Big Sticks: China’s and America’s Global Strike Weapons


Categorie: Ballistic Missiles, China, History, Steve Weintz |
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Via New York Times.

Via The New York Times.


On a cold September morning in 1945, just two weeks after World War II ended on the deck of the USS Missouri, three B-29s lifted off from newly-renamed Sapporo Air Base on the Japanese island of Hokkiado. They would not land again until headwinds over the Arctic forced a refueling stop at Chicago’s Midway Airport, preventing the bombers and their crews from reaching Washington, D.C., non-stop.

Despite the delay, the press coverage was huge; the crews included Generals Curtis LeMay, Barney Giles and Emmett O’Donnell, Jr., the architects of the strategic bombing campaign that crushed Japan, as well as the navigator of Bock’s Car, the B-29 that dropped the Fat Man on Nagasaki. The flight continued to the capital and the point was made: the United States was now capable of intercontinental nuclear airstrikes.

Over the 70 years since that flight, America perfected the art of planetary-scale airborne logistics for the Bomb’s long tail: big aircraft, big ships, aerial refueling, precision navigation and targeting systems and a worldwide base network. Later, ICBMs and SLBMs joined the strategic forces to form the now-stable nuclear triad.

However, nuclear deterrence turned out to have limited utility in limited war. U.S. manned bomber aircraft designed for strategic missions were pressed into supporting long-distance conventional war. From the Guam-based conventional B-52 strikes during the Vietnam War, to last year’s B-2/B-1B strikes on Libyan air-defense bases non-stop from U.S. bases, America’s ability to utilize long-range airstrikes as a form of tactical air power have given American combatants a powerful tool. As the late Col. William Dabney, USMC, said, “a B-52 is an exceptional direct fire weapon.”

Today the advent of modern cruise missiles give such missions a wider deployment, a smaller footprint and a more flexible range of uses than ever before. The United States and China are developing special new conventional missiles, both intermediate- and long-range.

Both Chinese and American approaches change the flight path of the missiles from a purely ballistic trajectory to one where ballistic flight quickly gives way to aerodynamic flight, as much to signal a non-ballistic intent as to postpone detection. A complex ballet of physics, training, technology and luck must come off for such a weapon to work, and it will take some time for any party to solidify the technique. China currently appears closer to the current goal than the U.S., but America can find inspiration in its nuclear-powered cruise missiles from the glory days.

China sees such weapons as an offensive defense to protect its core and periphery. America publicly views such weapons as the natural evolution of that 1945 B-29 flight … but perhaps they’re more akin to an earlier “AirSea Battle”.

Submarines began as tactical weapons to scout for the fleet and sink enemy shipping; however, the development of wolfpacks and permissive rules of engagement allowed submarine fleets to become strategic weapons able to strangle a nation. “Semi-ballistic missiles” that combine the functions of artillery and aircraft without the onus of nuclear arms may, like manned bombers, follow the reverse course from strategic to tactical.

It may come to pass that the true purpose of missiles like the DF-21D and the X-Whatever will to be bargaining chips in high-stakes diplomatic poker. Similar missile systems, the Thor and Jupiter IRBMs, were among the first theater ballistic weapons the U.S. retired. The same fate awaited the later (and more deadly) Pershings and Pershing IIs. Trading a ship-killer for a stealth airstrike could be a deal only an arms-control wonk could love.


3 Responses to “Big Sticks: China’s and America’s Global Strike Weapons”

  1. sami says:

    i think war is not sollution of all problm

  2. [...] Weintz, “Big Sticks: China’s and America’s Global Strike Weapons,” War is Boring, 6 March [...]

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