Military Technology and U.S.-China War in the Pacific — #51

Steve Hsu: Welcome to Manifold. Today my guest is TP Huang. This is the third time he's been on the show. It's a trilogy. This is the last episode of that trilogy. The first two episodes were about Huawei and the U.S. China chip war, and then the most recent one we did was on electric vehicles and smart cars.

Today, we are going to talk about military technology and U.S.China strategic competition. And I, I don't think I'm exaggerating when I say that TP knows more about this subject than anyone I know. And, and I include, I include in that categorization, in those comparisons, people who do this for a living.

So I've actually interviewed some people who do this kind of thing for a living. But the difference is that, you know, I think for, for better or worse, most of the people who do strategy and, even military analysis, very few of them actually have a technical background and very few of them really get into the weeds on the technology.

And of course, very few of them actually can read original Chinese, Mandarin sources. None of those limitations apply to TP and he seems to have enough time to pursue this topic like an actual professional. So I'm super happy to finally have this discussion with him. TP, welcome back to the show.

TP Huang: Thanks for having me, Steve.

Steve Hsu: Great. So, let's just jump in. And, the way I organized the outline that I sent you is that I thought we would just talk about systems. And that would lead us into the strategic scenarios where those systems are likely to be applied. And so let me just start with something that I've spent a lot of time, my own time, analyzing. If you, if you go to my blog, you can see there must be a dozen blog posts on this.

And the general topic is something called A2AD and hypersonic weapons, anti ship missiles. The basic idea being that the Chinese military would like to push the U.S.Navy out beyond the first island chain in Asia. And because the U.S.Navy is a carrier centric Navy. The biggest units that it deploys are carrier, aircraft carrier battle groups. The Chinese have tried to develop missile systems which they can use to attack those aircraft carriers.

And when I started thinking about this stuff over a decade ago, very few other people were thinking seriously about it, well, outside of China. And, most Americans that I talked to about it, even specialists, so naval warfare specialists, were very dubious that the Chinese could actually get this to work. But I came to it from a first principles perspective as a physicist. And it just looked to me, roughly speaking, that if I could build missiles that could shoot down enemy jets. And those missiles maybe could even do their own final targeting with their own radar systems, I just didn't see a way that a carrier could hide itself or protect itself from missile attack. So that kind of led me into an analysis of this. And so gradually I became convinced that this is a real threat to the U.S.carrier centric Navy. So maybe we could start there and you can give me your thoughts. Start with your thoughts on this topic.

TP Huang: Yeah, so, this topic actually came to the forefront for me, pretty early on in my P, you know, PLA following days. And, at that time, I actually was part of this blog with, man by the name of Raymond Pritchett. And, we had a blog where we posted various military related stuff. And I was just basically tasked with this. Whatever China was doing, you posted our blog and then in March of 2009, he sent me an article about someone in China who wrote about possible Chinese anti-ship missile development with, you know, ballistic missiles.

So I wrote about it, back then and, within a couple of days, this thing kind of blew up and landed on the U S naval institution website and then the Drudge Report, and then later on, I think some other places, basically this became big news after my blog entry came out.

And then, at the time I was pretty active on various military forums, so, I actually had various debates with some, I would say, pretty well knowledgeable, military people with military backgrounds on these forums. And none of them were able to fathom anti ship ballistic missiles technology, even though on the Chinese sources, it seemed pretty clear that they were going in this direction and that they thought it was very achievable.

I guess the idea of having something that goes, you know, hypersonic, in terminal phases that's really hard to intercept is, it's kind of a scary thought, though people don't really want to think about it. And also the idea of how to guide, you know, the terminal phase of a ballistic missile accurately enough to actually hit something the size of a carrier was also something that blew people's minds.

Steve Hsu: So, so I, it's possible that my interest in this was actually indirectly stimulated by you. So you, you caused some burst of interest in this in the West, and it's possible that I got interested through that. So maybe I have you to thank for getting me interested in this topic.

So let's start all the way back in roughly around 2010 when what we're really talking about is something like, I think the DF 21 D. So it's what. In the old days, we would call a medium range ballistic missile, maybe it has a range of like, roughly, you know, 1, 500 kilometers, and it is launched at a target maybe which is initially acquired perhaps by a satellite, or submarine, or some other, somehow they know roughly where the carrier is, they launch a ballistic missile in that direction, and The ballistic missile, becomes hypersonic, just because, you know, in order to get, into a, ballistic trajectory that goes that far, you have to basically achieve essentially hypersonic velocities. And as it reenters the atmosphere, it has to do some final reacquisition of the target, either by itself or either by communication with some other thing, which is watching the target, because in this case the target moves.

And so it is a complicated technology viewed from the perspective of people back in, say, 2010 ish. It seemed really complicated. I think for people now, with all the advancements in computer and satellite technology and, you know, everything, it seems much more plausible that it could be done. I suspect the Chinese had made a lot of progress on this, already, in the early 2010s. So maybe you can react to that.

TP Huang: Yeah, so I think part of the reason is the people I talked to, they had probably left the service by 2005 around that range. So the level of what sensors were capable of back then versus what they were by 2015. Most people just aren't at the same wavelengths, right? And in this case, we have something that clearly even back in, I think one thing you notice is China itself is extremely good at planning things.

So the idea of an anti-ship ballistic missile, I'm sure, actually came up very early on. And probably the 90s. So America had this program called Pershing's two, which entered service in 1984 that had, what they called the terminal guidance and maneuverable,reentry vehicle technology. Basically, it's just technology designed by them to be able to attack fixed targets with ballistic missiles that have this maneuverable reentry vehicle.

And that I think is actually what originally got China down this road and you see that, back in the nineties, one thing they did work on was the DF 15 B project, which, I think, was the first one where they really tried to increase the accuracy of the ballistic missiles. Maneuverable vehicle.

I could be wrong on that one. And, actually, I would say a lot of people say that. The rationale behind the anti-ship ballistic missile program is what happened in 1996, where, we had, you know, the Taiwan incident and then, Clinton at the time sent two carriers basically through Taiwan Strait or around there. And it was, it was like a national humiliation for, for the, for the Chinese government and the military. So then they decided we need to be able to do something if The U.S.Carrier gets this close to China again. So that was a rationale for developing the system. And so from so if we say that they started looking into this in 1996, and you can see that they set out various projects to get their on of which is the, the satellite targeting system.

So right these days, you'd read the publicly available DOD report. China has a huge amount of, you know, satellite spy satellite systems in the air. Like there's hundreds of them. And the genesis of this was part of the 863 project, which started very early on. And, they planned pretty early on to basically send up a whole constellation of LEO satellites. And so first orbits of observation satellites and their goal is to just be able to track things, you know, have much better intelligence through the satellite system. And aside from that, they also have what they call the, over the horizon radar system. So things that can, land based radar systems that can see targets from beyond the horizon. So you can see from, you know, hundreds of thousands kilometers away.

And another thing that they developed and thought about back then was drones. So how do you get drones that can get out there and target? So later on, we actually found out that what we thought was like the PLA's desired drone for this kind of targeting stuff wasn't actually it because they're, they're too slow.

So they later came out with this thing called WZ 8 and what it's really good at is it is able to fly. It's really stealthy, first of all, and it can go faster and max three. So basically what you can have a scenario is that the satellite discovers the carrier coming into the second item chain, right.

Or even further out. And then you have an H six, flies over there, sends out this supersonic drone and flies really quickly over there to verify that the carrier is actually there and that it issues commands to the ballistic missile team to actually launch it.

