The Weekly Wire: For Your Situational Awareness 3.1.17
On February 20, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) commissioned the Al Hili, its sixth and last Baynunah-class corvette, into service at the IDEX/NAVDEX defense exposition in Abu Dhabi. The 72-meter long Al Hili is the last of a class of small, French-designed corvettes now in service with the UAE Navy. The first of the class was built by Constructions Mecaniques de Normandie, a French shipyard in Cherbourg, while the other five were all built by Abu Dhabi Shipbuilding in Abu Dhabi. The corvettes are used for surveillance, interception and coastal patrol missions. Two of the corvettes are reportedly on patrol in the southern Red Sea area supporting anti-Houthi operations in Yemen.
The government of Finland will purchase 48 used K9 Thunder self-propelled howitzers from South Korea for nearly $155 million. The new howitzers will be used to replace other Soviet-era artillery pieces that are due to retire in the 2020s. In addition to the howitzers themselves, the deal also includes training, spare parts, maintenance, and an option to purchase additional howitzers later. Deliveries are due to begin next year and will continue until 2024.
The Hungarian Air Force will continue to lease Gripen fighters from Sweden as both countries have agreed to increase the combat aircraft’s flight hours. Under the new agreement, Sweden has extended the limit to flight hours from 1,600 to 2,000 hours per year in addition to upgrading the aircraft from Gripen C/Ds to Version 20. The Hungarian Air Force currently operates a fleet of 14 Gripen C/Ds as part of a lease first signed in 2001 with Sweden. The Gripens were first delivered in 2006, allowing the Hungarian Air Force to operate the aircraft for ten years. However, the Hungarian government renewed their lease of the combat aircraft until 2026 in January 2012.
The Indian Air Force (IAF) stated that it will not acquire the Advanced Hawk trainer aircraft, a combat-capable trainer aircraft being developed by BAE Systems and Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL). The rejection comes following a bribery scandal in 2014 involving Rolls Royce, the engine provider for the Advanced Hawk as well as the Hawk Mark 132 advanced jet trainer (AJT). India purchased 123 units of the Hawk Mark 132 AJT between 2004 and 2015, when the ethics violations are said to have emerged. This development throws the BAE-HAL joint venture into jeopardy and exacerbates an already serious trainer aircraft shortage for the IAF. Preferred indigenous solutions under development, including the Hindustan Turbo Trainer (HTT-40) and Sitara Intermediate Jet Trainer (HJT-36), continue to face significant setbacks and lengthy delays, while current-serving trainers suffer from poor safety records. The Indian Air Force statement suggests openings for other foreign trainer aircraft providers as possible “interim” solutions to the shortage.
On February 22, NASA held a news briefing to announce that its Spitzer Space Telescope has revealed the first known system of seven Earth-sized planets around a single star, three of which are more likely to be habitable to humans than the others. About 40 light-years (378 trillion kilometers) from Earth, this system is considered relatively close. The cluster has been named TRAPPIST-1, after The Transiting Planets and Planetesimals Small Telescope in Chile which, in May 2016, first helped researchers find the system. The Spitzer Telescope, in combination with several ground-based telescopes, corroborated those findings and discovered five more exoplanets. All seven are closer to their host star – an ultra-cool dwarf – than Mercury is to our sun. In addition to the Spitzer Telescope, the Hubble Space Telescope, and the Kepler Telescope, all of which are currently employed in further investigating TRAPPIST-1, astronomers can look forward to follow-up studies of the system using NASA’s upcoming James Webb Space Telescope, due to launch in 2018. More exoplanet discoveries are expected from the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), which also launches next year and will use an array of telescopes to discover transiting exoplanets in the habitable zones of nearby stars, ranging in size from Earth-like to gas giants.