Jan 17, 2011
Once upon a time, as the FY 1964 defense appropriations bill was making its way through congress, there came a somber moment when it looked as if the U.S. Navy might actually receive a lesser increase in its appropriation than its hated Air Force rival. Then, just when all seemed dark, a Soviet November class nuclear attack submarine surfaced a few miles off San Francisco Bay. Instantly, the situation on the battlefield was reversed, as press and congress urged emergency budgetary measures to ward off the looming threat of the Red Navy. Queried at a Pentagon press conference as to the convenient coincidence of the sub’s appearance, the chief navy flack simply smiled and said “I don’t know; we just got lucky I guess.”
For much of the 1990s, luck deserted our military industrial complex. Its formerly reliable Soviet partners ceased to play their part, leaving the Pentagon to scour the world for a “peer or near peer competitor.” There were hopes, always futile, for a reconstituted USSR, or perhaps an emergent China (always popular on the right in those days) which was followed by the putative menace of regional competitors, (Iran, Iraq, North Korea) combining against America.
Help finally came from the CIA’s former Jihadi ally Osama bin Ladin, whose 9/11 attack sufficiently traumatized society to allow the Pentagon to spend any money it wanted on anything it wanted, relevant to the task at hand or not. Even so, old hands yearned for the days when a military spend-up could be justified by whatever the other guy was up to, especially with ominous talk circulating in Washington about restraining (not cutting of course) the defense budget.
Now, just like that long-ago Soviet sub captain, the Chinese have stepped up to the plate.
Our Asian friends have suddenly offered a titillating peek from an airfield in Chengdu at their newest warplane, described as a radar-evading “stealth” fighter like our own F-22.
The reaction from some quarters has been predictably enthusiastic. “From what we can see, I conclude that this aircraft does have great potential to be superior in some respects to the American F-22, and could be decisively superior to the F-35,” claims Richard Fisher, a senior fellow on Asian military affairs at the International Assessment and Strategy Center, a Washington-based security think tank.