Sea, air and land updates

Image courtesy of Flickr user Till Westermayer

Sea State

With Rim of the Pacific 2016 (Exercise RIMPAC) in full swing, Russia has stationed a spy ship off the coast of Hawaii to monitor proceedings. According to a US Pacific Fleet spokesman, the Russian Navy Balzam-class auxiliary general intelligence ship arrived ‘recently’, operating outside US territorial waters but within the 200-nautical-mile EEZ. Russia hasn’t been invited to the biennial exercise since 2012, due to heightened tension with the West over Moscow’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. The Center for Research on Globalization has taken a look at this omission, asking whether RIMPAC’s being used to co-opt China into isolating Russia.

The US military has long been known to use animals to assist in operations, and soon locusts could be added to the list. The Office of Naval Research has awarded a team at Washington University a three-year, US$750,000 grant to continue its research into turning locusts into military tools. The insects’ sensory abilities make them ideal candidates; their powerful olfactory system is more sensitive than even state-of-the-art miniaturised chemical sensing devices. During testing, sensors are implanted onto the locusts’ antennae, which records and decode certain neural activity in their brains. Researchers plan to hook up sensors to a small ‘backpack’, containing a transmitter that sends signals to a receiver connected to an LED. If explosives are detected, the LED will light up red. In order to guide locusts to areas that may contain bombs, researchers are working to create a ‘tattoo’ made from biocompatible silk, which would convert light into heat to direct the insects.

Flight Path

Last week, the F-35B short take off/vertical landing (STOVL) aircraft purchased for the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy debuted to the public at the Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT) in Fairford, England. The UK committed to the acquisition of 138 F-35s in its Strategic Defence and Security Review released in November last year, though a number of conventional take-off variants might later be added to the mix. The Aviationist has some cool footage of the F-35B showing off its hovering and vertical landing skills at the RIAT. The British Joint Strike Fighter flew alongside the same variant from the US Marine Corps—which USAF General Hawk Carlisle said was intended to signal to Russia that the US and its allies are ready to use F-35s as part of their deterrence posture.

For something a bit different, let’s admire the A-10 Warthog’s big ass gun. A new piece from Historical Firearms details the history of General Electric’s 30mm GAU-8 Avenger cannon—a weapon capable of firing up to 4,200 rounds per minute. For some footage of the GAU-8 Avenger in action, check out this GoPro video showing an A-10 strafing from inside the cockpit. Here’s what it looks like from ground level. The versatility of the weapon is shown in this footage of an airman apparently playing ‘taps’ (slightly off-key) on the 30mm rifled barrels.   

Rapid Fire

NATO leaders decided last week to move four battalionsas many as 4,000 troopsto north-eastern Europe in response of the security challenges posed by an increasingly assertive Russia. As part of the initiative, President Obama announced on Friday that he’ll station 1,000 soldiers in Poland. CSIS has just released the second part of a two-phase study reviewing US Army’s future force posture in Europe. But not everyone thinks that a more assertive NATO presence in Eastern Europe is a good idea.

According to a new analysis by IHS released 10 July, the territory controlled by Daesh continues to shrink, having lost 14% of what it controlled in 2015, and a further 12% in the first half of 2016. The IHS Conflict Monitor has released a map that shows the areas currently under control and territory lost by Daesh in the past 18 months. On the same day, a press briefing by Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL, Brett McGurk, indicated that Daesh has lost half of the territory it controlled in Iraq and a fifth in Syria since its peak in 2014. The briefing also revealed that the total number of Daesh fighters in Iraq and Syria has decreased from approximately 31,000 in December 2014 to between 19,000 and 25,000 today.

The Australian Army has released its ‘Training and Doctrine’ podcast, which aims to explore all aspects of training within Army, from individual drills to large-scale exercises. Led by Captain Sharon Mascall-Dare, the first three episodes centre around Exercise Hamel, which is currently underway in South Australia.