Wednesday, September 9, 2015

The China Challenge: The weapons the PLA didn’t show

China’s new DF-ZF hypersonic glide vehicle is a nuclear strike weapon, according to the Pentagon. China has conducted five tests of the DF-ZF since last year, an indication it is a high-priority weapons system. China’s Defense Ministry has confirmed tests of the weapon, saying only it is an experimental system. The glide vehicle, launched atop a missile, travels along the edge of space at Mach 10, or nearly 8,000 miles an hour. Yet the vehicle is agile enough to overcome the effects of high-speed travel to maneuver – both to avoid missile defenses and for zeroing in on targets.


Arlie Austin said...

Do Not Forget that Bill Clinton authorization for China to purchase CNC machines made this possible!

Josh said...

I've often wondered about this alleged maneuverability at higher mach speeds for mirvs and other warheads. For an example as to why; the high mach aircraft in service today take about one half the continental United States to turn around. It may not take them long to turn around but they can't turn any sharper, so how do these Chinese wunderwaffen void the laws of physics?

Bad Cyborg said...

High mach MANNED aircraft have turn limitations not present in UNMANNED vehicles, namely the aircrew inside the thing. Maneuvering at high speeds involves something with which you may be unfamiliar - namely g-loads caused by inertial effects from the maneuvers. You see, there is this pesky property of matter called "inertia". Changing velocity causes inertial effects which are identical to gravity - you know? like when the air liner starts its takeoff run and you get pushed back in the seat? Or when you take a tight turn in an automobile and you are pulled to the side of the vehicle away from the turn? Well, it seems that puny constructs of protoplasm such as ourselves are unable to take high g-loads without experiencing damage. Electronics, on the other hand, can be engineered and manufactured to take g-loads which would turn a flimsy thing such as a pilot to goo.

Does that answer your question about how an unmanned missile might be able to turn more sharply than a piloted craft could?

Chiu ChunLing said...

Actually, the most devastating weapon Beijing has was on full display and was the least impressive to most observers.

The ability to gather detailed technical data on adversary systems and reverse engineer more cost-effective versions (slightly less capable, dramatically cheaper) is something most Americans mock at their peril. First off, it tells us that we have nothing like the quality and quantity of information about Chinese technology that they have about ours. It simply doesn't matter how superior your technology is if the enemy knows what you have and what they have and you only know (in a lazy, hand-waving, "oh my HB-1B has the details") what you have, when the enemy picks a fight it's because they know they're going to win. Second, it tells us that the people who know our technology better than we do think it's too expensive to be expended in war, and they calculate they can beat it with numbers. And the Chinese have numbers. Third, it tells us they know how to tweak our tech without breaking it. Every engineer knows in their bones (often from hard experience) just how much easier it is to figure out how to make something stop working than how to still have it working after tampering...particularly hugely complex things. Designing and building near copies of our stuff means they have figured out everything that can go wrong with it, and exactly how to cause those things.

If it doesn't matter how superior your tech is when the enemy knows it inside and out and isn't scared, then it matters a lot how "superior" your tech is when the enemy can make it stop working at the least convenient (or survivable) moment. And not in a good way.

The DF wunder missiles may work better than advertised, or they may be a feint to hide some other plan for hitting those targets. We don't know enough about them to know which they are, while the Chinese know perfectly well that we're relying primarily on the superlative capabilities of our pilots (combined with unprecedentedly complex software that has yet to be written) to make our most expensive weapons system marginally less obviously outmatched. That would be terrible news even if Beijing weren't spoiling for open war as long as they can persuade low-information non-voters of the world we somehow started it (not a high bar, unfortunately).

Also, on high-g maneuvers, pulling quick 10 or 20 g 'turns' is very effective jinking from the forward aspect, it doesn't matter that it barely qualifies as a measurable change in heading at high mach velocities. The high acceleration makes it hard to hit, the high mach limits the number of anti-ballistic firing solutions it has to avoid before impact. And the fact that we don't know whether it works just means escorts don't know whether they should be doing everything possible to shoot it down or staying alert for other threats, which certainly exist.

Of course, the fact that it does have controlled maneuver capability in the final approach to the target makes comparison to the precision limitations on warheads which must make their final adjustments in the ballistic phase before reentry completely meaningless, which doesn't keep some people from mentioning them.