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Paging the War Nerd ...

China is alleged to be developing a "kill weapon" designed to take out carriers. Based on the existing DF-21 land-mobile IRBM (itself the base for China's JL-1 SLBM), the weapon is a "high hypersonic land-based anti-ship ballistic missile based on the DF-21, with a range of up to 3,000 kilometres (1,900 mi). These would combine manoeuvrable reentry vehicles (MaRVs) with some kind of terminal guidance system. Such a missile may have been tested in 2005-6, and the launch of the Jianbing-5/YaoGan-1 and Jianbing-6/YaoGan-2 satellites would give the Chinese targetting information from SAR and visual imaging respectively."

As the US Naval Institute puts it, "Because the missile employs a complex guidance system, low radar signature and a maneuverability that makes its flight path unpredictable, the odds that it can evade tracking systems to reach its target are increased. It is estimated that the missile can travel at mach 10 and reach its maximum range of 2000km in less than 12 minutes." And it carries either a conventional warhead or a nuke of up to 600Kt yield.

This might be something the USN's ABM capability can be upgraded to block, but if you were responsible for a battle group, would you want to bet on it? These aren't the North Koreans plinking away with hacked SCUD-Bs, these are the folks who supply all our consumer electronics and who are planning on orbiting a manned space station all of their very own next year.

I can just see the twitter from the Chinese navy high command: "D00DZ I R IN UR CBG N00K1NG UR CVN!!! LOLZ!!!"

Leaving aside the essential pointless stupidity of yet another tit-for-tat technology-driven arms race (pointless insofar as economically speaking China and the USA are two pickpockets with their hands so deep in each others' pockets that if they start fighting they're both going to hurt themselves worse than they hurt the other party: this isn't Cold War 2.0), this looks like a winning move for the PLA: over-reliance on really big and definitively non-stealthy surface ships has been a bedeviling problem of the USN for decades. Every military force trains to win the last war, and the last time the US navy faced real opposition was the Battle of Midway; the route to the top runs through command of a carrier, so carriers are prioritized, much as battleships were in the Royal Navy before it. And any message to the effect that floating airports in the age of the nuclear missile (or even the precision-guided non-nuclear variety) might be hard-to-defend trouble magnets is going to get the Three Monkeys reception.

Finally to put a UK-specific spin on this: Our wonderful government are pursuing the post-1956 British foreign policy strategy of playing Mini-Me to the White House's Dr Evil by pushing ahead with plans for the Queen Elizabeth class carriersself-sucking lollipops at best, obsolete on arrival at worst.

Update: Ah, I see the War Nerd has already noticed.

'Nother update: Yes, it's probably possible to whomp up a defense against this sort of attack. But the cost of such a defense? Astronomical: it's the classic ABM problem, only without the luxury of a land-based platform unconstrained by sea state, dead weight, and weather. The problem with ABMs is that the enemy can always throw more missiles; which can be kind of embarrassing, when your ABM system is mounted on a ship with a finite number of vertical launch cells and there's a submarine stalking you at the same time.

But enough of this curmudgeonly disbelief in the permanent supremacy of the US Navy. At least let us congratulate PLA Industries, Inc. on finding something to spend their profits on that's just as pointless as US Treasury bonds. If they can start a new arms race, we might even be able to dig our way out of this depression before it really gets going again.

Party like it's 1936!



A carrier group has always been vulnerable to nukes if one was willing to open that arena of conflict. Being able to take a carrier out conventionally though would be significant.

Really, though, carriers are mainly useful in the kind of world we have now where there aren't big wars.


I think a carrier is going to be just as obsolete as infantry became obsolete after the invention of the gattling gun. I.e. none. The molotov cocktail didn't make tanks obsolete either.

Barring the singularity, which probably isn't around the corner, hitting a moving target is hard. Let's see what it takes to hit a carrier, assuming an autonomous missile: some kind of GPS positioning system and a seeker for the last minute.

Hitting something when you're going at 10 Mach is not simple. It is probably just as hard as building stuff to take out missiles.

All the tools such a missile uses can be attacked. GPS satellites can be disabled or distorted. Tracking requires heat or visual, both can be distorted as well.

Other possibilities: slip in a software bug, perhaps remote controlled; take out the launch centers at the beginning of a conflict, promise to launch a nuke on a Chinese city if they ever destroy a carrier, the possibilities are endless.

But it is unlikely the Chinese and the US will go to war. The arms race is therefore not between them, but between the US and to whom the Chinese will sell this technology. That's a smart strategy from the point of view of the Chinese: the US has to spend money on defence, and hopefully that's less they have to spend on R&D/production for these missiles. If they're truly fire and forget, even 3rd world countries would be able to operate them. Probably not to maintain them, but that's only good for repeat business.


Steve, what I see as significant here is that the CEP of long range ballistic missiles seems to have improved enough to hit a carrier-sized target reliably with a conventional penetrator.

Back in 1945, Vannevar Bush prepared a report on the prospects for ICBMs with nuclear warheads for the DoD. His conclusion? They were impossible/impractical. Not because an intercontinental missile was impossible, but because if you extrapolated from the range and CEP (circular error probability) of a V-2, which was about 5Km at 300Km range, an IRBM with a 3000Km range would drop its warhead within 50Km of the target about 50% of the time. As a direct "hit" required a 0.5Km accuracy level, his conclusion was justified -- it took two orders of magnitude in improvements in guidance systems to make IRBMs (never mind ICBMs) work against city-sized targets.

A carrier is a lot harder to hit than a city. Cities don't travel at 60km/h, take evasive action, and they're a lot bigger. But if you can stack another two orders of magnitude of guidance accuracy on top of the already-extant gap between a V-2 and, say, a Polaris SLBM, then you can hit a target that size -- and hit it with a conventional warhead.

An interesting point about ICBMs which is often overlooked is that Newton's laws of motion apply: the kinetic energy of a moving lump of metal varies in proportion to the square of its velocity. RVs travelling at 15,000km/h carry a metric shitload more energy than a tank gun's long-rod penetrator travelling at a mere 5000 km/h; indeed, the KE of an RV coming down at just under orbital velocity is a considerable multiple of the chemical energy from an equivalent mass of TNT. (I know someone who was present on the ground during an RV test. The ground shook with each impact -- a couple of kilometres away.) You could replace the warhead of a DF-21 with concrete and it would still make a gigantic hole in the flight deck of a CVN (and an exit hole through its keel): we're looking at the equivalent of 3000-10,000Kg of TNT here, in impact energy, an order of magnitude more than your conventional big surface-skimming ship-killer.

Berend: you need to consider the difference between "obsolete" and "obsolescent".

The Gatling gun didn't make infantry obsolete. It made human wave offensives obsolete -- as the western front during WW1 demonstrated.

BMs capable of hitting capital ships won't make aircraft obsolete, but they might change the platforms we fly them off.


I`d really like to know how a supersonic reentry vehicle, flying in a cloud of plasma, is supposed to guide itself into a moving target.

It smells more like a chinese attempt to force USA to spend more on defence. Now that would be devious. Hit them with their own weapon sort of thing.


Anatoly: firstly, the plasma sheath around an RV isn't impenetrable; see for example this or this.

Secondly, the shuttle, or a manned capsule, has to re-enter slowly to avoid turning the crew into strawberry jam: the g loading has to be kept below 20 at all times, and below 3 for the shuttle, necessitating a long, slow re-entry period. Military warheads aren't made of flesh and blood, and can be hardened to take hundreds of g's -- coming in from above at angles less than 30 degrees from the vertical, they're only in plasma blackout for the last handful of seconds (as they penetrate the stratosphere and troposphere vertically at 7-10km/sec). If the MaRV can receive course updates up to the last five seconds before impact, then it looks like guidance is still feasible to me.

Now the "force USA to spend more on defense" is an interesting argument, and quite possibly true (regardless of whether the ASBM concept works). But consider it from another angle: the whole thing may simply be the Navy going "oh noes! We is in a recession! How are we going to convince Barack Obama to show us some green paper lurve? FUD! FUD! THE CHICOMS ARE COMING TO GET US! FUD! FUD!!!"

We're not going to find out which any time soon, unless there's a nasty confrontation in the Straits ...

... and in the meantime, the global saucepan is getting warmer.


This might also be a good time to take another look at TLAMs and sub-launched drone aircraft.


This was John Keegan's conclusion in Battle at Sea (aka The Price of Admiralty) in 1988; in the event of a future sea war, surface ships would be swept from the ocean, leaving submarines to fight it out.

Which begs the question, why fight it out since even if you manage a complete victory against enemy submarines (and how do you know?) since land-based missiles and aricraft can still destroy your surface ships? It's almost as though this war-thing is pointless, destructive and irrational.

I for one hope to see (or maybe not see) underwater aircraft carriers in the near future, expecially if they are like this prototype.


Another problem with the idea is the fact that it is a ballistic missile. The enemy (USA, presumably) will have no way to check that it isn`t a nuclear bomb. So you may as well just start WW3, because they will retaliate with nukes anyway.


Wouldn't the nuke tipped SS-N-22s they already have take out a carrier quite efficiently?


As the War Nerd notes, Carrier groups have obviously been obsolete for a loooong time. It's not as though all the navy guys don't know this. But pretending not to know it is essential for advancement, both personally and for the budget. When you write papers pointing out the obvious you go, for example, from commanding major operations off Africa to being an administrator at a midwestern law school 1,000 miles from salt water.

But I don't think this is a pointless weapon for the PLA. This looks like a natural for the Taiwan Strait.


Anatoly @8: it only turns into WW3 if both sides want it to.


Charlie @11: Nah, one side wanting will be enough.


Charlie-- I think your point about the change the gatling gun made is a good one. In this case, the Chinese use of Ballistic missles doesn't necessarily make carriers any more obsolete than they already are -- they can already be taken out by nukes. What it does, though, is significantly limit the ability of the USN to project its force into the areas around Taiwan and other hotspots in which the PRC is interested. Without the Chinese missles, the USN could project force close enough that it could at least purport to protect Taiwan unless the PRC wanted to use nukes (which would of course massively escalate any conflict). With this missle, and using conventional munitions, the PRC can keep USN carriers far enough away that they're much less of a factor -- and still have a credible attempt at keeping it a conventional conflict.

Personally, I'm not as convinced that carriers -- especially the RN's new ones are necessarily useless. They are still a very effective way of projecting significant force at a significant distance. Assuming, though, that the enemy is not a major power on their own. Conflict against Argentina is therefore feasible (although the Exocet showed it wasn't bloodless) -- conflict againt China, not so much.


Yup, this and a variety of other relatively cheap weapons are quite capable of taking out carriers.

Notice the reference to MRVs - independently targetable kill vehicles travelling at Mach 10, using bunker busting tech will be able to go vertically down through quite a few levels of the ship in multiple spots. Might even be able to make it down and out the bottom for some carriers. Got to assume 2-3 hits on any one carrier from each missile - any one of which would significantly impact warfighting capability.

You can play with THAAD et al, but this is basic ballistic missile tech so they can throw 6 at you at once - enough will get through to end your day. Basically there is no reliable defence against something like this, no matter what you get told.

Its one reason why JSF and the carriers is a duff idea that I'm sure someone is trying to cancel at the moment. Multiple, distributed and cheap should be the watchwords, with VTOL CUAVs for air superiority.

PS the DF-21 can be sub-based and I'm sure it wouldn't tax anyone to park the mobile launcher onboard a ship, maybe inside a cargo container. Pearl Harbour all over again.

PPS Terminal guidance is the key. However off the top of my head I can think for several workable approaches for detecting 88 thousand tons of metal in the middle of a nothingness of water.


I don't think anyone denies that a mach 10 hit will cause major harm to anything it hits. A missile travelling at Mach 10 (3402m/s) has a KE equivalent to the explosive power of TNT of similar weight (actually I calculate it to be about 30% more but YMMV, E&OE etc.) so if you can get a metric tonne of missile to hit the target you will apply the explosive force of about a tonne of TNT to the impact area. This is, no shit sherlock, going to produce a significant crater and probably cause penetration by high speed plasma through a lot of steel walls. Whether it would take out the carrier completely is unclear but it would certainly put it in a world of hurt.

However the critical requirement is to hit. An impact in the sea nearby isn't going to cause much more than minor inconvenience though directly adjacent would be a major inconvenience with a conventional warhead. If the missile is a nuke then close will still be disabling but nukes will result in an escalation that the aggressor nation probably doesn't want.

Thus the key questions seem to be missile accuracy and maneuverability of both missile and target.

During the 12 minute flight time the CBG can move a few km in some kind of a fan shape from the initial sighting (and to which we need to add an error calculation for the initial position). Obviously if there are satellite or other visual observers (High altitude UAVs) then they can provide updated targeting data as can detectors on the missile itself. A carrier is a c. 300x50 meter moving target so it seems to me that you need an error of about 25m radius in order to be sure to get a hit. I don't say this is impossible but assuming the Carrier learns of the launch with 5 minutes or so of warning it can be jinking enough that this is going to be hard to achieve.

One thing I would assume once such an attack occurs is that all satellites in LEO will be destroyed by one power or another so a second strike would be much much harder.

On balance I'd assume that if the Chinese launch a dozen or more strikes against a couple of CBGs simultaneously then one might get through, especially if the missiles targeting one carrier are coordinated so as to pepper the area.


Kinetic hit-to-kill unpowered ballistic target arcs over such large distances don't make sense, there are too many variables; if such a technique were practical, there would already be land-based applications. The only way this makes sense is with a nuclear payload, and that can be delivered via torpedo or swarming ALCMs/SLCMs.

As has already been mentioned, DSPS would pick this up immediately, and it would likely precipitate a strategic exchange. The ChiComs haven't a prayer of winning (and, yes, I'm an uncreconstructed Cold Warrior who firmly believes it's possible to win a nuclear war, for some meaningful value of 'win') a strategic nuclear exchange with the US, unless they're able to pull some kind of massively effective counterforce type of attack which takes into account the boomers, and this isn't it.

This is a PLAN psyop aimed at the Obamoids, plain and simple, intended to give them a face-saving way of deconflicting the Taiwan Straits in the face of a seemingly 'indefensible' attack mode which can plausibly be spun to the hoi polloi. Given the massive ignorance and incomptence of the Obamoids (they make the hapless Bush II administration look like the Founding Fathers), it's possible that some of them may actually buy it - but that's just gravy for the ChiComs.

It's been said that there are two types of ships in the U.S. Navy - subs, and targets. This has been true since the late 1960s (especially given the SIGINT/COMSEC windfall the Walker spy ring gave the Soviets), and it hasn't required any fanciful ICBM-based anti-ship nonsense to make it so.

