September 27, 2014

Some Good News

A welcome follow-up to the previous post: 


The Times of India reports that China and India are withdrawing from their positions in the disputed border region.


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September 24, 2014

Meanwhile:

While the world focuses on the current bombing campaign and the fact the the POTUS doesn't know that if your hands are full, you don't salute, there is news from the continent of Asia that as of this writing is getting little coverage in the US press. It is eliciting some interest in India though:


 Xi Jinping tells People’s Liberation Army to be ready to win regional war  

This, of course, is coming as Indian and Chinese troops are facing off in Ladakh.  

There is still the matter of territorial disputes with Japan as well as generally deteriorating relations. The Chicom's  'terraforming' adventures with the minor powers in the South China Sea are unlikely to be seriously challenged if Japan is out of the picture. 

There is another factor that might cause China to feel that there is a narrow window of opportunity for action and it again involves India. In 2012 there was a major scandal in India when it was revealed that India's ballistic missiles were unreliable, and India's nuclear deterrent was almost entirely delivered by Jaguars and Mirages which cannot really threaten China.  India is modernizing its forces with a new class of missile submarines. These are fitted with four tubes carrying a total 12 SLBMs with a modest 750km range. However, in a few years, these will be swapped out for 4 of the K-4 missiles with a 3000+KM range.  India currently has 90-110 warheads, most of which can't reach China. In a decade or less, if present trends continue, they will have a credible second strike capability with the ability to do China serious harm. 

Despite some nontrivial internal issues, China is in ascendance and has become a major world power, but its chance to completely secure it's position is threatened by two developing nations poised to experience growth comparable to what China achieved over the last 30 years. This will happen just as China hits a 20-30 year demographic arrestor switch on it's growth. Chinese leaders may perceive a narrow opportunity to become THE power, as China was for most of it's history, but that opportunity (if it exists at all) is a fleeting one and it will soon be surrounded by new major powers.

I said poweRs.
Because India is not the only country in the area that is ascendant. 

Indonesia has largely gotten it's act together in the last decades and it's booming economy is on the cusp of becoming a major economic powerhouse. It is further poised by geography to be a major regional naval power, in a commanding position on the trade routes that service China. China has started poking them too

100 years ago this year, Germany had become alarmed at Russia's rapid industrial and military progress. They decided that they needed to nip that in the bud before Russia fully modernized and became a serious threat. Certain members of the German general staff decided to take a pro-active approach. That decision did not end well. 

 
One factor has not been mentioned, and that is the USA. Well, there is another opportunity that will likely have a limited duration. The current astonishing display of foreign policy fecklessness is unlikely to continue to anything like the same degree past January 2017, regardless of who succeeds the current resident of the white house. In the intervening time however, it is quite possible that the USA has been largely discounted as a factor in the Politburo's risk assessment. 

With regard to the terrifying risks involved in seriously poking India,  we should not be limited to looking at the problem throufgh our eyes and weighing the costs with our value system. We look at the term "limited nuclear exchange" and see an oxymoron.  However, it should be remembered that Xi Jinping is an admirer of Mao, who led 1 successful war against India and fought a guerilla war against Japan. However, Mao killed far more of his own people than Japanese or Indians, and he did it in the name of national greatness.  The notion that the Chinese leadership is willing to take a gamble of this sort when the potential payoffs are so high should not be dismissed out of hand. They have 4000 years of history that tell them that China's proper place is as the Middle Kingdom..the center of the world.  More disturbingly, with over a billion people....the way they may look at it ...they have spares. 

UPDATE: With regard to the border dispute, it appears that the crisis, is, at least for now, winding down
more...

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September 22, 2014

All the World's Eyes are Upon ISIS, Russia and Ebola

...which makes it a perfect time for China to "adjust" it's border with India


Two nuclear powers who've already fought a war are having a border dispute.

I'm sure nothing bad can possibly happen. 

Here is footage of China's first nuclear test which has something American nuclear test footage sorely lacks...



