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US Ignores Russia For Moon Mining Pact; Can China, India Join Moscow For A Similar Mission?

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As the US is ramping up its efforts to mine on the moon and outer space, Russia has been ignored by Trump Administration drawing sharp reactions from Moscow. Could this snub provoke Russia to consider an alternative with China and possibly India for launching an alternate moon project?

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The Donald Trump-led administration is formulating a legal framework for mining on the moon under a new U.S.-sponsored international agreement called the Artemis Accords.

The Artemis Accords, named after the Nasa’s new Artemis moon program, propose “safety zones” that would enclose future moon bases to prevent damage or interference from rival nations or firms operating in the vicinity.

The US is a member of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty and sees the “safety zones” as an implementation of one of its highly debated articles. It states that celestial bodies and the moon are “not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means.’’

In layman terms, it means that if any country/firm is going to be in the vicinity of another country/firms safety zone operations, then the former needs to reach out to the latter in advance and only proceed after due consultation, keeping in mind the safety of everyone.

The agreement is a part of NASA with allies to put humans and space stations on the moon within the next 10 years and indicates the independent space agency playing an increasing role in implementing American foreign policy.

Since space is seen as the latest military domain, countries are increasingly investing in space programs and missions to forward their interests.

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In the next few weeks, the US will aim to formally negotiate the accords with allies that have ‘like-minded’ interests in lunar mining. Canada, Japan, the EU and the United Arab Emirates are the countries that will possibly team up with NASA.

Russia, one of the powerhouses of space technology and innovation, has been left out of the agreement. The U.S. Defense Department views Russia as a hostile spacefaring country due to its “threatening” satellite movements toward U.S. spy satellites and as a result, won’t include Moscow in Artemis Accords negotiations.

In early April, Russia had criticised Donald Trump’s executive order that encouraged citizens to mine the lunar surface and celestial bodies for commercial purposes and linked the policy to colonialism saying it “hardly sets the countries to a fruitful cooperation.”

Asian giants and rising space powers China and India are also not part of the lunar accord even though both nations are also experienced space players with equally high ambitions.

Some netizens speaking to the EurAsian Times were left wondering if the RIC triad (Russia, India and China) could possibly join hands in a similar accord? All three countries have put forward proposals for mining in space in the past with Russia setting up the Roscosmos State Corporation for Space Activities and Bejing and New Delhi floating ideas about possible helium-3 extraction.

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Russia is technologically advanced and considered by many as far ahead in space technology than the US but hampered tight pockets. India and China are not far behind with both nations having expertise and the manpower for celestial missions.

As recently as yesterday, China successfully launched a new rocket and prototype spacecraft in a major test of its ambitions to operate a permanent space station and send astronauts to the Moon. India, under the aegis of the  Indian Space Research Organization, aims to launch its third lunar mission, Chandrayaan-3 and Gaganyaan-India’s first manned space mission in the coming years.

Nasa is pouring billions of dollars into the Artemis program, which aims to place humans on the moon by 2024 and developing a “sustainable presence” on the lunar south pole consequently, with private firms mining lunar rocks that can be transformed to rocket fuel.

The US passed a law in 2015 permitting firms the property rights to resources they mine in the outer space, but no such laws exist in the global community.

Russia, meanwhile, also has plans to establish a long-term base on the moon by 2030. A 2014 draft government program designed by Roscosmos sketched a three-step plan toward manning the moon. Its final stage planned for 2030 envisions humans setting up infrastructure for a colony using local resources.

Americas

Beijing calls Japan’s F-35 deal with the US a big threat to China, Russia

China acknowledges that Japan is buying the US’ F-35 jets out of practicality as Tokyo needs to upgrade its ageing jets but accuses the US of hunting like wolves and not like a tiger.

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The US recently approved the sale of F-35 joint strike fighters to Japan at a whopping cost of $23 billion. China, a traditional foe and close neighbour of Japan has expressed concern of having such advanced jets in the region which could be detrimental to the security of both China and Russia.

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Chinese state media  – the Global Times acknowledges for once that Japan is buying the US’ F-35 jets out of practicality and as Tokyo needs to upgrade its current F-2s and F-15s jets.

GT also accepts that Japan could be facing pressure from China and Russia and Tokyo has rationally opted to go for the most advanced jets in the world – the F-35s to counter the dual challenge of Beijing and Moscow.

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It goes on to say – Japan has made substantial improvement in its military modernization program. The first of the Izumo-class helicopter carriers, Izumo, has marked a milestone in its transformation into Japan’s first true aircraft carrier since World War II. The other Izumo-class carrier Kaga is also under transmutation. Both ships will be transformed into light aircraft carriers on which approximately 20 F-35s can be stationed.

But light aircraft carriers have restricted combat capabilities. Due to political issues, the reformations are concerning in certain quarters because they represent “the first time” that modern Japan has had fixed-wing aircraft carriers.

