Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Sitrep - 24 August, 2016

This week, China launched an “ultra-secure” and “uncrackable” communications satellite into orbit to prepare for experiments. Beijing hopes its Quantum Experiments at Space Scale (QUESS) system will be the first of a constellation of communications satellites by 2030 all using quantum entanglement communications technology.

A few days later, the Russian space agency announced it too had launched a similar satellite. Quantum communications relies on a theory of physics in which two small particles are “entangled,” meaning they share the same properties. When one particle is measured its corresponding particle’s position is instantly known, so when coupled with a binary code it could facilitate instantaneous communication and extremely powerful computation.

However, the technology is not proven, which is why China’s experiments are important. If they are successful, the technology could create unbreakable communication, so although few details are known, it is likely the US has a similar programme. China’s long-term funding for such expensive projects could also be in doubt as the gigantic economy slows.

The past week also highlights Syria’s conflict, now in its fifth year. US F-22 jets intercepted Syrian fighter-bombers in the northeast of the country after the aircraft targeted Kurdish rebel forces in the region. At the time, the Kurds were being trained by US special forces, who reportedly radioed for assistance. The intercept was the closest the US has come to directly engaging in the civil war.

The Islamic State (IS) is showing concern for its hold on Syria’s seventh-largest city of Deir ez-Zor by reinforcing the town. Regime troops still hold an airbase on the outskirts, which has been surrounded for two years, but rebel and Kurdish groups are slowly advancing on the city. If IS loses the city, it will be sliced in two, separating its de-facto capital of Raqqa from Mosul in Iraq. IS must be expected to fight hard to keep Deir ez-Zor.

Meanwhile, regime troops pushed back a recent rebel counteroffensive which hoped to break the siege on the northwestern city of Aleppo. The commercial hub was surrounded by regime forces earlier in August but small rebel pockets in the city still persist. Although rebel groups have shown unusual unity in defending the city, Russian airstrikes supporting a reinvigorated regime advance give President Bashar al Assad the upper hand in the fight.

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