Saturday, December 08, 2007

China and the New Warfare

The following is an exert from my recent book "New Wars: The Transformation of Armies, Navies, and Airpower in the Digital Age" which you can purchase via the ad in the top corner:

According to recent reports China is buying more high-tech weaponry, by cutting back on conventional forces. To do so, they are reducing their army to about the size of America’s during the 1980's, but they still have a mass of reserves to call on. They are improving their fighters, warships, along with stocks of missiles, mostly aimed at Taiwan, but with a growing ICBM capability. All this on a defense budget a little more than Britain's and far less than our own.

America and Britain's answer to this should not be a cutback, but a compromise. Older weapons should be replaced with newer ones, not just discarded. UAV's, patrol ships, guided munitions, and cruise missiles should be priority over super carriers, nuclear submarines, battle tanks and "hot" fighters. All of the latter absorb massive amounts of funds without adding to our conventional capability. They may be useful, but we can no longer afford such luxuries in wartime.

These are the main reasons for cutbacks. The new weapons are so expensive they can only be built by our "robbing Peter to pay Paul". Government budgets are now stretched to the limits having to pay for social programs along with increased defense, something has to give. Everyone wants a piece of the pie. There is hope, however.

The infantryman, with GPS and a laser range-finder, is the new "God of Battles". He can call in an air strike with a guided bomb, whether fired from land, sea, or air. This is the new warfare. All he needs is a ride and a little cover to hide behind. A main battle tank out in the open has no defense against a laser-guided bomb. He cannot maneuver well enough and no armor can save him.

The age of sleek jet fighters is at an end, even as they reach their peak of performance. Nations now prefer to hide behind massive batteries of surface to air missiles, which too are coming of age. If a US patriot missile can destroy the ejected warheads of elusive battlefield missiles, what chance will a heavy jet fighter have? America and British warplanes are now utilized almost exclusively as "carriers" for guided missiles, bombs, and in the future, UAV's. Already AWACS planes control the air war, as mobile airborne command posts. How easy it will be to replace the bombers and jet fighters in a future war with cruise missiles and UAV's armed with guided munitions.

The new power at sea is not new after all. It is the venerable diesel/electric submarine. This was proved recently in war games when a clunky Aussie Collins class conventional sub "sank" a state of the art Los Angeles class nuclear boat, which is touted as the worlds quietest. Diesel subs are still quieter and are being constantly improved with digital periscopes, air-independent propulsion, and advanced underwater weapons. Concerning the latter, both America and Russia are experimenting with super-cavitating rockets which can approach the speed of sound underwater! There is no defense. Already, with so many advanced add-ons, diesel subs are approaching the price of its nuclear counterpart. During the Falklands War, Britain lived in mortal terror of Argentina's German built subs, even after spending decades in ASW development to defeat the nuclear boats. The Royal Navy never found the Argies.

The new capital ship of the surface navy is already with us and recently used in combat. This is the HSV-X1 Joint Venture catamaran. Joint Venture is a multi-purpose vessel, meaning it can do it all! During Operation Iraqi Freedom, she performed surveillance, ferried cargo, served as a command post for Special Forces, all in waters too shallow for destroyers or frigates, and at very high speeds(40+ knots). These unique vessels can also carry helicopters, missiles, and various unmanned vehicles. Their price? $50 million without add-ons. Already a nuclear supercarrier costs $5 billion plus, not including air-wing, escorts, etc. which adds up to about the same amount ( give or take a billion, which would mean 200 Joint Ventures!). Where are our priorities?