Defence - Issue 100 - Magazine | Monocle

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Testing the waters

China [Navy]

It may seem strange that it has taken until now for a superpower such as China to field its first combat-ready aircraft carrier. This is no less odd, however, than the journey undertaken by the new pride of the People’s Liberation Army navy’s fleet, the Liaoning, now declared ready for operations.

Liaoning was laid down as long ago as 1985 at Soviet Shipyard 444 in Mykolaiv on the Black Sea: it was to be called the Riga, then the Varyag, a sister to the USSR’s Admiral Kuznetsov (now the Russian navy’s flagship). When the Soviet Union collapsed the vessel passed, still unfinished, to newly independent and cash-strapped Ukraine, who sold it to a Chinese businessman who claimed to want to moor it in Macau as a floating casino. After a logistically and diplomatically torturous journey it wound up in a Dalian shipyard being converted into a platform able to hold 24 of China’s j-15 “Flying Shark” fighters.

So what does the Liaoning’s new lease of life mean for China – which has become increasingly aggressive at sea? According to the vessel’s political commissar, senior captain Li Dongyou, quoted in Chinese state media, “We are preparing for actual combat at any time.” Yet many western observers believe that China may be overselling Liaoning’s capabilities somewhat.

“‘Combat ready’ is possibly an overstatement,” says Alessio Patalano, senior lecturer in war studies at King’s College London. “They’ve made tremendous progress and can operate the carrier. But I would be less confident that it’s a combat readiness that compares with that of the US navy.”

The US dwarfs all rivals in terms of carrier strength: each of its 10 Nimitz-class carriers fields more aircraft than some entire countries. What nobody knows is how interested the incoming Donald Trump administration will be in using them to project US power in and around the South China Sea.

“If we’re asking that question then Chinese military planners are as well,” says Patalano. “China will be testing the waters, metaphorically and literally, to find the extent to which this is an opportunity to push back at the US.”

New wheels

Australia [Equipment]

The Australian Defence Force has received its first 10 Hawkei armoured vehicles, a delivery marking the beginning of a contract for 1,100 of the seven-tonne four-wheel-drives to be built by Thales Australia at its plant in Bendigo.

Thales won the au$1.3bn (€920m) contract ahead of competition from Oshkosh US, which has designed the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle, the replacement for the Humvee. The Hawkei, named after an Australian venomous snake, is designed to withstand ieds yet is light enough to be lifted by Chinook helicopters. Full production will begin in 2018.

Pilot scheme

US [Transport]

Virginia-based aerospace company Aurora Flight Sciences is developing a kit that can fly venerable uh-1 “Huey” helicopters without pilots. The new Tactical Autonomous Aerial Logistics System (Talos) will enable the aircraft to avoid obstacles and fly cargo, troops and casualties into and out of remote landing sites, as well as safely make ship-to-shore ferry or survey flights.

One of Aurora’s key aims is to develop a user-friendly system that would enable untrained soldiers and other field operators to direct the aircraft’s flight plans. More than 16,000 uh-1s have been built since the 1960s and many are still in use around the world, with others in storage and boneyards awaiting reactivation. Talos promises a cheap way for armed forces and civil organisations to leap into the unmanned world with a known, robust and simple platform.

Game changer no. 02

Buoyant times

New Zealand [Navy]

Name: Maritime Sustainment Capability vessel
Manufacturer: Hyundai Heavy Industries

The Royal New Zealand Navy (RNZN) is replacing the 29-year-old HMNZS Endeavour with an innovative new vessel capable of multiple missions. Known as the Maritime Sustainment Capability vessel, the 24,000-tonne logistics ship will be delivered in 2020 with a new wave-piercing design for heavy Southern Ocean swells and a Polar Class 6 ice hull to reach Scott Base in the Antarctic.

Not only will it support RNZN frigates fighting on the other side of the world but its hospital, rigid-hulled inflatable boats, helicopter and ability to purify 100 tonnes of water a day and pipe electricity ashore will make it ideal for disaster relief or anti-piracy patrols.

You’re in the army now


Kuwait will begin enforcing new conscription laws at the start of 2017. The new rules stipulate that all citizens between the age of 18 and 35 must take part in military training and service for at least one year.

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