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September 17, 2014

Give Us Your Tired, Your Poor, Your......Nuclear Missiles

It appears that if Scotland goes all independent tomorrow they have declared that they will be a nuclear free zone. The UK's nuclear deterrent is mainly concentrated in their ballistic missile submarines...which are based in Scotland. Some accommodation can likely be made but this would give the Scots a huge leverage over the UK England's nukes.


The result of this is that the English, who weren't expecting this voter to go anywhere suddenly find themselves scrambling for options. Since the new base in England or Wales will take a decade to build, the plan they came up with last week is to homeport their nuclear submarines in the US in the interim. Assuming the Scots vote for independence and Congress does not balk at the proposal, I'm guessing the English boats would be in Kings Bay, Georgia, which is the only US Boomer base on the East Coast. 

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September 14, 2014

Meanwhile...

Russia is focusing on new offensive weapons. Amongst them is a new heavyweight liquid fuel ICBM to replace the R-36 SATAN.  Though this massive weapon won't be mobile (unless it is launched), it will carry a huge payload. Their violation of the IMF treaty and militarization of the arctic, are in addition to the Ukraine mess.  Oh. and those Russian bombers that have been showing up off the Grand Banks and Pacific Northwest? They seem to be dry runs for cruise missile launches



The North Korean nuclear reactor may well be running again
Note to self: Don't go to North Korea. Further note: If somehow note one is forgotten, under no circumstances tear up ones Visa and demand asylum. 

A majority in China feel war with Japan is inevitable by 2020.  In other news China just sent troops to South Sudan



 

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But... When We Started From Scratch We Did it in Three

This article discusses the state of america's aging nuclear arsenal and points out once again that the United States is no longer are making nuclear pits (the core of atomic weapons) and hasn't since 1989.


 I think the article is sightly unfair to Bush (1) in that canceling the deployment of the new generation of weapons that were originally intended to come online in the early 90's was absolutely necessary to calm the Russians down after the collapse of the U.S.S.R.

 In any event, there is this damning revelation at the end of the article...
  In 1989 the executive branch shut down the nation's only facility to produce plutonium pits — the hearts of nuclear weapons — making us the only nuclear weapons state in the world unable to produce nuclear arms. Since then, executive branch fumbling and congressional denials have combined to prevent replacement of this absolutely essential production facility. If a decision were made today, it would still be 10 to 15 years before pit production could start.
Emphasis mine.

Although the Manhattan Project started in 1939, it was only a fact finding and technology feasibility assessment project until it got seriously spun as a weapons project in early 1942. By late 1944 and early 1945 pit production was a reality and they started out going into a previously unknown field. Thus, one can reasonably assume, given 70 years of experience and the leaps and bounds technology has made since Trinity, that, the tripling of the time necessary to do what was done with 1940s technology in 2014 is due to institutional inertia and bureaucratic asshattery.  Most of the Chinese dynasties ended due to the machinations of the eunuchs and other bureaucrats in administrative empire building at the expense of the state, rendering it vulnerable to new developments.  The Mandarins in Washington are a Gordian Knot that we really need to cut. 

Note that this is specifically talking about plutonium pits. Plutonium is necessary for most modern weapons especially if they are lightweight and compact. However, it is my understanding that Oralloy (a type of highly enriched uranium)  can be used to make perfectly effective bombs but they are heavier and less safe to store in the confines of a submarine (due to their higher radioactivity) and in any event not using plutonium would require extensive testing of new bomb designs or the use of old ones ill suited to our current delivery methods. 

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September 02, 2014

This Seems Newsworthy To Me For Some Reason

This also seems utterly blinkered.

I'm putting it out there as the source is Newsweek and not Info Wars or something.


I suppose this is in keeping with the Russian policy of de-escalation via fusion, but it seems awfully odd for them to make this sort of threat in the current situation. 


There are, I'm sure, worse ideas for bringing the unpleasantness in the Ukraine to a close. I just can't think of any at the moment. 



Tactical...but not really practical.

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September 01, 2014

I'm Thinking That The Takeaway Is....