So you have this entire target acquisition and target sequencing process. this is something that if you are looking at what China was back in mid 2000 and didn't think that think about the advancement or technology, you would think this is not really feasible, but it turned out that they had this great plan, and, it worked out probably by, I would say, mid to 2010, they had a working system.

Steve Hsu: So, let me dig into that a little bit. You know, when I analyzed this myself, one of the first things I found was a report by an Indian think tank, which was evaluating the, I think it's called the Yaogan system, which is, you know, each one is a triplet of Earth observation satellites. I think one is electronic, another one has synthetic aperture radar. And, I forgot what the third one is. But it looked to me like they could at least do the initial targeting using these satellite systems already, you know, five, 10 years ago.

And I always thought of these drones, like the drone tactic that you just described as a kind of backup in case like the, the space war started and they lost their satellites.

So it's, of course it's, it's unclear to me exactly what their operational planning is for how to use these weapons. But my assumption was always that they would be able to get some rough fix on the carrier, and then once it comes within range of the weapon, the earliest one being, a ballistic missile with a maneuverable reentry vehicle, which they often abbreviate as MARV.

So that's, that's the earlier version. And then now they have, actually hypersonic gliders, attack vehicles, but starting with the MARV, which is much, much older technology. Then they could launch the MARV at the carrier, and then the MARV itself, in the time it takes, which is roughly 10 minutes for the ballistic missile to arrive at the carrier, during that 10 minutes, the carrier might have moved, you know, roughly 10 kilometers.

And so it, it basically knows that it's looking for the, so that the, the final targeting the seeker in the MARV. It knows that it's looking in an area of, you know, roughly 10 kilometer radius for an aircraft carrier. And it seemed to me that was an entirely solvable machine learning problem with, you know, just, you know, the, the, the, the level of radar technology that you could fit in the Marv would be not that dissimilar to what you could fit in a fighter jet.

And so. It just didn't seem like a hard machine learning problem to actually have the MARV be able to re-acquire the carrier, even if it had been steaming at full speed, you know, at some randomly chosen direction after it was acquired by the satellite. So it seemed like a solvable system to me, and, it seemed like they had been building the infrastructure for this, and it was already, you know, well in place by the mid 2010s.

TP Huang: Yeah, I think, you're right that the drone part of it is definitely like a backup solution. They're, they're definitely very well, they want to be very well protected for all forms of contingencies. And, I'm not, you know, there's always the, the arguments of what, how does a terminal guidance actually, like, what is the sequence around that?

Actually, I haven't looked into it recently to know it, but it does seem like something with, you know, continuously improving technology around seekers. And, even, even coming down at a really high heat, a really fast speed, this should be something you can figure out now versus something that. It was a lot harder, maybe back in 2010.

Steve Hsu: I think that you know, I'm pretty sure their solutions have evolved over time and you know, what are the challenges here? So one is if this thing really is hypersonic, coming into the thicker, lower atmosphere. Then, you know, there's going to be a plasma effect where, you know, there's heating on the nose cone and whatever communications that, that Marv has, either it's communicating with a satellite maybe, which has continuous-- or a drone-- that has continuous, observation of the target or it's actually trying to reacquire the target using its own radar or infrared seeker.

All of that has to happen in this environment where the tip of the nose of the reentry vehicle is, like, heated. And so they have to develop various tricks for overcoming that difficulty.

And I think some, some people who are more technical who write about this. on the western side, you know, for a while they were asserting that they just didn't think this was something that could be overcome. I read that less and less. Based on just thinking about it from first principles, it doesn't seem like it's that hard to overcome.

TP Huang: Yeah, I think it's, it's a lot easier to convince the people that are working on it now that this is. already available versus something, you know, people, you know, retired 15 years ago. I think there was a 60 minutes interview recently where they asked the Pacific commander, if you're worried about China's hypersonic threat.

And, you know, he said a lot of things like, oh, we can try to prepare for this. We can deal with this. Obviously I'm concerned about this. Never in one second did he say this does not work. Now, the funny thing to me is there was, all this time, there's people like Blake Herzinger. I don't even know what his background was before this came out with a book saying, oh, this Chinese anti ship ballistic missile doesn't work.

And then he suddenly became an expert on this Chinese military technology for some reason. And it's baffling to a lot of us who actually follow this because we're like, what are you talking about? Both the Chinese side and the American side. The people that know, think this thing works. Why do you not think this stuff works?

And, and I think like when we talk about a system like this, right? So there's, there's a broad question of why is this such a big deal, which is, it's just a lot harder to intercept basically. Not that you can't intercept it because you can with a standard missile six, but it's because it comes down so quickly.

And if, if you're getting the, you know, the hypersonic live vehicle, it's even harder to intercept because you can't really predict the ballistic path of the missile coming down. Right. So you've discovered it at a much later stage and come down. It's just, it's, it's a little more harder to intercept, versus like the original DF 21D.

The other thing is when you come straight down and it lands and hits something like a large warship, even a carrier, it can probably put a lot of damage on that carrier, basically knock it out for the rest of the conflict. Whereas, if it just gets hit vertically, horizontally by, you know, subsonic anti-ship, cruise missile, you know, it might cause a fire on the carrier, but, the carrier is going to be okay after a while.

You know, you can, you can still continue functioning unless it hits somewhere that's really damaging, right? Yeah, but basically it's not a disaster. Whereas if you get hit by a ballistic missile, I would think that,the carrier itself, or like, if you get a smaller ship, the smaller ship will probably go under. And whereas, the carrier probably, you know, has a hard time staying in action afterward.

Steve Hsu: You might have to I mean, you might, you might easily get a mission kill where it's just not, you know, it's severely damaged, it needs to go back for repairs, or maybe even if they tried to operate, it would operate at significantly lower, sortie rate, than optimal.

And so it, you know, it's effectively a kind of mission kill.

A couple of comments on what you were just saying. So number one, like in terms of people who really, at least in the, in, in the open public domain who analyze this kind of thing, a lot of these people are actually, I would actually characterize them as policy entrepreneurs. So these are people who want to get jobs at think tanks or consulting jobs with defense firms or the Pentagon. And often they don't have technical backgrounds, so they're just trying to get into that ecosystem, probably because they're genuinely interested in it. But then once they're in there, they, they need to, they need to basically write reports that their bosses or their sponsors want.

And so you can get all kinds of crazy, low quality analysis, I think, coming out of, you know, Washington. So I, I think it's not surprising to me that if you, if we were to go back and do a literature review of all the stuff that had been written on this particular issue over the last 10 years, the quality just varies enormously.

And very little of it is produced by actual people with engineering backgrounds.

TP Huang: Yeah. And, I just wanna raise another point with this ballistic missile threat and hypersonic missile threat in general.

I think the, the, the, the scary part of this, when you look at it from a US military side of things, is not even necessarily the weapons themselves, but just the delivery systems. And also more importantly, ever is how cheaply China's able to produce this. And how much training they're doing with it. So, you know, where I read about the American hypersonic programs and they're thinking like each missile is going to be like 50 million. I don't, I don't know, like, it's sounds like a really large number in a lot of cases, even the Tomahawk missile that we sell to the Japanese came out to be five to 6 million now.

Well, the currently floating number, you know, people that know this kind of stuff in China is, each, each DF 17, which is the medium range with hypersonic glide vehicles. that one is, maybe like, I don't know, up to 2000 kilometer range. I could be wrong. It was, I'm just, you can think of it as like a medium range one. That one costs about 2 million. So they can build a thousand of them easily. And just store them and they have a lot of units that operate them and train on them on a constant basis. Because, you know, China has its own, like, rocket force, whose only job is to operate various missiles.

