Friday, January 7, 2011

China's New Toys


   I suppose everyone has already noticed the 'leaked' pictures of China's new J-20 stealth fighter. First off, there's no such thing as a 'leak' in China. Secondly, that thing looks pretty shitty, like a real stealth fighter that ate too many cheeseburgers. It's a bit too big to be a fighter. Seems, at the very least, to be a fighter bomber or some kind of multi role craft. Possibly built for long range. Also, with those traditional engine nozzles, the heat signature on that thing would be way too high for it to be in any way stealthy.  At best, this aircraft reveals what the Chinese are aiming for. Something that could fly to Taiwan, loiter for hours over the battlefield engaging both air and ground targets and fly back without the need for lumbering mid air refuelling. Or, maybe, something that could fly far out into  'blue water' in the Pacific to harass a USN carrier group? Judging from the leaked images though, the Chinese are still years away from having anything stealthy enough to achieve these goals.

Notice those traditional unstealthy engine nozzles

   And then there's the other new toy that the US media began reporting on this week. China's new Anti Ship Ballistic Missile, the Dong Feng-21D. Yeah, that's D for Dong right up a USN carrier's tailpipe. If this system works, and preliminary testing hints that it does, then it's a pretty serious piece of fuck you to the US Navy. Launched from land based launchers and travelling at Mach 5 or more (high hypersonic) and with a range of 2000 miles, the DF-21D will be aimed and guided to blue water targets by Chinese satellites. Even the USN War College has admitted that if this system is fully operational it pretty much takes US naval dominance off the table for the first time since World War II.

   Fun thing is, since this Dong is satellite guided, I don't see any scenario where the US and China start a shooting war (mid 2020s at least when the resources wars get started in earnest) where there isn't an initial flurry of space wars where each side takes out each other's satellites. Currently, the US is way ahead on this score and once this DF 21D has lost satellite guidance, it's blind. So much for hitting a carrier group that is sure to loiter in blue water. Not to say this missile isn't an advance and that carriers are not already obselete but watch the space war to see who's really winning the global arms race.

China's large new dong, the DF-21D mobile launcher

   All this makes the US media shit their pants. I saw some Fox News blonde this morning reading the teleprompter talking points and floating the idea that the Chinese had 'stolen' the plans for their stealth fighter from the US by 'hacking'. Whatever that means. She had this expression of confused marvel on her pretty little face like she was trying to come to grips with how the slants could ever be so clever as to challenge the good old US of A. It's also patently absurd considering these Chinese planes are not in the same league as the US F-22 or F-35s. Yet.

   My first thoughts on this whole new Chinese weapon thing was that it was a ploy planted in the US media by sleazy defense contractors now that the Republicans have taken over the House and have their fingers on the purse strings again. That big bad military industrial complex is still pissed that defense secretary Gates cancelled an order of F-22 raptors last year and limited the stealth fighter force to 187 planes. At $361 million a pop that seemed like a pretty wise move when you consider the state of the US economy and when you take into account the nature of today's asymmetric warfare that the US is engaged in. But those greedy slimeball corporate fucks could care less about the overall economy. It's all about the flow of taxpayer money into their coffers and now that there are  a new bunch of bought and paid for politicians reshuffled into office, it's time to scream OMFG China! Look at all their new shit! Give us more monies!

   But lets face it, China is rising. The US is still way ahead by most metrics and it might take twenty years, but the trend lines are there and that makes the old fart white guys who run the US go crazy. From China's point of view it's perfectly rational to up military spending these days. Especially with all the money they've got to throw around. If you've got money to spend on empty cities like Ordos you might as well have an aircraft carrier and stealth fighters right? When your chief rival in the geopolitical chessgame is spending more on defense than the next 10 countries combined, it makes sense to have some nice guns too. The Dong missile is a device aimed at containing the US Navy. But the J-20 stealth fighter is a weapon designed to bring it to the enemy. Which is an interesting political message ahead of upcoming talks between Obama and the visiting Chinese President Hu Jintao.

The People's Liberation Army: 3.5 million strong.
  When you take history into account, it is interesting to note that the Chinese have always been on the cutting edge of military tech. Gunpowder anyone? They did fall behind the Europeans in the 18th and 19th centuries but that was pretty much an historical anomaly in 4000 years of Chinese history. I have always wondered how the Roman legions would have faired in a hypothetical battle against an army of Han dynasty Chinese running off the Sun Tzu playbook.

   Did China make this stealth plane all by themselves? No way. They are still dependant on the Russians for engine technology (the Russkis have always been amazing engineers) and there is some evidence of espionage but the fundamentals of stealth technology are pretty much well known these days. Fuselage design is just one part of it. You've also got to be able to have low emission targeting systems and engine nozzles that limit heat signature. The Chinese jet doesn't have these so it's pretty much a dick waving message to the US media at this point.

