25 August 2016

Think Tank: These are the droids you’re looking for

R2-D2 (Image: Flickr User - WCM 1111)
James Mugg

A recurring objection to the use of unmanned combat air systems (UCAS) for any role currently filled by fighter or attack aircraft is that robots can’t replace human fighter pilots. It’s probably a bit optimistic to say that humans will always be more capable pilots than computers, but robots don’t have to replace pilots to be useful. A fun way to stimulate thinking about unmanned systems is to look at how robots (aka droids) are used in the Star Wars movies.

Starting with the Original Trilogy (as one should), droids are mostly seen in non-combat roles. R2-D2 is essentially Luke Skywalker’s co-pilot, and his best real-world analogue is the growing computerisation of military systems. The original Star Wars movie was released in 1977, a year before the USAF introduced the F-16. The F-16’s successor, the F-35, doesn’t exactly have an R2-D2 sitting behind the pilot, but its sophisticated sensor systems and data fusion capabilities aren’t that different to having a robot co-pilot.

In The Empire Strikes Back, probe droids are used for ISR ops on a galactic scale, leading the Empire to the Rebels on Hoth. Most modern unmanned air systems are primarily ISR platforms, like the RQ-7 Shadow the Australian Army operates. ISR drones are cheap to operate and take boring tasks away from humans—the more automated the better.

USA: Boxer ARG, 13th MEU team returns to 3rd Fleet

By MC2 Debra Daco, Amphibious Squadron 1 Public Affairs

In this file photo, USS Boxer (LHD 4) and USS New Orleans (LPD 18) operate in the Pacific shortly after their deployment began in February. (U.S. Navy/MCSN Craig Z. Rodarte) >>

PACIFIC OCEAN - The Boxer Amphibious Ready Group (ARG), 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) team completed operations in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operations (AOO) and entered the U.S. 3rd Fleet AOO, Aug. 25.

The ARG/MEU team is returning to the U.S. following a deployment that saw their forces operate in the 3rd, 5th, and 7th Fleet AOOs in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, theater security cooperation, and marine interdiction operations while providing combatant commanders with a sea-based theater reserve force ready to conduct missions across the range of military operations.

“Everyone is excited that we are getting closer to home and will soon be reunited with family and friends,” said Capt. Patrick Foege, commodore for Amphibious Squadron One. “Our Sailors and Marines did incredible work throughout this deployment, from conducting strikes in support of Operation Inherent Resolve in 5th Fleet to promoting maritime security and freedom of the seas in 7th Fleet.”

USA: Japan’s defense minister visits USS Ronald Reagan

From USS Ronald Reagan Public Affairs

Japanese Minister of Defense Tomomi Inada receive a brief about the mission of forward-deployed naval forces aboard USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76). (U.S. Navy/MC2 Adrienne Powers) >>

YOKOSUKA, Japan - Japan’s defense minister, the Japan Maritime Staff Office chief of staff, the Self Defense Fleet commander in chief, and the Japan Maritime Self Defense Force Yokosuka District commander visited the U.S. Navy’s only forward-deployed aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) at Fleet Activities Yokosuka, Aug. 23.

Minister of Defense Tomomi Inada, Adm. Tomohisa Takei, Vice Adm. Yasuhiro Shigeoka and Vice Adm. Tetsuro Doshita were welcomed aboard by the Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin, the U.S. 7th Fleet commander, Rear Adm. Matthew Carter, the U.S. Naval Forces Japan commander, Rear Adm. Charles Williams, commander, Task Force 70, and Capt. Buzz Donnelly, Ronald Reagan’s commanding officer.

USA: Secretary of State Kerry To Travel to Dhaka and New Delhi

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will travel to Dhaka, Bangladesh, on August 29 to highlight the longstanding and broad U.S.-Bangladesh relationship. Secretary Kerry will meet with government officials to discuss our growing cooperation on global issues. He also will focus on strengthening our longstanding bilateral partnership on democracy, development, security and human rights.

On August 29–31, Secretary Kerry will travel to New Delhi, India, for meetings with senior Indian officials. On August 30, the Secretary and U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker will co-chair the second U.S.-India Strategic and Commercial Dialogue (S&CD).

Secretaries Kerry and Pritzker will be joined by their respective Indian co-chairs, Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj and Minister of State for Commerce and Industry Nirmala Sitharaman, along with members of the U.S. delegation and their Indian counterparts.

The S&CD is the signature mechanism for advancing the United States’ and India’s shared priorities of generating sustainable economic growth, creating jobs, improving the business and investment climate, enhancing livelihoods, and sustaining the rules-based global order.

News Report: China Eyes Manned Radar Station on the Moon

Image: Flickr User - Basharat Alam Shah
The United States may be the first nation to put a man on the moon, but China could be the first to have man live there.

"It’s a lunatic idea," a scientist told the South China Morning Post, referring to a plan to install a permanently-manned radar station on the lunar surface.

The facility would involve a 50-meter-high radar that would be used for both scientific and defense purposes. The size of the radar dish would allow it to take extremely clear images of Earth, and could cover a broader terrestrial swath than satellites, stationed in near-Earth orbit, are capable of surveying.

The installation would also feature living quarters for astronauts who would man the base around the clock.

