Sea, air, land and space updates

Image courtesy of Flickr user Jayal Aheram

Sea State

It has been a big month on the water for Lockheed Martin. Better known for building aircraft, the company delivered its eighth Littoral Combat Ship (LCS), the LCS Detroit, to the US Navy earlier in August. The vessel is a part of the Freedom class, which is the company’s share of the US Navy’s Future Frigate program. While the LCS program has faced its share of issues, both variants of the LCS have progressed well and are currently undergoing shock tests. This comes on the heels of Lockheed Martin’s new US$166 million contract to build mini-submarines for US Special Operations Command. These mini-subs are designed to allow up to six Navy SEALs to infiltrate hostile coastal regions undetected.

One of the Royal Australian Navy’s ANZAC class guided missile frigates, the HMAS Toowoomba, is temporarily out of action as it receives its slated Anti-Ship Missile Defence (ASMD) upgrades. The ASMD program will allow the ANZAC class vessels to better defend themselves against anti-ship missiles by upgrading their combat sensors and weapons systems.  The Toowoomba is the second last ANZAC to receive the upgrades and will be back in service in September 2016.

When is an amphibious assault ship actually an aircraft carrier? Check out this in-depth look at the US Navy’s newest amphibious assault ship, the USS America, here.

Flight Path

The hypersonic arms race between China, the US and Russia is heating up. At the recent Space and Missile Defence Symposium, US officials spoke about the need to address the threat by improving defence capabilities, including sensor and interceptor technology. China has reportedly conducted seven test flights of its DF-ZF hypersonic glide vehicle, which is said to reach speeds between Mach 5 and Mach 10 and evade interception due to its manoeuvrability and high speed.

Russia’s Ministry of Defence has released its first footage of a fifth-generation aircraft, the PAK FA Sukhoi T-50. The aircraft has drawn criticism for its lack of evolutionary technology, calling it fifth-generation ‘in-name-only’. In terms of stealth, the T-50’s speculated RCS isn’t as impressive as the US Air Force F-22 Raptor. Perhaps the price tag is reflective of its quality, with each unit ranging from only $50 million—compared to the F-22’s $339 million and the F-35’s $178 million.

The US dispatched two F-22 Raptors to intercept Syrian Su-24 Fencer aircraft flying in the vicinity of Hasakah, Syria late last week. This was the second close encounter in two days between the two parties. Syrian pilots didn’t respond to radio calls but the F-22 presence drove the Fencers out of the airspace without further exchanges. The F-22 has a history of using its commanding presence to intercept and deter foreign military aircraft.

Rapid Fire

In March, Australia’s Major James Ellis-Smith proposed a new approach to the Australian way of war. In Challenging our approach to conventional war which was released last week, Ellis-Smith considers Australia’s future role in land combat, drawing upon Brigadier Michael Ryan’s Lessons of Ukraine for the Australian Army. Ellis-Smith argues for a departure from Australia’s traditional approach of force structuring and training against a ‘near-peer’ enemy; future conflict will likely see Australia in Ukraine’s position, fighting forces of superior size and capability. The Australian army should, therefore, adopt ‘asymmetric and insurgent methodologies’, which would allow its armed forces to punch well above their weight against more formidable foes.

In another development that may have implications for Australia’s future military strategy, the UN is set to commence negotiations on a nuclear ban treaty in 2017, despite efforts by Australian diplomats to obstruct the process. Australia forced a vote on a report—which had been expected to pass unanimously—recommending negotiations on a complete nuclear ban. Australia objected to the ban, arguing that deterrence remained vital to counter the threat of rogue states like the DPRK.

Doubts have been raised over the safety of the US army’s new artillery system, the M109A7 Paladin. The self-propelled howitzer is under fire over fire—with survivability test reports citing increased risk of oil, lubricants and the heating system catching alight, endangering the crew.

Zero Gravity

China launched a satellite as part of its new Quantum Space Satellite Program (QUESS). The satellite will complement China’s growing quantum communications network and form a major pillar of the Chinese National Space Science Center’s ‘Strategic Priority Programs’. The cryptographic security quantum key distribution offers will be essential to future Chinese military communications and warfighting; however the system remains vulnerable to hacking and interference.

The US National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine has a released a report on space defence and protection calling for the urgent creation of new policy. The report highlights the increasing militarisation of space and the importance of military and commercial assets that operate in the different orbital planes above earth. The report outlines establishing a three pronged approach to US space security grounded in systems protection measures, credible deterrence and the formation of international coalitions supporting order in space.

In other news, the International Space Station (ISS) received a long awaited International Docking Adaptor (IDA). The addition will allow Boeing and Space X vehicles to dock at the ISS. The idea is that from 2017–18 onwards, commercial rockets will ferry NASA personnel to the ISS. You can watch the astronauts installing the IDA here.