So they. dedicate their, they do a lot of like test launches of, hypersonic missiles.

Steve Hsu: Yeah. So you're referring to the PLA rocket forces, PLARF. And it's an old adage in the Navy that a ship should not try to fight a fort. So what do they mean by that? Like for one ship to fight another ship in the middle of the ocean.

Okay. Fine, sounds like, you know, a reasonable proposition. For a ship to fight a fort, meaning something that is connected to the mainland, right? To, to land, which is easily resupplied. It's pretty tough because a ship is going to run out of ammo before the fort is going to run out of ammo. And so by extending the ranges of their weapons to, you know, to say 2, 000 kilometers, effectively you've made the whole coastline, not even the coastline, you could go pretty far into the interior of the country.

You've made the whole coastline of the country into a fort, which can launch attacks at any ship that's, say, within the first or even second island chain. So, it becomes very asymmetric, because as you said, they can continue making these missiles or they can stockpile huge numbers of them. The aircraft carrier can only carry what it can carry.

TP Huang: Yeah. And I think that, we, we were, we are our second and maybe even third generation of these weapons systems now. So there is a longer range DF 26, which goes 4, 000 kilometers. And the, you know, part of the rationale is you, they want to be able to target us carriers as soon as you get into the second island chain.

And obviously you want to be able to take out,reduce whatever operational value of one there is.

And, there's even, I think, a few months ago that the missile DF 27 came out because of that Russian leak that we had. And part of the thing was they were saying this, this missile can go, if you read the DOD report says it can go from 5, 000 to 8, 000 kilometer range, which means you have a missile that can start in China and hit somewhere In Hawaii, which means it can target, whatever ships, you know, America has, parked at Pearl Harbor, if you think about it that way.

That's, so that's, that's quite significant if you think about it that way. So like the lot, the further they go, you know, the targeting gets worse, the number of missiles I can reach gets much smaller. But if you have a, if you have the system available, this is something you have to think about countering on your end, right?

Steve Hsu: so this ship fighting a fort thing, which is not good for the ship, is reflected by the fact that There are many, many places on the Chinese mainland where they can launch these missiles from and still hit U.S.ships that are within the first island chain or even out to the second island chain. And the ship, of course, the aircraft carrier group, can only carry so much in the terms of its own bombs and ammunition and missiles.

So, there's a, there's a basic asymmetry there. One of the things which I think is quite difficult, which I think is still not understood by most analysts, is the anti missile missiles, things like SM 6s, launched by Arleigh Burke's to defend the carrier. I actually think it's quite difficult for those interceptor missiles to maneuver.

reentry vehicle when that maneuvering reentry vehicle is going quite fast, like maybe Mach 7, even more. And the difficulty is because you have to perfectly anticipate the trajectory of the thing you're trying to hit, and then your own trajectory to intercept it. And it comes down to something called control theory.

With all the lags in the system and any inaccuracies in the sensors where, you know, where your radar places the missile you're trying to hit if it's slightly off or the timing slightly off, it's very easy to miss. So if you analyze that, it looks like the efficiency of defense of these carrier groups against incoming anti ship ballistic missiles, even of the old type, which are Marv, not HGV, that efficiency would be quite low.

And I think that's still something which is not fully understood in the war games that they recently played out. CSIS had some more games where they played out multiple variations of a Taiwan invasion by China and the U.S.sending carrier groups to help defend Taiwan. In those scenarios, the successful kill probability of the interceptor missiles that they assumed were actually unrealistically favorable to the U.S.and they even make a note about this in their report, that the people who designed the game thought it was unrealistically optimistic, for the U.S.side. But nevertheless, they lost in every scenario some number, you know, two, possibly three U.S.carriers, in the actual war game.

So it looks like even You know, the U.S.side realizes that these ships carriers are at risk, but I still think some of the technical details of, of what it takes to intercept a hypersonic missile, trying to hit your aircraft carrier are still not fully understood.

TP Huang: Yeah, I think, you know, when it comes to CSIS and all these other, and think tanks, when they write these things, they don't really, they haven't really thought out about how China might do this attack.

They look at everything from a perspective that's very favorable to America. And they haven't also thought about, like, why China would attack. So, you know, a lot of us have looked at this and, generally speaking, we think that if China does make the decision to attack, it will do it in a, in a situation where it's extremely favorable to itself and it would do it in a manner that gives, U.S. military as little time as possible in terms of figuring out the attack is coming. So this is kind of different from the traditional view where you have a million people marching, trying to march across the Taiwan Strait where they line up next to the sea area as a bunch of transport and you just need to send bombers and submarines over and sink them.

so in the scenario that I think most, most people that I talked to and listened to that really would know these things, they would think that, for example, we had the Pelosi situation from a year ago where, in a couple of days, basically we had the PLA move different assets from the Eastern theater group using theater command into action. Basically, they had the ballistic missile units ready. They had the PCH 191, which is like the Chinese version of HIMARS ready. They had the air force ready, the ships ready, obviously. And they were doing some high intensity, wargaming around Taiwan. And so the, so the proposal we would generally say from the Chinese military watcher community is that, the Chinese military itself will not undertake this unless we get a scenario like that. So you basically have a scenario where, anytime you have a major incident, China is going to do another war game like this.

So the U.S.military would have no way of knowing, or very little way of knowing whether the Chinese side is actually doing a real attack or, or like just a regular working.

And that's what makes some of these things really deadly, just because, you really have no idea if these things are coming and the, and the premise around that is, once you. Get the aircraft in the air, if the other side thinks it's just a regular war game, their ships are going to be in their port. Their ships might be under, under repairs. So, the Chinese side will definitely pick a time when it's more favorable to them, which means a lot of the ships, a lot of the assets, and the aircraft themselves are on the ground. They're in the port somewhere. Or there was, like the striking distance, the prime striking distance of the missiles.

So, then they also wouldn't know that missiles themselves are coming. So then you get a scenario where you have a lot of units in position and they're ready to do the, you know, the first attack and the other side is not even aware an attack is coming. Even though, even if they're on high alert, they don't know for sure the attack is coming. They think it's most likely just another exercise. So that's like the value of the first attack. So a lot of these planners, when they're doing these things, they don't think about this at all. Like, they don't, they don't, for example, think that China would launch the first attack. When, militarily speaking, it's hugely advantaged for China to make the first attack.

And I would say most of the military planners in the Pentagon are actually expecting China to do so, in a real scenario, which actually would make things a lot harder, because then You know, kind of, we talked about the idea of them having not just DF 17s, but DF 26, which can go up to 4, 000 kilometers and then DF 27, which some people say goes up to 8, 000 kilometers when you read the DoD report.

So that would put places like Pearl Harbor within the striking distance. Now, whether or not they can actually hit that in a real battle, I have no idea. I'm just saying that's, conceptually speaking, that would put Alaska, that would put Hawaii. and possibly even Seattle. So whatever, you know, naval action you have over there is under threat.

So those are the kind of things we're, you know, we're kind of discussing here. And,from the scenario of a force that's very dependent on missiles, it would be silly for them not to use that advantage.

Steve Hsu: So you've, you've opened up a lot of different possibilities here. So number one, I think from the Chinese side, if, at the very beginning of the war, they're already attacking Hawaii, Pearl Harbor, Guam, things like this. Then, in a way, they're, they're really asking for a full blown war with the United States. And I, I think you're saying that possibly in their thinking, they, they just don't think in the event that they do invade Taiwan, they just don't think that that could be avoided. So they would just go for it from the get go.

