth orbit, the project would ‘serve humanity’ by preventing asteroids and coronal mass ejections from hitting Earth. The project is hoping to attract enough space citizens (around 150 million) to gain UN recognition. Join here.

The Italian-made Schiaparelli lander has detached from its mother-ship, the Trace Gas Orbiter satellite, to make the descent to Mars. ExoMars, a joint project between the European Space Agency and Russia’s Roscomos, is designed to hunt for traces of water and methane and to test Mars’ notoriously difficult landing environment.

On Monday, China’s Jing Haipeng and Chen Dong were blasted into space. They launched on a Shenzhou 11 spacecraft as the first two astronauts to work on the new Tiangong-2 space station. They will spend 30 days in orbit conducting maintenance, space science and aerospace medical experiments.