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The U.S. Is Ahead Of China In Developing Space Technology, But Is Being Challenged In Other Defense Areas

ArmchairTechInvestor, July 17, 2018, by Brad Peery

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Worldwide threats to the U.S. are increasing from China, Russia, ISIS, Iran and North Korea. President Trump has achieved defense spending increases for fiscal 2018 that will only begin to restore the U.S. defenses to the level they were at in 2009. It will take a decade or more of defense spending increases to restore U.S. military capabilities.

China’s Defense Budget
*China’s defense budget is expected to reach $173 billion in 2018, compared to $716 billion expected for the U.S. in 2019. 2018’s defense budget comes to about 1.3% of China’s 2017 GDP of $12.4 trillion. Analysts don’t consider China’s publicly announced defense spending to be entirely accurate, since defense equipment projects account for a significant amount of “off book” expenditures.

China is nearing completion of a reduction of its military forces by 300,000, taking the total to 2 million and still has the largest military in the world.

Shanghai military expert Ni Lexiong said China was seeking to avoid a full-on arms race based on quantity of weapons, choosing instead to invest in high-tech systems and training. China’s range of weapons is impressive. They include:
• A second aircraft carrier they are about to launch;
• Stealth fighters they are integrating into their air force;
• An array of advanced missiles that are long-range and able to attack sea and air targets;
• In April 2017, it launched a 50,000-ton carrier built entirely on its own.
• A nuclear-powered attack submarine equipped is considered only slightly inferior to the U.S. Navy’s mainstay Los Angeles class boats;
• Their guided-missile destroyers are at the forefront of China’s naval technology;
o Such vessels stand to alter the balance of power in the Indo-Pacific, where the U.S. Navy has long been dominant, and regional rivals such as Japan and India are stepping up their presence.
o Most navy ships already have anti-ship cruise missiles, with longer ranges than those of their U.S. counterparts.
• China has begun equipping combat units with a stealth fighter jet that is competitive with fifth-generation jets such as the U.S. F-22 and F-35; and
• China’s missile technology is also impressive.

All three of China’s sea forces, the navy, coast guard and maritime militia, are the largest of their types by number of ships, allowing them to “maintain presence and influence in vital seas,” according to Andrew S. Erickson of the U.S. Naval War College’s China Maritime Studies Institute.

China has a wide range of both defensive and offensive weapons systems. Their navy is predicated on having a large number of smaller ships. The U.S. is moving its navy in that direction. The U.S. has a huge superiority in aircraft carriers, which serves the U.S. well in operating in Asia, and somewhat offsets China’s land-based aircraft presence.

The U.S. is also far superior in its space-based weapons systems being developed by NASA, and a range of commercial competitors, such as Space-X. U.S. space technology allows the Space Station to be accessed, and Space-X has plans for a Mars mission that it hopes will be developed by 2024.

Space-based weapons systems will become an important element of future U.S. defense capabilities.

The 2018 U.S. Defense Budget
The U.S. faces a range of defense challenges, including China, ISIS, Iran, Russia, and North Korea. President Trump has indicated that defense spending will increase, with nuclear weapons, fighter aircraft, and the U.S. Navy having been mentioned.

A good way to look at defense spending is as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). was forecasted to be 4.4% of GDP in fiscal 2017.

U.S. Defense-Nuclear Weapons-China, Russia and the U.S.
Two initiatives being pursued by the Trump administration are:
• To upgrade U.S. missile systems, including the Minuteman system, and nuclear systems such as our nuclear submarines;
• And, upgrade U.S. missile defense systems. In early March 2018, Russia announced a new missile capability that they claim makes their nuclear missiles undetectable by U.S. missile defense systems.
This appears to have been posturing by Russia prior to the reelection of Putin.

Two Nuclear Issues Are Upgrading U.S Current Nuclear Missile And Missile Defense Systems
Two initiatives being pursued by the Trump administration are:
• To upgrade our missile systems, including the Minuteman system, and nuclear systems such as our nuclear submarines; and,
• Upgrade U.S. missile defense systems;
o In early 2018, President Putin of Russia made the statement that Russia has nuclear missiles that can evade U.S. missile defense systems;

Systems such as the Aegis Missile Defense at sea, and the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) on land, are the two systems the may be able to destroy missiles that don’t go into space.