...don't buy a Taurus semi-auto. 



Wow!

It's surprisingly reliable with the safety on and no finger on the trigger....but not in the right sort of way. 

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July 27, 2014

A Few Random Thoughts About the Ukraine

A spirited discussion on this topic has sprung up in the comments. My latest reply went long so here are a couple of random observations and opinions on the topic..

Russia is being a jackass in the Ukraine. However, their interest in Crimea and Sevastopol in particular is of vital importance to their nation. The Crimea is overwhelmingly ethnically Russian and Cossack so even if we were going by Wilsonian as opposed to Westphalian doctrine the ethnic self determination angle might give Russia a defensible position in that case. 

We don't HAVE a doctrine at the moment , Wilsonian, Westphalian or even Carteresque, so that's irrelevant. 

Which is one reason the parallels to 1930's Chekoslovakia cause concern.

Ukraine has grievances against Russia that are numerous and legitimate, including a large swath of their country that's uninhabitable for extended periods and mass graves filled by by Stalin with their brethren. 

However, Ukraine is not a bunch of angels, with some very vocal members of their polity having anti-semitic and even neo-nazi ties. They have been using the Balkan conflict as a how-to manual rather than a cautionary tale. They are also pretty much a failed state.

We (the US) have, in the 20th century, normally supported self determination as a matter of national policy and a big chunk of eastern Ukraine is ethnically Russian.

Russia, like us, is fighting islamic extremists and would be a natural ally in this endeavor. In fact Russia has given a lot of assistance in that regard including overflight privileges to facilitate our fighting in Afganistan and providing intel on Chechen terrorists in the US which we ignored, thereby facilitating the Boston Bombing.

The plane shoot-down was a dreadful calamity, but the airline ignored warnings not to fly over a FRICKKING WAR ZONE where 3 transports had already been shot down. I don't think that Russia intentionally shot down an airliner. I cannot conceivably have gained them anything.

Is this patch of black earth which is a huge ethnic and political mess a place we want to really get involved in? 

No.

But there is a problem with that. 

We guaranteed The Ukraine that we would protect their territorial integrity  if they acquiesced to our demands that they give up their nukes. So we actually do have an obligation to do something. It is a matter of global interest that we encourage non-proliferation. this is not achieved if a country that gives up its nukes is dismembered by others that did not.

Like, you know, Libya, who we promised not to poke at if they gave up their nuclear program. A promise we honored until the president leveraged the fact that the UK and France wanted to pay less for oil to support Muslim Brotherhood affiliated revolutions. Now North Africa is awash in weapons, thousands of MANPADS are in the hands of terrorists and Boko Haram is spreading pain and woe with weapons they got from Quaddaffi's arsenals. OTOH the oil is not flowing near as  much now.


So the "We gave our word" and "nonproliferation" carts have left the barn. The sort of brinksmanship necessary to protect Ukraine's integrity would be fraught with opportunities for catastrophic, 1914 style miscalculation and tragedy even if we had level-headed, grounded professionals running our foreign policy. 


 via
We don't have that. We have the crew that threw away an admittedly phyrric victory, in the process giving Mesopotamia to ISIS, set North Africa aflame, and has been making fools of themselves in the Levant.  

Given that the Libyan fiasco has pissed away any non-proliferation mojo that might be preserved by an adventure in Ukrania, poking the bear* does not survive even the most cursory cost benefit analysis.  The moral calculus is dubious at best.

The only realistic way to deal with the destabilizing and dangerous situation that is our shattered credibility is to wait two years and say "Sorry...he was a fluke. We're back now".

Even then, our policy in this squalid European mess probably ought to be to bolster our newest NATO allies and provide humanitarian aid. 

