This Friday column on Chicago Boyz is normally reserved for the unknown stories of the End of World War 2 (WW2) in the Pacific, aimed at answering the question of “How would the American military have fought the Imperial Japanese in November 1945 had the A-bomb failed?” Today’s column, takes a completely different tack from any previous History Friday column. Rather than deconstructing the P-51 narrative, being a book review — See this link and this link — or exploring the moral character of the IDF’s Barak Brigade on the Golan Heights in 1973, this column will use the military geography of the past to explore the near future. And in specific, it will use the military geography of the 1945 Okinawa campaign and the proposed invasion of Japan, to explore the patterns of “future history” between Japan and China in the coming age of Unmanned Warfare. It is a column about China’s coming “Days of Future Past.”
To begin at the beginning, see this Defense One column and this AP Column on the arrival of American Global Hawk Drones in Japan and Japan’s announcement that it is now a “Normal Power,” one that is able to sell arms internationally.
And in particular pay close attention to this passage from those links:
Japan is not so quietly building a huge drone fleet.
The country will invest ¥3 billion (approx $372 million) in the coming decade to drastically expand its virtually non-existent military unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) program, according to a senior analyst at IHS Jane’s, the leading defense and security agency
“For the period 2014-2023, our forecasts show that they [Japan] are looking to build three Global Hawk drones, in addition to missile detecting UAVs, to deter possible threats of nuclear attack from North Korea and the advancing military strength of China,” the analyst, who requested anonymity to speak candidly on issues related to agency clients, told Quartz. “ They [Japan] are progressing their indigenous design and development capability at a rapid pace and could actually meet their objectives even before fiscal year 2020.”
The forecast would represent a more than 300% increase in drones from current investment levels, which would make Japan’s the fastest growing UAV program in the world, said the analyst.
The current Japanese prime minister’s abandonment of the self-defense clause that now allows Japan to sell weapons is what amounts to a de facto declaration of alliance with Taiwan to establish “Droid Warfare” defenses between Taiwan and Japan on one side and China on the other. Given both Japanese and Taiwan’s technological cultures, their aging demographics, plus the Chinese threat making for internal Chinese political audiences, this shift is inevitable.
To understand why I am making that bold statement about the future requires some technical understanding and a few 1945 Okinawa campaign maps. The technical understanding is “What is the radio line of sight range of a 50,000 foot (15,240 meter) altitude drone com-relay to another drone?”
This is where you can find the answer —
The nanograms at the link show line-of-sight range of over 450 nautical miles (833 KM) for a 40,000 foot (12,192 meter) airborne radar to a 25,000 foot (7620 meter) aircraft target.
As for the military geography, the two following 1945 Okinawa campaign maps below show the ocean-island geography between Japan and Taiwan.
Effectively, the Japanese can park a 50,000 foot altitude Global Hawk class communications relay drone over Ishigaki-Shima – in Japanese territory and air space protected by Patriot batteries, Kongo and Atago class Aegis Destroyers and soon with F-35 stealth fighters — and relay to a similar drone in Taiwanese territory and air space of similar capability.
Japan having such drones, and either selling them or licencing them to Taiwan, means that any Mainland Chinese invasion across the Taiwan Straits will face a comprehensive unmanned military surveillance and armed drone defense working through those data links, of which only a few could or would be American. And the ability of these drone com-relay birds to remotely control small attack drones will be such that the Chinese will have to invade inside Japanese and Taiwanese air space and destroy then to win any such invasion attempt.
Going into Japanese controlled air space with sophisticated air and ballistic missile defenses during an invasion of Taiwan scenario is a losing proposition for the Chinese. The plausible Japanese anti-aircraft and anti-ballistic missile defenses in the form of Patriots, Aegis Destroyers with SM-3 missiles anf f-35 Stealth fighters — and perhaps in the future license produced Israeli Arrow missiles if US-Japanese relations suffer from Chinese political-economic pressure — amounts to a two-front war with both Taiwan’s standing military and Japanese military high tech where the Chinese will be unable to limit the theater of operations the way it could plausibly do with a feckless American Presidential Administration.
