Archive for February, 2014

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India becomes largest purchaser of US weapons

February 26, 2014

This story is big on two counts:  first, it shows that India and the US are becoming ever more closely tied together on defense issues and, second, it shows that India is being pulled from Russia’s orbit.

Arms sales have always had a geopolitical component, but in the era of network-centric warfare, where weapons and weapon platforms are interlinked and dependent on a host of sophisticated systems and support to work to their full functionality, it is even more so.  The number of nations in the Indo-Pacific region who are increasingly reliant on US weapons systems is a clearer indication of an informal alliance system aimed at containing China than are any amount of treaties,memoranda of understanding and public announcements.

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South America’s Pacific Coast Nations enter a new era

February 24, 2014

The Pacific Alliance among Mexico, Columbia, Peru and Chile (and soon to expand to Costa Rica and possibly more nations) contains some of the most competitive and fastest growing economies in the world.   Taken together, they would represent the worlds 8th largest nation and 7th largest exporter.  Chile, in particular, has long been on my own personal list for a possible retirement landing spot.  The Pacific Alliance is taking the Pacific Century, and thus the need to pivot to Asia, more seriously than in is the US, where the Trans Pacific Partnership is captive to politics on the one hand and to a failure in presidential leadership on the other.

The Atlantic has a good discussion on how our neighbors to the south are outperforming us in this area.  America’s TPP partners in Asia are moving ahead; might there end up being a greater Trans Pacific Partnership without the US among its members?

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The charging problem with electric vehicles

February 21, 2014

From the MIT Technology Review:

If electric cars become popular quickly, the demand for charging them is likely to exceed supply. Now mathematicians have worked out how electricity companies can distribute their power fairly to car owners. But the price–accurate information about driving habits–may be too much to ask.

In short:  drivers would have to provide data to a central authority, which would then organize power distribution to ensure the maximum amount to the maximum number of people.  In the wake of the Snowden revelations on the one hand, the known cases of abuse of private information on the other, and the susceptibility to hacking of private information on the third hand (do you want potential criminals knowing precisely when you are leaving your house), the optimal solution may be still born.

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Air Force to develop long-term budgeting strategy; begin work on 6th gen fighter

February 20, 2014

Air Force Chief of Staff General Mark Welsh said today that his service is going to begin a long-term, multi-decade resource strategy in order to focus on new and growing threats in an era of rapid technological and geostrategic change.

“We need a strategy. We’ve needed it for a while,” Welsh said. This one will look out 30 years. It will be “reviewed every two years and completely updated every four years,” he said.

Additionally, Welsh said that the Air Force budget will include funds to begin work on a sixth generation fighter (the US currently fields the fifth gen F-22 and is nearing deployment of the F-35).  No other nation has an operable fifth gen fighter, although several are in development.

Early work on a sixth gen fighter will enable the US to keep its technological lead, and it is critical to begin work now while to avoid a gap in engineering experience.

Boeing's early conception of the FX1 sixth generation fighter

Boeing’s early conception of the FX1 sixth generation fighter

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Natural Gas vs. Diesel; impact on climate

February 17, 2014

The journal Science recently published a research paper on methane leaks at natural gas drilling sites, and the New York Times used that paper to make a claim that switching to natural gas fuels for trucks would actually be worse for the environment than continued reliance on diesel.  This is a bizarre claim that has nothing to do with the Science paper in the first place and which is largely unsubstantiated by the general literature in the second place.  Michael Levi at the CFR’s Energy, Security and Climate blog takes the Times’ article apart and delves deep into the published science on the issue.  The real conclusion is that, when considering modern and efficient engines designed for natural gas, there is a real climate advantage in such a switch.  Read the whole thing, and then pray that policymakers are wise enough to ignore the popular press when considering science and engineering related issues.

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The coming age of naval pluralism?

February 12, 2014

For the past several centuries, naval power has been largely concentrated in the hands of one nation.  First, the British Navy ruled the waves for two full hegemonic cycles, and now the United States has inherited the position.  The British faced several near peers during their run of maritime dominance, but the United States Navy has not faced a serious challenge since sinking four Japanese aircraft carriers at the Battle of Midway.  Today, the US Navy has more ships at sea than the next 13 navies combined.

However, those times may be changing.  The combination of technological advances and diffusion, plus strategic need, is fueling a naval arms race in the Indo-Pacific and elsewhere.  Nations around the globe are investing in naval forces at relatively high levels for the first time in decades.  At the same time, the US is facing financial difficulties that are limiting defense spending in substantial ways for the first time since before World War Two.

Prokhor Tebin, an analyst at the Russian International Affairs Center, believes that this heralds a coming era of “naval pluralism,” in which regional powers will exert local control and the US ability to dominate every ocean on the globe is over.  I do not agree with these conclusion – many of these growing navies will be allies of the US, allowing the USN to share burdens and shift the weight of its naval power where necessary.  Also, the technological edge that the US holds should remain substantial for another decade and a half, at least.

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India-China Relations

February 10, 2014

While India and China have been technically at odds for half a century over their long shared border, the reality is that they have spent most of that time in a mostly cooperative relationship.  However, that relationship might be changing.  India sees China as its primary strategic threat, and Chinese geopolitical moves are becoming increasingly unpopular  in India.  This long piece in The National Interest examines the quickening erosion of Indo-China relations and the role the US is playing in India’s strategic future.  Read the whole thing.