You've no doubt already noted that the only semi-practical way to do this kind of thing is as a FOBS variant, and yet there's not mention of FOBS whatsoever in any of the discussions. That alone tells me that nobody of weight takes it seriously, for the abovementioned reasons.

But it gives the Obamoids political cover to back off on Taiwan, and it seems to be achieving the desired effect. So in that regard, we should already regard it as simply another in a long, largely-unbroken line of joint Guoanbu Third Bureau/PLA Second Department 'Autmn Orchid' sucesses.


And note that Dr. Pournelle's THOR (aka 'rods from God') would make a hell of a lot more sense, and have the additional property of not making DSPS light up. If the ChiComs are smart - and we all know they are - that's what they'll actually be working on, in all likelihood.


Roland: nope. FOBS is a good idea technically, but this is specifically pitched as a theatre-range product: the missile it's based on has a 2000Km range. Maybe it is FOBS by any other name, but in that case they're opening a whole can of non-proliferation whoop-ass.

I disagree strongly over your diagnosis of the Obama administration, but it's not surprising if they want to back off on Taiwan: you guys are in hock to the PRC to the tune of $1Tn or more, which is some pretty heavy blackmail material, and tip-toeing quietly past the dragon's tail would appear to be a good policy if you want to keep what's left of your banking sector alive.

Finally: JEPs THOR idea is (a) just a prone to torching off the Big One if it ever got launched (it's a global offensive platform, never mind a theatre naval defensive one) and (b) cramming a guidance system that good into a tungsten crowbar? Sounds a wee bit harder than doing it to a 500Kg MaRV.


Let`s go back to the cause of this thing:

  • AFAIR, China don`t have the means to conquer Taiwan, even without US intervening.

  • Then, USA don`t need carriers to intervene with conventional weapons: there are submarines and long-range bombers.

  • What is the strategic value of Taiwan, anyway? I just can`t see USA and China fighting over it.

  • 20:

    The thing about FOBS/Thoth is that you can deploy it stealthily (i.e., a discarded second-stage or a 'failed satellite' or whatever), and only unveil it when you first use it.

    DF-21A supposedly has a 3K km range, and it will go exoatmospheric, which will cause DSPS to light up like a Christmas tree. It's simply unnecessary, even if this were a practical and/or necessary application (which it isn't).

    Seeking and terminal guidance for Thor is about as complicated as for JDAM, so I don't get your point, in that regard.

    And I know you love the Obamoids, even though The Chosen One can't deliver a speech without using a TelePrompTer, or answer a single unscripted question without stammering like a five-year-old with stage-fright; but as you've often pointed out, people can be quite irrational when it comes to their choice of religion, and that applies just as much to the variegated Leftist secular gnostic belief-systems that have such strange appeal to otherwise rational people such as yourself as it does to other forms of rank superstition. Nevertheless, as you're a damn fine author, I forgive you your trespasses, and trust that in the fullness of time, you'll realize the error of your ways.


    • Rolls eyes at Roland *

    You suggest that the commander of a CBG might be wise to keep out of range. But then he might not be given so much discretion. The trend certainly is for desk jockeys back in the States - whether sergeants, admirals, or the SecDef in person - to drive operations and even equipment on the other side of the world directly. And a wonderful thing it is too - if you are Lockheed Martin or another of the bloated arms manufacturers.

    There's an interesting analogy with the Battle of Jutland, still the definitive battleship duel. Admiral Jellicoe, commanding the Grand Fleet, had literally dozens of battleships at his disposal. One day, due partly to planning and partly to luck, he found the German High Seas Fleet in the hollow of his hand. All he had to do was give the order to close in and blast them out of the water, at odds of nearly two to one.

    OTOH, as Churchill pointed out, Jellicoe was the only man on either side who could lose the war in a single afternoon - an awesome responsibility, when you remember the millions who fought and died in vain attempts to win it. Jellicoe was also a specialist in the new weapons: mines and torpedoes. He was only too well aware of what might happen if he send the Grand Fleet in, all guns blazing, across a carefully-laid minefield and/or the firing path of a squadron of U-boats. So, amazingly to those without these insights, Jellicoe actually ordered the Grand Fleet to turn away. Net result: a tactical victory for the Germans, who sank far more British ships than they lost. But a strategic victory for Britain, as the High Seas Fleet never again came out to fight.

    I've always thought of Jellicoe's decision as that of a true leader and a great strategist.


    A lot of the posts at War Nerd's (and some here) appear to assume that there are nice bright lines -- between slick elegant new-tech anti-ship missiles and clunky old ICBMs/IRBMs, and between high-explosives and nuclear warheads.

    I don't believe either one. Since command buffer technology for quick retargeting came in during the 1970s, it has been possible for the US and USSR (and subsequently any other power willing to ante up) to drop one or more triplets of 200kT warheads on any given 500km^2 patch of ocean within 20 minutes of "go." Do the math: "moving target" becomes irrelevant, unless the Vinson has both instant warning and pop-out hydrofoils.

    The knowledge of which patch to target is available to anyone who antes up for enough satellites, enough shadowing subs, and/or enough signals hacking.

    And the notion that a conflict would be hot enough to go after a carrier battle group (thousands of sailors, billions of $, and ?? threatening nukes on its strike aircraft), yet remain safely in the OMG nonukesnowaynohow is... quaint.


    the difference between "obsolete" and "obsolescent"

    We actually ran into this at work once: someone doing data conversion decided that anything on the list of 'obsolete' fittings didn't need to be marked as anything other than 'obsolete' at most. We had to explain to them that 'obsolete' meant 'we stopped putting these in on [date]', not 'this doesn't really exist'. (We have stuff that became obsolete 50 years age, but it's still in service.)


    And in other news today, DARPA announced new research contracts to study the feasibility of lift surfaces capable of working effectively in both gas and liquid media, and the use of sea water as a fuel oxidizer source.


    China is being prepared to be the 21st century Nazi Germany. The same way the former allowed US to get out of 29 crisis, war against China (the last "evil axis" superpower) will allow that these trillion US$ of "fictitious capital" to be converted in ordnance and the legion of unemployed workers to be physically reduced and placed far from home.


    Casimiro: the big difference is that China doesn't seem to be in the "one last territorial demand ..." business; they're having enough trouble hanging onto their own regions, never mind adding to them. Sure they make loud noises about wanting Taiwan from time to time, just to prove the point: but if cost really wasn't an object, they'd have moved long ago. As it is, they'd like Taiwan, but they seem to be prepared to play a very long game in order to ensure that Taiwan is still in working order when their children or grandchildren sign on the deal.

    A Sino-US war would be Very Bad News -- not simply because war is bad, but because it would totally fuck what's left of the global economy. So I'm betting they'll stick to shadow-boxing and sabre-rattling at worst.

    (In contrast, the Nazis were overtly and vocally expansionist, and used it to fuel a continent-scale asset stripping spree: if they hadn't invaded Czecheslovakia and Poland and stolen everything that wasn't nailed down, they'd have been bankrupt by 1940. Very bad neighbours, and with 20/20 vision it's a crying shame that the British and French governments didn't call Hitler's bluff over the Rhineland in 1936.)


    Monte@23 - I agree with you 100%. The point is that this 'ASBM' hoax is explicitly centered around non-nuclear kinetic-kill, which as you imply, is completely unnecessary even if it were plausible (which it isn't).


    Monte @23


    "One or more triplets of 200kT warheads on any given 500km^2 patch of ocean" will do absolutely NOTHING. You`d have to have a MUCH better precision.


    Charlie@27 - the crying shame is actually that the wrong side won the Great War. This is the genesis of the tragedy of the 20th Century, as it led to the rise and consolidation of the USSR, which in turn led to the rise of Nazi Germany, the Second World War and the manipulation of the United States into that war, which resulted in the unavoidable transformation of the US into a national-security state during the Cold War.

    This was the death-knell of the Old Republic, signaling its degeneration into a mere democracy, which history has shown us time and time again is a precursor to tyranny, which is already being established as the new norm - but with a new technological component which ensures that it will likely become the permanent, unchanging, universal condition of mankind, moving forward.


    Anatoly@29 - I think he meant 50km^2, not 500km^2.


    Old Republic? As in "Star Wars"?


    Tom @22 - Jutland, and Jellicoe's role in it, was a bit more complex than that. Notably, in about 1911 when the Grand Fleet (All the navy's big ships. In one place. For the first time ever.) coalesced, most Admirals had serious doubts that anything this complex - over 100 ships, five or so main tactical formations, four or so escort formations, two or three scouting formations, plus direct communication from London and any number of detached scouting assets - could be controlled at all. Jellicoe was about the only one willing to give it a go. The real-time information-processing needs were immense, perhaps beyond anyone's capacity.


    PS - All this is old hat as far as I'm concerned: the way to get the War Nerd's heads-ups several days early is to subscribe to exiled. Remember that Dolan can't write if he's died of exposure. That would be a Bad Thing.


    A US Carrier has a pretty tough armoured deck, not that anyone who knows will give specifics. What is known is that punching a hole through thick armour is difficult. An AP Shell from a battleship needs a lot of careful design to just do that.

    The big problem is that a lot of energy gets wasted when the projectile hits above a certain critical speed. Well, reading between the lines a little, it's the energy density in the materials. A sharp point crumbles. Tungsten-based projectiles can hold together when steel cannot. Make the shot too long and it can bend and break.

    And plasma splashes.

    Dump enough energy into the system, and enough gets through. But they fitted battleships with burster decks, so that bombs and shells detonated before they reached the main armour. This thing could well achieve a mission kill, but will the kinetic energy penetrate that deep into the ship? Well, you don't need to do more than put a tonne of KE-generated plasma into the hangar deck. That carrier's out of the war.

    And the Forrestals and their nuclear-powereed descendants have their flight decks as a key structural member. They're so big that they have to. On the smaller, treaty-limited, British designs of WW2, that was a liability. But hit the deck hard enough, and all sortsof bad things could happen to the hull.

    No, I doubt a deck-to-keel penetration would happen, but it doesn;t need to. And that ship might never fight again.


    The War Nerd makes a good point that CBGs are already obsolete, have been for decades. And the same is true for any low-maneuverability (or static) targets; ABM is a joke and a scam; the US, the nation with the most technologically-advanced weapon systems has no credible ABM capability, and can't for at least 10-20 years, even assuming that anyone is working at real development, as opposed to incremental improvements to the Patriot, which doesn't work as advertised.

    Of course you don't need ballistic missles to take out a carrier; there's a chorus of "Use a lot of cheap cruise missles" upthread, and that's pretty accurate, though taking a carrier out completely requires either a nuke or a lot of hits. To make a carrier irrelevant, though, you only have to take out its capability to launch aircraft; sweeping the deck with a very hot incendiary that can warp steel and destroy the launch catapults would do nicely*.

    I agree this publication of a theoretical capability is much more impressive as a political confrontation than a military one, though it's unclear who the opponents are. It could be the US Navy versus the civilian government ("Give us more money or you all die under a wave of Chinese missles"), Chinese government versus US government ("Give us Taiwan or we take out your carriers"), or Chinese military versus civilian government ("We are still relevant to the China/US competition, give us more money and power"). In any case, it's FUD of one sort or another.

    • A friend of mine was aboard USS Enterprise (CVN 65) in 1969 when a missle detonated during loading of an aircraft. The resulting explosion and fires shut the launch deck down for hours, and resulted in major damage to the deck (as in big holes).

    ObSciFi: E.E. Smith gets some credit for the idea of the CIC to control the US carrier fleet and their air defences. It's a notion that maybe discounts what the RAF set up for Fighter Command, and the air defence system failure at Pearl Harbor.

    But I would be unsurprised at the Jutland experience feeding into Smith's thinking: a fleet too big to easily control. The Grand Fleet had problems with intership communications, still not far ahead of Nelson, which were much reduced by WW2 (better W/T and R/T), but radar was the big change.

    The Galactic Patrol does have hand-waved detector tech. The battles are more like Surigao Strait than Jutland.


    Roland: the trouble with "the central powers should have won the great war" is that it leaves us with a Europe run by hereditary dictatorships (viz. monarchies) -- which, seen in close-up, are absolutely no nicer than any other kind of dictatorship.

    (Nor do I see how you can blame the USSR for the rise of Nazi Germany -- at least, not for the stages prior to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, by which time war was pretty much inevitable.)

    Yes, the degeneration of US politics due to the national security state have been a tragic mess -- but the other angle on the 20th century is that when we entered it there were just two constitutional democratic republics of any note on the planet, and when we left it that form of government accounted for over 50% of all nations. Even if the USA goes down the sump hole of history, I'd call spreading constitutional representative government world-wide a net win.

    Chris: this is a repost from my (cough) other blog. Yes, the Exiled needs our support!


    Anatoly, google "republic not a democracy" and become enlightened. The first two links I see are Ron Paul and Pat Buchanan, FWIW.

    There are those who hold a nostalgic yearning for the Good Old Days, before the Interstate Commerce Clause was stretched to fit anything, before women had the right to vote, and when the dollar was on the gold standard. These people tend to look at Social Security as one of a series of Heinleinian "bread & circuses" actions taken when the masses start asset-stripping themsleves.

    It takes a special kind of person to look at the US today and decide that its problems are because of insufficient power held by elites.


    "what the RAF set up for Fighter Command,"

    Actually, that's 'What the Royal Flying Corps set up for London Air Defence Area'. I am pretty sure, but cannot yet prove, that it's actually 'What the Midland Railway set up for bank holiday traffic in 1909'.


    I remember a comment reportedly overheard from an upset Admiral when the H.M.S. Melbourne, Australia's last aircraft carrier, was scraped. It was going to be replaced with a submarine fleet.

    "The problem with submarines is that you can't hold a decent cocktail party on them."


    I remember a comment reportedly overheard from an upset Admiral when the H.M.S. Melbourne, Australia's last aircraft carrier, was scraped. It was going to be replaced with a submarine fleet.

    "The problem with submarines is that you can't hold a decent cocktail party on them."


    Carriers are fairly useful if your opponent doesn't have much air power. Funnily enough we tend to have air and naval supremacy. The only war in the last thirty years where both sides had significant naval capabilities and roughly equal air capability was the Falklands, Britain's carriers were rather useful in that.

    The weapon is vapourware.

    In a nuclear war a carrier group is dead, it gets nuked, but then again so is everyone else. But if a war stays conventional a carrier group is a fairly effective mobile airfield.

    The intended role of the Queen Elizabeth class is bitch-slapping annoying third world dictators.


