China and the U.S.: How to Win the Second Cold War

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Still the dominant superpower, the U.S. is nonetheless inefficient, slow to develop new military gear, and beset with issues associated with supply chain complexity and highly intricate kit. As detailed in earlier articles, China could be able to disrupt the U.S. military by spending less and making more effective equipment. The U.S. may be making Ferraris in a world where Ford F-150s may fare better. At the same time, war-winning weapons are increasingly being manufactured for less by countries such as Turkey, who would also deliver to clients with less strings attached than the States. The U.S. is often unwilling to sell its latest stuff overseas or ration different levels of key items, depending on how close it feels to prospective clients. Turkey, Israel, and others could be less ethically constrained. With more sales overseas going to Turkey, South Korea, and other countries the economics of this overly expensive, lethargic system that makes the shiniest things for the most money per item will erode. Meanwhile, the lack of efficacy of Russian gear in the field has been exposed, meaning that its erstwhile clients are now open to looking at new suppliers.

A New Cold War

Army soldiers land a drone carrying a payload of chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear sensors.

We are probably at the single most crucial moment in the history of the global weapons industry, apart from the Warsaw Pact-Marshall Plan divide after the Second World War. A new Cold War is crystallizing before our very eyes and I’m pessimistic about the U.S.´s chances. It looks like the slow, cumbersome incumbent is about to be buzzed and outflanked by a more technologically nimble competitor: China. China will be able to have not quite as effective kit that is widely available and will be cheap for it to make. In a Good Enough-style tech disruption path, but designed for military apparatuses, it may aspire for parity in the long run, but even in the medium-term, the nation may upgrade itself selectively to force a stalemate.

Hypersonics, Drones, Missile Defense, and Low-Cost, Long-Range Artillery

DARPA´s HAWC

This will be exacerbated because key developments will have outsized impacts. Hypersonics will be the new high ground and put unopposed sensing or kinetic capabilities anywhere on earth in a few hours. Drones are clearly making outsized impacts at all levels, as well. Missile defense of cities and units is also becoming more important, as missiles, long-range artillery, loitering munitions, and drones become more prevalent.

If I want to win every conflict I have to win in all of these areas, but if I just want to block someone from invading me, then a few good hypersonic missiles and a drone swarm may be enough. I don’t have to have sixth-gen everything. I just need enough to deter. If we imagine that these items would be the key ones in the near future then also we can see a lot of commonality in components. We need lightweight stiff materials, inexpensive quiet efficient engines for flying vehicles and radar and tracking technology. So rather than needing a lot of innovation very focused innovation may suffice. An automated composites 3D printing set up for example would go a long way in missiles, drones and more.

How to Win the Next Cold War

So, how could the US outmaneuver China and win the next Cold War? Imagine if the US took 10% of its defense budget, or around 87 billion and put it into an entirely new procurement initiative. This initiative would in and of itself be the third largest defense spender in the world behind China and the US and ahead of Russia. And what if it spend this budget not on systems, bullets or craft but on production systems. So rather than request a new type of drone it could ask for a new production line to use AFP and 3D printing to make carbon fiber drone parts, another line to sand cast engines, another line to automatically place electronics and another line to pick and place those electronics. Then it would have a flexible manufacturing system to manufacture drones near the place of need. It could update their designs according to emerging conditions. Rather than spend a billion to get a drone of a specific design two years hence it would have a system to manufacture specific craft with constantly evolving flexible agile designs. It could have the latest kit with the latest battlefield conditions embedded in its design made quickly. It would be agile in responding to new tactics or needs and have its vehicles over time eke out advantages over the competition.

Assembly Lines

A super top of the line car plant could cost ten billion while it would then be possible to make tens of thousands of vehicles at low cost just like car factories can. Of course this will never happen, the defense firms will lobby against it and they will make sure this doesn’t occur. But, asking a defense firm for the strategic direction your country should take would be akin to asking a heroin dealer what steps to take to improve your health. Don’t mistake a persons strong wish to supply you with something as a good indication of its efficacy. But, if the US could do this it could very quickly make up to date vehicles of all kinds itself. It has done similar things before. Springfield Armory was an integral part of all US military success from 1794 to 1968. Indeed, the US has not won a major conflict since the armory was shut down.

It could then make more portable assembly lines which it could deploy overseas letting it make the kit where it is needed at lower volume. This responsiveness would be a decided advantage. It would then much faster than China or anyone else respond to new emerging situations, tactics and other threats.

Export

Additionally it could then entice its defense contractors to also make production systems. It could then make less technologically advanced kit available locally. A US production line could come in during your war to aid you. Or a specific Unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV) could be made for your situation, for your battlefield, that had the technology on board that the US was OK to share. In this way the US would be the most responsive and agile arms exporter and developer. It could then compete with Turkey and other emerging suppliers on cost and functionality with affordable products. Meanwhile its defense industry could still take the rest of the procurement budget that it would already get and develop its Ferraris, while the military itself breaks into the Ford F-150 market. In this way the US will at the same time have the most advanced weapons but also be able to have scalable systems that produce cost effective weapons close to need and requirements at bulk. And that is how one could win a New Cold War.

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