*the actual bear

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June 28, 2014

100 Years Ago Today: The Beginning of The End

Archduke Franz Ferdinand was the heir apparent to the throne of Austria-Hungary. He had initially been third in line for the throne and as such had, in his early years, led a somewhat dilettante lifestyle. After a suicide and then typhoid fever placed him in the position of heir he frequently came to violent disagreements with his father(the Emperor Franz Joseph) over what he perceived as needed reforms. While Franz Ferdinand was a bit of an autocrat and  a staunch royalist who wanted to consolidate executive power on the throne, he also wanted to establish a basically federal system granting considerable autonomy to the various regions. He also wanted to ensure all ethnicities had equal standing, which was very unpopular in some quarters, particularly the Hungarian half of the empire, which had its own legislature. In essence he wanted to extend in some ways the privileges the Hungarians enjoyed to all regions while simultaneously unifying the country on strictly national matters. Furthermore he wanted to organize a third ceremonial kingdom out of the slavic states with equal prestige as Austria and Hungary to drive home the idea that the Slavs were full citizens. Franz Ferdinand was also one of the few voices in government advocating that the Empire should cultivate good relations with its neighbors and in particular, not poke Serbia any further. 


His wife Sophie was a commoner and was not permitted any royal courtesies by imperial decree (another reason there was grief between Archduke and Emperor). However she was accorded the courtesies and privileges due the wife of a general in the imperial army if he was engaged in official military business. Thus, when he went to Sarajevo to inspect a local garrison she accompanied him.

While there they made some goodwill appearances and visited the Sarajevo town hall....



Moments after that picture was taken both were assassinated by the leader of a local chapter of a Serbian secret society called the Black Hands...which despite his melodramatic title was an an angry young loser of a man who lived with his mother.


The assassination removed one of the last voices for conciliation with the Serbs and threw the Emperor into a grief stricken rage. 



Russia stepped up to defend their Serbian allies which obliged Germany to step in and honor their treaty with Austria-Hungary, whereupon the Kaiser signed off on a unfortunate plan to preemptively take out France "quickly", lest they decided to open up a second front...which brought the British Empire into the fight. These and other decisions formed a cascade failure of strategic miscalculations amongst the governments of Europe cumulating in a disaster of unimaginable proportions from which the world has still not fully recovered. 






The entrance of the Ottoman Empire into the fray and its subsequent collapse precipitated the mess we now call the Middle East. The toll the war took on Russia begat the Soviet Union, international communism and the hundred or more millions that died from that ideology in Russian, China and elsewhere. Germany, broken and humiliated by the conflict rose up under the leadership of a fiend to lash out once more against a world still reeling, not only from the loss of a generation of young men, but from the fact that this unspeakable, and stupid orgy of carnage broke the spirit of the west.


The progress that civilization has made in the last hundred years seems impressive, but it pales between the vast leap that took place between the end of one great war  in 1814 and the events of 1914. From the cold war, to the middle east, we've spent the better part of a century putting out fires started or fanned by the First World War...and still they smolder

We hardly think of this conflict today but its ramifications are still with us. Let us hope the lessons are as well, because while history, as they say, does not exactly repeat, it does rhyme

The analogies at the link, while worrisome, can be taken too literally. There is of course, little significance to the century mark beyond superstition baed on numerology. If we were using hexadecimal this year it wouldn't even have that, but the artificial significance of a hundred years passing should be taken to reflect upon not only the carnage, but the miscalculations that led to it.  

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June 27, 2014

A Refrigerator Moment

This video has been making the rounds lately. 

It concerns a Harrier landing on a assault ship without the benefit of the planes nose landing gear.


This is pretty interesting but there is one thing that concerns me.
more...

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June 22, 2014

Wait...That's not a Megaphone

It's 100 KiloTons of 'splody!
The tiny Mk 4 reentry vehicle containing the tinier W-76 warhead weighs only 368 pounds allowing up to 14 to be carried on a Trident missile, though treaty restrictions limit them to considerably less than that. The joint U.S./UK W-76 is the most common warhead in the American and British nuclear stockpiles and one of the two oldest in the US arsenal. Rather than replacing these elderly warheads, the rather questionable decision has been made to refurbish them.  This is the warhead that caused the stir some years ago when it was belatedly discovered that the U.S. had lost the knowledge of how to produce a crucial component of the bomb.

