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US lacks lethal capability to deter China

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US lacks lethal capability to deter China​


13 March, 2023 05:17 pm IST

The United States is at a growing risk of a firepower gap with China as production of explosives and propellants in the country has declined, the Asia Times reported.

China has surpassed the US in the development of new explosives.

This month, Forbes reported that China had overtaken the US in developing new types of explosives, notably its version of CL-20, an explosive developed in the 1980s, which is 40% more potent than RDX or HMX and widely used in US munitions since World War II, the Asia Times reported.

According to the Forbes report, China tested the CL-20’s equivalent in 2011 and has since made the explosive in large quantities.

In contrast, the report claims that practically all American military explosives are produced at a single US Army facility in Holston, Tennessee, employing production and mixing methods from World War II.

It also points out that more modern explosives, like CL-20, can only be created in limited quantities using these antiquated techniques.

With its existing stockpile of precursor chemicals, the US can produce 10 tonnes of CL-20 annually, but for CL-20 to be widely used, production rates will need to reach 1,000 tonnes annually, and American firms will need three to five years to scale up.

Forbes notes that the US depends on China as the only source for a half-dozen chemical ingredients used in its military explosives and propellants, and other countries of concern for another dozen, bringing the security of US energetics logistics chains into question.

It also points out that more modern explosives, like CL-20, can only be created in limited quantities using these antiquated techniques.

With its existing stockpile of precursor chemicals, the US can produce 10 tonnes of CL-20 annually, but for CL-20 to be widely used, production rates will need to reach 1,000 tonnes annually, and American firms will need three to five years to scale up.

To create this weapon, Chinese researchers developed a brand-new type of boron-powered solid-fuel ramjet engine. This engine has a number of novel features, including fuel rods that contain twice as much boron as conventional ramjet fuel rods and nano fuel particles that have multiple coatings to regulate their explosive properties.

They assert that a cross-medium strike is immune to defences on board ships since it may alter course at will or dive up to 100 metres to escape them.

Moreover, China has been working on thermobaric weapons, which use air oxygen as the oxidizer for an explosive that is aerosolized. The blast produced by thermobaric weaponry is substantially bigger and stronger than that of ordinary explosives, and it is followed by a deadly vacuum effect.

Sean Carberry warns that the US might be at a disadvantage in a conflict with China because to the latter’s planes and ships carrying explosives that can go longer, with such weapons being made smaller and lighter yet having more punch.

According to Carberry, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Global War on Terror reduced the need for new energetics amid new and different capability requirements, such as counterinsurgency tactics and precision strikes over producing farther-reaching and harder-hitting munitions. The US had the lead in energetics manufacturing during World War II and the Cold War.

Losing the ability to produce energy directly affected the US’s ability to supply Taiwan and Ukraine with enough weapons to fight Russia and China for a long time, according to Asia Times.

According to a Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) analysis from January 2023, the US would expend more weapons than it currently has on hand to defend Taiwan, and little than a week into a fight there, it would run out of long-range, precision-guided weapons.

The US defence industrial base requires greater surge capacity for a lengthy fight than China, which invests in munitions and advanced weaponry at a rate that is five to six times quicker than that of the US, according to CSIS.

The CSIS analysis points out that since the idea of deterrence is predicated on adequate stocks of weapons and weaponry, these deficiencies eventually undercut effective deterrence, Asia Times reported.

 

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