Saturday, July 23, 2011

Interesting times . . .

LIKE DIRTY HARRY SAID, "A good man has to know his limitations". That's good advice, but unfortunately, politicians of all kinds ignore it, because it constrains the ego, as we see in Stevie and his orcs, and especially in the Chinese ruling elite.

You see, the Chinese have a Taiwan fixation — they want it under their control. Problem is, like the Arabs and their Israeli problem, they just don't have what it takes. Unlike the Arabs, the Chinese are doing their best to acquire what it takes, and this is going to lead to an arms "race" that is a reprise of the contest for naval supremacy between England and Germany in the early 1900's.

Back in the late 1880's, after firing Bismarck, Kaiser Willy decided that the Kriegsmarine would rival the Royal Navy, and commenced building ever-larger and more capable vessels, after enlarging the Kiel canal. It was a time of great engineering and technical advances: the advent of "exotic" high-strength steel alloys (like the first-use of vanadium steel alloy in mass production with the front axle of the 1908 Model T), optics (range-finding), radio ("electronics") and chemistry (cordite, high explosives).

Well, the Royal Navy decided to answer the challenge with a revolutionary approach to battleship design, HMS Dreadnought in 1905. It was an "edgy" time, as Admiral Togo had just blown the Russian Navy out of the water in the world's first modern naval battle, at the Straights of Tsushima, in 1905, to the total surprise of anyone who didn't work for Vickers, who had built most of the Japanese fleet. The Dreadnought made everything before it obsolete, which forced the Germans to start all over again.

Well, the Chinese have this problem with the US Navy, and specifically with its nuclear-powered aircraft carriers — as long as they can survive in the western Pacific, the Chinese can't invade Taiwan, which they are bound and determined to do, eventually.

So, what to do? Richard Fernandez has a blog, Belmont Club, and a fascinating article about this problem, "The Day of the Dreadnought", that is worth pondering.

Change itself can be destabilizing because it devalues the impact of earlier investments which have been leapfrogged by new developments. Aviation Week has more details on China’s antiship ballistic missile system which can sink US carriers from firing positions far inland and can cover the whole of the South China Sea. However the missile is still in development. “It is a high-tech weapon and we face many difficulties in getting funding, advanced technologies and high-quality personnel, which are all underlying reasons why it is hard to develop this,” according to the chief of the Chinese General Staff.

So, how does the US Navy deal with this challenge? Currently, the USN is developing megawatt shipboard lasers and electro-magnetic rail-guns with a 300 km range, and they should be deployed before the end of the decade. Will they be able to counter the Chinese anti-ship missiles? Are they the only way? Or can they take out the incoming warheads with nuclear-tipped Standard missiles in the sky above the fleet, or intercept the Chinese nukes from orbit, nuking the warhead in its boost phase over China ? Messy, but effective: with nukes, close counts.

There might even be civilian benefits from this arms race, like the weather satellites that inadvertently emerged from the surveillance satellite development effort started by Eisenhower. You see, the USN has been quietly funding research into fusion as a source of the necessary megawatts of electrical power, and making significant progress with Polywell's approach. Time will tell.


Keir said...

In teaching the causes of the Great War, I tell my students to imagine a war between China and the US. Unthinkable. Would wipe everything out for both sides, and neither would contemplate such an act. But imagine now a Chinese plane shot down by Taiwan. The regime wants it quiet, but both army and country demand action- reunification is the only thing expected of the party and this would be too much of an affront to Chinese pride. The US damn well doesn't want to get involved but they have an agreement with Taiwan like that between France and Russia in 1894. No-one knows what it says or expects. But if the US does nothing, all of Asia will see it is in terminal decline and everyone from S.Korea to Japan etc. will move to China's orbit. This can't happen. So war is declared. Explain its causes a century later and students would still be taught "alliances, nationalism, militarism, etc."

Edstock said...

Yes, sir.
Funny thing, the Chinese have this cultural arrogance, they believe they have a right to anything they want, like Tibet. They also believe that time is on their side.

It isn't. China has a whole bunch of problems in its immediate future. Time will tell.