TP Huang: If, if you're China and you think the scenario of U.S.Americans participating in the conflict at 80 percent. And you think that by striking first it gives you a try, it basically makes you lose. You can't lose the conflict, conventionally speaking, then you would be foolish not to do that. If, if, if America was to give you the, the good luck of giving you an excuse to launch, do a major exercise around, around Taiwan and for it to, to look like a war game and to be completely off guard like a Pearl Harbor scenario like, you know, World War ii.

It would be silly for them not to take this scenario. So that's actually the thing that worries a lot of planners, I would think, in the Pentagon.

Steve Hsu: Right.

So I think a lot of nervous planners who always have to look at kind of worst case ish scenarios have to think about a kind of surprise attack against U.S.assets, which are not just the first island chain, but all the way out to Hawaii and Alaska, which is pretty daunting. Seattle, Seattle. Wow. But see, yeah, but see, I think psychologically if you attack Seattle, then, you know, all bets are off. There could be a nuclear response or, you know, who knows what could where that could lead to.

So very difficult for either side to plan this all out. I think

TP Huang: Yeah, so I think, I think that, what I was trying to get across more is just, these think tanks are generally making a mistake if they don't think at least everything in the second island chain will be fully attacked. Yeah. By the conflict.

I think the likelihood of China attacking Alaska or Hawaii or Seattle is not high at this point in our initial phase of the conflict. But I think the likelihood of them attacking the bases in Japan, the bases in, in Guam and surrounding areas and, possibly Darwin, you know, and Diego Garcia, that's, I don't think it's that low, but I think you, you have to think about this.

Steve Hsu: Yeah. So in the, at least. Taking the CSIS war game, the most recent one for what it's worth, for them it was a big decision, the side for them that was playing China, it was a big decision point whether to, for example, attack Kadena, which is the, the, the big U.S.base in, air base in Japan. And I think the thinking was, you know, if they did that, they would likely draw Japan into really active participation in the war, whereas there was some chance if they didn't, that they could avoid that.

I think part of this is, you know, if you think you can just, for example, you gave the example of the Pelosi incident, basically establishing the precedent of China conducting exercises where they've more or less completely enveloped Taiwan, like in the wake of Pelosi's visit, they had conducted very aggressive exercises.

which would have been a kind of ideal starting point for a real confrontation. I think you're making that point. And because they did that in the wake of what was considered Pelosi's provocation, the U.S.didn't really react to that. They said, look, this is just a, you know, kind of a demonstration by them.

You know, they have to blow off some steam. Let's just let it happen. But now it sets the precedent. They could get into that starting position and we wouldn't do anything.

So the question is like, if they could

TP Huang: That is why that was one of the dumbest things that U.S.politicians have done in history.

Steve Hsu: Right. Right. So they basically establish, in a sense, establish that precedent, right? That, that, okay, that can happen and nothing happens next because they're just exercising and blowing off steam. but imagine they could get back into that situation. So they announced some other war games, which are similar and some exercises, which are similar.

They get to that position. If they feel that they've intimidated the Americans quite a bit and the Americans know that their systems work well, it looks like a very tough fight. And then they just go to Taiwan, there is a chance that they could just take Taiwan without, U.S.interference, right?

So, they are gambling if they, if they strike Hawaii or Guam or Seattle from the get go. They are giving up that possibility that the U.S.would actually just let it go. Like, treat it the way they treat Ukraine. Right,

TP Huang: right, right. I think, I think that, there will have to be some decision making going on.

Like, again, I think Guam is automatic. I think that's going to happen if there's, if there's a conflict, but, anything, you know, on the other side of the hemisphere, that's, that's a bigger, that's a bigger question. And I think they're going to attack Japan. Yes,

Steve Hsu: right. So,

TP Huang: and then Japan has a decision to make if you're, if you're attacking. China, both China and Japan have a decision to make actually, China's side, the, the, the question is whether or not you destroy the Japanese vessels, whether while they're still in the porch, and then enforce a blockade in Japan. On the Chi Japan side, the question is whether you defend yourself at all, because you know, a blockade of Japan, which just destroyed Japan, so.

Steve Hsu: Right, so, I mean, if you're on the Chinese side, you could say we're attacking only U.S.assets in Japan, but we're not attacking you, Japan, and if you stay neutral We won't attack you. or you could just go for it and try to sink as much of the Japanese Navy on day one as you can. Right. So,

TP Huang: yeah, but you know, if you look at the actual, the amount of forces that the U.

S. Navy and Air Force stationed in Japan, the U.S.7th fleet has more capital ships, more capable ships there than the entire Japanese Self Defense Force. And, there's, A lot of the Japanese air force bases are bright, like they're, they're not that far away from the American ones. Like America, Japan also has it in Okinawa.

Japan also has this base around Tokyo. it also has this in not that far away from Sasebo. And, the only major one I see other ones that China would need to target specifically is. Masawa, which is where they put the F 35s, but believe me, I've looked into all, most of this. This is the Japanese basis.

Steve Hsu: Okay. But let me ask you this. So is there a scenario where the Chinese say to the Japanese, we are attacking only U.S.assets, which are on your territory, but we're not attacking you. Stay neutral if you know what's good for you. Is that a viable strategy? Is that, or is that out of the realm of possibility?

TP Huang: You know, I'm, I can only speculate. I would think that they would do that behind the scenes, but then America would find out. So I don't really know how that would look at how that conversation would go.

Steve Hsu: Yeah. I mean, most Americans, I think right now would just say most of the people who are involved in these kinds of debates would just say, for sure, Japan's going to be in and fighting, fighting on the side of the United States and not being neutral in this conflict.

But it's not clear to me. a lot of this depends on the balance of forces. And really the perceived balance of power when the war starts, if the perceived balance of power is that, wow, I count up all the hypersonic missiles and there are thousands of them on one side and effectively zero on the other side.

And, I think the going to have a very tough time projecting power. within the first island chain, then the chances of holding Japan and South Korea neutral in this conflict seem much higher because they're just going to say like, Hey, look, we don't want, we don't want part of this because it looks like, you know, the Americans maybe could put up a fight in the longer run, but in the short run, they're not going to, they're, they're going to get crushed.

TP Huang: Yeah. And there's also the question if you're trying to, which is, you know, when do you get to a point where you're so confident about your own military ability that, You don't think you need to do the first strike, right? Because you said, even if America is a joint that, so I think, this is why, you know, generally when people bring up, when these people bring up the idea of China might invade Taiwan in 2025, 2027, I think it's really silly because, I think, you know, that if, if it was to happen in the next three to five years, it pretty much has to play out in a scenario where China is completely shut off from the West.

For the foreseeable future, like the relationship we factored, you know, whereas, you know, if it's, at a scenario where it's so military strong, it's not concerned about US military joining, joining the fray, declaring war, like at a later point, then there's at least a chance where, you know, US can, Americans can back out of the conflict.

Steve Hsu: Yeah, I mean, if I, if I were to argue the case that the not going to risk having multiple carrier groups destroyed, you know, within the first week, et cetera, et cetera, you know, you just look at how they've played the Ukraine fight. they have never been willing to directly face off against Russian forces.

They've been happy to supply the Ukrainians with weapons and money. And if, if, if they limit their participation to that, it's a very different story. Right. And, and in that case, the Chinese should definitely not attack us forces on day one. Right. If they think they can get them, the Americans behave that way.

TP Huang: Right. So that's why generally speaking, I think because there's such high stakes involved. And most people don't think about the high stakes I'm talking about. They, the probability of China. Attacking Taiwanbefore the end of the decade, let's just say, is very low unless there's, you know, Taiwan actually, some kind of red line gets crossed.