Japan, because it is now a “normal nation” can also make deals with the Philippines for land-based drone and ABM installations on Philippine islands in the South China Sea, notably the main island of Luzon.
Can you say “No Foreign Oil for China?”
This is Japan as a “normal nation” successfully practicing an international policy of conventional military deterrence with or without the United States military. It would help a great deal if the USA is involved, but Japanese success in pursuing this policy is independent of the political will of the USA regards its final success.
In short, the world has just changed and very few have noticed.
The Japanese military sales announcement, combined with its drone spending, and a working knowledge of the East Pacific’s military geography means you can see a future history where China is about to be encircled by a Japanese enemy with bases in Chinese territory…and the Chinese did it to themselves.
So ends your Future History Friday lesson in China’s coming “Days of Future Past.”
27 thoughts on “Future History Friday — China’s Coming “Days of Future Past””
The Obama “pivot” was too late and is still only a thought in a mostly empty brain. I fully expect Australia and India to move toward such an alliance and the US will be outside looking in. We may provide hardware, and the US defense industry is certainly looking for customers, but the decision process will not involve us until there is a new administration that is realistic.
Fascinating. I’m rather cool to destroyers – I suspect that surface ships as a category are obsolescent for many purposes. Are Japan and Taiwan building submarines?
The deep question is what would stop China using nuclear bombs. If Japan were to sign a treaty over Sakhalin, I think I’d have my answer.
The Aegis destroyers are not very big but have almost the capability of the cruisers with the same gear. Carriers are more vulnerable.
I still think China is not a big threat to us but we have obviously become an unreliable ally. They may be more of a threat to Japan although the Norks are probably more of one. Taiwan, of course, is another matter.
There is a reason that I am talking about high altitude Japanese drone communications relay and feckless American presidents in the same column —
US says China tested anti-satellite missile
From the Defense One piece:
In particular note the last clause.
I agree with your analysis of the implications as far as detection and a burgeoning de facto alliance between Japan and Taiwan. And I expect that the ROK will soon link in. And am encouraged and hope that the Philippines and Australia will eventually join.
But at this point, the cooperation and new capabilities center on detection and conventional battle management. If there is to be deterrence of a nuclear threat, detection is only one factor. The earlier the detection, the more time for strategic options. But for there to be deterrence, you have to have those strategic options.
In today’s world all that counts in that field is either a counterforce or countervalue nuclear delivery capability. Which has several components; deliverable nuclear devices, a means of delivery with a CEP appropriate to whichever capability you are aiming for, and launch facilities and command and control arrangements with credible survivability and redundancy.
The creation of a nuclear attack detection system implies that there is at least official thought as to what to do if an attack is detected. At least I would not want to be the staff officer briefing the political leadership on a detection system without a set of options to present if an attack was spotted.
A detailed discussion of those options is beyond here, but it would not be out of place to note certain factors that various countries could bring to the mix:
ROK: large nuclear industry that exports reactors, moving to a re-processing capability. There are treaty restrictions on that last point, but the ROK has been caught in the past playing with plutonium reprocessing against the treaty. And the main lever that the US has in those negotiations is the belief that the US will help defend the ROK if it is attacked. That lever is getting shorter and shorter. Also, now in series production of the Hyunmoo IIIC cruise missile with a 500Kg warhead [more than enough for a nuke] and a range of 1500 km.
Japan: nuclear industry largely shut down due to the Fukushima tsunami, however being re-activated under the Abe government. Major push to open a nuclear reprocessing plant at Rokkasho, located in Aomori prefecture in northern Japan that could produce weapons grade plutonium. Definite ICBM production capability given their space achievements. If you can land a 500 kg probe on a comet and bring back a sample to earth, hitting a city or a silo is child’s play. Popularly estimated to have a distance from having nuclear weapons measured in turns of a screw. And probably miniaturized, have iPod capability, and covered with Hello Kitty stickers.
