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Or Maybe They Need to Look at Context

Some discussion over whether Herman Cain is aware China is a nuclear power, based on this quote from Cain:

So yes they’re a military threat. They’ve indicated that they’re trying to develop nuclear capability and they want to develop more aircraft carriers like we have. So yes, we have to consider them a military threat.

It could be he just didn’t state it correctly, but in the context of aircraft carriers, this is certainly correct. There are only two nations on earth that have built a nuclear powered aircraft carrier, the United States and France, and France’s nuclear carrier program has been plagued with trouble. Building nuclear aircraft carriers is complex and expensive, and we’re the only country on earth that’s really built a strong expertise in doing it. This capability allows us to project power around the world, because our aircraft carriers can use their huge fuel tanks to carry around plenty of fuel — for the planes.

So I’m not sure Herman Cain is ignorant here. He might just have spoken poorly about China trying to develop a nuclear capability for their navy, which is certainly accurate.

18 Responses to “Or Maybe They Need to Look at Context”

  1. Samrobb says:

    That was my understanding as well – that he was talking about the development of nuclear powered carriers by China. Ironic that it’s his demonstration that his geopolitical knowledge isn’t zero that’s getting him in trouble.

  2. Aren’t the ChiComs also trying to develop their nuclear missile capabilities? Isn’t that the reason that we were so pissed off that Slick Willy sold them supercomputers?

    Develop doesn’t only mean “Start from scratch.” It also means “Make better.”

    • Sigivald says:

      Develop as in improve, almost certainly.

      Develop as in create, well, they’ve already got ’em.

      They’re somewhat secretive as to specifics (there being no MAD situation such as would make them eager to point them out), but it is assumed by all parties that they have ICBMs capable of hitting anywhere in the United States, already, and have for 20 years or so.

      Estimates from DoD are only 30-40 of them, total, but that’s 30-40 more than it takes to make them Worth Noting from a national security viewpoint.

      Nothing like a megaton warhead to ruin your day, after all.

      • Harold says:

        And they’ve threatened to use them: in 1995 a former chief of military intelligence told a former ambassador of ours:

        And finally, you do not have the strategic leverage that you had in the 1950s when you threatened nuclear strikes on us. You were able to do that because we could not hit back. But if you hit us now, we can hit back. So you will not make those threats. In the end you care more about Los Angeles than you do about Taipei.

        • Ian Argent says:

          Sounds like a good reason for theater anti ballistic missile systems to me.

          • Harold says:

            Errr, not as such (see below), for many including myself took his comments to be a threat to nuke a US city if we strongly intervened in their potential future assault on the Republic of China (ROC) AKA Taiwan (who’s capital city is Taipei). To mitigate that sort of threat, implicit or explicit in this case, you need strategic BMD, which Obama has of course curbed or canceled as much as possible.

            The ROC desperately needs beyond robust theater BMD, because the PRC has been positioning shorter range missiles to the tune of 1,800 (sic) by the end of this year (yes, they’ve been building and positioning more than a 100 a year for a long time). No system, theater or strategic, that’s designed to deal with a “rogue” nation’s missile threat will be able to handle that many.

  3. Tam says:

    I don’t see why it would be any harder for the Chicoms to power a CVN than it is the three nukyular boomers they already have.

    (You can see two of them using that super secret spy tool, Google Earth. ;) )

    • Sebastian says:

      You’d think, but for some reason it seems building a nuclear powered aircraft carrier is a tougher task. There are plenty of countries that have built nuclear submarines that haven’t been able to crack how to make the carrier work.

      Could be it’s not so much the propulsion system that’s at issue, but the scale you need to support the rest of the operations of a carrier big enough to justify nuke propulsion. Generally speaking, you need to develop planes to go along with carriers too, since the requirements are different than something that only needs to worry about landing on a runway.

      • Tam says:

        They’ve circumvented the worst of the technical problems anyway by buying “off-the-rack” from the Russkies during their big Chapter 11 sale. Varyag‘ll be used as a testbed to develop doctrine, (which is the hard part of bird farm operations. I think Cain simply misspoke about the nuke thing because he’s not a war nerd. I doubt that IL State Rep Obama could have written you much of a term paper on the state of the PLAN, either.)