Steve Hsu: Right.

So let me turn to that in a second, but one military thing I wanted to ask you about, which I don't have very high confidence in my own opinion of, is how hard is it or how necessary is it for them to actually put a lot of boots on the ground in Taiwan? What are your thoughts on that?

TP Huang: I think it's not very, they don't really need to because, Taiwan is not energy self sufficient, it's not food self sufficient, it's not, you know, oil self sufficient, you know, the first day I would imagine they do a blockade around Taiwan.

And then they fought and they started launching the PCH 191s at all the military targets. And then they send over the helicopters and, some J 10s maybe, and, the drones. And that will basically really knock out the military, keep Taiwan militarily, unable to come to continue the conflict really. And then from there, it's just basically like how long it takes Taiwan to surrender in that scenario.

Right. And so, I think when people talk about a ground invasion, it's kind of silly because there's no reason for China to risk its people across the straits unless, until it neutralizes Taiwan's ability to, to actually, counteract that. I mean, they might take over a couple of the islands in between.

That's easier to get, without it.

Steve Hsu: Right. So this has always been my perspective on it is that, you know, I, I don't really know how to think through the, an actual. invasion, you know, amphibious landing on Taiwan. If I were on the Chinese side, it seems like it might not be necessary. I agree with you, they can probably disable most or all of the Taiwanese military, you know, the air force and their own missile forces quickly at the beginning, and the naval forces as well.

And basically isolate the island. they'll run out of energy right away. they'll run out of food, you know, somewhat thereafter. And then the question becomes, to what extent can you hold off the Americans and Japanese, during that period, which, you know, could be a month or something before they surrender.

And, And,

TP Huang: and, and Taiwan doesn't have a month. Actually, it's been speculated that it will take, The U.S.forces maybe 40 to 45 days to come.

Steve Hsu: Right. And so the, if, if, if you think they'll surrender before the 40 to 45 days and, and also like even that after, at the end of that, what are they sending, they're sending some care groups that might get sunk, right?

Yeah. So, okay. So, that was the military question.

Now, coming back to the political question.

I had this other guest named Paul Huang, who is actually Taiwanese, and he's a researcher, he's actually a researcher on these topics. His claim is there's basically nothing that Taiwanese do. I had always thought that if the DPP, for example, declares independence, that's crossing the red line. And he actually said, The mainland government doesn't really even give a shit what the Taiwanese government says, it's mainly what the Americans say.

So in other words, only his point of view is that Americans can cross the red line. Even if the DPP declares independence, the mainlanders can just ignore it and just exact some punishment on them. And even that wouldn't necessarily trigger a war. I'm curious what you think about that.

TP Huang: Yeah, so I actually know Paul also and I would disagree with him on that one.

Uh, what DPP can do actually does matter. Okay. So, and I think a lot of people on the mainland would feel the same, the likelihood of a conflict goes down significantly if DPP was not in power.

Steve Hsu: Sure. I think everybody agrees about that. but so what, what would you consider a red line? So I think for you then DPP declaring independence would be a red line.

I think that's unlikely unless the Americans are telling them to declare independence, right? Right.

TP Huang: So, name change would be a major one. I would think,I think some kind of, I think, she, when he visited me. Biden, he outlined a few, like, obviously Americans put a real permanent, trying to put a permanent base in Taiwan.

That'll be a major one. nuclear deployment to Taiwan. That'll be a red line for sure. And, yeah, I don't really know because I think you can actually get to unification, not through military means. So.

Steve Hsu: Yeah, I, I, I actually, I don't know, I, it could be that just wishful thinking on my part, but I think the natural trend is as the PRC gets more and more powerful, Taiwan will eventually see the handwriting on the wall.

Now, it is true that the younger pe, younger generation in Taiwan feels less and less, quote Chinese. But on the other hand, the balance of power is shifting so strongly that they, they may, there may be room for a negotiated settlement at some point in the future. I'm not, I'm not totally pessimistic

TP Huang: about that.

Yeah. And I mean, if you, if you've been to, you know, like Taiwan and, and southern part of China, like I have, you see that culturally they're very similar and a lot of Taiwanese actually when they grow up and they want to advance in their careers, they go to Shanghai. They don't come to America.

Steve Hsu: Yeah. I mean, I, I've lived in, I, I spent a sabbatical year in Taipei and my, my wife is actually from Taiwan.

So, uh, I have a lot of, I feel like I have a fair amount of insight into the relationships between individuals from Taiwan and PRC. But this issue is like how young people think I'm old enough to know that there could be a significant gap between the way I see the world and what say a 20 year old in Taipei thinks.

So that part is hard for me to predict. but I don't honestly don't see any fundamental, you know, cultural problems between, PRC and Taiwan. Right.

so, we weren't going to talk too much about the nuclear weapons situation, but let me, I just thought I would lay out how I view the situation, just kind of get your reactions on it.

So for a long time, China claimed to have a very kind of minimal deterrent force. And, I was always suspicious about this because the, you know, the U.S.estimates of, like, how large the Chinese nuclear force, was never changed over time, like, basically over 20, 30 years didn't change. I guess, well, yeah, at least 20 years.

And, now they seem to have shifted their strategy where they are really building extensive missile fields. They've definitely advanced their technology to the point where they have Very accurate, reliable systems, both land based, submarine launched missiles, et cetera. And so it looks like they are serious about getting to the point where they have, you know, roughly of order of a thousand deliverable, warheads to the United States.

And I think they're doing that because they don't want to be in a situation where they, at least in the Western Pacific, win out conventionally. But then they feel they can still be blackmailed by the U.S.over the nuclear, what, nuclear conflict. And so they want to just be in a position where it looks like, you know, there's at least some level of parity where they, they, they can't be blackmailed.

What, what do you think of that analysis?

TP Huang: I think that's a pretty good read on the analysis. And I would also add another one is that, By them building up, it forces America to spend a lot of money, basically renewing its own nuclear force. And as we know, it costs a lot of money to build a new fleet of ballistic missile subs to replace the Ohio class, for example.

And, America also needs to have the Air Force base one with B 21s and also the land based one. All that costs money. So from China's point of view, if they can get America to spend a significant amount of their budget on nuclear missiles. Which don't actually get used in a conventional battle. It's a big win,

Steve Hsu: right?

That makes sense I mean if you have to divert resources into Rejuvenating your nuclear arsenal then you're more and more likely to be Under prepared for an actual conventional conflict in the western pacific

Now one of the issues is if let's imagine there is some kind of conflict and You know, whatever happens in the short run, maybe the Chinese are successful in the short run, and they take Taiwan without much trouble. Basically, as you said, at that point, it's China versus the West, maybe Russia China versus the West, Russia China BRICS versus the West.

And, you know, one of the things that I thought was a huge mistake, for U.S.Strategy was by pushing Russians and Chinese together. It eventually solves a lot of natural resource constraints that China had faced. So supply of food, supply of energy from Russia, which can't be interrupted by the U.

The S. Navy puts them in a much stronger position. for, for that eventuality, if it is really, you know, two giant blocks facing off, globally, what do you think about that?

TP Huang: Yeah, so the Russian angle here is quite interesting because, you know, even before the conflict, since basically Maidan, Maidan, basically China and Russia have been obviously getting a lot closer since 2014.

And we're at a point now where Russia itself is basically dependent on China for all the imports of all the machineries to run its economy. So it really can't have a functional economy without China's, uh. Uh, exports of machineries and electronics to, to Russia. So, but in many ways, we are actually at a codependent relationship because China itself actually needs Russia, a friendly Russian government very much.

