You can’t stop hearing about the Chinese Navy and their advances in technology. Did you know they have an aircraft carrier?
There is a “considerable chance” the number of aircraft-carrying ships available in the Chinese navy will be seven instead of four by 2025 because of a “lower profile defense program” that has already taken shape, a new report indicates.
Or what about a super cool railgun, apparently better than the U.S. Navy’s?
While the United States spent years dithering over the future of its much-hyped electromagnetic railgun project, China ate its lunch. The Chinese navy plans to field its own secretive version of the electromagnetic railgun on naval vessels as early as 2025, according to a U.S. intelligence assessment first reported by CNBC.
Or the latest Chinese anti-ship missiles?
China unveiled its Type 055 naval destroyer on June 28, the latest step in its decade and a half of military buildup. The new Chinese destroyer outcompetes U.S. destroyers and cruisers, highlighting a major failure in U.S. Navy planning that stretches back to the 1990s. Given the 055’s long-range supersonic YJ-18 and YJ-12 over the horizon (OTH) anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCMs), the Chinese destroyer currently outcompetes U.S. Arleigh Burke class destroyers and bigger Ticonderoga class cruisers.
Man, it’s like so…1971.
If you read the news, you’d think the Chinese are producing things that the United States never could dream of: long range anti-ship missiles, aircraft carriers, railguns and the lot. But here’s the reality: we made that stuff a long time ago. The US began designing Tomahawk missiles in 1971. Initially the Tomahawk had an anti-ship missile variant that could reach 1,000 nautical miles. Yup, in the 1980s. Well before China was even a thing.
What about railguns, death rays and the like? The biggest challenge is in powering them. China will likely be rolling out a nuclear cruiser here before much longer. When they do, it’ll be the 1970s all over again, because the United States already did that. The VIRGINIA-class cruisers were beastly, able to keep up with our nuclear aircraft carriers while running advanced weaponry and air defense systems. Nuclear power’s energy density was the key to their success.
So if we’re so great, where are all these awesome weapons? We gave them up. We chopped nuclear cruisers due to cost. We chopped TAS-Ms because we never thought we’d need them. We’ve gone backwards, sticking with crappy systems like HARPOON and diminishing our nuclear surface capability. In the process, we also gave up a lot of innovation, because had we built on these systems, we could be experimenting with truly revolutionary weapons.
It doesn’t have to be that way. These systems can be built again, and built better because of manufacturing advances. But we keep churning out crappy weapon systems because we haven’t attacked the biggest problem with the Navy: the poorly designed Defense Acquisition System. More than tax reform, the way we buy things for the Department of Defense needs a huge overhaul. We blow millions on products that don’t work and under-perform. We add to this by not writing good requirements, and then we fail to hold people accountable when they get hacked by China or in general turn out poor work.
President Trump has the energy to actually reform the acquisition system, which seems more focused on building jobs in Congressional districts than actually making good equipment. This isn’t new, check out torpedo performance in World War 2 or problems with the M-16 in Vietnam. Should we go to war with China or Russia, we’ll probably see the same thing: faulty weapons, public outcry, industry denial (and protection by paid off Congress-critters), followed by eventual production of useful weapons.
Why wait though? Let’s get this problem solved now, at far less expense, so we can continue to keep our enemies on their toes.
This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any other government agency. But bringing back nuclear cruisers and real missiles should be a priority, hopefully someday.
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