    China is not territorially expansionist, but is really a bad neighbor when the subject is trade. Currently I'd dare to say that more than 80% of product counterfeits are done in China or by Chinese at other countries. Not to mention that the use of underpaid labor really screws employment in most industrial countries.

    I don't believe in a "Sino American" war. It has never worked this way. But China is providing countries like Iran with nuclear technology and these countries are able to cause trouble to EU (either by expanding fundamentalism through Turkey, the Balkans and Central Asia). Then it would be like WW-1. US role wold be supplier and supporter until war is clearly pending to one of the sides.

    And I agree that war would be extremely bad.


    If the PRC's Red Army and Navy are executing the Rumsfeld doctrine, then the global currency will continue to have George Washington on it, rather than Mao Tse Tung.



    I think you're overestimating the kinetic energy of the warhead on impact. Reportedly, the Chinese ASBM sheds a lot of velocity once in the atmosphere to give the terminal guidance seeker a chance to acquire the target.

    Also, once China started firing these things at US ships, I'd expect the US to start systematically destroying any Chinese sensor platforms capable of providing mid-course corrections.


    (Somewhat Off Topic)

    Charles, you might like to peruse the book "Wired for War," by P. W. Singer. It examines robots in the military -- past, present, and future. Almost every cool, revolutionary, paradigm-bending scenario (short of the Singularity) I had dreamed up before reading this book has either already happened or is imminent. The book is well-researched and covers many different angles, although the author couldn't construct a sentence to save his ass.

    Short version: unless the US starts cranking out 10 times the number of engineers per year now, the US military will most likely get smoked by several state and/or non-state actors using robotics and other high-tech stuff in the near future (i.e. ten to fifteen years). The loss of the carriers will be just one aspect of this overall smoke-age. Such a brief summary, however, obscures the beauty of the details presented in the book.


    Fungifromyuggoth @ 39: "It takes a special kind of person to look at the US today and decide that its problems are because of insufficient power held by elites."

    The thieves and traitors who established the United States intended it to be run by the gentry. That is, with voting rights held by the land-owning middle-class to upper-middle class, who would select their leaders from their own kind or the wealthy elites. That's not necessarily a bad form of government, but it's also not the form of government currently in place in the US. How you feel about that change depends on a lot of different factors.


    [1] The reports cited above regarding the carrier's vulnerability are 'news' that's three decades old.

    The Russian Sunburn SS-N-22 (aka the Moskit 3M80) was introduced in the late 1970s, if I recall correctly, and was -- and is -- a ramjet missile traveling at Mach 3 that was specifically designed to be a carrier killer and outmaneuver the Aegis defense systems of a U.S. Carrier Battle Group. And, yes, a variant exists that carries a small thermonuclear payload.

    Unlike the Chinese missile -- which, as one commentator pointed out, does shed a lot of velocity once in the atmosphere -- the Sunburn goes into a set of very nifty final evasive maneuvers as it closes on its target at a speed of about Mach 2.2 and at a height of about 50-200 feet above sea level.

    The Russians have sold them to China and Iran over the years.

    [2] This whole situation has been much pondered by naval/military thinkers ever since the Falklands War. Basically, the carrier group is for show as 'threat' and for force projection as a mobile airfield, and you try to stand them off beyond reach of your enemy's weapons, much as the Royal Navy did during the Falklands.

    [3] Furthermore, these big capital-class surface ships were always to a large extent about 'show' even during the Cold War, when the US, the USSR and just about everybody else built them with massive aluminium superstructures. As those Exocet missile hits during the Iran-Iraq War and the Falklands showed, such aluminium-structured ships burn down to the waterline when hit. And this was known during the Cold War -- the thinking was, of course, basically that if war actually started, it would be thermonuclear and everything would be over anyway. Nowadays, since there are so many more actors with missile capability, they ain't building warships out of aluminium so much anymore.

    [4] The nuclear submarine is your real capital-class ship today.

    [5] And the real action in bleeding-edge naval warfare are things like swarms of self-propelled robot mines and supercavitating-torpedoes that can travel underwater at aircraft-type speeds.


    Charlie@38 - you know better than that. The European monarchies were far more humane that what followed. The 100M+ killed as a direct result of the rise of communism in the 20th Century demonstrate that pretty well, one should think.

    As for the USSR enabling the rise of Nazi (i.e., 'National Socialist') Germany, this is a well-understood phenomenon. For starters, the USSR allowed and encouraged the Germans to test weapons systems banned under the Treaty of Versailles on Soviet soil, starting in the early 1920s (pre-Nazi ascendancy), so as to avoid the inspection regime. Hitler and Stalin were co-dependent rivals who leaned upon one another at various times; the Molotov-von Ribbentrop pact merely formalized their 'co-opetition'. In point of fact, Hitler was perfectly happy to continue cooperating with Stalin until he'd subdued Western Europe; however, Stalin was mobilizing to stab Nazi Germany in the back via his own pre-emptive invasion of conquered Nazi territory, and Barbarossa was actually a spoiling attack intended to disrupt Stalin's plans (it did so admirably, and in the event was almost transformed into a successful counterattack).

    FungiFromYuggoth@39 - Straw man. People like me believe that political and economic power in the United States are far too concentrated in the hands of elites, and wish to bring the country back to the decentralized model intended by the Founders, and which largely operated until the New Deal and the Second World War. I suggest reading the Federalist Papers (18th Century USENET) on the reasons that the United States were founded as a republic, rather than as a democracy.

    Ian_M, UEL@48 - while I disagree with the 'thieves and traitors' bit, you're essentially spot-on. But it's important to keep in mind the intended decentralized nature of the thing, so that if the good people of, say, New Jersey voted in laws that one disagreed with, one could emigrate to, say, Georgia, rather than having to leave the country altogether as is the case with the current hypercentralized regime.

    In other words, the founders of these United States were all about diversity - true diversity of thought, lifesyle, and opinion, rather than the faux 'diversity' espoused by the Left in this failed age we inhabit.


    Roland @ 49: FDR didn't kill the Republic. He just delivered the eulogy. The Civil War pushed the decentralized model to the edge of the grave, mass development of railroads and telegraph kicked it over the edge, and the Seventeenth Amendment shovelled in the dirt. The New Deal was just a bit of sod planted on the grave.

    Given that the founders of the US drove out people who disagreed with their vision of government and enslaved people with a different skin colour than them, I'd hardly call them paragons of diversity.

    As for the 'thieves and traitors' bit, I don't take the whole United Empire BS seriously, but my grandmother is still upset that the Godfrey-Milliken Bill didn't pass. "Americans are traitors" was an official part of the Canadian school curriculum until the 1950s.


    Will it work? Probably. The Chinese government wants to make sailing carriers off their coast in wartime extremely dangerous. (And let's not get too US-centric here: Russia and India have carriers too.)

    Will it make big carriers obsolete? The Chinese don't think so: they bought a Russian one and are planning to build their own. Presumably they know the capabilities of this new missile better than anyone else, and they're still confident that carriers are useful.



    Presumably they know the capabilities of this new missile better than anyone else, and they're still confident that carriers are useful.
    Assuming the generals and the admirals talk to each other. Why should China be any better at that than the US or the UK?


    I think the war nerd would say he had "noticed" this a long time ago. Also, why the fu man chu china meme? I know you get a lot of sales in the US. Is this a sales pitch to your war tech readers? If you are surrounded by hostile, high powered weaponry, surely you try to defend yourself.


    xnfec: I'm finding it interesting to see who crawls out of the woodwork once I get a carnography thread going. I'm taking names and making notes. (See also: the moderation policy.) More interestingly, I'm cross-correlating with the folks on the GhostNET thread, which IMO is a much more relevant consideration of the future of warfare (i.e., in Von Claustwitz's formulation, the pursuit of diplomatic objectives by other means).

    Did I mention that the next novel on the drawing board postulates the existence of a de-facto shadowy world government (or something that isn't called that, but if it walks like a dog and barks like a dog ...)?

    Roland: Speaking as someone who lives under a monarchy, I know damn well that I'm a second-class citizen: there are legally privileged positions I cannot aspire to. Speaking also as someone whose ancestors fled from one particular monarchy due to pogroms encouraged by said monarchy, I think I've probably got a better handle on the divine right of kings than you do.


    Ian_M@51 - I understand what you're saying, but even after the enormities of our Civil War, Washington, D.C. was largely a sleepy town on the Potomac which had very little impact on the lives of ordinary citizens. It used to be that the saying 'Don't make a Federal case out of it' meant something; the New Deal and the Second World War changed that forever.

    Charlie@55 - I've spent a deal of time living under a constitutional monarchy, thanks just the same. Specifically, the Thai monarchy, which is quite bit more energetic in the exercise of its privileges and the enforcement of its desired social order than the anemic British relic; and still, I've found Thailand quite a reasonable place to live, far more so than any communist regime which has ever existed.

    And you know better than to draw an equivalence between whatever insignificant social handicaps you believe you have today in the UK and the way of life you'd be forced into in modern North Korea, Cuba, Laos, Vietnam or China, much less the USSR or any of the Warsaw Pact countries before the Great Unraveling.


    Charlie@55 - And to be clear, as a Caucasian Westerner, you've no idea what it's like to be a second-class citizen until you've spent some time living here in Asia, not just visiting. Even in Singapore or Hong Kong (I'm currently in the latter), the most modern and organized Asian societies, I'm forbidden by law and by custom to aspire to the highest levels of government and society.

    What's called 'racism' by privileged Western elites is the norm in every country in Asia (and has been everywhere throughout the history of the entire world, except in the last few decades in certain Western countries), without exception; there are plenty of jobs/roles/positions to which I cannot aspire, given my national origins and the color of my skin.

    Despite which supposed handicaps, I've still far more freedom than any citizen of the existing or prior communist regimes (as a traveler in Vietnam and China, I've more freedoms than the ordinary citizens of those regimes, in point of fact).

    So, your protests that you're somehow grievously wronged because you can't become Lord Privy Seal or whatever don't really hold much water with me, heh.



    Roland@57: Given that foreigners are not allowed to be president of the us then you are no worse off in hk. The social circumstances there are very different there from here or the us. They are very unlikely to insist on imposing their way of life on the rest of us though. They are more likely to emigrate and make room at home for the guy on the next rung below them.


    Roland Dobbins @ 56:

    I've found Thailand quite a reasonable place to live
    I wonder if you would feel that way if you were a native Thai Moslem living in southern Thailand. Point is that one's acceptance of a regime depends on one's treatment by it; your own status in Thailand is, while not supremely privileged, at least considerably more privileged than a large minority of the population. Why then, is your evaluation then any more objective or correct than a less-privileged citizen of Thailand?


    As I'm not descended from Electress Sophia of Hanover I can't become king under the current succession law that and a handful of other hereditary ceremonial positions are all that is barred legally. And even those could be changed by parliament.


    Central Powers winning WWI is an interesting what-if. The most plausible scenarios I can think of still end up with the Bolsheviks taking over in Russia and the Fascists in Italy, as well as Japan snapping up Germany's Pacific possessions and not giving them back.

    I wouldn't rule out a Fascist takeover in Germany, since that happened in Italy even though they were on the winning side.


    Argue away, but here's one possible response scenario...

    The Chinese launch, taking out 1 or 2 carriers. But that's it. The correct response at this point from the US is the high altitude detonation of 1 or more high altitude nuclear emp's rendering all levels of Chinese electronics useless. Of course, the reverse applies with the Chinese starting with an emp weapon to render US electronics useless. (Welcome to the Stone Age and nuking the land masses renders that land which will be needed for growing food entirely useless. China is smaller in land mass, so it may be the US's final bit of revenge if they find themselves losing.) Good lord, I wish you people would go review the Rand Corporation papers written decades ago by people far smarter than you or I.

    At which point it boils down to who has more submarines, if the war decides to go completely nuclear. At present that would be the US, whose ICBM carrying subs are at present doing lazy figure 8's out in the middle of the Pacific like they've always done. If you need to ask why they're doing lazy figure 8's, well, that should be enough for you to politely dismiss yourself from the discussion.

    BTW, I did spend 8 years serving aboard nuclear powered fast-attack submarines in the US Navy. I could go on and on but it's not my forum, so I'll end here... (followups to misc.test, please!)


    US-President Obama has given a speech that seems pertinent to the current discussion:

    Also the North Korean test of a ballistic missile yesterday is interesting. Quite a lot of posturing going on these days.


    Charlie 55. Am also finding thread entertaining, but I'm not taking names!

    'carnography'? Had to look that one up, learn something new every day.

    Back to lurk mode.


    Is the de facto World Government connected to the "Quir Coup" by which financial instiutions took over U.S. and British government policy?

    "... From 1973 to 1985, the financial sector never earned more than 16 percent of domestic corporate profits. In 1986, that figure reached 19 percent. In the 1990s, it oscillated between 21 percent and 30 percent, higher than it had ever been in the postwar period. This decade, it reached 41 percent.... that first age of banking oligarchs came to an end with the passage of significant banking regulation in response to the Great Depression; the reemergence of an American financial oligarchy is quite recent...."


    I welcome myself back from France. Welcome back!

    Charlie, you've got a well-mannered troll here. Intellectually-speaking. Just saying.

    Also, and my real reason for commenting, is that in economic terms the U.S.-China relationship is becoming asymmetric much rapidly than I thought it would. The upshot being that the "balance of terror" you alluded to is very rapidly disappearing.

    Strangely, the way in which they are unwinding is a bigger problem for China than for America: the best time to have Chinese demand for your debt go down is when there are bajillions of others willing to lend to you for free ... and when it'd actually be good policy to print money to purchase that debt anyway.

    Neither here nor there, of course. Angell's logic applies in spades to any Chinese-American conflict. But I would like to venture the prediction that the peculiar situation of the past decade is going to unwind itself rather quickly over the next year or so.


    FYI: the US spends nearly 10x the amount on defense as China (the world's largest military).


    JvP @65: nope.

    Noel: hmm. What do you forsee happening?


    There's an almost inevitable US-China conflict coming up when oil stocks decline to the point of not being enough for both major importers. Denial of sea lanes to the other side's bulk tankers could be key. Note also that one side's leadership takes the long view while the other side never looks past the next election.

    Russia could actually find itself on the sidelines of WW3.


    The thing to remember about aircraft carriers is that they are as reliable as scissors. They might get beaten on paper, but they'll always beat a rock.

    An aircraft carrier will always be vulnerable to large amounts of energy, however delivered. In an alternate universe we're probably discussing how Saddam's superguns enable him to deliver supraorbital shells to attack carrier groups that might seek to stop him shelling Israel, or what have you.