Taiwan: Has nuclear industry and power reactors. Had a nuclear weapons program that was shut down under pressure from the Clinton Administration. However, nuclear weapons are not that complex once they were proven to work, and some of the scientists with the Manhattan Project were from the ROC and ended up on Taiwan. There have been more than passing suspicions that Taiwan has been working on them covertly. I find the series production and wide deployment of the HF-IIE with a range of 1200 km with the new turbofan engine, and a 200 kg. warhead to have interesting possibilities.
If there is to be a re-alignment in Asia, as the US becomes totally unreliable as an ally; it may be further underway than publicly noted.
Japan can have its first nuclear weapons in the time it takes to assemble them from weapons-grade fissionables and parts already on hand. It has enough weapons-grade plutonium NOT required for its nuclear power plants to build something like 1000 – 1500 nuclear weapons. The only real issues with Japan becoming the world’s third-greatest nuclear power in about a 2-3 year period are its ability to manufacture thermonuclear weapons, and its stocks of tritium.
Japanese and Taiwanese drone bases in Japan, Taiwan, Vietnam and the Philippines can close the South China Sea to Chinese ships. The Japanese can provide Taiwan with the necessary ABM and air defense weapons, but Vietnam and the Philippines would need Japanese personnel for those. OTOH, they can provide their own ground security for those so there’d be no sovereignty or old WW2 nasty Japanese occupation issues.
Basically China’s aggressiveness is surrounding it with local enemies who can beat it in air-sea warfare. All it required was this change in the Japanese constitution. Now this can happen as fast as the forces can be deployed.
I’m hardly an expert, but it’s my understanding that fusion weapons physics and engineering are a lot more difficult than fission weapons. But then, maybe that scientific understanding is a lot more widely spread now than I realize.
Either way, I see a nuclear armed Japan, SK and Australia as a good thing for deterrence of war in the region.
When I lived in Australia I told everyone within reach that the only way for a low-popualtion advanced country to defend itself from a high-population neighbour (e.g. Indonesia) was with nukes. This was universally recoiled from: it was a most horrible thing to say. So I inferred that I was right.
Correct about the nukes. They’re like lawyers. The other guy has them so you have to, if you use them they F___ everything up. But you have to have them.
This is how it will be all over the world. Because we’re leaving. And it’s about time. Let’s remember as well that’s why this man was elected, he does indeed keep his word to his electorate [see Borders being opened by first executive malignancy and it appears shortly Fiat rule].
This is good for the United States, we have our own issues we shall we say be dealing with inevitably it appears.
Is Obama good for the American people? Well in the inevitable reckoning coming the American People could not ask for a better Captain to lead – their mortal enemies. Who aren’t Chinese.
Mr. Hiteshew is correct that designing a fusion bomb is more difficult than designing a pure fission weapon. At least that is the historical experience of the US and the UK, probably for the USSR too.
The first two designs of fission weapons by the US worked out of the box but we had, first, several fizzles, then an overshot success for fusion designs.
Today, the concepts for both are widely available but the devil’s in the details still for fusion weapons. Our bomb designers have some pretty expensive tools like giant high-speed x-ray motion pictures and laser implosion testers to help them with design.
However, a technical power like Japan could go strait to fusion if it needed to but at some risk. 100kT fission weapons of advanced design would relatively easy to design.
BTW, tritium is produced in non-trivial quantities in spent reactor fuel from tertiary fission. If one is reprocessing civilian fuel, as the Japanese do, one could theoretically capture significant quantities of tritium there although I don’t have any details.
The physics and engineering requirements for thermonuclear weapons are far more challenging than for straight fission weapons. How fast Japan can produce thermonuclear weapons remains to be seen.
In terms of platforms, Japan can IMO deploy a dozen Ohio-type SSBM submarines in a dozen years from a standing start, with half being at sea at any given time. That means more than 1700 deliverable, invulnerable, warheads ready 24/7.