   At first it had just taxied out onto a runway, shown off its pair of all-moving tailfins and Russian style engine nozzles, had photographers take its picture and then gone back inside its hangar like a Chinese hooker who came out from behind a curtain, flashed her tits and left without delivering on the blow job. The J-20 was apparently test flown yesterday just as US Defense Secretary Gates touched down in China. It did some circuits of the airfield so the photographers could snap some cool pics through the smog. However, much like a Chinese gymnast, she won't be legal operational until at least 2016. If even. Still, the sight of China's new toys prompted Gates to say that “China's investments in anti-ship weaponry and ballistic missiles could threaten America’s primary way to project power and help allies in the Pacific -- particularly our forward bases and carrier strike groups.”

   Well no shit Sherlock.

   Isn't that the whole point?

You can just make out the maiden flight through the air pollution

Friday, December 31, 2010

The Ivory Coast: Are the ghosts of Rwanda about to strike back?


  There might be a new war brewing in West Africa. 

  But don't hold your breath for the 24/7 live TV coverage. At best expect some images of machete wielding crazy black people (African-Africans?) threatening to go medieval on each other, and, since Ivory Coast is the world's largest cocoa producer, expect maybe some Ron Burgundy reporter interviewing a corporate shill chocolate spokesman as he laments how impending genocide in Africa might cause a ten cent rise in the price of Hershey Bars. Probably you'll hear nothing in the media unless you go looking. There are just too many real wars going on right now for anybody to give a shit about what's going down in West Africa.
   This war has the potential to get ugly though. And when we talk about ugly in African terms, we're talking really fucking ugly. People in the Ivory Coast have already started painting tribal insignias on their doors and front gates which means the country is gearing itself up to go Rwanda on itself in the near future. You don't want to get massacred by the wrong tribal death squad after all. There's only one thing worse than getting hacked up with machetes and that's getting hacked up accidentally by 'friendly machetes'.

   You'd think the world would care. The Rwandan genocide in 1994 resulted in 800,000 dead, most of them stabbed or carved up on the cheap because hey... bullets cost money. I remember Clinton making some speech when he was doing his elder statesmen book tour or something and dropping in on old Rwanda to say sorry he hadn't done anything to stop the massacre. It was pretty funny. I was thinking that what he was really saying was that it was a pity the Rwandans had no oil or diamonds to make it worthwhile for the US to intervene and keep the old colonial power structure in place. That's usually the one that's best for business. And this was a while back when the US still had a shot glass of moral authority left in the world. But of course, it's not like the Russians or Chinese or whoever else are waving some awesome flag of freedom. The world is closing down. The US still alludes to the idea of 'freedom' which is better than nothing I suppose. But lets face it, we're living in Blade Runner. Corporations run this shit now. There are no nation states anymore.

   The history of Ivory Coast follows the typical colonial West African model. The Europeans started the usual coastal rape in the late 15th century. Ivory Coast dodged the worst of the slave trade in the 17th century partly due to easier pickings further along the coast and also due to a lack of natural harbors. It got its name from a time before plastics when everything from piano keys to billiard balls were made from elephant tusks. Chances are that Mozart bashed together Don Giovanni and the Turkish Rondo on ivory lifted from that coast. However, by the time the 19th century rolled around there was a mysterious shortage of elephants there. Go figure. It was around this time some French Admiral signed a few pieces of paper with some native kings in the interior and the Côte d'Ivoire became a "French Protectorate" which basically gave the natives the right to be ass raped by the French for the next century.

   In 1960, the Ivorians finally gained their independence though not following the typical post colonial African script, you know, the one where the departing European power scribbles "congratulations you're independent" on a piece of paper and then fucks off home with the embassy furniture. Usually this scenario devolves into civil war. That's the thing about Africa that never worked. Dividing that vast continent up by drawing lines on European drawn maps and thinking those borders were anything but arbitrary and bore any relation to tribal, ethnic or religious division. Most times it took a war to settle those old scores after the Euros bailed.

   But Côte d'Ivoire didn't follow that script.

   That was largely due to one man, Félix Houphouët-Boigny, the first president of the newly independent Ivory Coast in 1960. This guy wasn't some general who muscled his way to power thanks to a few container loads of AKs and RPGs from whatever country had an interest in watching Africa burn. It's hard to believe, but under this guy's leadership we're looking at an African 'success story'. Maybe. We're not talking bullet trains and universal healthcare or anything but still, most of the population of your capital city was not using the local beach  as an open air toilet like in neighboring Liberia. That's some measure of success by African standards right? The Ivory Coast prospered more than any other West African nation that wasn't sitting on top of tanker loads of oil. In fact, it was so prosperous that its cocoa, pineapple, banana and palm oil plantations started attracting labor from neighboring countries and led to an influx of people from Ghana, Liberia and Burkina Faso.