While 368 pounds is a bit too heavy for a backpack or suitcase nuke, the impressively small size of this terrible weapon, along with its comparatively moderate weight, mean that a weapon comparable to this (far from state of the art) device could fit into any number of vehicles, steamer trunks or porta-johns. 

Fortunately nothing could get past our border security, so rest easy and enjoy the summer!

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June 04, 2014

We are now Able to Announce an Increase From 340 to 50

It's that new math!


No we're not talking about the chocolate ration. We're talking about the B-61 nuclear bomb. This is a fearsome weapon having a yield that can be varied between the equivalent of 300 tons and 340 kilotons of TNT. 



Having first been tested in 1966, the B-61 one of the only two atomic bombs the US possesses and is, by a wide margin, the oldest atomic weapon in the U.S. arsenal. As such these weapons are in need of refurbishment or replacement.  The current administration scrapped plans for the reliable replacement warhead on the grounds that developing a new weapon was not in the spirit of nuclear disarmament. However, the aged B-61 (the design of which actually began in 1960) was becoming a concern for reliability (and safety) reasons so something had to be done. 

The result was the B-61-12, an program to refurbish and upgrade the bombs. This has caused some consternation on the left as the addition of a GPS guidance package to the bomb, which gives it an accuracy equivalent to the most modern 'smart' conventional warheads is considered by many to be adding a new capability and a possible treaty violation.  Given that the "new capability" is simply a greatly increased probability of hitting its target  this does not seem to be a particularly meritorious argument. 

However, as part of the upgrade, the maximum yield of the weapons is being reduced to 50 kilotons,  a tad over one seventh the current value. 

Now 50 kilotons is a terrifying thing.  For perspective, see what a 21 kiloton blast detonated 90 feet below the surface of the water can do. 



For scale, that black stain on the lower right of the cauliflower of death  is BB33, USS Arkansas...the only US battleship to fly.

Still, you're reducing the yield to a tad over one seventh of it's current yield. The rationale may be that the weapon's accuracy would allow in some situations a lower yield setting to be used, thus reducing the blast area to obliterate a target and, in the unfortunate scenario where a ground burst is necessary, reducing fallout significantly. That is all well and good, but...
...except in a few very specific, oddball scenarios,  if we are forced to use these terrible weapons, collateral damage damage is not going to be a concern. 

Nukes are for deterrence. 

That means that if we, God forbid, have to use these dreadful devices,  we're going to come at whoever pushed us that far like the bastard children of an affair between Andrew Jackson, William T. Sherman and Curtis Lemay. The reason to have these weapons is the implication that we will UTTERLY DESTROY any country that attacked us with nukes or comparable weapons. To that end reducing the yield does not seem wise. It removes an option for greater power if needed and in doing so increases the likelihood that some blinkered individual will conclude that they can "take the hit" and absorb our retaliatory strike. 

On the face of it, that's crazy, but if one (for instance) has expressed the opinion that Mao was a man to be admired and that the 'Great Leap Forward' and Cultural Revelation' were noble endeavors...then one might be the sort of psychopath who sees China's billion or so people as "spares".  The rather large reduction in yield per bomb might well reinforce that dubious notion.

Now there may be a technical reason for the reduced yield. If the guidance package displaces, say, a tritium tank and 50KT is all they can manage then the increased accuracy is probably a good trade off. But unnecessarily  reducing the yield of our weapons so dramatically, when we are already substantially reducing the numbers of our weapons seems imprudent at best. 


So...one might wonder "What about the other nukes?"

Well, here's what's left.


B-61: Has already been mentioned. The most common nuclear bomb in the arsenal and second most common nuke in the US Inventory. Also used (with US controlled activation keys) by Germany, Italy and Turkey. 

B-83: Designed 20 years after the B-61 it is a very advanced free-fall atomic bomb and has every available safety feature. It is also variable yield 20KT to 1.2 MEGAtons. (1200 kilotons) . By far the most powerful weapon remaining in the arsenal after the scrapping of the B-53s in 2011 . The last US atomic weapon fully tested to full yield. It is neither a reliability nor a safety concern. About 650 were manufactured most of which are still in storage. 