    You're right about it being an order of magnitude problem, but it works both ways; something travelling that fast isn't going to be easy to hit, but even a little diversion would be enough to have it miss a target. I strongly suspect that in a world where weapons like this stand a chance of working carriers will adopt countermeasures. There's enough ships in a CBG to have a couple serve as decoys. Aircraft carriers can relatively easily adopt the traits of aircraft, and I'd love to see chaff scaled for football fields. While it's hard to spam countermissiles, I suspect that the Military Industrial Complex of Vereinigte Staaten is capable of outmanufacturing the ABM factories of la République populaire de Chine.

    That said, of course the aircraft carrier is obsolete. So was infantry after the machine-gun*, aircraft after the invention of the guided missile, surface vessels after the submarine. Military decisions aren't about the thing that is absolutely the best, for the most part, but for the thing that is most useful in the most circumstances. Aircraft carriers are astonishingly useful, and like most things have weaknesses. Their utility outweighs their flaws.

    • I liked when the war nerd talked about longbows and knights, totally ignoring the fact (nerdly focus) that knights are about far more than putting a swinging, armoured, blade on the battlefield, and even if Ye Traditionalle Yoeman Longbowe Sniperre(TMe) is well supplied on the battlefield a big guy on a horse is still going to be a threat. Tactics, not weapons.

    I spent a few years in the USN as a junior officer, so I found this post very interesting. A few thoughts.

    First, Mark I weapons usually have some interesting bugs that don't get found out until the shooting starts. Also, targeting a CVBG at sea is non-trival. Much time was spent in the Cold War hiding US battlegroups from the Soviets. The first shot will be the easiest - once the ballon goes up, anything not positively IDed as friendly will get shot down.

    More importantly, I don't think anybody in the USN is under the illusion that a CVN is invulnerable. Subs and cruise missiles (including the manned version seen in WWII) have been a threat for a long time.

    But the USN does think that having 70 or so high performance jets with their own movable airfield would be extremely useful in the event of an attack on Taiwan.

    Some of the commentors here have suggested that submarines are the new capital ships. Maybe, but unless somebody's got a fleet of cargp submarines, to exploit the seas you've got to control the surface. That means surface ships and reasonably close air support.

    It's the equivalent of infantry in land warfare.


    xnfec@58 - I mean simple things, like not being allowed to enter certain nightclubs because of the color bar, for example.

    Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers)@59 - actually, Thai Moslems in the south of Thailand have it pretty good, they're the ones doing the agitating and causing problems for the rest of the country, heh. Folks from the northeastern province of Isaan are the ones at the greatest social and economic disadvantage in Thailand.

    What I was saying is that the abovementioned color bar is alive and well in Thailand; there are nightclubs and restaurants in which I'm simply not allowed because of the color of my skin. There are places I cannot go because of it. I'm charged 2x or more to enter public parks and other amusements because of it ('farang price').

    And despite these annoying things, which affect my daily life far more than Charlie's inability to be selected Lord Privy Seal, Thailand, which is a constitutional monarchy, is still a place in which I can enjoy myself and prosper. And it's a much better place to spend time in as an ordinary citizen than Vietnam, China, Laos, North Korea, or Cuba, not to mention the USSR or Warsaw Pact countries during the Cold War.

    Will McLean@60 - I'm not so sure about that. I believe that the Bolshevik revolution may well've been strangled in its cradle by outside intervention (as it very nearly was), and I don't see a fascist takeover of Germany happening, and certainly not the Nazis, in any event.

    I do agree with you that Japan probably would've obtained Germany's Pacific colonies.

    What we would've avoided is the Cold War, and the necessary-yet-regrettable transformation of these United States into a national-security state during that period.

    Noel Maurer@66 - you're spot-on. The fact that the US economy has become utterly dependent for its material prosperity upon the slave labor in the factories of China is the greatest insurance the Chinese have that they can do what they will vis-a-vis Taiwan (or anything else, for that matter), and that the US will do nothing to interfere.

    Andrew S@67 - yes, but due to the inefficiencies, waste, fraud, abuse, and sheer incompetence associated with the US military procurement process, I believe the Chinese get far more actual value from their 10% than the US get from their additional 90%.

    Anthony@69 - I don't see it. The US are too beholden to China to fight them over anything. China have already won, essentially.


    Roland: It was unexpected but not surprising that you misinterpreted the way in which the Chinese-American relationship is becoming asymmetric.


    One answer if this or a future weapon does make large surface warships sitting ducks could be submersible carriers.

    You could probably even adapt current subs into drone carriers, though retrieving the drones could be difficult. Drones launched from torpedo or missile tubes could bypass a lot of defenses, especially since China's anti-sub capabilities are weak.


    Roland @72. Bolshevik revolution strangled in its cradle sounds like wishful thinking.

    In our timeline, once Russia was knocked out of the war, it became a secondary theater at best. The Allies had more important priorities, and the Central Powers even more so.

    In a universe where the Central Powers win, the situation is much the same. Russia still must be knocked out of the war for the Central Powers to win. If the Central Powers are winning, the Allies have even less ability to stifle Bolsheviks. The Central Powers, on the other hand, needed to put all their efforts into achieving victory on the Western Front. In our timeline, their best wasn't enough. With the survival of their states in the balance, would they put a lot of effort into crushing Bolsheviks in a secondary theater? I doubt it.


    Andrew G @74: already underway in the US Navy, with a few of the big ICBM submarines now converted to carry cruise missiles. One-way kamikaze drones for now, but I can imagine a Predator fitting in the launch tubes.

    Unfortunately for those who dislike US naval supremacy (and please note that I'm Australian, not American) the USA is so rich that they have a strong "heads I win and tails you lose" advantage in any kind of naval competition. Will guided missile ships dominate future conflicts? The US already has more and generally better missile cruisers/destroyers than anyone else. Will it be submarines? The US already has get the picture.

    This was evident as far back as WWII, when the US outbuilt Japan in carriers despite still spending far too many resources on battleships (with 20-20 hindsight). When the rules change, it's still better to be rich.


    Various points:

    The War Nerd is not entirely correct about the longbow-versus-knights thing; just after Agincourt, St. Joan is able to throw the English out because the French armorers had produced "white armors", case hardened plate armors that you can't put arrows through without resorted to a geared-crank arbalest. It did take them awhile and two major defeats to get there, but it was never a completely obvious technological slam-dunk between heavy cavalry and an archer army; able French commanders could and did beat English archer armies during the Hundred Year's War. It's just that the preponderance of clue was on the English side. ("For a battle like Crecy, you do not need a military genius like Edward the Third; you need an idiot like the Duke of Alencon".)

    There's a difference between a war-fighting asset and a force projection asset; carriers are very limited as war-fighting assets but do fine as a force-projection asset. (This is what happened with battleships; they stayed useful for shore bombardment long after they ceased to be primary naval war fighting assets that could be used to secure sea control.)

    Naval power is about strait control. Blue-water operations are only relevant to the extent that they effect strait control and the ability to move cargo through them. Straits are horrible places for submarines.

    Submerged recovery of an aerial asset is really seriously problematic; you have to give away where you are. Submarines are also interestingly difficult to communicate with, and any good fix for that means they're all detectable, too. (Persistent rumors exist that the USN has figured out how to do that.)

    Standard imperial pattern is to function as a marcher state, gain broad economic advantage, use the economic advantage to pay for an expanded military, use the expended military to secure the permanence of the economic advantage, and to have this state of affairs collapse when a combination of rising, innovative marcher states elsewhere and the inevitable drag from the military expenditures being used as a means of securing personal wealth inside the empire get too big to carry. That's about where the US is now; whether they're going to recover relatively rapidly (British model) or painfully slowly (Spanish model), or not at all (diverse Indonesian imperial powers from a thousand years ago, now postulated from stone inscriptions...) The default assumption that the US is rich is pretty shaky and getting rapidly more so. They've thrown two generations of surplus down the drain.

    China is utterly hammered by pace-of-change (change too fast, get reactionary revolution; it seems to be a human wetware constant) issues across a huge and diverse population, inability to expand their domestic markets without surrendering a degree of internal political control that the current political leaders seem wildly reluctant to consider, and a dependency on coastal cities in a context of rising oceans. They're not in a position to even consider military adventurism until they get all three of those things sorted out. They probably know this.

    Core strategic assets in the post-industrial era are chip fabs; check out how many are in the rest of the world versus Taiwan. The US supply is at best considered sparse. No protracted hot conflict between the US and China is possible; the US is not able to replace core ordnance inventory without Chinese trade. (Some of which trade has been in engineers.)

    If it really does come down to a war over dwindling oil supplies, the human species is official too stupid to live. The range and breadth and wealth-generating potential of non-fossil-carbon energy technology being obvious and not particularly difficult to develop.


    A "missile" crossing from space at 100 miles up and hitting a target on the ground at an average speed of mach 10 would take approx. 1 minute. The CVN Enterprise moves approx 5 ship lengths in that time, so even it it stopped dead, even crude in-flight maneuvering would present an "easy" hit.

    I think the US Navy has understood for a long time that surface ships, especially carriers are highly vulnerable to attack and that they must be surrounded with shields to keep the enemy, planes and submarines, distant. A space originated attack, especially with multiple vehicles would be extremely hard, if not impossible, to prevent.

    While aircraft demonstrated the vulnerability of battleships as early as WWI and definitively by WWII, navies have continued to be built. The Falklands War showed how vulnerable naval vessels were to inexpensive, air launched, Exocet missiles. While defensive measures have been developed, the cost asymmetries suggest surface ships are a poor way to project power in a real hot war. Any use of even battlefield yield nukes would devastate any surface navy.

    Naval vessels are the modern equivalent of armored knights facing longbow men and later canon. An impressive sight rather than militarily effective.


    Noel Maurer@73 - Sorry, but as an American, it's quite obvious to me that the ChiComs hold the whip-hand. Even with the total collapse of Western orders to Chinese manufactories, the ChiComs will simply rise to whatever heights of brutality and opporession are necessary to keep the peasants and proles in their places. I do believe that there may well be a centrifugal effect; after all, 'China' is an artificial state (much in the same way as 'Iraq' is an artificial state), so regional succession and industrialized warlordism are certainly possibliities (what happens with the nukes is an interesting question; methinks it would play out much as things have done in the former USSR). Still, the West lose out, as they've much further to fall, IMHO.

    Will McLean@75 - I don't believe the Allies would've gone after the Bolsheviks. I believe the victorious Central Powers would've done so, as the Bolsheviks would've been an intolerable threat to the status quo.


    Alex @78 --

    The total flight time isn't the interesting number; the interesting number is how long between loss of guidance and impact. Given multiple angles of view from space, that should be about five seconds. At flat-out, damn-the-prop-shafts flank, a CVN is probably good for about 20 m/s. Not enough to generate a miss.


    Noel Maurer@73 - I should've said, 'the West lose out, near-term'. Personally, I believe that a catharsis is both inevitable and in some ways desirable, as it's the only hope I see for the West in general and the U.S. in particular to halt the continuing decline of education and their organic manufacturing bases, and return to some reasonable level of the self-sufficiency required to exist as sovereign nations.

    One hopes that, given a second chance, the irrefutable evidence of the twin follies of free trade and so-called 'globalization' would prevent a re-promulgation of the same misguided policies, at least for a few generations.

    It's quite possible that the collapse will occur with no rejuvenation, of course. Still, despair is a sin.



    Graydon@80 - do you really believe that MaRV technology is sufficient to hit a moving target, even one as slow and ponderous as a carrier? After all, with near-instangenous launch warning, it seems to me that 10-12 minutes of radical evasive manuevers would serve to hopelessly complicate the launch solution for a hit-to-kill trajectory.

    I thought pretty much all MaRV techinques were centered around unpowered terminal-phase guidance using vanes; I can see this working against a stationary target, but would be surprised if such a system would allow for enough cross-range maneuvering capability to make this practical. I'm happy to be corrected, however.


    @78: Makes one wonder what the next version of the US Navy's "R2D2" gatling gun will look like.

    @77: Submarines are also interestingly difficult to communicate with, and any good fix for that means they're all detectable, too. (Persistent rumors exist that the USN has figured out how to do that.)

    Two comments...detectable? True story #1: I do remember being involved in a Nato submarine warfare exercise in the Mediterranean a long time ago. We carried a Harmon-Kardon amplifier to broadcast noise just so the other subs in Nato could find us. Yes, American subs are very very quiet. Communication, 1-way...US - ELF, Soviet/Russia - ZEVS. But you'll say the US scrapped ELF. I'll just say this, do you scrap something that works without having a back-up ready to go? Most recently:

    @71: Junior officer in the USN? subs or surface fleet? True story #2 follows: Now if I can just find that picture where the overly drunken crew of my first sub inflated the rescue life raft and hand paddled there way between two piers to paint the words "target ship" and a crosshair on the side of the USS Ticonderoga. (The fifth USS Ticonderoga (CG-47) was a guided-missile cruiser and lead ship of her class. Launched in 1981, she was decommissioned on September 30 2004.) The junior officer that led this daring military exercise in hull painting did get summoned to Washington where after receiving a royal "chewing-out" from the admiral in charge of sub operations in the Atlantic also received a pat on the back and the words "good job" upon leaving his office. Surface!


    1919 history is mostly down the memory hole. Hell, lots of (real) 1918 history is only taught in college or graduate college courses. The Central Powers did try to knock the Bolsheviks out of power in 1917 and early 1918. They could have just signed a peace treaty and shipped their troops to the Western Front before the US got there. Instead they kept attacking the Bolsheviks for months, setting off the civil war in Russia and taking away hundreds of thousands of square miles of territory. Finland, the Ukraine, Eastern Poland, Belarus, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia. All the 'stans went to Turkey. The Allied armies that you hear so much about were several orders of magnitude smaller than that.


    wkwillis@83 - Lenin was smuggled into the USSR in a sealed train precisely because they wanted him to spur a revolution which would end up knocking Russia out of the war. This strategy succeeded admirably.

    A couple of months after signing the initial armistice with the revolutionary government, and after Trotsky initially refused the mandated territorial concessions to Germany and the Ottoman Empire in the proposed permanent peace treaty, the Germans made huge unopposed territorial gains against the over a two-week period, and, despite a great deal of opposition within Bolshevik ranks, essentially forced acceptance of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. This allowed the Germans to then re-deploy troops on the Western Front.

    What am I missing?


    That should be 'into Russia', not 'into the USSR', apologies.