I.e., any Chinese nuclear threat to Japan would work only once. After that Japanese technological and productive superiority would produce a deadly effective deterrent real fast.
What Trent pointed out is that mere geography coupled with Japanese technological and productive superiority means that Japan will control the South China Sea even faster with non-nuclear weapons. American platforms must be sea-based. Japan’s can be land-based protected by effective land-based ABM and air defense systems.
China’s threats to its neighbors are becoming fatally counter-productive.
The Japanese could have thousands of radar stealthy Tomahawk class, GPS guided, cruise missiles with hundreds of them equipped with small “double gun” fission nukes, as well as that dozen Ohio-type SSBM submarines in the same time span.
The combination of precision guidance and kiloton class nuclear payload is just overwhelming in terms of counter-force capacity.
And both Pres Obama and the Chinese are making Japan go there.
Fusion bombs are more complicated, but much easier to store and manufacture once the process is mastered (very difficult), and the required reactors and engineers are on hand to construct these all powerful bombs. Enhanced fusion weapons can produce upwards of 400 kt. of explosive power and require only the basics of nuclear fission.
Fusion bombs are more complicated, but much easier to store and manufacture once the process is mastered (very difficult), and the required reactors and engineers are on hand to construct these all powerful bombs. Enhanced fission weapons can produce upwards of 400 kt. of explosive power and require only the basics of nuclear fission.
Fourth Generation Nuclear Weapons
The Physical Principles Of Thermonuclear Explosives, Inertial Confinement Fusion, And The Quest For Fourth Generation Nuclear Weapons
and specifically this passage —
The first chapter is a primer on thermonuclear weapons based on a scientific understanding of the physical principles of existing nuclear weapons and on the results of ISRINEX, a simple thermonuclear explosion simulation program specially developed for independent disarmament experts. Using this insight, it is shown that the construction of hydrogen bombs is in fact much less difficult than is generally assumed. Using present-day nuclear and computer technology, almost any modern industrial country could, in principle, build such a weapon. Similarly, it is shown that “boosting,” i.e., the technique of using a small amount of tritium to enhance the performance of a fission bomb, is also much easier than generally assumed. In particular, using this technique, building highly efficient and reliable atomic weapons using reactor-grade plutonium is straightforward. Moreover, independently of the type of fissile material used, the construction of “simple” and “deliverable” tritium-boosted nuclear weapons can be easier than the construction of primitive Hiroshima or Nagasaki type atomic bombs.
Japan’s sweet spot in terms of its plutonium stockpile are tritium boosted fission-fusion bombs.
However, for immediate Japanese break out proliferation on the order of 20-to-40 nuclear bombs in a month. Think in terms of an advanced 2nd generation tritium boosted dual gun type — AKA two gun barrels with HEU projectiles shooting into a common chamber filled with tritium — highly enriched uranium (HEU) physics package on the order of 50 kilotons that could fit into a 200 lb 8-inch gun shell casing.
That simplicity and reliability is such that nearly anyone who has access to the HEU fissile material could have as many as they have HEU for and zero need for testing.
This is likely the design that the South Africans went for in the late 1980’s.
A nice discussion of this is in Tom Clancy’s novel, “Sum of all Fears.” The weapon the Palestinians built in the novel was a tritium boost weapon. He wrote that he was shocked at how easy it was to find the information on how to build the weapon in open source material. The book came out in 2002, a timely date. A terrible movie was made from it that is not worth viewing.
Boosted Fission devices can reach 500 kilotons in yield and use much cheaper to obtain U-238 Uranium to get there.
This type of weapon is also much less likely to go off by accident in the event of an aircraft crash.
The sweet spot in terms of weapon yield to city detroying damage is roughly 200kt.
Some early non-staged thermonuclear weapon designsEarly thermonuclear weapon designs such as the Joe-4, the Soviet “Layer Cake” (“Sloika”, Russian: Слойка), used large amounts of fusion to induce fission in the uranium-238 atoms that make up depleted uranium. These weapons had a fissile core surrounded by a layer of lithium-6 deuteride, in turn surrounded by a layer of depleted uranium. Some designs (including the layer cake) had several alternate layers of these materials. The Soviet Layer Cake was similar to the American Alarm Clock design, which was never built, and the British Green Bamboo design, which was built but never tested.