North Korea’s testing of intercontinental ballistic missiles comes as the U.S. still has reliability issues with its homeland missile defense system. There is no guarantee it will destroy any incoming nuclear warhead from North Korea. The ground-based interceptors in Alaska and California, have been tested, but, U.S. government agencies have critiqued the test as not being realistic, said John Park, director of the Korea Working Group at the Harvard Kennedy School.

At the same time, Russia and China are upgrading their nuclear capabilities. Pakistan, India and Israel continue to build new nuclear weapons and delivery systems. Air Force officials worry increasingly about the Minuteman’s ability to penetrate adversaries’ future missile defense systems.

The Pentagon has begun work to replace the Minuteman fleet with a new generation of missiles and launch control centers, with a test flight program scheduled for launch in the mid-2020s.

The ICBM missile defense system of the U.S. appears to be unreliable, despite a successful missile intercept in 2017. The Minuteman missile system needs to be upgraded to allow it to be successful in evading missile defense systems of others. Similar upgrades are needed for ship missile launch systems. The threat from North Korea is real, and the U.S. needs substantial improvements in its offensive and defensive missile systems.

Improvements to the U.S. missile programs, including submarine, aircraft, and the ground-based Minuteman 3 missile system are long overdue, particularly in view of the increasing threat from Russia and North Korea. The first phase, the initial design, is underway and Boeing and Northrop have been selected to compete for this phase.

The first phase of a U.S. land-based missile program replacement for the Minuteman 3, deployed in silos in the Great Plains, is underway. The first phase is a $700 million design phase, and Boeing and Northrop have been selected to compete for this business.

The replacement comes at a time when China and Russia are modernizing their nuclear forces, and there is growing risk from North Korea, which has demonstrated an ICBM that might be able to reach the U.S., and in 2017 detonated successfully a hydrogen bomb that they will attempt to put on the ICBM missile tip. As of July 2018, there is no guarantee that U.S. talks with North Korea on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula will be successful.

After languishing for years due to budget cuts under the Obama administration, the GBSD program has finally been instituted as one leg of the triad of nuclear missiles, which include submarine launched missiles, and aircraft launched nuclear missiles.

This program will compete for defense dollars with contracts for new naval vessels, such as aircraft carriers, and jet fighters.

U.S. Defense-Air Force
Trump Is Trying To Restore Air Force Readiness: Will He Be Successful?
The Air Force is at its smallest level ever, and less than half of its planes are combat ready. While Trump is attempting to restore our military capabilities, it will take some time to restore the Air Force’s readiness.

According to Maj. Gen. Jim Martin, the Air Force budget director, the budget addresses critical shortfalls while building a larger, more capable and more lethal Air Force.

Addressing readiness deficiencies, the budget funds, among other elements:
• Flying hours to executable levels and weapons system sustainment to near capacity;
• Two additional F-16 training squadrons and ensures advance weapons schools and combat exercises are fully funded to restore full-spectrum readiness long-term;
• The Intercontinental Ballistic Missile Program;
• The space procurement strategy;
• The nuclear enterprise;
• Munitions to support ongoing operations; and
• Replenishing current inventories.

Delaying modernization has become a trend in recent years, allowing potential adversaries to narrow the capability gap. This budget addresses modernization by:
• Advancing recapitalization of the current fighter and tanker fleets by procuring 46 F-35A Lightning and 15 KC-46 Pegasus aircraft;
• Continuing modernization efforts for the 4th and 5th generation aircraft;
• Continuing efforts from fiscal 2017 to maximize munitions production capacity to sustain global precision attack capabilities.

The research, development, test and evaluation investments saw notable growth this in 2017, and are designed to pay significant future dividends through game-changing technologies that, when fielded, will increase lethality and provide the joint force a technological advantage.

The F-35 is the core next generation aircraft program, and will replace several existing Air Force planes. The Air Force is putting much of its aircraft eggs in this basket.

U.S. Defense-Navy
It is planned to increase the Naval fleet from 275 to 350 ships, but this will take additional resources. The 2018 budget adds 8 additional ships. The Navy would like to add one additional carrier to the current eleven. It is likely that the Navy will become more mobile in response to the current threats, particularly from Russia and China, which are also increasing their Navies.