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Japan is approving a strategy of taking rapid moves in carrier development. Of special interest will be any plan by Japan to develop real carriers over 50,000 tons. If they acquire a large number of F-35Cs, it will imply a new stage of Japanese aircraft carrier development.

Such a massive military advancement in Japan will bother its neighbours i.e. Russia and China. There are apprehensions that Japan will amend its peaceful constitution. This could turn Japan into an aggressive, hostile force and nations that suffered in World War II because of Japanese expansionist policy will be closely watching.

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Japan is a key defence partner of the US. It is also part of Washington’s so-called global alliance that targets China. Tokyo is also collaborating with the US by developing an anti-missile system, which will affect the strike capabilities of China and Russia and endanger its security, writes the GT.

Without self-sufficient defence capabilities, Japan is incapable of holding by itself and will only end up being commanded by the US. Although Japan has its own strategies and doesn’t want to be fully commanded by Washington, the US will unquestionably tightly its grip over Tokyo and use it against China and Russia.

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GT accuses the US of hunting in a group, indirectly referring to all the alliances that Washington has all over the globe. Japan has limited military capabilities and is only capable of integrated combat with the assistance of the US, the report says.

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Middle East

Iran blames ‘wrong setting’ of missile defence system for shooting-down Ukrainian jet

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The air defence system, which accidentally shot down a Ukrainian passenger in January in Tehran was misconfigured due to the fact that it had been shifted a day earlier, according to a report from Iran’s Civil Aviation Organization.

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Iran said it accidentally shot down Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 shortly after take-off, killing all 176 aboard. Decoding of the jet’s black boxes is expected to start July 20.

The passenger plane was hit by two missiles, fired 30 seconds apart, from a missile defence system that confused the jet for a cruise missile.

An operator had forgotten to re-adjust the north direction on the radar system after moving to a new position, an error that contributed to misreading the radar’s data, according to the report published on Iran’s Civil Aviation Organization website.

“The operator of the air defence system launched a missile at what it had detected as a hostile target without a response from the command center,” CAO said in the report, adding that an unnamed person took action independently and without authorization.

The statement said the plane was mistaken for a “hostile target” after it turned toward a “sensitive military center” of the Revolutionary Guard. It also blamed the “highest level of readiness” resulting from tensions with the United States.

The admission came after Tehran had outrightly denied claims of downing the passenger jet and accused the US of “spreading lies” about intelligence suggesting they did. Of the 176 people killed in the crash, most were Iranian and Canadian nationals.

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Expert Reviews

Rafale jets dodge all radars, air defence systems; bombs Turkish facilities in Libya

The Dassault Rafale is a French multirole fighter aircraft designed and built by Dassault Aviation. Rafale is intended to perform air supremacy, aerial reconnaissance, ground support, in-depth strike, anti-ship strike and nuclear deterrence missions.

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Recently, the al-Watiya airbase in Libya was reportedly bombed by Rafale jets, which either belonged to France or Egypt, the two nations within the range of the base that possesses these (Rafale) aircraft, writes the Arab Weekly.  

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The report quoting its sources called the attack by Rafale jets as a response to Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar’s visit to Libya.

The Turkish presence in Libya is highly undesirable to both Egypt and France and the former has even warned to intervene militarily in Libya if the Turkish-backed militias tried to head towards Sirte. France has also called the Turkish moves as “unacceptable,” emphasising that it would not permit this to continue.

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But this recent airstrike on al-Watiya airbase reportedly by 4++ generation Rafale jets displayed that the boundaries in airspace differ from the boundaries on land drawn by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. Indeed, basing fighter jets and drones in al-Watiya pose a direct threat to any military deployed in the region.

Sisi has discussed the possibility of directly intervening in Libya, pointing out that Egypt “will not allow the conflict in Libya to cross the Sirte line.” He also emphasised that “with regard to Egypt’s security, al-Jufra is a red line that we will not allow any force to cross.”

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The Tripoli government accused “a foreign air force” of bombing al-Watiya base, without furnishing any information on the identity of the aircraft or the targets attacked. Even though Turkish and Qatari media rejected any casualties, the Libyan source, however, claimed that many Turkish soldiers were injured or dead in the airstrikes by Rafale jets.

A retired Libyan army officer revealed to Arab Weekly that a squadron of fighter planes launched a series of airstrikes on al-Watiya base, where Turkey had deployed F-16 aircraft, Bayraktar TB2 and Anka-S drones, backed by a MIM-23 Hawk air defence system with its radars.

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He further said that the air raids targeted the al-Nadab quarters at al-Watiya base, which the Turkish forces on the base had used as their headquarters since last May. Also targeted were Sungur air defence systems, fixed and mobile radar installations and Koral signal jamming system, which the Ankara had deployed at al-Watiya base.

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Libyan parliament member Ibrahim al-Darsi later acknowledged and “the airstrikes were launched by forces all too well-known to us,” and added that the targets of these attacks were “a clear message and constituted a strong and painful slap in the face of Turkish President Erdogan and his proxies in Libya, especially the militia government headed by Fayez al-Sarraj.”

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Jemai Guesmi

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