When this type of bomb explodes, the fission of the highly enriched uranium or plutonium core creates neutrons, some of which escape and strike atoms of lithium-6, creating tritium. At the temperature created by fission in the core, tritium and deuterium can undergo thermonuclear fusion without a high level of compression. The fusion of tritium and deuterium produces a neutron with an energy of 14 MeV—a much higher energy than the 1 MeV of the neutron that began the reaction. This creation of high-energy neutrons, rather than energy yield, is the main purpose of fusion in this kind of weapon. This 14 MeV neutron then strikes an atom of uranium-238, causing fission: without this fusion stage, the original 1 MeV neutron hitting an atom of uranium-238 would probably have just been absorbed. This fission then releases energy and also neutrons, which then create more tritium from the remaining lithium-6, and so on, in a continuous cycle. Energy from fission of uranium-238 is useful in weapons: both because depleted uranium is very much cheaper than highly enriched uranium and because it cannot go critical and is therefore less likely to be involved in a catastrophic accident.
This kind of thermonuclear weapon can produce up to 20% of its yield from fusion, with the rest coming from fission and is limited in yield to less than one megaton of TNT (4 PJ) equivalent. Joe-4 yielded 400 kilotons of TNT (1.7 PJ). In comparison, a “true” hydrogen bomb can produce up to 97% of its yield from fusion, and there is no upper limit to its explosive yield.
I’m gob smacked. I this realized that this —
Walter Russell Mead: As Libya Implodes, “Smart Diplomacy” Becoming a Punch Line.
Throw in the resulting civil war in Mali and the scattering of insurgents and weapons to the four winds, and you have a classic exhibition of reckless incompetence—of American arrogance, ignorance, carelessness and moralism combining in a toxic stew to sink a fragile country we never understood.
Luckily for America’s self-esteem, it was liberal Democrats that produced this particular shambles. If Republicans had done this, the media would be on the administration non-stop, perhaps comparing Samantha Power to Paul Wolfowitz—a well-meaning humanitarian way over her head who wrecked a country out of misguided ideology. There might also be some pointed questions for future presidential candidates who supported this fiasco. But since both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have their fingerprints all over Libya, there isn’t a lot of press hunger for a detailed, unsparing autopsy into this stinking corpse of policy flub.
If Obama were a Republican, the press and the weekly news shows would be ringing with hyperbolic, apocalyptic denunciations of the clueless incumbent who had failed to learn the most basic lessons of Iraq. Indeed, the MSM right now would be howling that Obama was stupider than Bush. Bush, our Journolist friends would now be saying ad nauseam, at least had the excuse that he didn’t know what happens when you overthrow a paranoid, genocidal, economically incompetent Arab tyrant in an artificial post-colonial state. But Obama did—or, the press would nastily say, he would have done if he’d been doing his job instead of hitting the golf course or yakking it up with his glitzy pals at late night bull sessions. The ad hominem attacks would never stop, and all the tangled threads of incompetence and failure would be endlessly and expertly picked at in long New Yorker articles, NYT thumbsuckers, and chin-strokings on all the Sabbath gasbag shows.
…is quite literally the “Soft Power” reciprical of what I described with China’s Hyper-agressive “Hard Power” threat-gambits in the East Pacific with Taiwan, Japan and all of China’s other neighbors.
So would a Japan vs China nuclear war be counterforce or countervalue?
With a tight CEP delivery, in counterforce attacks, mega-tonnage is not very important. What matters is speed, CEP, and survivability.
Big fusion weapons come into their own in two scenarios – big cities in countervalve war and as bunker busters in both scenarios. A big city could soak up several 20 kT weapons and they would have to be spaced out in time to reduce fratricide concerns.