W-76:  a US/UK SLBM warhead with a yield of 100KT. By far the most common warhead in the US arsenal. Publicly available documents indicate that there have always been some concerns regards this aging weapons reliability. It is currently the subject of a refurbishment program which made the alarming discovery that the technique for making an important component of this weapon had been lost. Reportedly a work around has been developed after 9 years of intense research..It is hoped to have these 30+year old warheads refurbished by 2018. Though doubts about the basic design's reliability may remain. 

W-78: The surviving Minuteman 3 missiles were designed to carry three of these 300 KT weapons apiece. There are concerns about its safety and age thus it is being rapidly phased out in favor of  1 W-87 for every 3 W-78s.   

W-80: 150 KT This is the warhead on the Air-Force's cruise missiles. It was also used on the nuclear version of the Navy's Tomahawk, which has since been retired. 

W-87: 300 KT Originally built for the Peacekeeper missile which could cary 10 apiece, the treaty mandated retirement of those 50 missiles freed up about 500 of these and they are being distributed amongst the 450 surviving Minuteman 3 missiles. This cuts the number of ICBM warheads by a third but improves safety and reliability of the warheads. There was an upgrade proposal to raise its yield to 475KT but this does not seem to have been done. 

W-88: Thought to be very similar in design to the W-87, this 475KT warhead is the preferred warhead for the Trident 2 SLBM which can cary 14 of them, but is limited by treaty to 8. This is considered to be the most advanced US nuclear warhead. Was to replace all of the smaller W-76 warheads but production was shut down at only 400 after the EPA/FBI raid on the Rocky Flats production facility in 1989. Although it was intended to restart production in the early 90s it was not resumed...in the US.
However, in 1995 the FBI discovered that China had obtained plans for the W88, and this diagram, which apparently contained all sorts of  confidential details appeared in the NYT. 






No new nukes have been made in the US since the end of the Cold War. The deterrent is aging and shrinking. 

It seems inadvisable to shrink it more than necessary...especially when the Russians and Chinese are modernizing and in the case of the Chinese, expanding and brandishing theirs. 

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April 26, 2014

This is Sure to Calm Things Down

While everyone was looking at Ukraine, the Chinese siezed a Japanese merchant ship on Monday. MV Baosteel Emotion was imponded as per orders from a Chinese court that declared the bulk carrier a war reparation.   It was released yesterday only after the company paid about 28 million in fines. 


This one issue seems to be resolved, but the precedent has the potential to open a huge can of worms in the future. Given the ammount of Japanese investment in China, if they start calling in reparations from a war 70 years ago it's going to be a huge mess. 

It may not be entirely coincidental that the Chinese real estate bubble has shown signs of popping over the last few weeks, though the opacity of the the Chinese market makes it hard to be sure exactly what is going on. Thr large Japanese holdings in China are probably seen as a ready supply of cash, from a particularly hated creditor. 

Far less likely, but still within the realm of possibility is the potential for rthe US backing of Chiang Kai Shek to result in unwelcopme surprises for American companies. 

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March 02, 2014

Meanwhile....

 While everyone has been focused on Russia''s invasion. (or whatever it is they are doing) in Ukraine...
   China has driven Filipino fishermen out of the waters around Scarborough Shoals with watercannon, declared two new national holidays dedicated to hate'n on Japan, is well along in the construction of two more aircraft carriers, and has a total of four in the pipeline. Additionally, they have put out video purporting to show that their new DF-41 road mobile  ICBM is operational. All of this comes on the heels of this...

  "[We] concluded that the PLA has been given the new task to be able to conduct a short sharp war to destroy Japanese forces in the East China Sea following with what can only be expected a seizure of the Senkakus or even a southern Ryukyu [islands] — as some of their academics say.”


Seriously...what could go wrong here?

Territorial claims, South China Sea

This is not to say that the issues with Russia should be ignored, but perspective is important and our media needs to get better at multitasking.


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