        Totally off topic, here’s a cool pic to give a sense of the size of a Typhoon-class: One tied up in front of the quietly rusting Admiral Kuznetsov. http://g.co/maps/hqvt7

  4. While it is not polite to laugh at another country, the concept that anyone else has built an actual aircraft carrier aside from the USA is pretty silly. That rusted hulk that the ChiComs bought is about 2/3rds the size of our fleet carriers.

    Both of you have pointed out the real failure points of this exercise. First, you have to have aircraft that can land and take off from this thing. Those aircraft have to be able to stand up to US aircraft at sea, and against the front line aircraft of any location that the ChiComs wish to attack. That’s not easy.

    Secondly, you have to figure out how to conduct air operations on this thing without killing everyone onboard. Given that the average education of the Chinese peasants that will be forced to ride around on this monument to ChiCom insanity, I suspect that this will prove a bigger challenge. We Americans can do a lot of things that others can’t because the average American is pretty well educated. The US Military has a professional NCO corps. Without a group of professional NCOs to maintain the institutional knowledge, they’ll be spending every day reinventing the wheel.

    They might also have to figure out how to crack the code on Underway Replenishment. A nuclear powered carrier is useless if the escort ships have to keep going back to port for fuel.

    I wouldn’t worry at all about the PLAN. There isn’t one ship that would stand for a minute against the USN. I’d worry about their sealift capability. As long as China can’t move troops safely by sea, they can’t threaten anyplace that they can’t walk to.

    • Sigivald says:

      I believe the point of Chinese carriers is not to “go toe-to-toe with the Imperialists” – they know they can’t, anytime soon, and they don’t want a shooting war with the US.

      The point is to intimidate the hell out of their neighbors and near-neighbors, and have the power to rule the China Sea with an iron fist.

      A real blue-water navy is vital to that, and a real carrier even more so.

      (Likewise that undercuts the need for underway replenishment. The idea isn’t to have a carrier group that can travel Anywhere In The World, like the US Navy. The idea is to project local force more effectively.)

      • The problem with that statement is the fact that the very people that they have to go toe to toe with to intimidate their neighbors is the Imperialists. We are based in Japan, and the Republic of China, on the island of Formosa, (Taiwan) is armed with our weapons.

        How long do you think that a navy can stay operational at sea with only onboard fuel supplies? We did UNREPs because they were easier than filling ashore. It takes forever to fill a ship at a shore installation, and you are terribly vulnerable tied to a pier. For a fleet to stay on station for any length of time they need to be able to replenish fuel.

    • Tam says:

      I’m quite familiar with the size of the ex-Varyag, which is now re-armed and undergoing acceptance trials.

      And you are correct that doctrine, not technology, is the major stumbling block for the PLAN in developing a carrier force (as I noted in my comment.)

      I will take it as significant that OldNFO is not as sanguine about China’s efforts in the blue-water department as you are (or I was.) ;)

    • Ian Argent says:

      Those aircraft have to be able to stand up to US aircraft at sea, and against the front line aircraft of any location that the ChiComs wish to attack

      To be useful parts of an offensive weapons system, a naval aircraft has to be pound-for-pound more efficient than the defenders’ land-based aircraft, because the naval aircraft has to devote weight to “navalization” (a more rugged frame capable of standing up to the stresses of launch and trap, more reliable power plants – there’s a reason the USN essentially doesn’t operate single-engine birds, better nav and sensors, etc). And this isn’t someplace where “quantity is quality” applies, given that you have limited places to park the things, not to mention launch and recovery.

      Sean mentioned that the PLAN would have to crack the code of UNREP. This applies to aircraft at least as much as the carriers – and air-to-air refueling over the ocean is (by all accounts) only exceeded in pucker factor by carrier landings. Query, does ANYONE other than NATO and Israel (using US tech and training) regularly practice mid-air refueling? Wikipedia says the Iranians, of all unlikely folks, have at least one 747-based midair tanker.

  5. FatWhiteMan says:

    Oh they may build a carrier but I wager before it gets to the point of viable air operations on it they will have just crowded the deck with SeaLand containers and run it back and forth.

  6. Ian Argent says:

    Carrier ops, nuclear or otherwise, are hard. Arguably only the USN, the RN, and the IJN have managed it. Note all are primarily maritime powers; something China hasn’t been for centuries

    And it’s not just a matter of technology. You need pilots, good pilots. Ones who can operate both as individuals and as team members. I don’t think it’s an accident that the carrier power navies consist of the the navies of the two leading anglosphere countries and a third whose navy was to a large extent trained by and modeled on the navies of those other powers..

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