In 2017, President Trump promised to expand the current Naval fleet from 275 to 350, which is near the 355 that the Navy Department was recommending. The U.S. is on the way to 308 ships, but building up to 350, or more, will likely require significant additional shipbuilding resources. However, the numbers can be reached in different ways. The current U.S. program is built around carriers. Another possibility is to add ships that create a more mobile Navy, which may be better suited to the current threats we face, particularly from Russia and China.

Trump’s 2018 budget includes 8 additional ships, which are likely to be small surface ships. The U.S. has 11 aircraft carriers, and, although it will take at least a decade, the Navy would like to add one more to the fleet. To reach a 350 ship level will take decades, which will be complicated by ship retirements. The U.S. has a substantial competitive advantage, particularly when confronting China, in submarines.

Senator John McCain said the Navy should focus investment on undersea warfare, where the U.S. has an advantage, and should procure two to three manned submarines per year in 2020, and four per year starting in 2021, to give industry time to ramp up to meet the government’s need.

The Navy is likely to be rebuilt in ways that will allow the U.S. to effectively confront Iran in the Persian Gulf, China in the South China Seas and the Indian Ocean, and Russia worldwide, while substantially expanding the U.S. submarine fleet.

U.S. Defense-Space
SpaceX and other space companies are competing against NASA. These satellite launch systems are smaller than some being developed by NASA. Lockheed Martin and Boeing are the primary contractors on NASA’s SLS/Orion satellites. They include a very powerful Space Launch System rocket, which is being developed by Boeing for NASA.

SpaceX is successfully competing against NASA using reusable rockets. It has launched a spacecraft to the Space Station. SpaceX has executed successful launches of its reusable Falcon 9 space launch system. Falcon 9 engines are reused by landing them on an ocean platform. Its spacecraft are also recovered after reentry. SpaceX has announced a new launch system, BFM that is planned to send a payload to Mars by 2024. This is a much larger launch system than the Falcon 9.

SpaceX is projecting that by successfully recovering launch engines and space capsules, it will significantly reduce the costs of its space launches. Their plan is for as many as 52 launches in 2019, following the 18 launches in 2017. It is unclear whether launch costs are coming down as much as expected.

India and China Space Programs
India and China are also planning their own space launches for others. They are both expected to be competitors of SpaceX. China has strenuously objected to India’s space activities.

China Space Program
China offered to build telecommunications satellites for Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and Nepal, where India is offering free use of their satellites. China is developing a trading network called One Belt, One Road. It is an ambitious project that includes a traditional land-base trading route from China to Europe. It also includes satellite expenditures that are expected to be about four times those of India.

U.S. Space Program
The U.S. space program is about $40 billion per year, and appears to be about six times that of China. In addition to SpaceX, other competitors in this arena are Richard Branson’s One-Web Ltd., China-based startups One-Space and ExPace. Astrome Technologies, an Indian start-up company plans to launch 150 satellites to provide wireless communications to difficult-to-reach locations. In 2017, Team Indus, a Bangalore-based Indian company, planed to launch a moon-lander in a Google Lunar XPrize competition.

SpaceX, and NASA budget cuts, appear to be putting pressure on NASA to reduce the costs of the SLS/Orion. Lockheed and Boeing are already talking about 50% cost cuts in the future.

Renewed space competition is underway, and Elon Musk’s SpaceX appears to be a leader in the race. However some large competitors could emerge, many of them driven by Indian space launch capabilities. Space is an important frontier that is drawing many participants. It is also important to the U.S. from a defense standpoint, particularly with North Korea developing nuclear weapons, and ICBMs capable of delivering them to the U.S., or putting them into orbit.

SpaceX-Mars Flight By 2024
SpaceX has continued its success with its Falcon 9 space launch system, launched 18 launch vehicles in 2017. It has a strong customer base, including one with NASA to deliver supplies to the Space Station.

Elon Musk unveiled plans for a giant new Big Fucking Rocket (BFR) that could be used to launch a Mars vehicle by as early as 2022, or 2024. This could be as much as 10 years earlier than planned by any other company or country. It will be the biggest rocket ever built, with a capsule larger than a superjumbo airliner. SpaceX’s current customers are commercial customers and the Pentagon.

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