If you look at the map, you'll see that China itself is surrounded by Russian, former Soviet countries, and former Soviet republics all around. So just by not having a hostile Russia. There's a lot less attention China needs to pay on the other side of the border. So that's a major plus. And, some of the other factors are obvious now, if we talk about nuclear, if there's a nuclear conflict, America not only has to worry about Chinese nuclear retaliation, but also the Russian one.

so that's another one. And, uh, the other one is in a conflict there, if we assume a scenario where everything in the second island chain is destroyed, the primary operating point for America will be through its air bases in Alaska. And. The shortest path from Northeast China to Alaska goes over Russia.

So you can see a scenario where China itself would definitely be granted an overflight right over Russia where America would not. So then the question is what happens if American planes fly over Russia anyways. I don't know. It's kind of hard to speculate. And then there's also the scenario of China, possibly Russia, possibly allowing Chinese troops to go into Russia to launch attacks from there onto the other side.

Regardless, it's hugely important for China to be able to utilize this airspace to go into, to, to launch attacks. And I think the other thing that you mentioned was very important is the resource part of this. Now, I'm not a major proponent that it's easy to actually even blockade China from the Malacca Strait.

I think it's actually kind of pretty hard, but, if you just look at strategically, and I tweeted about this recently, which is, what the EV revolution did for China is you can get to a scenario where if you just have the domestic Chinese production of oil, plus the Russian ones and the pipeline ones.

you can get maybe 7 million barrels a day and that is enough to run the economy with no problem as long as, once you just only use the, you know, electric cars and electric buses and things like that. And obviously Russians also supply a lot of natural gas. It helps with the electricity situation also, and Russia also supplies a bunch, a whole bunch of resources that right now China may buy from other countries.

Steve Hsu: For Russia to start delivering significant amounts of gas and oil to China, not over ocean routes, so building of new pipelines and, and such, what, what is the timescale for the completion of projects like that?

TP Huang: So I think I'm making some, assumption in this case that China does have a pretty good coverage of the sea of Japan, for example, by this point, and, it can pretty much guarantee that Russian cargoes from Pacific coast can, can get to China around the, you know, through sea of Japan into East China sea, for example.

I see. but, in terms of pipeline gas, I think we're, the major one is obviously the one on the far East and, there's. I think the phase one max for that is about 50 BCMs. And there's also the gas coming in from Turkmenistan. That's another major one. And Kazakhstan, that's another major one.

And also there's another one coming in from Myanmar. So those are the, some of the, major like natural gas pipelines coming into China, obviously they also get a lot of LNG. So I would say. If you can have some LMGs going between the, you know, I think my guess, my guess, I don't know this for sure, my guess is, Russians are probably building the LMG facilities around Vladivostok, like around that area, for shipping into China right now, but long, longer 2 project, Right now, which has, I think it's 50 BCMs that's coming on.

That could come online. But the thing is right now, I think China feels like it's at a pretty strong position. So it's actually not looking to sign that contract because I guess it thinks they can get all the electricity and needs from solar panels and wind. I don't know. So,

Steve Hsu: Yeah, very interesting. You know, I've been interacting with Russians since, in particular, Russian physicists.

The late 80s, 1980s, maybe even earlier than that. And so, I often feel that people in Washington, they may never have really met a real Russian or talked to a real Russian, and they were so quick to vilify the Russians post Ukraine conflict, they've hardly realized that really, most Russians actually want to be part of Europe.

Like, I would have said in 2014, one of the major threats for China's security would be that, the West absorbs Russia into its orbit because if they had just been reasonable about, its sphere of influence, neutrality of Ukraine, they, they could have, they could have gotten the Russians into a state where the Chinese wouldn't have to worry about a lot of the concerns that you mentioned about, you know, the border states and things like this.

Thank you very much. So to me, the strategic loss to the Western side, to the U.S.side, from pushing this war in Ukraine is really incalculable. It's actually probably the worst possible mistake they could have made.

TP Huang: Yeah, I totally agree. This is why China will never give up on Russia.

Steve Hsu: Yeah, exactly. The downside for them is so huge.

I think what most Americans just didn't understand was that Russians like Americans and Russians like Europeans and they really, for hundreds of years, they've looked to the Europeans as the model for a sort of better development of the Russian nation, not toward the Chinese at all. In fact, it's quite difficult for them to, you know, accept that, the Chinese could be their partners and eventually, like, kind of like a role model for development for them.

I think it's quite hard for them psychologically to deal with that. I think this phase where they've been under sanctions and so all their cars and electronics, everything that they're buying is coming from China. They're kind of realizing that these are actually high quality goods. I can see they're surprised.

That these are high quality goods and they're gradually changing their minds. So the next generation of Russians may be quite happy to be close allies of China, but the previous generation would've been much, much happier to be close, to be, integrated into the West.

TP Huang: Yeah, I think, I think a lot of people, not just the Russians, have a similar view because China's rise, technologically speaking, has been so rapid and sudden, right? Yep.

That it caught a lot of people off guard. and it caught off my guard, to be honest. I'll just use an example. When the J 20 project first started, the Russians had the PAK FA project. back then, everyone just assumed the Russians will have Su 57s or PAK FA in service before J 20 does.

And people were shocked when, like, J 20 flew a year after the first, you know, PAC FA flew. And, and then, basically Russians didn't do anything with 257s for a long time. And, and, J 20 went from a demonstrator to joining service, you know, officially joining service and achieving status in seven years.

And now they're producing maybe They can produce up to a hundred of them a year, whereas the Russians are just slowly bringing Su 57s into force now. And if you just look at that one particular program, you can just see how the world changed from the 2000s, when I first started following the PLA, to now.

Steve Hsu: Well, so for the audience, we're talking here now about fifth generation stealth fighters, and the Chinese have produced something called the J 20, which is a state of the art. stealth fighter, which is, you know, some people say very competitive with the best planes that America can feel like the F 22 and the F 35.

It is debated a lot, whether, whether it's competitive with those planes or not. The Russians are way behind in their fifth generation, uh, deployment and development. and, and so.

TP Huang: Also, if you look at the plane, right, if you look at the plane the J 20's, stealth level from frontal point of view is about the same as the F 35's.

Right. Not from, not from the side, maybe not from the behind, definitely not from the behind and maybe a little worse on the side. But the rush, the Su 57s, if you look at it, it looks like, it looks like, it's not good. I mean, if you look at how America does things, it uses an early block of F 35s to simulate J 20s and its aggressor squadrons.

Whereas for, Su 57s, the Navy uses a F 18, the Air Force uses a F 16. That's how highly the Americans think of the Russian fighter jets.

Steve Hsu: Right. So what you're saying is they're using fourth generation fighters to simulate the Russian fifth generation fighter, whereas to simulate the Chinese J 20, they do use U.S.fifth generation fighters in their combat simulations.


you know, you're younger than me, so you probably don't remember quite as well as I do. Just how destroyed Russia was in the fall, in the collapse of the Soviet Union. So, they lost so much of their best talent, in physics, engineering, science, everything.

So, I was not surprised. I was actually sh I would I was shocked that they were even able to keep pace on any cutting edge, military technology, you know, post, collapse. And so, what was surprising to me was how, how well the Chinese did, and I wasn't, that was an open kind of question mark for me, how fast the Chinese would close the technology gap in the last 20 years, and it has actually, been, you know, toward the high end of my estimates, I would say, um, whereas I wasn't that surprised at the Russians, really struggling, because they really did go through terrible, terrible times, which, which they don't, at least older Russians don't forget, younger Russians maybe don't, Realize this anymore, but, the state of their nation post collapse of the Soviet union was really terrible.

