WASHINGTON: China is besting the United States in key military technologies like hypersonic missiles and electronic warfare, Gen. Paul Selva, vice-chairman of the Joint Chiefs said today. We can still catch up, he predicted.
What about Artificial Intelligence? That’s too close to call, said former deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work, so we’d better get a move on. Both men spoke at a CNAS conference on “Strategic Competition: Maintaining The Edge.”
“I actually regret talking about the Third Offset Strategy, in hindsight,” Work said, referring to the high-tech initiative he launched in the Obama Pentagon. “It made it sound like we had the advantage and we had the time to think about it and go through the motions…. I wish I would have said, ‘we need to start about upsetting the Chinese offset, which is coming uncomfortably close to achieving technological parity with the US.’
“At this point, I would think that the outcome is too close to call,” Work said. “It’s time for the US to crack the whip. (Let’s) hope it’s not too late.”
Hypersonics & Electronic Warfare
So what are some of these shortfalls? The most high-profile is hypersonics, weapons designed to move through the atmosphere at more than five times the speed of sound. Defense Undersecretary for R&D Mike Griffin has made hypersonics his top priority and has warned that China has conducted 20 times more tests than the US.
China has demonstrated some impressive technology, Gen. Selva said today, but the race is far from over. “They haven’t mass-deployed hypersonics or long-range ballistic missiles,” he said. “What they have done is proven the technologies, so they are able now to deploy those capabilities on a larger scale.
“We are behind in the demonstration of many of those technologies,” Selva admitted, elaborating on a statement he made in January, “but we also can take asymmetric approaches and catch up. We are way ahead in a lot of the sensor integration technologies” — essential for telling the hyper-fast weapons where to go — “and we have to maintain that edge.”
What about Electronic Warfare, I asked? Detecting, triangulating, and jamming enemy radio transmissions has long been a Russian strength and is increasingly a Chinese one, while the US disbanded many of its EW forces after the Cold War. Selva’s answer got into technical nuances I hadn’t heard before.
“We’re a step behind,” Selva said. “It’s not hard to catch up, but as soon as you catch up the fast followers will actually leap over the top of you — and that’s the dynamic that’s set up by having digital radio frequency management capability.”
DRFM, also called Digital Radio Frequency Memory, uses modern computing power to record enemy radio and radar signals, modify them, and copy them, allowing forces to transmit a false signal that the enemy can’t tell from the real thing. It’s a much more effective way of “spoofing” than traditional analog techniques, which suffered from telltale signal degradation.
“We assumed wrongly that encryption and our domination in the precision timing signals would allow us to evade the enemy in the electromagnetic spectrum,” Selva said.
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