The base will also require power. For this, scientists are considering either a solar or nuclear power plant.

So far, China’s National Natural Science Foundation has put forth a down payment of $2.4 million to study the project’s feasibility.

It’s an ambitious project, and naturally has its share of skeptics.

News Report: New Arms Race - China, US Prepare for Missile Warfare

In signs of a new Cold War, China is building an arsenal of both offensive and defensive missiles to prepare for a hypothetical conflict with the United States.

In recent months, tensions between the two nations have reached new heights. In the South China Sea, Beijing and Washington are at loggerheads over the former’s construction of artificial islands, with the US concerned China is attempting to establish an air defense zone. In the neighboring East China Sea, Tokyo and Beijing are at odds over the Senkaku islands, a conflict partly driven by the United States pressuring its Pacific allies into taking a harder stance against China’s growing influence.

As these tensions simmer, an op-ed for Asia Times by Bill Gertz points out that China has been stockpiling its missile arsenal for years, over concerns of US aggression.

"Beijing’s arsenal of ballistic and cruise missiles has been growing steadily for decades as new systems were fielded in an array of ranges – short, medium and intercontinental," Gertz writes. "Several long-range cruise missiles, capable of carrying nuclear or conventional payloads also are deployed."

In addition, Beijing has secretly developed a hypersonic missile, the DF-ZF glide vehicle, which ascends to the Earth’s upper atmosphere in order to bypass anti-missile defense systems.

News Report: Why Pyongyang’s Nuclear Tests Are Less Dangerous Than the Panic They Cause

The US and South Korea kicked off large-scale military exercises on Monday to practice a preventive strike originating from North Korea. Pyongyang responded with a traditional threat of a preventive nuclear attack on the South. Sputnik discussed the matter with Vladimir Khrustalev, an expert in North Korean weapons with Lifeboat Foundation NGO.

“First of all, the North can’t nuke all its enemies simply because it is unable to build enough nuclear bombs to do this. Pyongyang has two sources of weapons-grade fissionable materials: one is a 35 megawatt reactor at Yongbyon Nuclear Center and a processing plant with an estimated 4,000 centrifuges. Both of them produce just a tiny fraction of what Russia, China and the US now have,” Khrustalev said.

He added that this pales even in comparison with the “non-weapons” grade plutonium being produced by Pyongyang’s immediate neighbors South Korea and Japan.

News Report: China Welcomes Philippine Decision Not to Raise S China Sea Dispute in Laos

China appreciates the recent decision made by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte not to raise the South China Sea dispute at the upcoming East Asia Summit, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said Wednesday.

BEIJING (Sputnik) — On Tuesday, Duterte reportedly said that he would expect talks to be held with China on the South China Sea dispute within a year, stressing that Philippines would not raise the issue at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in September.

"China welcomes the statement made by [Philippine] President Duterte that the Philippines won't raise the issue of the Arbitration's decision concerning the South China Sea at the upcoming summit," Lu Kang said at a briefing.

Beijing hopes for a peaceful settlement of the dispute through consultations and negotiations with the countries directly involved, and is committed to maintaining peace and stability in the South China Sea together with the ASEAN countries, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman stressed.

"China expects such a dialogue with the Philippine side as soon as possible," he added.

A number of disputed islands, including the Paracel Islands and the Spratly Islands, are located in the South China Sea. Beijing’s territorial claims to the Spratly Islands, known as Nansha Islands in China, which are believed to be rich in oil and gas reserves, run counter to those of the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia, Brunei and Vietnam.

On July 12, the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled that China has no legal basis to claim historic rights to South China Sea resources and has violated the sovereign rights of the Philippines in the country's exclusive economic zone.

This story first appeared on Sputnik & is reposted here with permission.

News Report: How China’s Base in Djibouti Reveals an ‘Expanding Sphere of Influence’

As the Chinese military base in Djibouti is set to complete by next year, China has repeatedly expressed that it has no intention of following the US’s example in expanding its global military influence and projecting power over other countries. But what do the Chinese want to achieve in Djibouti?

China’s facilities in the small East African nation of Djibouti are meant to reinforce Chinese peace-keeping and anti-piracy missions near the Gulf of Aden and Somalia, according to the Global Times.

“They are misinterpreting China's foreign policy, believing that China intends to follow the US pattern of building military bases globally or to meddle in other countries' domestic affairs,” Li Weijian, a professor of West Asian and African Studies at the Shanghai Institute for International Studies, told the Global Times.

China has a very small number of overseas military deployments and the country largely lacks the ability to protect its citizens and interests in Africa. Other countries have an excessive amount of military bases all over the world, particularly the US which has military bases in 42 foreign countries.

News Report: Seven Dead, 30 Wounded as Afghanistan University Attack Ends

Afghanistan police say at least seven people are dead and more than 30 wounded after a nearly 10-hour long attack on the American University of Afghanistan in Kabul ended Thursday.

The dead include one guard. A foreign teacher was among the injured, Kabul Police Chief Abdul Rahman Rahimi said.

More than 700 staff and students were rescued after being trapped inside the university complex, Rahimi added.

The attack began with an explosion around 6:30 pm Wednesday local time and set off about an hour of gunfire as security forces responded. Officials described the assault as a "complex attack."

Police officials said at least two attackers had been killed.