TP Huang: Yes. And I think you're completely right on that one. And they just didn't have the money to invest in various sectors, whereas China had all these tech talent coming in, all the STEM talent coming in and they were able to develop them. And, there was the very famous J 10 project, which is China's first, you know, self developed first generation aircraft. And it was known as China's Apollo project. It built basically China's entire aerospace industry and, because they did have this J 10 project, they were able to go from the fourth generation to fifth generation in 14 years, basically. And so the speculation is, you know, if they use that cadence, they're gonna get to the sixth generation by 2032.

So, you know, I think a lot of people don't realize this, but most of my predictions with my friends I've talked to about this is that we expect this, the so-called sixth generation aircraft from both the American and Chinese sides to join service at about the same time.

Steve Hsu: You know, I don't even really know how to think about the next generation of fighters because, you know, will there be humans running them or will it be just better drones, you know, like drones with, you know, top level fighter capabilities.

so, so the

TP Huang: The general concept about that is, it's likely that we're going to have a much higher mix of drones going forward, but we'll, we'll still need a human as a, what we call loyal wingman. So you have the main human fighter jet controlling, that's really expensive, controlling a bunch of drones around it and the, and the, the fighter jet itself will have huge range.

Like, let's say right now you might have, you know, a really high end one, you might have like 1500 kilometer range. In the optimal scenario, maybe next generation 2500 kilometer range, and it's really needed when we're talking about what we call the Westpac scenario, the West Pacific scenario between America and China, the range really matters.

Steve Hsu: This depends a little bit on how far you extrapolate, but you know, eventually you could just imagine that if you have enough intelligence. Not even on a drone, but literally on a missile. On what is effectively a kind of air to air missile. It could be that the airspace becomes very unviable for anything.

Because you just have these things out there which can see you, and then they just attack you and blow you up. And, I could imagine, you know, in the same way that if you look at how ground warfare is happening in Ukraine, it's kind of surprising, right? Like, two years ago, we wouldn't have predicted exactly how the fighting would take place.

I wouldn't be surprised if ten years from now, or twenty years from now, the way that aerial combat is changed by autonomy and, and, you know, smart missiles and it's like this surprises everybody. so you just have some huge, like thing which floats up there and just spams out like very smart, but cheap air to air missiles.

Like who can operate in that environment? Like maybe nobody can.

TP Huang: Yes. And I think, when we talk about this, we're talking about just U.S.and China. Like, we're talking about how these two countries are so far ahead of everyone else in terms of technology and force projection and things like that. And I wouldn't put Russia in the same league.

Yeah. Technology wise, maybe, maybe Israel is close in some areas, but, in terms of force projection size, obviously Israel can't, can't, can't compare.

Steve Hsu: Let's talk about that a little bit because, one interesting question to me is what are the bits of technology that China can still benefit from getting from Russia?

So you know, improvements to their submarines, maybe some nuclear capability, I'm not sure. Maybe some sensors, maybe something like the, S 500, air defense system, there might be, I think there are at least some narrow areas where the Russians are still ahead of the Chinese and given that they have a no limits friendship and that Putin really is dependent on China, right now, like, are the Chinese going to suck those last bits of, uh, mil tech capability out of the Russians?

TP Huang: You know, a lot of people, I think the number one thing people are worried about is the help with nuclear submarines, but, I just don't see it.

Steve Hsu: You think the Chinese are far enough along that they can make quiet, capable nuclear attack subs and nuclear ballistic missile submarines without Russian help?

TP Huang: Yeah, if we just talk about nuclear subs, you know, sub construction, and I've been taught with many people about this, because this is submarine and anti-submarine stuff is one of the most classified areas. Of knowledge and people just don't know that there are still people that think you can just park us nuclear subs in a Taiwan strait and, and, and torpedo, like ships as they come by, which is crazy to me how people can still think that.

But, anyways, so the, one of the main, so there's, there's two factors when it comes to the two or three major factors when it comes to the nuclear submarines. One is, how quiet can you make the machines inside the nuclear submarine? And two, how big the submarine is. So you can install larger noise absorbers inside the submarine, right?

So the larger sub you have, the more, uh, what do you call raft? You can raft it better. You can put more noise cancellation gears inside there in terms of the first one, that one, China itself doesn't really need Russian help because. The factors that determine the quietness of a submarine are things that would also contribute to making better turbofan engines, like material science.

This is another crazy thing I found. When I tweet about stuff like material science and, and also, precision manufacturing, which is very important in both, turbofan engines and submarines. People can't make the link online for some reason. But, You know, as China is able to now put WS 15, which is the turbofan engine for, basically like the Chinese version of like F 135 and also WS 30, WS 20 and, which is their large bypass engine into service, you can see that in terms of technology, they're ahead of the brushes in terms of the, Precision manufacturing and, also, material science and they're accelerating in this process.

So I don't see any reason to believe that, for example, their material science is worse or their CNC milling machines are worse than the Russians. In fact, if you look at it, a lot of the,recently, China's CNC makers have been moving up the, the value chain to, high, higher end market now, and that has actually helped them tremendously in terms of one, getting their, turbofan engines into mass production and in, quickly improving the quality of their, their engines, which translates to better submarines.

And the other factor is I talked about the size of the submarine. So the size of submarines, when you have a big submarine, you need a larger reactor. So that comes back to having like a, a capable industry for, small modular reactors. And you can see that China is getting really good at this nuclear reactor technology thing and they are able to make it really cheaply.

so I would just say that they definitely have a reactor ready for that similar in output as the, you know, the Russian Yasen class and the American Virginian or Seawolf class. So they can build big subs if they want to.

Steve Hsu: Right. So you're, you, you think it's just a matter of time for those programs to mature?

TP Huang: Yeah. So right now, you know, they're building a follow up class called 093B, which is kind of small still. It's more of a, I would say just to build up their numbers and things like that. And everyone knows. Everyone, I guess, in DC probably knows that they're going to build 095 after this, which is supposed to be a much larger sub.

And I expect it to be quieter than the Russian subs because, yeah, the Chinese technology is better.

Steve Hsu: Good. So we've covered a huge range of things now. So, uh, and we've been on for a while.

Maybe I'll just ask you to make any projections you want to make. Well, first of all, anything that we didn't cover that you want to discuss, we could do. And then also any projections you want to make for what the military situation will be, say, 10 years from now.

TP Huang: Yeah. So the one topic I think we haven't gone through is radar and electronic warfare. This is absolutely critical for future warfare. And this is something that you see in the current warfare between Russia and Ukraine, where Russia doesn't have a very mature industry in RF.

So radio frequency and power chips, RF, RF chips, and they're, they're not able to just shut down. Like they're jamming is good, but it's not at the level you need to be at. They can't disrupt America, possibly helping Ukraine supply. targeting data, for example. Not saying that China could, but, if you, if you read a lot of the, the online literatures, the Chinese has gotten really good at electronic, electronic warfare or spectrum, controlling spectrum, they call it, and that has a lot to do with just the, you know, the 5G developments.

for example, if you. are really good at, you know, telecom, 5g and things like that. Your radars can send different waves, wave, waveforms and wavelengths over every time. That way the other side can't pick up, that you're, that you're paying them. That's what we call the, you know, low reducing emissions.

So you have a low probability of intercept. And the other thing is, electronic warfare is, you can trick the other side into thinking that there's aircraft here when there's no aircraft here. So one of the things that they noticed, in the Taiwan Strait scenarios, China would send aircraft over and Taiwan would just have no idea how many aircraft is coming over because you can see the Taiwan reported ones and, and the, and the people on China side are just laughing at the Taiwanese saying, how can you possibly think we had that many aircraft over there at that time?

