August 28, 2013

The Flattopped Weasels

Wonderduck has mentioned these curiosities before, but via the Blogfather, there is a neat, photo-rich thread on the Great Lakes paddlewheeled training aircraft carriers of World War 2 here.

Caption needed.

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August 20, 2013

Simulating Nightmares

In keeping with the chipper and upbeat nature of the last post, one of the Brickmuppet's crack team of Science Babes informs us that the Federation of American Scientists has recently started running simulations of various scenarios involving nuclear exchanges between the USA and China.

Their published report on the subject is here.

This is a sobering document. The scenarios examined would seem to be beyond possibility...until one remembers the events of 1914 and 1939.

A couple of things leap out. Fallout shelters, despite the protests of the ignorant are a very good thing to have in this sort of situation.

Neutrality does not apply to Tijuana, Quebec, our friends the Bahamians or the Maritimes. 

I question the FAS's targeting assumptions, although it cheers me greatly not to see a big smouldering scab in place of Hampton Roads, I can't fathom that an area with this many military assets would escape while they'd waste a missile on Detroit. This dubious supposition may reflect the fact that China's nuclear deterrent is counter-value, not counter-force, that is, the Chinese ICBMs target cities rather than US Missile batteries. Chinese missiles have big 3 or 5 megaton city buster warheads (assumed to be 4MT in the FAS study).


The FAS study assumes that China has around 20 ICBMs which is the official line, but the Russians credit them with a somewhat larger ICBM force and around 1800 warheads albeit mostly medium range for use against Russia and India and only half on alert. Other estimates go as higher.

The US by contrast can't currently make new nukes and isn't developing any. The FOGBANK fiasco from a few years ago shows what can happen when a technological capability atrophies.

This has implications.

Deterrence rests on the assumption that an attack on the US is national suicide. If the US is attacked by nukes right now it will go full Jacksonian as is our habit when we are REALLY pissed off. The rape of Atlanta or the bombardment of Japan will pale in comparison to what would befall the entity stupid enough to do such a thing. US bombs have much lower yields than other nations but they are all over 300 kilotons and there are about 2000 of them. A society that incited the use of such weapons upon itself would pass into history as completely as the Minoans, the Toltecs or the Carthaginians. This is true for most of the  other nuclear nations as well. That's why there haven't been any nuclear attacks since Nagasaki. Note though that as our deterrent decays and/ or is whittled away in arms control treaties the notion that a nation, especially one led by admirers of Mao Tse-Tung  might come to the conclusion after ruthless cost benefit studies of omelets versus eggs that any retaliation would be endurable.

The FAS study is science fiction now, it's an exceedingly unlikely set of scenarios. However that may not be the case in a decade or so.

There's also the unpleasant possibility of a nuclear nation in the grip of someone who is utterly bat-scat bonkers and to whom deterrence is of limited value...which brings up a question I've had for a couple of months about the seemingly 'gimp' performance of the North Korean nuclear tests. None have even been as powerful as Little Boy. The biggest was 10 kilotons and a few were only a few hectotons, but it occurs to me that these are all  in the ballpark of the weapons built around the now decomissioned W-54 warhead the US developed in the 1960's. Weighing only about 50 pounds its yield could be varied from 200 tons of TNT to one kiloton. It was used in backpack bombs, air to air and air to ground missiles and a perfectly functional but somewhat dubiously conceived atomic bazooka. Impressively, the W-54 warhead was able to give a yield of 6 kilotons as demonstrated in the SOCORRO shot of the Hardtack 2 test series, though tactical applications of the weapons that used it  required lower yields.

Because the bazooka only had a range of 2.5 miles so 6 kilotons would be demoralizing to the bazookateers.

I mention this because it is possible that North Korea might not be botching their tests. They might be trying to build something akin to the 50 year old W-54. 50 pounds....suddenly those IRBMs which can (occasionally) put a 200 pound satellite into orbit have a rather different potential. The ability to put 7 or so 1-6 kiloton devices in the general vicinity of a city (I'm certainly not talking about MIRV's ) might be available in a few years. If small weapons are what their developing however, a much more likely threat (assuming that they ARE crazy)  might be as backpack nukes delivered to terrorists. Note that Iran and North Korea are cooperating regards rocketry and nukes. 


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August 19, 2013


There was a awful lot of pollyanish speculating that the new Chinese leader was going to be a reformer. Well, "reform" of leftist institutions to a leftist always means doubling down and Xi Jinping seems to be cranking that notion up to 11.

"As this year will mark Chairman Mao's 120th birthday, we must turn Chairman Mao's old residence into a base for patriotism and revolutionary education, in particular to make it play a greater role in the education of the younger generation,"

Nothing like invoking the greatest mass murderer in history for moral authority.  This hardline 'get back to the commie roots' thing seems to be something of a pattern.

On top of that, it turns out that Xi Jinping was in charge of the whole 'poke Japan with a stick' strategy which was initiated by his office and since he took the presidency, the actions regarding the Senkakus have been tightly controlled by him directly. That article also offhandedly mentions this alarming incident from January which got very little if any press here in the states...

Two Jian-10 fighters took off from an air base outside Shanghai and followed a U.S. airborne warning and control aircraft, which carries a surveillance system for tracking other planes, north of the Senkaku Islands at a close distance, the sources said.

Two F-15 fighters of the Air Self-Defense Force then took off to counter the Chinese move, the sources said.

The United States has been deploying airborne warning and control aircraft since mid-January following China’s violation of Japanese airspace near the islands in December.

According to the Defense Ministry, SDF fighters were scrambled against Chinese aircraft as many as 91 times between October and December.

(Emphasis mine.)

Nintey one times in three months.
Plus.. back in January, the Chinese sent out a bunch of fighters to buz a US scout plane...(disturbingly similar to what happened in the Hainan incident) and the Japanese responded by sending in the Calvary.

 I had no idea there were military air incursions of Japanese airspace let alone that they were that frequent on top of the naval incursions. This is Cold War stuff. Good grief! It's no wonder the Japanese are jumpy.

All of this has been so blatant that after a recent similar incident even the highly partisan U.S. Senate issued a rare UNANIMOUS condemnation of china's actions. Note that this received little fanfare here here but is big news in Asia. China's response was to send 4 Coast Guard ships to the Senkakus.

While this situation still seems unlikely to immediately go pear shaped it is a hell of a lot more serious than is generally supposed.

Under international law all resources within 250 miles of a nations shore belong to that country so these little rocks are far more important than one would think. Especially since they're smack blab in the middle of Japan's fishing waters and a natural gas field.

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