    Charlie @ 55 Ditto. Some of my ancestors were Huguenots. However, a CONSTITUTIONAL Monarchy is a wole lot different from an absolutist one, and the reactionary Roland Dobbins seems to have the usual US ultra-Republican's difficulty ingetting his head round the problem. Apart from his painful and seriously mad analysis of his own countries tortured history of enslavement and internal genocide. He also, like an awful lot of Americans, and others, doesn't seem to realise that "Communist" staes are classic theocracies, with all the attendant evils that such always entail.

    As for naval armaments..... YES, carrier groups are vulnerable. Question is, how vulnerable, and to what? STILL good for offshore and strait-control, especially if NOT against first-class powers (Like PRC). Alternative suggestion is to "swarm" the ships, so instead of one big carrier, and lots of screen, you have 5 or 10 small carriers - none any bigger than the UK's present "Invincible"-class, and carrying V/STOL aircarft. Then you can only hit one ship at a time, unless you are using nukes, in which case, it's GAME OVER, anyway.

    I think people have missed something, but it IS a phenomenon, we've seen before. It's a spending race. We, the Brits, pulled this one at least 4 times - against Boney, against the French, after the launch of HMS Warrior, ditto, later in the 1880s (HMS Devastation etc) and agin after the launch of Dreadnought. One reason the Central powers went to war in 1914 was that the gap was closing on them fast, and, in fact, they still got it wrong. The Queen Elizabeth class of battlewagons, in build at outbreak of that war were probably the best battleships ever built, and the Brit yards were turning out more modern ships damned fast by the standards of the time, and Tsarist Russia, for all its corruption and incompetence, was still accelerating hard, industrially, so the German Junker felt they HAD to stop it, before they were overtaken. Now, whether this rumour of a PRC high-kinetic ICBSM is true, or not, the US has to behave as if it is, and start spending money. Right now, in the middle of a slump. Velly clafty! While the US is distracted, the Chinese Gerontocracy can concentrate on holding the lid down on their increasingly unhappy population who have seen the potential benfits of a semi-capitalist consumer society.

    Meanwhile, elswhere on the planet, there really are some people loose with nukes, in charge of a state that is well along the road to complete failure, collapse, and take-over by the really extreme religious nutters. Against a Taliban-run Pakistan, and/or a nuclear-armed Iran, CVG's are still useful. Which war are you ACTUALLY going to have to fight?


    The exploit here is the terminal guidance, isn't it? It's going to be a radar...enter Neal Stephenson with a pizza, movie and advanced microcode...if the US is good at anything and likely to remain so, it's electronic warfare. How good are the Chinese at RORSATs? (And how long will one or two Chinese RORSATs last in a confrontation with the US? We know Aegis can hit a satellite, and there ain't no such thing as stealth in space, as James Nicoll would say. Further, there certainly ain't no such thing as a stealth radar by definition.)

    Alternative guidance technologies considered the cold war-rockin' 1980s there was a fair amount of defence industry handwaving about Soviet research in blue-green spectrum lasers which might be used to - bridge to fantail, handwaving crew, commence waving! - somehow detect US SSBNs, so we'll need another X million DARPA grant for nonreflective paint or summat or SHARKS WITH LASERS!

    it's certainly noticeable that the only SAMs in the world that have any claim to successful interception of theatre ballistic missiles and satellites are naval ones. Not just Aegis, but the Anglo-French ASTER 15/30 and its associated radar-computer complex is said to have some capability in that line, or to be capable with a longer burn time.

    An immediate countermeasure, I think, would be a radar transponder towed astern of an escort that generates a nice carrier-sized return. Or, come to think of it, perhaps a low level, cheapo UAV as the platform - rotary wing, or lighter-than-air. That's it! AIRSHIPS! When the message from DSPS comes over the radio, suspend flyops, all ahead flank onto a random heading, launch the balloon decoy on your original course and speed, while SAMBoss presses all the buttons at once. (IIRC, in the 80s the intelligence air warning messages were called RED ROCKETs, which is amusingly appropriate.)

    The great constant is of course logistics. Whatever happens, the requirements for satcomm bandwidth and aerial refuelling tankers just go this world, there's going to be a queue for the jet tanker every time the alarm goes off. Good news on that Airbus A330 contract.

    Now you can put a carriers vs. SRBMs battle in your next alternate history in the certain knowledge that the requirements of the form are satisfied.


    BTW, the Lord Privy Seal is just a placeholder seat for a government minister whose portfolio isn't otherwise defined - it's a user-defined function subclassing CabinetGovernment.Minister() and inheriting from Monarchy.PrivyCouncil(). So Charlie will be Lord Privy Seal right the moment it becomes politically expedient to appoint him.

    In the Churchill and Attlee governments, it was the minister responsible for the independent nuclear program and advanced military R&D in general. Probably the Laundry too.


    Greg. Tingey@86 - I don't mind criticism at all, as long as it's made by people who read what I write. Unfortunately, you don't seem to fall into that category.

    I quite understand the difference between constitutional monarchies and absolute monarchies . . . in fact, nowhere in this discussion were absolute monarchies brought up, until your comment. Messr. Stross made a somewhat absurd equivalence between the fact that he can't serve in some positions in the UK government and the type of oppression suffered by those unfortunate enough to've lived under communist rule, and implied that I didn't understand his particular burdens as I've never lived under a constitutional monarchy. I replied that I have in fact lived under a constitutional monarchy, and even after experiencing socio-political impediments far more severe than those Messr. Stross described, infinitely preferred it to living under communism.

    With regards to communism as a religion - in fact, I made the point early on that I viewed all Leftism as a form of secular gnostic 'religion'. I explicitly stated this view. If you'd read what I wrote, you'd know that. Of course, you'll throw in some off-the-cuff remark about how you can't be bothered to plow through all the 'ravings' of a 'mad' 'reactionary' like me - which in effect means that because you don't share my political views, it's OK to attack what I didn't write, ignore what I did write, and call me names, to boot (it's always amusing to me how Lefists always immediately reach for the ad hominem attacks, when they claim to be so kind and sensitive and caring, heh).

    With regards to 'enslavement' and 'internal genocide', those who live in glass houses oughtn't to throw stones - and those who view historical events through the prism of contemporary morality demonstrate that they understand neither.


    Then there are modern UAV's Like the Israeli Heron / Eitan .... These things are, admittedly slow, but... You can adapt them to carry smaller drones or weapons-payloads, and they've got quite a range. Earlier this year, Israel used these to attack a weapons-smuggling convoy in Sudan. So someone sends a fleet of these to attack a Carrier group, each carrying its own set of much faster attack-drones. Such as the Iraeli "Herod" suicide-drone. Hmmm ....


    There's another issue here, in tech-strategy generally; it's the flip of no-one ever being fired for buying IBM. That is, it's career positive to declare the revolution is at hand, especially if this is budget-intensive. (Neocons are great at this.)


    Alex@86 - understood, I was using it humorously, having no idea from which office Messr. Stross believes he's barred (Archbishop of Canterbury, perhaps? But then again, as an atheist Scot of Jewish ancestry, I doubt that's a post to which he much aspires, heh).


    Alex@91 - so, what you're saying is that when it comes to national defense, no one was ever fired for buying ICBMs?


    [Sorry, I couldn't resist, heh.]


    Yay! Now we can have submersible aircarft carriers like in Ace Combat 5. The Japanese really have a flair for future tech.


    Mr Dobbins. Your hankering for some hypothetical good old days that didn't ever actually exist annoyed me, so I thought I'd return the compliment! And if you really think that Obama's regime, even with its morning prayer-meetings (ugh) is inferior to that of the deranged Shrub and his crooked cronies, then you really do need your head examined.

    Never mind, let's concentrate on how to take out a Carrier Group, or not, as the case may be.


    It made human wave offensives obsolete -- as the western front during WW1 demonstrated.

    Human wave offensives still happen - look at the Ethiopian offensive of spring 2000. The Eritreans finally stopped them at Adi Quala, but it was a very, very close run thing, and they lost of men and territory doing it.

    Eyewitness accounts talk of Ethiopian troops being forced into the human wave attacks at gunpoint by their officers. And someone I know who did a tour of the battlefield afterwards told me that they collected the ID cards of the Ethiopian dead, and the vast majority were from Ethiopia's ethnic minorities. . .


    Roland, I'd really like to know what it is about leftism that you consider "gnostic." I'm heavily influenced by both libertarian and leftist trains of thought, even though they are often considered opposites, but I don't see any reason to view socialism as inherently gnostic (although I'll agree there's a fundamentalist core to just about any political movement.)


    An explanation of why Brecher is talking absolute rubbish on this one and isn't generally a very good source. He also talks about the Harpoon "turning into a ballistic missile" because it has a terminal popup flight path. This is utter nonsense. Illiterate, on the same level as claiming that the Army still uses horses in war because it still has units called "cavalry". Carriers are still amazingly useful to have; Keegan makes a good argument that submarines are the new capital ships because subs can beat carriers, but the point is that a sub can't do much else, while a good carrier or LHA can do everything else. Yes, you could maybe, if you can sort out all the massive problems in the Identify-Track-Strike-Assess loop, kill a carrier with half a dozen IRBMs. You could also kill a carrier and all its escorts with five hundred ALCMs. Because, yes, Aegis is great, but ultimately you can only carry X surface-to-air missiles, and so the system's susceptible to brute-force attack in the shape of firing X+10 ALCMs.

    Using the argument "ah, but in a real hot war the carriers are vulnerable" is not logical, because ever since 1949 (Joe One) a real hot war has been the foreign policy equivalent of a black hole's event horizon - we have no idea what will happen beyond it, but we know that the process of crossing it will be hot, nasty and highly radioactive. A real all-out Great Power war is not going to happen. And in anything less than that carriers are still useful.

    Another point: my suspicion about the whole ABM business is that it's all maskirovka. Of course no one really believes ABM will work. All the ABM research is really just cover for research into the much easier task of anti-satellite warfare, which is going to be the vital opening stage of any future major war.


    That should read 'lost a lot of men and territory', obviously.


    Apparently, there is salvage work being done on the Graf Spee.

    I shall not start worrying until somebody fits a wave motion drive.

    Possibly, the armour plate still has some value as a material with lower levels of background radiation.


    My Da used to tell me that x-ray machines have to be made out of salvaged metal, because anything else is contaminated by all the nuclear weapons tests since 1945.


    Really, this is just the Second World War Battle of the Atlantic thing of "how do we splash the Focke-Wulf Kondor before it tells the U-boats where to look?" isn't it? Or the 70s/80s REFORGER convoy thing of "how do we splash the tracking Bear-D before the submarines or Backfires or Soviet IRBMs get their orders?". Or for that matter, the 1914 thing of "have dear Hipper's Scouting Force chase off that shadowing light cruiser before she gets through to London and Winston sails the whole Grand Fleet?"

    Strange, it's almost if the same strategic and tactical problems keep coming up again and again!


    Roland, no-one ever got fired for buying ICBMs because they've got ICBMs...


    Look on the bright side, this Chinese weapon may be the only thing that can stop the next Republican administration from spending billions of borrowed dollars on a nuclear powered floating city with George W. Bush's name on it.


    Anyway, it seems obvious to me that any military rivalry between USA and PRC will not take the form of any of the big conventional wars of the twentieth century, but will instead involve the recruitment of local proxies in what we used to call the Third World, as happened during the cold war. For students of any conflicts that may stem from this, the defence of Luanda is probably going to be far more relevant a precedent than either Jutland or Midway.



    I'd say the more important historic parallel in any future conflict that doesn't end in Armageddon is 'how do we tell fishing boats in the North Sea from a surprise Japanese torpedo attack?'


    For the uninitiated, Richard J is referring to the Dogger bank incident. After the Japanese knocked out Imperial Russia's far eastern fleet at the battle of Tsushima, the Baltic fleet were sent on a round-the-world trip to take up the slack.

    They had barely reached the North Sea when they mistook a fleet of Brit fishing smacks out of Hull for a Japanese naval flotilla, and in their panic fired upon them.

    I'd say that an incident like that is a product of the lack of modernisation of Russian society at the time. . . except that the Tonkin gulf incident is reputed to have involved a similar misunderstanding (that's if you don't think it was a deliberate provocation).


    One interesting sidelight on WW2 was that the Kreigsmarine was nervous about actually using their radar. It meant they had to transmit. Well, the surface navy, anyway. Those blokes in the U-boat arm were very talkative, but gewtting a DF fix on an HF transmission was hard. Wasn't it?

    Werll, despite the RN being very good at at, just as in WW1, yes, HF/DF from a ship is hard. The wavelengths are right to interact with the ship's structure. But it was a good way of explaining away Enigma decrypts. And when the U-boat was close to the convoy, tracking it while a wolf-pack was assembling, an excort with HF/DF and radar could force the U-boat to dive and lose contact.

    There's a reason the US Navy still has signal lamps.

    Anyway, Chain Home was the best which could be done with the tech of 1935--it could be built and deployed--and if the Bentley Priory Filter Room was an older idea, the RAF had figured out how to use radar, and other technology, as part of a coherent battle-fighting system.

    Chain Home was still being used, ten years after it was designed, as a BMEWS, warning of V2 launches.

    Any lessons? Well, the RN was tracking Stealth Fighters in the Kuwait War, because they still had some dreadfully old radar on a different wavelength than the stealth designers expected. I hope the designers hadn't missed something labelled in Cyrillic.

    Ten-rupee jezails.


    Y'know, it occurs to me that yer average desktop PC probably is about as powerful as the entire computing power available to Lockheed (let alone the Skunkworks) back in the late 70s. And Maxwell's equations aren't exactly brand new science.

    Has anybody ever tried to independently simulate a Stealth Fighter as a desktop exercise? Would be an interesting way of stopping one of the most long-running Wartech nerd debates.


    To back up ajay@98, Brecher is entertaining, but in this case he is wrong. In the real world, small patrol boats haven't done so well since the Eilat - the entire Iraqi Navy fleet of Fast Attack Craft got sunk in short order in 1991; initial sinkings were done by the Lynx helicopter / Sea Skua missile combination that also worked in the Falklands war.

    A small craft isn't big enough to carry a SAM system larger than shoulder portable; in other words, unstabilised, daylight only, no fire control other than shouted commands. Easy meat for anything that can stand off 4km.

    That will remain true until someone can radically reduce the weight involved with installing a fire control radar, multiple kilowatt power supply, several missiles with meaty enough motors to reach out past ASM range, and a mast high enough to allow said radar to see further than a few miles away. It's a small boat, after all.

    Claims that large ships are obsolete come as often as claims that tanks are obsolete - and neither event has come to pass. Their tactics and employment do change, though.