The US had a number of 25 MT air-drop bombs for use against Soviet command posts. They used lay-down parachutes for precise ground burst. The lethal fallout extent was wicked – poor Russian civilians. I think we had some 10 MT warheads on our Titan II fleet which we kept late into the Cold War.
Iran faces a similar problem re Israel. The first Iranian warheads are likely to be pretty small – 20 kT is likely. The CEP of their rockets is not likely too tight. The Israelis are armed with fusion weapons we’re pretty sure although they haven’t yet been tested to my knowledge. A single 10 MT airburst would pretty much do it Teheran.
This may sound horrible, but it is good to see so few people standing with the Arabs of Palestinian descent. The concrete used for tunnels could have been used for shelters.
On a side note – Egypt was trying to build a nuclear desalination station with the help of France and the EU. Does anybody know what happened to this project or are they with the thousands of hand-held SAM’s lost in Libya?
The issue here is terminally guided MARV for ballistic launchers.
If the Chinese have anti-ship ballisic missiles, they have something like the Pershing II MARV.
I have not heard of a large testing program for either Chinese missile type, depite US Navy apoplexy about it.
And if China has either, Japan can make better and more reliable ones very quickly.
Discussion of a Chinese-Japanese nuclear exchange is ridiculous.
Other posters brought the subject up. I pointed out how any Chinese nuclear threat to Japan would be totally counter-productive. The Chinese know this, and so won’t go there at all.
The comparison I made between China and Pres. Obama being mirror image is more than fun house mirrors.
We have two corrupt regimes operating predominenty from internal stimul, basing their foreign policies upon domestic factional power considerations over a cold blooded net assessment calculation of the national interest.
The Japanese are the rational actors in all this, the All-Mighty help us all.
Sorry Tom, (“Discussion of a Chinese-Japanese nuclear exchange is ridiculous.”) but you’re wrong here, or at least you haven’t shared your thinking to any depth.
I imagine that there has been serious war-gaming by both of the principals and all the neighbors on this topic. China already has a serious stockpile and delivery means. Japan certainly has nuclear plans for responding to increased aggressiveness by the Chinese.
The US and Russia calculated that a major attack would lead to global thermonuclear war pretty quickly – we deliberately created that near-certainty. I don’t see a similar war scenario at this time between Japan and China.
There is a difference between nuclear posturing and a nuclear exchange. I criticized the latter as Japan has no chance of surviving an exchange. Japan can at most deter a threat by China.
OTOH, a nuclear power’s threat of nuclear attack, to achieve territorial aggression at the expense of non-nuclear powers would create obvious awful diplomatic problems for the former, and would be wildly counter-productive if the victim has vastly greater technological ability and the economic power to back that up.
I pointed out the latter. But talk of actual nuclear hostilities between a nuclear-armed Japan and China is ridiculous. Japan would not survive physically. The Chinese Communist Party would not survive politically. They both know this.
Are we sure that a tactical nuclear exchange between China and Japan leads to general nuclear war against cities? For the case of US/Russia, it sure seemed like it but I haven’t seen this developed adequately for me to be sure.
(BTW, the last Anonymous posting was mine by mistake.)
Russia and the US both shared a Western or European underlying belief system. Orientals like Japan and China often think differently and China has certainly been making some major strategic moves of late that defy Western understanding. Hasn’t some of the war-like behaviors come from the Chi-Com Party itself?
Also, it seems the major theater of war would be maritime – there’s little talk of a Chinese invasion of the Japanese islands. Remember, nuclear weapons at sea don’t leave holes. There would be residual radiation that could persist for days in the water and detectable by local physical sampling. Long-range detection via air sampling would be iffy.
I wonder if Vela can pin-point underwater explosions?
The Einkreisung of China doesn’t stop with the Philippines: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-28599397 (h/t: Insty)
Well, all I can say is that if we’re going to outsource Asian defense to Japan, let’s hope the Japanese military has picked up some operational pointers (both pro and con) from the pre-Obama US military.
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