It doesn't even make any sense. So this is where, the, the growth you saw them was, the gallium nitride, was the, the, the, the mass proliferation of, uh, ASA radars and advanced, electronic warfare, modules on the different aircraft has, and also all the, you know, the high quality, like high end, you know, early warning, aircraft has really changed the dynamics in the West Pacific.


Steve Hsu: Yeah, I think that I'm glad you emphasize that because this is what we, I would call, you know, real electrical engineering. So not as distinct from software engineering or. even chip design, but actually controlling like antennas that emit electromagnetic radiation or absorb electromagnetic radiation.

Those are all things my impression is that Chinese are extremely good at. And these are things which are really not understood by non technical people at all.

TP Huang: Yes, yes. And the other thing is I would say longer term. So, It'll be kind of interesting to see how this, future plays out because, my, my thinking is that, the Pentagon and the American, you know, military establishment knows that currently America is not really prepared for a conflict because, a lot of the assets are getting older and they're getting, they're retiring and, people are hoping that, you know, B 21s and the 6th gen or AKA NGAD and, a lot more Virginia class submarines coming before us will change things a little bit.

so I think you're going to, so in terms of like, I'm not too concerned about, what I, in my mind is, a near term conflict. Thankfully for me, at least as a Chinese American, you know, it would be kind of dangerous for me if something like that happens.

Steve Hsu: I think the smart U.S.planners realize that they really have no business wanting to start a conflict right now, given the current situation, right, of the, you know, U.S.preparedness and stuff like that. But, I don't think the politicians really understand that.

TP Huang: I think they're being told that, but whether they accept it, that's a different, that's a different thing. I, you know, I think they're concerned that China will take advantage of the sister ship. That's why we're hearing about these 20 things.

But if you look at China's side, right there, they are making huge investments right now, just expanding their technology across a lot of sectors. So it wouldn't be surprising to see in 10 years that they have top quality, everything across the board. And then once you get to that scenario, you know, whether you still need to fight a war or two over Taiwan, that's a.

I wouldn't think you need to fight a war over Taiwan once that, once you get to that point. So that's kind of like the, by hope that, you know, we'll never see a conflict because right now, it's not a good point for either country to get in a war. And, once you get to 2035, China will be so far advanced technologically and everyone will know that, that, you know, we can just slowly progress to a more negotiated settlement.

Without any blood drawn or whatever.

Steve Hsu: Yeah, to me, you know, to I think most Westerners, that's not a plausible scenario, but to me, it's quite a plausible scenario that things, you know, if China just keeps advancing. At a rate, which I predicted actually will, you know, the, the tension could be diffused a lot because like in a way they wouldn't even care that much about what Taiwan is up to when, you know, they're leading the world in almost every major technology.

And, so to me, it seems like a peaceful resolution is still entirely possible.

TP Huang: Yeah. And, I think one other thing I wanted to raise was, in ourselves trying to see stuff, I think. people concerned about that as another possible scenario. And, I'm not really too concerned about that as much either.

I think the entire emphasis on the South China Sea was because when China was, you know, turning reefs into military bases, at least a few of them in the South China Sea, that was done at a, that was done at a time when it was really trying to control the South China Sea. And now that it's done, it was really upsetting for us military forces because once you have those military bases in the middle of South China sea, it's really hard to get rid of them.

And,the tension with. Most of the countries in the region, I don't think it's that high. I mean, kind of like everyone has their own share of reefs or islands around, or rocks around there. And they're just minding their own business with their own rock. And maybe they argue about one or two rocks, but like, it's just a stupid rock at the end of the day.

Steve Hsu: So Yeah, I mean, in a way, I don't even know why China is pushing so hard in that area. Like, it seems like, you know, they could relax and, and that whole area would just go quiescent and there wouldn't be any chance at all of, of a conflict developing there. and even, even with the pressure they're applying, it doesn't, I, it's just not high on my list of places that really would flare up.

Other than maybe some accident between U.S. U.S.forces and Chinese forces.

TP Huang: Yeah, and you, and that is a possible danger point, I'll admit. But, I think that two countries, you know, they're not going to get into a war over a minor, like an accident in the middle of South China Sea. Things will get ugly, but we're not going to get a real war over that, thankfully.

Steve Hsu: Yeah, I think it's unlikely.

TP Huang: So if that makes everyone feels better, and the other thing is, you know, d d d despite what people think, China thinks it has its, it thinks time is on its side. That's the other thing. It thinks that it can just out produce America, it can just out advance America's technology over time.

So it's in no rush to settle anything sooner.

Steve Hsu: I would say that, at least for the next 20 years, I think that, barring some kind of unforeseen catastrophe, I'm pretty confident that's actually going to happen. They just have so much human capital. pouring into, STEM subjects that, they, and, and they're already so strong in manufacturing.

I just think they will continue to widen their lead over the rest of the world in these areas. The one problem is when you hit plus 20 years from now, then you do have to start dealing with the very low TFR that we have right now. So, so, so if you go plus 20, 30 years in the future, then there is a significant reduction of people entering the workforce in China. So, you know, of course, maybe that will be ameliorated with autonomy and AI and, you know, robots and things like that, but still like something the government there should be concerned about what's going to happen, not plus one to plus 20 years from now, but further than that, another 20 years beyond that, they should be pretty concerned with.

TP Huang: Yeah, I really don't know how they're, what they're going to do about that situation because, It's not like you can get people, force people to have more kids easily. Not easily. Singapore has been, Singapore has been trying to do that for a long time. Korea tries to do that too, and they have no kids, so.

And I think that's just the East Asian thing, I think.

Steve Hsu: Yeah. It's not easily solvable. So I think what's going to be true for the entire world really is low TFR starting to hit places somewhere between plus 10 and plus 30 years from now, at least all the developed parts of the world. I think for the purposes of considering competition between the U.S.and China, it looks like the U.S.has an advantage there. But the problem is a lot of the TFR or population growth coming in the U.S.comes from groups where we haven't figured out how to get them to achieve well in our system and to, you know, feed into our STEM. You know, part of the economy, so we also have problems we need to solve.

It's not just that we have better. We do have better demographic numbers. If you project out, say, 30 years from now than China, but we have other problems, which is how to integrate those people into our economy properly.

TP Huang: Yeah, and you'll see that like one of the things that has helped China is, now that it's richer, the people that used to go abroad that they used to lose by brain drain are actually not going there anymore.

Some people are coming back, which. Unfortunately for India, it's not getting the same, you know, uh, same benefits right now. So it's still losing a huge amount of talented people to America, basically.

Steve Hsu: Yeah, I mean, I think this is a whole different topic, but I think the success of South Asians in the West is Partially due to the high ability of the people that are able to immigrate from India.

but also due to the fact that literally everybody wants to immigrate, everybody who can immigrate from India wants to immigrate from India. Which is not at all true, for example, in China.

TP Huang: Yep.

Steve Hsu: Alright, well, we've covered a lot of material. I think this is probably a good time to stop. And, this concludes our first trilogy.

But we'll definitely have you back on the show at some point in the future, I hope.

TP Huang: Awesome. I'd love to come back at any time. And, I love discussing all these topics.

Steve Hsu: Great. All right. Thanks a lot.

Creators and Guests

Stephen Hsu
Stephen Hsu
Steve Hsu is Professor of Theoretical Physics and of Computational Mathematics, Science, and Engineering at Michigan State University.
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