    A minor point for Mark Pontin (post 49) - no ships were lost in the Falklands because of their aluminium superstructures. See the relevant sci.military.naval FAQ at (and it's worth reading the section F6 above it ref HMS Ardent)

    Finally - a suggestion for Charlie (re: post 55). If you're curious about possible futures for warfare, consider "Ghost Force" by Ken Connor.

    The last chapter makes a few suggestions about the possible future employment of force.


    One thing I can't see anyone having mentioned is some indirection here.

    The press release says "anti-ship", and instantly everyone goes into wargaming mode, thinking what'd happen when that particular painted model is removed from the table. OK - but consider for a moment. We have a hypersonic missile capable of hitting anywhere within 2000km in 12 minutes. Let's be honest here: whether the label on the side says "use on ships only", that's still really going to spoil your day, right? And the whole "anti-ship" bit is only determined by what warhead is fitted, so with minimal alterations this will be just as capable of taking out ground-based targets such as power stations, the Palace of Westminster, the White House, etc..


    It's been pointed out here already that the military are always gearing up to fight the last war. This is as true of interested civilians as the military, though (otherwise a whole lot of tabletop-wargaming companies would have no-one to sell their figurines to). The problem is that no-one has really grokked that even MAD is obsolete, and globalisation is what made it so. Suppose any one G8 country wiped out one other G8 country, and they did it successfully enough that there was no nuclear response, and that the rest of the world decides not to gang up against them. It's still guaranteed that this country would no longer be trading with other countries after that, and in the age of globalisation that means your civilians starve and run out of medical supplies.

    So who can use this, then? One answer is terrorists, and here we're back to the old problem of asymmetric warfare, namely "who can you shoot in retaliation?" But this is a pretty esoteric weapon compared to a truckload of ANFO, which will have just as good a result on your target. Or go the 9/11 route, because it's still possible to hijack an airliner if you're prepared to put in some preparation (all the new security measures only apply to passengers, not ground crew). Who else? Well, no-one really.

    Ultimately then, this is a military version of the solar-powered cars that race across Australia. It's lovely technology, but unfortunately it isn't worth a damn for any practical application. Its main purpose is likely just as a demonstration of how good your engineers are. In other words, it's just advertising.

    And at that point, it may not even be important to produce the thing. Just saying "our engineers are this good" is all you're after. :-)


    A FWIW - I find it amusing to contrast the commentary here with that on roughly the same topic in Tom Kratman's part of Baen's Bar.

    As for general tactics. It occurs to me that we have yet to see how a robot wave works. Someone is going to figure out how to do this cheap enough and then quite a few assumptions will have to be rethought.

    Robot combatants will also cause a certain amount of fun in the low intensity combat area too. Though I'm not at all sure which side will benefit. I suspect that a rich state that can control the media and build combat robots will definitively defeat any human insurgency because it won't worry about its robot losses or "collateral damage". Rich states without censorship (e.g. the US and Israel) are going to have bad publicity issues that make such a calculation less clear.


    "Party like it's 1936!"

    Only if, you know, we get to use these weapons wholesale. Those replacement parts contracts are what /really/ drive the economy. So, what are we up to now? World War V? (the CIA counts different than we do.)


    Dierdre @101: Not X-ray machines to my knowledge, but low-level radioactivity (eg radiocarbon dating) systems. With X-ray systems you get to generate as much radioactivity as you need to get above background noise.

    We used to be curious the way new arrivals of materiel for the radiation lab in college (which did such dating) seemed to co-incide with lead being nicked from church roofs in the city ...

    Of course, in reality the physics dept. did deals with churches, etc. that needed repair: to buy old lead that had been smelted before the nuclear tests in 1940-1970s and replace it with newly smelted lead.


    Roland @82 --

    Five seconds before impact for the 10 km/s projectile is 30km in the air, with some -- five to fifteen -- km of slant range, where the plasma starts messing with the input from the multiple targeting sources. (Many of them likely to be high-stratosphere aerostats.)

    The carrier, flat out, can move 100m in those five seconds; that's cranked up to 40 knots, suspended air operations, no one and nothing on the flight deck that isn't strapped down because otherwise it's proceeding aft in the gale coming over the bow. She's not turning very sharply because she can't; throw the rudder hard over at flank and various bad things occur, starting with "rudder on inside of turn comes off".

    30 km in the air, adjusting for 100m worth of change on the ground is an angular change of tan(100/30,000); it will be especially impressive if the overall pointing of the system is that good.

    Also note that at velocities above 3 km/s, intuition about impacts becomes incorrect. It's effectively an explosion, so even a near miss is going to have unpleasant side effects.

    Alex @87 --

    A carrier, with air wing, costs on the rough order of 10 GUSD; one can get into a lot of arguments about this (does pilot training cost count?, etc.) but that'll do for a ballpark.

    1 GUSD worth of missiles and launching platforms is almost certainly sufficient to sink the thing. This is the core logistical problem; you can project power, but not fight effectively. (To fight effectively, it has to cost about as much to oppose you as it costs to field you.) (Conceptual tangent -- do the Trillion Credit Squadron thing; want to take the ~20 GUSD worth of CVBG, or the ~20 GUSD worth of SSNs, for a straight up fleet battle?)

    Satellites won't last, so the sensible planner is going to be looking at many high-stratosphere aerostat sensor platforms; carrier operations aren't stealthy, you can probably localize them very well just with passive radio receivers. If you do need to go active, well, relatively cheap, multiple emitters over a large volume, all talking back to ground stations inside the primary air defenses. It's very likely straightforward to use your own subs to launch a large number of stealthy aerostats to get a complete basket of coverage around the CVBG, too.

    The USN did something very like this with with forward-deployed DDRs to counter kamikazes; it's a pretty basic approach to pushing sensors forward.

    If they can do this sort of thing at all (and someone can, because hitting satellites is just this problem in reverse), the sensors aren't the hard part.


    @117 et al

    Why do people keep doing this time vs movement calc? You do realise there's such a thing as 'tracks' don't you? The key thing is acceleration, not velocity.

    In any case, people are getting worked up on plasma and renetry when in actual fact you can basically guarantee the opportunity to get terminal guidance data sufficient to put a MRV or two through the deck. Not sure exactly how high these independent vehicles would separate, but I'd guess well before a THAAD or other defensive missile (Standard say) would get a look in. Multiple target tracks flying complex coordinated paths:- not a hope.

    Put that lot together and no carrier is going near harms way once its understood how the game has changed. To be honest SS-N-22 was probably enough if people were paying attention. The safest place for a carrier is in home port.

    Which leads us back to the key question. If your doctrine requires air superiority over theatre, and carriers are a no go, how are you going to square the circle?

    Remind me again where the US fixed forward air bases are?


    It's a shame that Robert A. Heinlein is not here to join the discussion. He certainly understood his U.S. Navy; his brother made Admiral; his space command is a Navy writ large.

    I have worked on antiship, antaircraft, antitank, antisubmarine, and antisatellite systems. But my information is simultaneously obsolete and not able to be disclosed. So I lurk, tech-wise.

    The history of the 21st century does, it seems, depend on whether or not PRC implodes. More likely because of the success of its internal Capitalism than from outside pressures.

    Now that this Planetary Recession has reduced China's GNP growth to high single digits, word on the street is that physical riots have increased sharply. The Mud Horse rebellion in animation, audio, and blogging suggests a regime hard-pressed to maintain cybercensorship.

    China may still be more afraid of chaos, in the Three Kingdoms civil war sense, than in autocracy. But the choice is no longer either-or.

    China still has the default assumption that they'll be the dominant geopolitical power by 2099. Who can stop us, they wonder. Illiquid Japan? Incoherent Europe? collapsing empire America? High birth rate India?

    Meanwhile, spacefaring state that they are, they are investing heavily both in fighting the previous war, and in fighting the next war. In Go (China, Japan, Korea) or Chess (Russia, Europe) or Poker (USA) alike, a threat is more powerful than an attack.

    Our Star Wars threat may have been a bluff (my wife and I worked in it, and think so) yet it may have been the straw that broke the back of the USSR (as Ben Bova and Jerry Pournelle and others seem to think). China may only need to demonstrate Smart Straws.



    The Falklands War showed how vulnerable naval vessels were to inexpensive, air launched, Exocet missiles.

    Hardly. The only ships hit by Exocet so far weren't deploying countermeasures (HMS Sheffield had interference problems between ESM and Satphone, and had her ESM off at the time; MV Atlantic Conveyor was a civilian ship; USS STARK had her Phalanx system masked and didn't turn to unmask).

    The Falklands demonstrated that ships are horribly vulnerable to thousands of pounds of HE delivered by bomb or missile, and there's nothing new there.

    Naval vessels are the modern equivalent of armored knights facing longbow men and later cannon. An impressive sight rather than militarily effective.

    Not so. How else do you deploy the heavy metal for a war or peacekeeping task (e.g. tanks, vehicles, supplies) over long distances? And no, you can't deliver and resupply an armoured brigade using airlift, it isn't feasible.

    How do you protect those supply ships against air attack or surface attack? Surface vessels are it, unless you're suggesting cargo submarines...


    The newer versions of the Phalanx/Goalkeeper systems (radar-controlled 20mm and 30mm Gatlings respectively) are missile-based systems; guns with 4km-ish range and an open-loop fire control system of shoot-track-correct-shoot etc just can't cope with supersonic anti-ship missiles which cross that 4km rather quickly

    The current answer is to hide by reducing the radar signature of the ship; by destroying the reconnaissance and launch aircraft; by decoying and jamming with heavy-duty ECM; and finally with missile-based defenses such as RAM or Sea Wolf as well as Phalanx/Goalkeeper.


    The Athenian and then Roman Empires had hundreds of galleys in their fleets and regularly solved their control problems to keep sea control. They didn't have subs, but we haven't solving mixing surface and sub elements, either.

    I think big wars have been obsoleted, because for sixty years, big, rich states that can pull them off have been deterred by either their big opponents having nuclear weapons or being signatory with a deterrence treaty with somebody else who does. Who has any doubt that the Cold War would've gone hot without MAD?

    For the man who thinks he sees a MAD exception, you need to keep a couple of things in mind. First, for MAD to fail, you have to get enough of his nuclear weapons that you stop fearing his counterstike. Nuclear weapons are kept in places obscure/hardened enough that you WON'T be able to pull that off. It gets utterly hopeless if your victim has subs. There are G8 states who lack nuclear weapons, but all those have deterrence treaties with states that do.


    Charlie@69: I've spelled out my thinking in a post.

    Recent data suggest that this particular historical moment is passing fast.

    If it isn't clear, or you think I'm wrong, please comment.


    For all-out war between modern great powers, nuclear MAD means all conventional forces are a sideshow.

    CVNs are for beating up geologically remote lesser powers. I do not think they are a cost effective method of doing so, but they do the job. No great power in the beating up geologically remote lesser powers game is currently innovating much on the basic approach, except maybe Israel (to some small extent). Israel is pretty innovative with drones.

    If I was going to make conventional forces for that purpose, I'd start investigating drones launched from subs, but then again I Am Not a War Nerd.

    The obnoxious thing about carriers, IMHO, is they are insanely expensive ways of beating up geologically remote lesser powers, leading to people wanting to get return on investment, leading to picking fights with geologically remote lesser powers, which is not, IMHO, a generally good idea.


    Seems like easiest way to protect would be launch a nuclear tipped ABM from the carrier group itself.

    Other options are space based weapons designed to knock out the near earth orbit recon network.

    Whole thing is moot anyway. Carriers are for force projection in asymmetrical warfare, not for large fleet engagements. There are no large fleet engagements, nor will there likely be any in the near future. Anything that got that hot would go nuclear about ten seconds after the first carrier got scragged.

    A gamechanger would be something with a carrier killing capability that was low tech and within reach of asymmetrical opponents.

    As far as nuclear first strike, I absolutely believe the US (at least under Bush/Cheney) was/is attempting to build the capability to first strike China (or Russia for that matter). China's nuclear arsenal is tiny, couple hundred at best, it is quite do-able. Take out most with the first strike, shoot down the rest.

    Politicians have always been willing to trade butter for guns.


    Dobbins "A couple of months after signing the initial armistice with the revolutionary government, and after Trotsky initially refused the mandated territorial concessions to Germany and the Ottoman Empire in the proposed permanent peace treaty, the Germans made huge unopposed territorial gains against the over a two-week period, and, despite a great deal of opposition within Bolshevik ranks, essentially forced acceptance of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. This allowed the Germans to then re-deploy troops on the Western Front.

    What am I missing?"

    My point, which is that keeping 80 divisions on the Eastern Front putting a scare into the Bolsheviks was the couple of months that the Germans needed to knock the French out of the war before the Americans arrived and ended it, and not in a nice way for the German side.

    November, December, January, February, lost Germany the war.

    They should have realised that the US was shipping literally hundreds of times more troops to France than Murmansk and they probably had a reason for that. The US even officially announced that they were in Murmansk and Archangel to keep the Russians from selling the arms there (bogged down waiting for trainspace) to the Germans. This was kind of a clue to the US intention of fighting one war at a time.

    Then (in 1919, 1920, and 1921, after the war was over) the US spent more money in loans and grants propping up the bankrupt Capitalists countries to help them fight the Bolsheviks than they has spent in the whole of the March 1917 to November 1918 period fighting the Germans.

    We literally spent more money fighting the Bolsheviks after the war than we did fighting the Germans during the war!


    Sorry, but I'm going to re-iterate what I said during #88.

    It is a SPENDING race. I forgot to add that the USA did this as well, spending the USSR into the ground, especially during the late 60's, and again approx 1982-90 - which broke the USSR's back in the end ...... Others have picked up on the links I showed on the possibilty (actuality if you are fighting Israel) of using drones. In large numbers, drones are not cheap, but a lot cheaper than a Carrier-Group, and a lot cheaper in (your) manpower losses.


    To Martin @#112; Ah, thanks for clearing up my misconception about the HMS Sheffield, the Falklands and aluminium superstructures. Because it all went down in approximately the same era as the USS Stark's being hit during Iran-Iraq and an Exocet was responsible in both cases, I'd bought into the standard 'wisdom.'


    Roland@73. There are many clubs and drinking places all keen to relieve you of your money. If they don't want your money there is a reason. Maybe the colour of your skin, certainly, but I would think there are likely to be other reasons. Are they gangster bars? Sometimes these places are by invitation only and you have to be an insider. Not easy to achieve. Sometimes people like to have a quiet evening away from foreigners. I don't frequent these places and don't try to, and only had a brief acquaintance with that world many years ago. To gain insider status requires dedication and maybe the friendship of not-very nice people. Tourism won't get it. You have to have something to offer - business or face gained by associating with you. Have you tried mingling? I'm not a mingler, but I know a few, rare, souls who are and they get on just fine with ordinary, local people.


