Military focus can shift from the Middle East to China

For the past 10 years, our military platform and weapons development has been focused on fighting 9th-century-thinking radical terrorists in the deserts and towns of the Middle East. Tons of money has been spent on Ground Combat Vehicles (GCVs), to navigate the primitive roads and mountain passes, with no significant advancements in those platforms. Another ton of money has been spent on Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), but with great success and tremendous advancements. The United States has 6,000 UAVs in service today, and they have taken out terrorists in six countries including Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and Libya. Next-generation UAVs including the Northrop Grumman X-47B and the Boeing Phantom Ray (both jet-powered and carrier-based with larger ordnance payloads) will see service in just a year or so.

Shifting back to strategic platforms

Now that we are winding down our presence in Iraq and Afghanistan, where will the focus for the DoD move? My bet is toward China. My next bet is toward new strategic platforms and away from the tactical platforms involved in the War on Terrorism. China just sent their first aircraft carrier to sea trials in August. It is an old Russian Varyag-class sloped launch-deck design, 302 meters long. This Chinese carrier is only 31 meters shorter than our present Nimitz-class supercarriers (333 meters long) and is definitely a long-reach, blue-water boat.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union, this partially completed hull had been sitting in the Ukraine, about to be cut up for scrap metal. A Chinese company bought it and had it towed to Dalian Port in China. They claimed they would outfit it as a floating casino and anchor it in Macau. Now, it is at sea trials, manned by Chinese Navy personnel.

The Chinese have their eyes on much more advanced platforms as they seek to expand their military presence on the oceans of the world. Earlier this year, an artist’s rendition of China’s advanced aircraft carrier design ideas was leaked to the Internet. This new platform, if built and launched, will be a major threat to sea dominance by the United States and allied carriers.

While there are no specifications for this boat just yet, it appears like they have taken the dual-runway Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport and put it on pontoons. Comparing the aircraft in the picture to the flight deck for scale, it certainly appears longer than 330 meters. What else could they do with this catamaran hull? They could service their nuclear sub fleet, between the hulls. They could initiate amphibious operations, loading and launching the landing craft between the hulls too.

Why worry?

What would China do with this kind of platform? Think about Taiwan. A couple of these carriers could provide air support and amphibious operations, completely surrounding and occupying the island. China has not been happy about Taiwan’s disputed independence and attitude for many years. Also, in the past few years, China has instigated maritime confrontations with Japan, Vietnam, and the Philippines during territorial disputes. Chinese sources say they can build and launch this new carrier by late 2015. Couple these pictures with the new J-20 Chinese carrier-capable fighter jet (said to be nearly equivalent to our F-22), and there is plenty of reason to predict that the DoD must be developing new strategic platform ideas to counter this new development. That could mean a lot of new VME and VPX demand if we shift over to new strategic platforms and weapons in the next few years.

For more information, contact Ray at exec@vita.com.