Saturday, January 15, 2011

Are conventional armed forces obsolete?

   I found myself waxing philosophical this week about the future of war.

   I floated an idea at a party the other night that there was no longer a need for conventional armed forces, heavy armor, mechanized infantry, amphibious landing craft, you know, all the cool stuff that makes war so much 'fun'. Sure, alcohol was involved. But it was an interesting idea to float. Do nuclear armed nations need conventional forces when going to war against other nuclear armed nations? Is fancy new military hardware like stealth fighters and stealth ships a total waste of money when the other side can just bust out a nuke if things start getting sketchy? I think I upset some people by floating this idea but that party sucked anyway.  

    I'm sober now and I still say I'm not wrong.

   When you've got nukes, why do you need to spend money on stealth bombers and other expensive hardware?

   Cut me some slack here. I'm still having fun with this idea. Soldiers, tanks, and stealth fighters do have many uses. But mostly only when going up against a non nuke nation with some resources you'd like to acquire. In such cases you can attack with impunity, overcome their primitive defenses using your advanced air force, take out their AA radar, bomb heavily and follow up with a tank rush. Soon you find yourself the proud owner of some fancy new real estate that's sitting on top of some proven reserves. This is where conventional forces come in handy.

   But what if you are the US or China or the seven other nations currently with the big red button of win? China just test flew a shitty imitation stealth fighter last week and the US currently deploys 187 F-22 raptors at a cost of $361 million each. The US navy has eleven active carriers. The most recent, the daddy Bush, cost $6.2 billion to build with running costs of a hundred million per year. The US naval college recently admitted that these boats are 'vulnerable' when you introduce the new Chinese DF-21D anti ship ballistic missile into the mix. That hypersonic, satellite aimed fucker with a 2000 mile range will pick off a carrier group from space long before those carriers get their aircraft within strike range of Beijing or Ningbo. The Russians have a similar type missile. Hell, even the Iranians have a bunch of Silkworms which I'm not convinced the USN can defend itself against.

   But let's suppose for a minute this weren't already true. Let's suppose, in some hypothetical future resource war versus China,  a few USN carrier groups get close enough to the Chinese mainland to launch an amphibious landing at the beaches east of Fuzhou against the 3.5 million strong PLA. For lulz, let's imagine a beach head is established. The Chinese lose a few square miles of sovereign territory. US marines are pouring ashore. Lav-25s are fanning out into the surrounding countryside to probe the enemy defenses. For more hypothetical fun, let's pretend that a good chunk of the People's Liberation Army are on a 'training exercise' on the Outer Mongolian border and can't offer up much resistance. The natural option for China is to break out the nukes. This will always become the 'natural option' when any nuclear power starts losing any conventional war. The playbook here demands two single megaton low altitude airbursts over the beach head that minimize fallout and turn all those fancy mechanized brigades to molten metal and fry everyone inside now that the losing side has decided to break out Oppenheimer's death; the destroyer of worlds.

   That pretty much reduces years of sleazy military-industrial-complex design contracts to nothing in a single launch. All those billions funnelled into the 'defense' industry (more like offense industry, amirite?) are wasted. The billions of dollars spent in the production of all those high tech vehicles end up being rendered useless by a relatively cheap thermonuclear blast.

   Soldiers are good for occupying captured territory. But in a war between nuclear armed powers, what former owner of the territory captured will ever sign an armistice to halt the war and accept the new boundaries before nukes get launched? Would the US, after a successful Chinese amphibious landing, give up Washington State and Oregon to the Chinese for the sake of peace? Not likely. All wars today between nuclear armed countries must escalate to full nuclear winter by default once one side starts losing. The red button of win must be pressed because it is there. We're living in a temporary stasis on the nuclear clock, it's still two minutes to midnight, just like it was in the 80s but current geopolitics have put that reality on the back burner while everyone gobbles up the last planetary resources. The grand wars for the scraps will come later.

   Interestingly, with the way global nuke proliferation is panning out, a nuclear war today doesn't have to lead to an automatic earth wide Mad Max post apocalyptic zombie wasteland. There is a new and recent  alternative. The possibility of a 'regional nuclear war'. Grab the popcorn right? We're talking India versus Pakistan here. Both sides have enough megatons to glass each other's major cities. Both sides believe Kashmir belongs to them. Both sides hate each other's guts. Extremists in both countries believe a war could sort this shit out. And yet both sides still invest in conventional militaries as if a war between them  is somehow winnable WWII desert North Africa style. India conducted a military exercise entitled 'Brazen Chariot' in 2008 where they wargamed some hypothetical desert armor clash with Pakistan and won. Unfortunately, they left out the fateful third act in that battle where the victorious Indian tank divisions steamrolled over the vanquished Pakistani forces only to get vaporized by a well aimed tactical nuke.

   Take that ghost of Heinz Guderian!

   Truth is, there is no such future conflict between nuclear armed sides where one side begins losing the conventional war and hemorrhaging territory or resources that doesn't force the generals to reach for the launch codes.

   So the point here is, why bother with the conventional forces at all?

   The current rulers of the world are still stuck in an outmoded paradigm.

   The British are broke yet have commissioned two new aircraft carriers. The Queen Elizabeth carrier is about to come online at a cost of 4 billion. It's supposed to field a squadron of F-35 stealth fighters. Those fighters are already cost over run programs from the US running into the billions. Western countries are going bankrupt while still trying to maintain the illusion of the sun never setting on their historic empires. It's hard to watch the slow and inexorable transfer of primacy to Asia. Perhaps there's a certain justice in that considering how we fucked them over in previous centuries.

  War is starting to favor defenders these days. Following that old Clauswitz paradigm, an attacking force needs a 3:1 numerical advantage to overcome entrenched defenders. Today's weapon technology seems to support that. In fact, today's technology magnifies that. Build a six billion dollar aircraft carrier? I can  wreck that with a one million dollar missile. Build a twenty million dollar tank? I can waste that shit with a cheap ass RPG-29. Build an up armored Humvee? I can waste it with ten bags of fertilizer buried under a manhole.

   War is getting cheaper these days if you are the defending force.

   Life itself is getting cheaper these days if you are willing to press the big red button of win.

   The 21st century has the potential to be the most interesting century in human history. All of us alive today get to watch shit go down. All of us alive today get to realize that the human race is fucked.

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