Researched by: Nirmal Bhansali, Aarthi Ramnath & Smriti Arora
Midair collision: Russian jet hits US drone
A Russian Su-27 fighter jet collided with a large US Air Force surveillance drone over the Black Sea. Of course, each side has a different version of what happened. The Americans say:
[T]wo Russian Su-27 aircraft dumped fuel on the MQ-9, which was conducting a routine surveillance mission over the Black Sea in international airspace. They said the Russian jets flew around and in front of the drone several times for 30 to 40 minutes, and then one of the Russian aircraft “struck the propeller of the MQ-9, causing U.S. forces to have to bring the MQ-9 down in international waters.”
The Russians say:
[T]he U.S. drone was flying near the Russian border and intruded in an area that was declared off limits by Russian authorities. It said that the Russian military scrambled fighters to intercept the U.S. drone. It claimed that “as a result of sharp manoeuvre, the U.S. drone went into uncontrollable flight with a loss of altitude and collided with the water surface.”
The US summoned the Russian ambassador in Washington—and angry words have been exchanged.
Why this could matter: US sources argue that “if this was a deliberate attack on a US aircraft by a Russian warplane, then that would amount to a huge provocation and a substantial escalation. In that case, the attack would be seen as an attempt by the Kremlin to test the response of the United States.” But this could also be a one-off incident caused by routine jousting between the two sides near the Black Sea—which is highly contested territory in the Ukraine war. (PBS)
Meanwhile, in Australia: The US, UK and Australia inked a nuclear submarine deal that is making China very unhappy. The Guardian has more on the deal, while Al Jazeera explains why Australia requires submarines right now.
Adani, Elara and an Indian defence company
The Indian Express published an exclusive investigation into the ownership of a Bangalore-based defence company called Alpha Design Technologies Private Limited. It works closely with the Indian defence and space agencies—and was awarded a hefty contract to upgrade key missile and radar systems. But who owns it?
According to the Express, Adani Defence Systems holds 26% and has management control. And 56.7% is owned by a company called Vasaka Promoters. Look who has a controlling interest in Vasaka: the Elara Fund—which indirectly owns almost 26% in ADTPL. And what is the Elara Fund? It is a shady Mauritius-based investment fund which oddly has invested 99% of its funds in Adani Group companies. It was also in the eye of the storm sparked by the Hindenburg report (explained here)—which suggested that the Adanis may be its real owners.
Why this matters: A defence company working with a sensitive military contract is directly linked with a shady Mauritius fund—which is in the midst of the largest financial scandal in recent history. (Indian Express, paywall)
The Silicon Valley Bank debacle: The latest update
The Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission have separately opened investigations into the meltdown of Silicon Valley Bank (explained here). It could focus on the suspicious sales of shares by its top executives in the weeks before SVB collapsed. This includes recently sacked CEO Gregory Becker—who sold shares worth about $3 million in late February. A related good read: this Mint piece that maps the 100 hours of chaos at an Indian startup caught in the SVB mess. (New York Times)
Meanwhile, in Europe: The SVB contagion is tanking shares of leading European banks—including Credit Suisse whose stock price tumbled 12%. The state of major US banks is no less dire. They lost around $90 billion in stock market value on Monday—bringing their loss over the past three trading sessions to nearly $190 billion.
Mo’ Meta layoffs ahead
The company announced another 10,000 layoffs as part of its ‘year of efficiency’ plan—aimed at making Meta more profitable. The recruiting team will be the most impacted by the latest round—which actually makes perfect sense. The company also plans to close applications for 5,000 open roles it hadn’t hired yet. Reminder: Meta already announced a first round of 11,000 layoffs in November. (Quartz)
Meanwhile, over at Microsoft: The company sacked its ethics and society team—right when it’s betting big on AI. The team was responsible for assessing potential harms caused by AI—and risks posed by Microsoft’s adoption of OpenAI’s technology throughout its suite of products. Reminder: it recently unveiled the ChatGPT-driven version of its search engine Bing. The key reason for this move:
The pressure from [CTO] Kevin [Scott] and [CEO] Satya [Nadella] is very, very high to take these most recent OpenAI models and the ones that come after them and move them into customers hands at a very high speed.
Teams that are tasked with ensuring products are socially responsible often end up saying “no” or “slow down”—which isn’t conducive for speed. (The Verge)
Meanwhile, in India: The government is planning new rules that force smartphone companies to allow users to easily remove preinstalled apps. And all major updates to the operating system will have to be first screened for compliance. Why this matters: “The new rules… could extend launch timelines in the world's No.2 smartphone market and lead to losses in business from pre-installed apps for players including Samsung, Xiaomi, Vivo, and Apple.” (Reuters)
Say hello to Riyadh Air
Saudi Arabia’s Sovereign Wealth Fund is getting ready to launch a spanking new airline. It is cutting an eye-watering $35 billion deal with Boeing to buy aircraft—which will be announced soon. The order will be for 100 planes or more. The big vision behind this move—to diversify Saudi Arabia’s economy beyond oil:
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said the new airline will take advantage of Saudi Arabia’s geographic location between the three continents of Asia, Africa and Europe, “enabling Riyadh to become a gateway to the world and a global destination for transportation, trade, and tourism.”
Reminder: In February, Air India announced a plan to spend $85 billion to buy 470 jets which included 220 Boeing aircraft—making it the largest purchase in aviation history. So it’s good times for Boeing. (The Wall Street Journal, paywall)
Two medical studies of note
Sleep & vaccines: A new study has found that sleeping less than six hours close to your vaccination date reduces the number of antibodies produced by your body—in response to the jab. So be sure to sleep at least 7-8 hours before your next vaccination. (The Telegraph)
‘Growers’ vs ‘showers’: This study is both notable and focuses on what is, umm, noticeable (sorry, we can’t help ourselves). Spanish urologists have established scientific evidence for widely held belief about penises—i.e that they are divided into ‘growers and ‘showers’:
They conducted ultrasound scans on more than 250 men before and after their penis became erect and found that penis growth followed a standard distribution curve. They considered men to be “growers” if their flaccid penises grew by more than 56% and “showers” if they grew by less than 31%. Roughly a quarter of men belonged to each group, with the remaining half falling in-between the two categories.
Two important caveats: The study has not been peer-reviewed—and the data is drawn from Spanish men who visited hospitals and clinics. (Gizmodo)