    Graham @ 113, Jon @ 120 there was a flood of books in the first decade of the 20th century pronouncing that globalisation, trading, and the sheer expense had made big wars obsolete. 1914 wiped out that genre niche for a long time.

    I'd really like to think it's true this around, but "because it's a really bad idea" often doesn't stop people.


    You know what makes the carrier group vulnerable?

    Good oceanic recce satellites.

    There's an interesting article on outlining the ways a carrier group can hide, while operating. For instance, you don't put the AWACS plane anywhere near the carrier.

    Even when the enemy knew where the carrier was, an effective attack was difficult. Chaff and other ECM mean the carrier isn't so obvious a target for the missile seekers. And putting an AA ship out in the right place (not easy) could destroy a lot of launch platforms before they fired.

    Without the satellites, there's a good chance that the carrier group can make a surprise attack, even with some places being obvious targets. And you still have to find the carrier.

    Consider the Midway example. A scoutplane finds the enemy carrier. Even with a accurate position fix, the carrier has time to move before the strike gets there, and your strike force has to do some hunting. You fail to make the coordinated strike, and you lose a lot of second-strike capacity. Lucky the dive-bombers hit, isn't it.

    The USN has fought a carrier war in which they lost carriers, sunk or out of action. Maybe the biggest mistake the war nerd makes is to assume that carriers have to be invulnerable. Though losing a CVN is pretty bad.


    Greg. Tingey@97 - I don't yearn for some utopia which never existed. I yearn for a time when, by and large, people could try their own local experiments in solving the problems of their day, rather than having 'solutions' forced down their throats by the Federal bureaucracy in Washington, D.C. As for the 'have your head examined' bit - again, you resort to ad hominem attacks rather than reason.

    Carter James@99 - see the works of Eric Voegelin, specifically Science, Politics, & Gnosticism.

    Graydon@117 - Interesting. Footprint would depend upon ballistic accuracy, cruise velocity, angle of incidence, lift, evasive maneuvering, and control mechanism (vanes, nozzles, what-have-you) employed. Lots of variables here, without more specific knowledge. Earlier comments about removal of spaceborne targeting assets are valid, of course.

    wkwillis@123 - Thanks for clarifying, I see your point. However, isn't this a bit of 20/20 hindsight? After all, the Germans couldn't know that Trotsky, et. al. wouldn't simply resume the offensive, right?

    xnfec@126 - I'm aware of all this, thanks. I'm also aware that there are places which won't let me in simply because I'm a Westerner - I know this because they tell me so and/or because it's a well-known policy of said institutions. Now, this doesn't bother me in the least, as I'm a believer in freedom of association (or disassociation, as the case may be); my point is that Messr. Stross has very little to complain about in terms of any supposed social handicaps he suffers in the UK.

    132: 129

    "I yearn for a time when, by and large, people could try their own local experiments in solving the problems of their day, rather than having 'solutions' forced down their throats by the Federal bureaucracy in Washington," Like, erm, slavery South of the Mason-Dixon Line? or no voting for some people in similar areas, a bit later? Or teaching lies to children, because the religidiots don't like 150-year-old scientific results?

    Contrariwise, there ARE cases of bureaucracy getting itself involved in things that are no concern of its own. The EU has gone down this route, badly, and I suspect that the US has similar problems. Example: "Allowed" seed varieties only - no business of the EU at all ......


    Greg. Tingey@130 - Yet again, with the ad hominem attacks. When have I evinced the slightest indication that I'm an advocate of slavery, for example? Since you seem incapable of having a civil discussion without imputing the basest of motives on no evidence whatsoever, I can only conclude that your purpose is to insult others, rather than to hold a rational discussion, and that you're so convinced of your own righteousness that you must demonize anyone with whom you disagree.

    Not very tolerant of differences in opinion or respectful of diverse viewpoints, are you? Nor are you inclusive or sensitive to the circumstances and historical context of those from cultures other than your own.


    JvP: Our Star Wars threat may have been a bluff (my wife and I worked in it, and think so) yet it may have been the straw that broke the back of the USSR (as Ben Bova and Jerry Pournelle and others seem to think).

    Rubbish. What broke the back of the USSR was a liquidy crisis set in motion by the Saudi oil ministry opening the stop-cocks, combined with a series of crop failures. They couldn't pump enough oil to buy the wheat to feed their population without going cap-in-hand to the west. Hence Perestroika and Glasnost. Yes, it was a spending race -- but not the kind the military profiteers in the west like to claim it was.

    (I don't think they even took SDI seriously; if they had, the obvious work-around was to shift from ICBMs to cruise missiles.)


    Charlie @134: Away with your oil prices! It is written in the Geste de St. Ronald that SDI bankrupted the USSR, and that's that.

    (The loons I cherish are the ones who trot out testimony to that effect from high officers in the Soviet missile force. Setting aside the fact that even the Politburo rarely got good economic or fiscal data before Gorbachev... has there ever been a general or admiral who wasn't sure that for better or worse, history pivoted on his branch of service?)



    'Argumentum ex culo is the act of arguing by way of non sequitur, ad hockery, and/or bullshit in a desperate attempt to shore up a blatantly untenable argument. The derivation is from the Latin and need not be explained to anyone who's ever bothered to learn a Romance language.

    As a general rule, if something stinks about the argument, there's a good chance it's an argumentum ex culo.'


    Charlie#134 - Sure, that's why Gorbachev offered such huge ICBM cuts at Reykjavik & Geneva, if only Reagan would take SDI off the table; that's why numerous ex-Soviet officials such as Genrikh Grofimenko, Nikolai Leonev, Sergei Akhromeyev, & Gorbachev himself were very clear then and now on its importance to them; that's why the Red Army Faction started whacking researchers working on SDI; all because they didn't take it seriously.

    After all, why should we believe them over you, heh?

    Robin@136 - what a great indicator of your wit, charm, intellect, and generosity of spirit!


    This is interesting:

    SAN DIEGO (NNS) -- Commander, U.S. 3rd Fleet, Vice Adm. Samuel J. Locklear announced the completion of the fleet operational exercise, Stellar Daggers, March 26.

    The scheduled event took place March 24 and 26. Command and control of the participants in Stellar Daggers resided with U.S. 3rd Fleet based in San Diego.

    San Diego-based Aegis destroyer, USS Benfold (DDG 65) engaged multiple targets during this multi-event exercise with Standard Missile-2 (SM-2) Block IIIA and modified SM-2 BLK IV missiles. The overall objective of Stellar Daggers was to test the Aegis system's sea-based ability to simultaneously detect, track, engage and destroy multiple incoming air and ballistic missile threats during terminal or final phase of flight.

    During the event, Benfold's Aegis Weapons System successfully detected and intercepted a cruise missile target with a SM-2 BLK IIIA, while simultaneously detecting and intercepting an incoming short range ballistic missile (SRBM) target with a modified SM-2 BLK IV. This is the first time the fleet has successfully tested the Aegis system's ability to intercept both an SRBM in terminal phase and a low-altitude cruise missile target at the same time.

    139: 137 - I agree, it was a spending war - just like the others, and it broke the Soviet economy.

    As for "Ad hominem" I have noted, in your ealier posts a hankering for a "decentralised" USA, but ... you remind me partially of one "Vox Day" (Real name: Theodore Beale) - except he really IS a loonie - in disliking "big" government to the point where local abuses and inequalities don't matter. Maybe I'm just suspicious.

    And, of course, the present collapse of the economic system is largely because the big (so-called) capitalists were trusted to behave themselves without regulation. Didn't work, did it? I suggest you go back into Charlie's archives for 18 September last year, and read the comments on a thread called: "Knock knock! Who's there? October surprise! But it's still September ..." Have fun!


    137 that's why the Red Army Faction started whacking researchers working on SDI; all because they didn't take it seriously.


    They killed the head of research at Siemens. But they killed a lot of German industrialists (they killed the head of MTU and tried to blow up the chairman of Deutsche Bank). Siemens may or may not have been negotiating over an SDI contract. But there was a lot of money in SDI contracts; it would be difficult to go round shooting people who worked in German industry and not hit a few who worked for companies which had some peripheral connection to SDI. I could probably make as convincing a case that the RAF were part of a Communist conspiracy to stop the development of high-definition TV, or self-defrosting fridge freezers, or affordable saloon cars with ABS.

    As for your other quotes: I am touched by your childlike faith in the honesty of Russian politicians. Surely they'd never lie for political reasons, in order to make the fall of the USSR appear the result of Evil Foreigners rather than their own mismanagement! Such a thing is unthinkable!

    Charlie's right in saying they didn't take SDI seriously. If they had done, they would have either started work on their own (they didn't, not seriously) or on countermeasures (again, no serious increase in spending on these) or built more missiles to swamp the SDI system (they didn't). They didn't even raise defence spendign that much; not as much as the US had done anyway.


    Roland @137: what makes you think Gorbacheve wasn't simply looking for an excuse to downsize the RVSN RF anyway? Those ICBMs were expensive, especially during a liquidity crisis. Remember: it's a bad idea to confuse diplomatic excuses with actual underlying reality!

    (BTW, your tone is getting a little waspish. You might want to take some time out to cool down. This is a Hint.)


    Charlie @134, 137 is absolutely right about a liquidity crisis precipitating the fall of the USSR. This is made clear in this 2007 article by Yegar Gaidar, former Russian acting prime minister, first deputy prime minister and economics minister in the 1990's.,filter.all/pub_detail.asp


    Gorbachev has said that Andrei Sakharov told him that SDI would not be effective and that this was enough to make him stop taking SDI seriously. Such was Sakharov's status in the USSR that I wonder if getting such advice was motivation enough for Gorbachev to release Sakharov from internal exile.


    Wasn't the whole "Team B" analysis (that the soviets were spending more and more on their military) pantsed quite thoroughly following the collapse of the soviet union?

    It turned out soviet military spending had been pretty flat for decades.

    Their economy just didn't work. We did not need to do anything to "push it over the edge" it was collapsing all by itself. Eventually something would come along to be the last straw.

    On the other hand negotiating with them was quite successful and the reduced tensions surely helped lead to a relatively orderly collapse as well as helping limit the spread of nuclear weapons around the world and saving us some money.

    One can give Reagan credit for pursuing all avenues toward a goal of his (no nuclear war) but in hindsight star-wars and the military build up (the latter actually started under Carter) were the things that didn't work while conciliation and negotiation were the things that did. Obviously not a conclusion the militaristic right likes to draw. The biggest success of the militaristic policies may be that they bought support from the American right for the effective policies.


    Responding to the 'the wrong side won in WWI' argument upthread: O RLY? Wilhelmine Germany was a nasty authoritarian militarist state, whose army committed numerous atrocities against French and Belgian civilians, and would undoubtably have been in the running for nastiest imperialist power overseas. Not exactly a poster child for the libertarian-republican utopia posited.


    Dobbins Trotsky might have attacked them in 1919 or 1920, after he had finally seized control of Russia from his many, many, enemies. France was already attacking them, Britain was blockading them, and several million American soldiers were busily marching towards the troopships, all in 1917. I think it's just that after Bismark the Germans never got their heads around the idea of subordinating their military to their diplomacy so they were fighting just one war at a time. Bismark and Metternich were diplomats, not generals. They turned Prussia from a Poland into, well, Germany. What good were the German generals?


    ON ABM and SDI: My father (BSME, experienced in stuff like safeing and arming devices) didn't think that they'd work. He also said that there's no security in defense jobs.


    Lebow & Stein (anyone who reads Cold War history seriously should recognise the names):

    The Soviet Union's defense spending did not rise or fall in response to American military expenditures. Revised estimates by the Central Intelligence Agency indicate that Soviet expenditures on defense remained more or less constant throughout the 1980s. Neither the military buildup under Jimmy Carter and Reagan nor SDI had any real impact on gross spending levels in the USSR. At most SDI shifted the marginal allocation of defense rubles as some funds were allotted for developing countermeasures to ballistic defense.

    If American defense spending had bankrupted the Soviet economy, forcing an end to the Cold War, Soviet defense spending should have declined as East-West relations improved. CIA estimates show that it remained relatively constant as a proportion of the Soviet gross national product during the 1980s, including Gorbachev's first four years in office. Soviet defense spending was not reduced until 1989 and did not decline nearly as rapidly as the overall economy.
    To be sure, defense spending was an extraordinary burden on the Soviet economy. As early as the 1970s some officials warned Leonid Brezhnev that the economy would stagnate if the military continued to consume such a disproportionate share of resources. The General Secretary ignored their warnings, in large part because his authority depended on the support of a coalition in which defense and heavy industry were well represented. Brezhnev was also extraordinarily loyal to the Soviet military and fiercely proud of its performance. Soviet defense spending under Brezhnev and Gorbachev was primarily a response to internal political imperatives--to pressures from the Soviet version of the military-industrial complex. The Cold War and the high levels of American defense spending provided at most an opportunity for leaders of the Soviet military-industrial complex to justify their claims to preferential treatment. Even though the Cold War has ended and the United States is no longer considered a threat by the current Russian leadership, Russian defense spending now consumes roughly as great a percentage of GNP as it did in the Brezhnev years.
    The Soviet economy was not the only economy burdened by very high levels of defense spending. Israel, Taiwan, and North and South Korea have allocated a disproportionate share of resources to defense without bankrupting their economies. Indeed, some of these economies have grown dramatically. A far more persuasive reason for the Soviet economic decline is the rigid "command economy" imposed by Stalin in the early 1930s. It did not reward individual or collective effort; it absolved Soviet producers from the discipline of the market; and it gave power to officials who could not be held accountable by consumers. Consequently much of the investment that went into the civilian sector of the economy was wasted. The command economy pre-dated the Cold War and was not a response to American military spending. The Soviet Union lost the Cold War, but it was not defeated by American defense spending.

    Frances Fitzgerald, on some professor named DeLong's old site (wonder what became of him?):

    "Then, too, the Soviets did not respond to the Reagan administration's military buildup.