   By 1990 and after 30 years of rule, wily old Félix had pocketed 10 billion for himself and become the longest serving leader in African history that you've probably never heard of. No seriously, only Castro and Kim Jong Il's daddy have served longer in modern history. Peace and prosperity tends to have a negative effect on fame though. You need to chalk up some deaths before anyone remembers you these days. Félix died in 1993 but not before he was flown back from some French hospital on life support to die in his native land and have his lifeless hand sign some papers that made sure the acting Prime Minister at the time, Alassane Ouattara didn't stay in power. Bear with me here because shit's about to get interesting. Turns out Ouattara is central to what's going down today. He's the guy the UN and 'independent observers' are saying 'fairly' won last month's election. He's also a bankster who acted as Deputy Managing Director at the IMF from '94-'99 and if that doesn't make alarm bells ring than what does? Still, nobody in this seedy mess is going to have clean hands. Ouaterra is famous for causing the Ivorian parliament to come up with a new law in 1994 to keep him out of domestic politics by decreeing that only people whose parents were born in Ivory Coast could become el presidente. The measure passed. Turns out all that cheap labor that flooded into the country to work the plantations in the 60s and 70s weren't full citizens. Not even their children. Faultline number one created right there.

   But we're jumping ahead.

   What happened after solid old Félix Houphouët-Boigny died? After a massive state funeral he was succeeded by some guy who got overthrown in 1999 by a typical power hungry general in Ivory Coast's first military coup. The whole clean Ivorian record on the military takeover front was just too good to last. The new guy allowed free elections a year later after the economy took a nosedive and foreigners panicked and started pulling their money out of the country. Still, free elections are a pretty bad idea if you're an African dictator because another general is always likely to come along and fuck you up, in this case Laurent Gbagbo, and he has been the General enjoying Côte d'Ivoire power, coke and hookers from 2000 to this day. Of course, I'm leaving out a civil war he fought between 2000-2004 but it was pretty low grade shit compared to what's about to go down now.

   So where are the fault lines in all of this today?

   One is Gbagbo himself. He's liked by the army which is pretty much a win in electoral politics when you happen to be the general in charge of that army. You can divert some of those cocoa profits to army pensions and guarantee your legions a retirement Caesar style. Despite losing this election (if you believe the UN and IMF) he's refusing to step down and waving his dick around and saying 'fuck you' to the rest of the world. The United States, the United Nations, the European Union, the African Union and the Economic Community Of West African States (ECOWAS) have all recognised electoral commission results showing Ouattara as the winner of the election and have called on Gbagbo to step down. That's pretty much when you know you're not wanted. But is a dick waving guy subject to the ordinary rules of pencil pushers? Right now, he wants the UN out and things could get ugly if his forces decide to mount an attack on the limited UN forces there. There's the possibility of losing some troops, Belgian Rwandan style and causing an 'incident' that might make the UN's pussy dry up.

   Basically the blowback right now is that those ECOWAS states might be prepared to get their shit together for the first time in history and actually mount an attack on the Ivorian capital to remove Gbagbo. That would certainly have me grabbing the popcorn. ECOWAS would field a hodge podge of 70s Soviet equipment like T-55 and T-72 tanks combined with British Scorpion light tanks bought in the '80s. They could also field some NATO equipment. Ivory Coast has pretty much nothing vehicle wise against this potential force except infantry, jungles and IEDs. I'm so big on heavy infantry right now that I'm down on military vehicles at the moment considering the amount of ways there are to take them out and score economic damage for the cost of ten bags of fertilizer buried under a manhole. Of course, no matter how dirty Gbagbo chooses to fight, ECOWAS would still win.

   The other fault line in all this is Ouaterra. He's liked by the UN, IMF and international community because he's going to be their stability guy where they get to make some nice inroads into that cocoa supply. If you know anything about the history of chocolate you'll know that it was pretty much the crack of 18th century Europe. Not that anyone cares today since it's a convenience store item. But still, the IMF has always had a hard on for anything they can pick up cheap in Africa. Currently Ouaterra is holed up in a hotel surrounded by Gbagbo's troops. That's a pretty shitty situation to be in considering you've got the weight of the world's financial institutions on your side. But loaded guns pointed at you always beat sentiments or speeches.

     Whats going to happen? I have no idea. But expect some kind of genocide if ECOWAS decides to invade in the name of 'democracy'. The rebels in the north (those Burkina Fasa residents denied citizenship because their parents working those plantations weren't citizens) have already stated they would join up with any pan African force if it were to invade and undo the power structure of those Christian coastal elites that have been running shit since the French left. The funniest story so far is thousands already fleeing Ivory Coast and heading for Liberia. That made me laugh. You know things are bad when civilians feel the need to flee to the worse shithole nextdoor.

   Right now, Gbagbo has been offered asylum and safe passage to wherever. After running a country for ten years he's probably stashed away a decent amount of bank, enough at least that he could live comfortably in the South of France for the rest of his life. But that's the problem with leaders and dictators and men in power. They become victims of "target fixation". It's something that used to happen to dive-bomber pilots in WWII. So much so that German Stuka dive bombers were fitted with an automatic air brake that pulled the plane out of a dive when the pilot became obsessed with landing his bomb on target to the point where he would crash his plane into the target. Sometimes, leaders get like that. When you own the kingdom so much that you can't let go of the control stick except when it's too late. It's because you can never imagine living a life anymore like a mere citizen.

    It's another classic war in Africa that nobody will give a shit about.

    Except maybe when Hershey Bars cost ten cents more.