    "As CIA analysts discovered in 1983, Soviet military spending had leveld off in 1975 to a growth rate of 1.3 percent [per year], with spending for weapons procurements virtually flat. It remained that way for a decade. According to later CIA estimates, Soviet military spending rose in 1985 as a result of decisions taken earlier, and grew at a rate of 4.3 percent per year through 1987. Spending for procurements of offensive strategic weapons, however, increased by only 1.4 percent a year in that period. In 1988 Gorbachev began a round of budget cuts, bringing the defense budget back down to its 1980 level. In other words, while the U.S. military budget was growing at an average of 8 percent per year, the Soviets did not attempt to keep up, and their military spending did not rise even as might have been expected given the war they were fighting in Afghanistan.
    "During Reagan's first term, some in the Kremlin were concerned that the U.S. might possibly be gaining a first-strike capability and might actually launch a nuclear war. This was, of course, the mirror image of the fears expressed in Washington in the mid-seventies. Nonetheless, though the strategic arsenals on both sides grew like Topsy in the 1980s, the strategic balance remained extremely stable. Without any spending increases, the Soviets continued to turn out and deploy strategic warheads at about the same rate the U.S. did. When the START I treaty was signed in 1991, the U.S. had deployed 12,646 strategic warheads, the Soviet Union 11,212--the numbers so large as to be almost meaningless in terms of deterrence.
    "At the beginning of Reagan's first term, some conservative enthusiasts in the administration might have believed that the U.S. could spend the Soviets under the table in an all-out strategic arms race. But the Joint Chiefs of Staff never thought this, nor did the CIA, for the simple reason that Soviet spending on strategic weapons was a very small fraction of the overall Soviet military budget. According to one MIT expert, Soviet spending for the procurement, operations, and maintenance of its strategic offensive forces amounted to only 8 percent of its entire defense budget. In other words, had Gorbachev achieved the 50 percent reductions he was seeking at Reykjavik, he would not have made savings of any significance in terms of the Soviet economy.

    It doesn't seem to have been mentioned here yet, but Robert Farley (defense expert who has written on this several times) does not think much of War Nerd's thesis.


    @41: "The problem with submarines is that you can't hold a decent cocktail party on them."

    And the problem with UAV's is that if you command an F-15 squadron it is a lot easier to pick up girls in a bar than if you command a Predator squadron.

    ...or so I've heard. Predator pilots have a lot more kills racked up lately. I wonder if that counts with bar girls.


    No matter what the Chinese come up with, America will develop and deploy superior counter-measures. Why? Because we worship Athena, not Ares.

    I just finished Neal Stephenson’s “Cryptonomicron” over vacation. I highly recommend it, especially for the “info dumps” he works into the narrative. Especially the discussion concerning the worship of Athena (goddess of wisdom, cunning and clever warfare) compared to the worship of Ares (god of bloody warfare, carnage and brute force). It will explain in only a few words why America is destined to be Numero Uno. Hint: America “worships” Athena while past rivals like Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union “worshiped” Ares.

    So if missile technology makes CVAs and their battle groups as obsolete at cavalry charges, then we will develop superior submarines and high tech surface ships with integrated stealth and cloaking technology.

    As for the Chinese they will NOT, repeat NOT, be the next world hegemon. Demographics (their one baby policy resulting in a rapidly aging population and serious gender mismatch since Chinese peasants prefer boys to girls – and abort girls) doom them to becoming old and gray before they have a chance to become rich and powerful. Remember; only a tiny fraction of the Chinese people has participated in their economic boom during the past decades. Most remain dirt poor 3rd world peasants scratching out a subsistence living. They live in a environmental disaster where the rivers are open sewers, smog is so bad you literally can’t see across the street in most major cities, and their soil, water and food is contaminated with toxic chemicals and heavy metals. Mass unrest continues in the country side, though the PRC has managed to keep a media lid on it – for now at least. I give them a few decades before we talk about the Chinese as has-beens, like we do about the Japanese (remember when they were supposed to take over the world?).

    Given America’s continued world leadership in inventions, patents, entrepreneurs, innovators, our openness to immigrants who come here and pick lettuce one generation and go on to medical school the next, and advanced studies at technical universities - I have no doubt that we will maintain and expand our lead. Only America can do this, nobody else. Only in America can ANY ethnic or religious group arrive and be considered to be full fledged Americans. I could go to Japan, live there my whole life, even becoming a legal citizen, and I would never, ever be considered Japanese.

    America OTOH is always getting transfusions of fresh blood from the best and the brightest from around the globe. It’s our ace in the hole and the reason why the 21st and 22nd centuries will belong to us.

    So please excuse me, I have to make a sacrifice to Athena.


    Slight problem, dwoop. We think our education system is the pants, but the US one is a disaster. Unless and until the fundies are REALLY thrown off school-boards, permananetly, you are on the way down the tubes.

    Provided they don't get seriously hurt in a nuiclear-exchange with a fundie Pakistan (Which would be wiped right off the map, if that happened) then India is the one to watch. As always, in the long run, a democratic, technologically-aware society will beat one that isn't, in spite of appearances. ( Godwin alert )This is the fallacy the Nazis as well as the communists fell for, and the muslim nazis are making the exact same mistake (I hope) .....


    This looks to be a very long chain of interesting comments, but I don't have time to read them all. So my statements may already be included in previous comments.

    It was previously written that top level command always goes through Carriers and so they'll never go away, even if obsolete. I don't believe they are obsolete. My main comment is that, no matter what ordnance any adversary uses, be it super mach kinetic weapons, nukes, or marshmallows, if anyone manages to take out a Carrier, the US Navy, all by itself, and without permission from the President, whose "football" only controls the strategic nukes, will turn that belligerent into radioactive dust. It's like someone's Camaro; you do not touch a Carrier on pain of death!


    I must question - with respect - doowop's proposition that the United States worships exclusively at the temple of Athena rather than Ares.

    The massacre at Wounded Knee, the brutality of counter-insurgency in the Phillipines and forty years later the Pacific War, the terror bombing of Indochina; all these historical events seem to me more consistent with the cult of bloody warfare and carnage that doowop identifies with the worshippers of Ares.


    Never said "exclusively", America is not perfect.

    However, Athena has never been a pacifist either. While outhinking our totalitarian opponents in WWII we also fire bombed Dresden, Hamburg, Berlin and Tokyo. We then nuked Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It was standard practice for the Allies to incinerate entire populations of German and Japanese civilians. While facing down the Soviets, we put civilization and life itself at risk with our nuclear arsenals and doctrine of mutual assured destruction.

    Yet in both cases, we used smarts instead of brute force to defeat our enemies. One of the great, and largely untold, stories of WWII is how American and British codebreakers broke supposedly unbreakable Japanese and German codes. The men who did so were geeks who wouldn't survive five minutes in a rifle company on the front line. But in doing so, they won the war (or at least shortened it by 2 or 3 years).

    Similarily, the scientists who began development of direct energy weapons, advanced guidance systems and other high tech military applications forced the Soviets to compete in an arms race they could never hope to win. Reagan's "Star Wars" proposal never would have worked as a militiary weapon (effective defense against an all out nuclear attack being all but impossible) but it worked beautifully as a political weapon.

    Faced with the first strike potential from American boomers launching hyper-accurate Trident missiles capable of taking out Soviet ICBM silos with little or no warning, and backed by a potential ballistic missile defense that could (in theory) intercept a large percentage of the few remaining Soviet retaliation missiles - the Soviets threw in the towel. They could not hope to compete in a spaced based high tech arms race. The result was the rise of Gorbachev, glasnost and the end of the USSR. Once again, it was brains over brawn.

    On the geopolitical playground, nerds beat the crap out of bullies.


    And were you bullied in school, doowop?


    Nope, I was a dumb jock who lettered in football and track.

    I was always taught that bullies were cowards, so I never thought well of them. That point was reinforced at my recent high school reunion. Most of the nerds I met at the reunion had great careers in technical fields making salaries well north of $100k.


    Only in America can ANY ethnic or religious group arrive and be considered to be full fledged Americans.

    So why do all those righties all across the interdork have their panties in such a wad over Obama's birth certificate? They seem to think he isn't quite fully-fledged in some way, it's very mysterious.


    So why do all those righties all across the interdork have their panties in such a wad over Obama's birth certificate?

    Maybe because they are extremist idiots who are unrepresentative of the American mainstream. The fact reamins, ONLY America can absorb and accept anyone from anywhere.


    I don't think we can do other than concede doowop's point about his country's ability to integrate new communities, however much the die-hard know-nothings of any era may try to stop it. That's American Studies 101 stuff.

    As for this, though. . .

    They could not hope to compete in a spaced based high tech arms race. The result was the rise of Gorbachev, glasnost and the end of the USSR. Once again, it was brains over brawn.

    But why should the result have been the rise of Gorby (and the wider 'revolution of the forty years olds') and glasnost, perestroika and collapse? If the only goal was to maintain competitiveness in the arms race, it would have made more sense to step up repression and the exploitation of soviet workers. The ultimate consequences would have been unpredictable, but they would probably have been much more harmful for the whole world than what happened after 1985. . .

    I'd say the USSR's last chance, btw, was in the early to mid 1960s, when some economists in the planning bureaucracy talked about introducing 'market socialist' reforms of the kind Hungary brought in at the end of hte 1960s. That didn't save the Hungarian regime in the long term, but it did ensure that Hungary's transition to a post-Stalinist order was much more smooth than the (very) hard landing the USSR/Russia went through in the 1990s. The way I see it, the maintenance of a hostile posture to the USSR in the Cold War era strengthened the hand of the anti-reform faction in the regime, ensuring that Gorby's plans would be a case of too little, too late.


    doowop, it's already been pointed out that the USSR did not take Star Wars seriously. And for good reaon, considering that after 25 years of rapid technological advancement, missile defense reality is at the level where one a good day, given warning, preparation, etc., it's sometimes possible to hit a missile.

    Adding onto that, even if missile defense progressed at 10x the rate it actually did, the USSR would still have had a deterrent force so long as its countermeasures were not too bad. And considering that the countermeasures would have been some combination of jamming, spoofing, chaffing, decoying and anti-satellite weapons, the countermeasures would have been far cheaper.

    Adding onto that, it was also pointed out that the USSR's nuclear amounted to petty cash in the USSR's overall military budget. If pressed, moving ~1/12 of their conventional forces budget into nuclear weapons (and countermeasures) would have doubled their nuclear weapons budget.


    Posted by: Ilya, re who can pick up more women:

    "...or so I've heard. Predator pilots have a lot more kills racked up lately. I wonder if that counts with bar girls."

    I imagein bar girls care more about bills (in the guys' wallets) than kills :)

    Now, prestige among AF officers...or non-officers, since non-officers can fly Predators, would be another thing.


    Barry @ 161:

    The Soviets did not take Star Wars seriously as a defence against an all out Soviet first strike. Such a defence would have been readily overwhelmed by shear numbers of missiles and multiple warheads.

    What really got their attention was the Trident II SLBM and to a lesser extent the Pershing II IRBMs stationed in western Europe by Reagan and Thatcher in response to earlier deployments of Soviet SS-20s. For the first time, the American possessed a weapons system that was highly accurate and had little or no warning time (15 minutes or less). The Trident IIs launched from Ohio-class boomers could potentialy wipe out the bulk of the Soviet ICBM missile silos and their command bunkers in a devastating first strike. Since the bulk of the Soviet strategic arsenal was on those ICBMs, they would have had very little to retaliate with.

    American Minutemen and later MX Peacekeepers already had the accuracy to take out Soviet silos, but their flight paths from North Dakota and Montana over the arctic would give the Russians plenty of time to launch on warning (something that almost happend by accident in 1983, see "Able Archer") and American ICBMs would only hit empty silos. Trident, however, had the accuracy combined with little or no warning. Prior to Trident, SLBMs like Poseidon and Polairis lacked the accuracy to take out hardened underground targets.

    After such a hypothetical American first strike, maybe 10% of the Soviet Long Range Rocket Forces (a separate service branch distinct from the air force - the Russians looked at missiles as a kind of really big artillery) would survive. Their few strategic bombers (mostly obsolete turboprop Bears and Bisons, the Backfire was just coming into service) would either be destroyed in their hangers during the same first stike or dealt with easily by American fighter interceptors somewhere over Canada. Unlike the American fleet, most Soviet boomers (2/3 to 3/4) were in port at any given time, and would also be taken out easily in a first strike. The few at sea were mostly tracked easily by American naval assets (largely due to sonar sensors strewn acrosss the ocean and at key choke points like the Baltic or the Sea of Japan) and could be taken out with a few well placed tactical nuclear depth charges.

    So after such a first strike, the Soviet leadership would only have a handful of ICBMs left to strike back. And this is where Star Wars enters the strategic equation. Even a marginally effective high tech missile defence could be expected to intercept most of the remaining Soviet ICBMs. As a result, America would lose only a few cities and some other miltiary assets, not enough to destroy us as a viable society. And the American would still have their unused ICBMs and reloaded bombers and boomers for a second strike on Soviet civilian targets. So in this sense, Star Wars made nuclear war hypothetically "winnable".

    Game, set, match.

    So it wasn't Star Wars per se that made the Soviets throw in the towel, it was Star Wars plus Trident.


    I just read the last few comments by the "War Nerd" He is ill-informed, ill-educated, arrogant, and alarmingly US-centric in his over the top military "opinions".

    From the four postings I have read (and commented on three of them)... He doesn't have a clue.


    Re: Ilya@150, Barry@162

    The whole UAV thing reminds me of an old US Navy joke about Tomahawk (aka TLAM, aka "Cruise Missile"):

    `Top Ten Reasons Why Tomahawks Are Better Than Attack Pilots.'

  • Tomahawks make lousy Prisoners of War.

  • Tomahawks don't `sleep till they are hungry and eat till they are tired.'

  • You don't need to outfit a Tomahawk with a Rolex and leather jacket to do the job.

  • Tomahawks don't complain

  • Tomahawks don't need eight hours of sleep before a mission

  • Tomahawks don't require costly flight pay bonuses

  • Tomahawks don't make excuses when they miss a target

  • Tomahawks don't bore you to death with stories when the mission is over

  • Tomahawks always follow the flight plan and never hot-dog it

  • and the No. 1 reason why cruise missiles are better than attack pilots

  • You'd let your sister date a Tomahawk.
  • 166:

    Roland's invocation of Vogelein should be a red flag.

    Vogelein's core belief was the evil concept that any attempt to make the world better for people was an affront to god. Hence the phrase 'immanentizing the eschaton' (best used in RAW's 'Illuminatus! Trilogy)

    His philosophy forms the core of the neo-conservative movement, and he was oddly obsessed with what he felt was a gnostic conspiracy, given how they were more or less wiped out with the Romans.

    YMMV, I consider myself both a liberal AND gnostic, though one with a particularly techno-futurist bent: I feel it to be mankind's duty to CREATE God in the form of Transcendent AI.



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    This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on April 4, 2009 8:41 AM.

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