Why China Has Not Caught Up Yet- the Limits of Imitation, Reverse Engineering, and Cyber Espionage


gadgetcool5

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The increase in complexity [of military technology] has significantly raised the entry barriers for the production of advanced weapon systems: countries must now possess an extremely advanced industrial, scientific, and technological base in weapons production before they can copy foreign military technology. On the other hand, the knowledge to design, develop, and produce advanced weapon systems is less likely to diffuse, given its increasingly tacit and organizational nature.

Other contributors to the debate on unipolarity have either pointed to the relative inferiority of Chinese military technology without providing a theoretical explanation, or they have argued that developing the military capabilities to challenge the status quo is, in the long run, a function of political will—an argument that cannot account for the failure of the Soviet Union to cope with U.S. military technology from the late 1970s onward. We argue that in the transition from the second industrial revolution to the information age, the imitation of state-of-the-art military technology has become more difficult, so much so that today rising powers or even peer competitors cannot easily copy foreign weapon systems.

Three developments help account for the increase in the complexity of military technology since the second industrial revolution. First, the number of components in military platforms has risen dramatically: in the 1930s, a combat aircraft consisted of hundreds of components, a figure that surged into the tens of thousands in the 1950s and to 300,000 in the 2010s. As the number of components expands, the number of potential incompatibilities and vulnerabilities increases geometrically. Ensuring the proper functioning and mutual compatibility of all the components and of the whole system thus becomes increasingly difficult.

Second, advancements in electronics, engineering, and material sciences have resulted in the components of major weapon systems becoming dramatically more sophisticated, leading military platforms to become “systems of systems.” The expansion of onboard software functions is reflected in the increase in the number of software code lines from 1,000 in the F-4 Phantom II (1958), to 1.7 million in the F-22 (2006), and to 5.6 million in the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter/Lightning II (2015). Even a minor problem in those millions of lines of code could ground the aircraft or prove fatal.

Third, modern weapon systems can now perform in extraordinarily demanding environmental and operational conditions, thanks to improvements in all metrics (e.g., speed, altitude ceiling for aircraft, and collapse depth for submarines). These improvements, however, have increased the likelihood of technical problems.

The increase in complexity has also made imitation more challenging. For imitators to have an advantage vis-à-vis innovators, two conditions are necessary. First, the capabilities required to exploit foreign know-how and experience in the production of weapon systems must be relatively easy to develop or to acquire, so that the imitator can swiftly translate foreign designs and blueprints into a working military platform; that is, there must be relatively low entry barriers. Second, the know-how and experience of the innovating country must diffuse with relative ease and with relative rapidity to would-be imitators. The growth in complexity observed over the past century has made these two conditions increasingly difficult to meet.

Because of the growing complexity of weapons systems, however, innovations have become the product of extensive prototyping, testing, experimentation, and refinement: as a result of this change, knowledge related to a given weapon system has become increasingly less codifiable—it has become tacit. As former Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter and coauthors have noted, “Tacit knowledge is a route for maintaining a technological edge in military systems: what cannot be written down can hardly be stolen.

As a result of the increase in technological complexity, single individuals can no longer master all the knowledge and activities required for weapon development. Such know-how and experience have become the product of the collective effort of designers, engineers, managers, and specialized workers with different backgrounds. As such, know-how and experience diffuse very slowly, because organizations are far less mobile than people.

Much more in this article.

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Red Moon

Junior Member
User just hatched, the additude and tone of this writing, the timing. Now I'm not saying he's back but I'm skeptical of all new members now after that "incedent".
It certainly is the same gloom-and-doom agenda, regardless of what the IP is. Will he also peddle conspiracy theories, argue that China sucks at "propaganda", has a terrible strategy, no allies, Huawei is doomed, etc.?
 

Khalij e Fars

Junior Member
Registered Member
"for the failure of the Soviet Union to cope with U.S. military technology from the late 1970s onward"

This does not reflect reality. The USSR collapsed because of economic problems, but until its collapse it was definitely not behind the US militarily (if anything, the opposite).

As for the central thesis, yes of course if China (or anyone) just tried to copy F-22 with no previous experience then it will be harder than trying to copy the F-5. But these things are a somewhat linear progression; the base level of ability of the 'copying' country will have improved as well, so this can mitigate some of the increasing complexity of the 'copied'. Put in simpler terms, I think the jump from nothing to s-200, is bigger than the jump from s-200 to s-300. I accept there is not much evidence for this, but I believe it is logical and it is what the experience in Iran (re: indigenization of military capability) strongly suggests.
 

canniBUS

New Member
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"for the failure of the Soviet Union to cope with U.S. military technology from the late 1970s onward"

This does not reflect reality. The USSR collapsed because of economic problems, but until its collapse it was definitely not behind the US militarily (if anything, the opposite).

As for the central thesis, yes of course if China (or anyone) just tried to copy F-22 with no previous experience then it will be harder than trying to copy the F-5. But these things are a somewhat linear progression; the base level of ability of the 'copying' country will have improved as well, so this can mitigate some of the increasing complexity of the 'copied'. Put in simpler terms, I think the jump from nothing to s-200, is bigger than the jump from s-200 to s-300. I accept there is not much evidence for this, but I believe it is logical and it is what the experience in Iran (re: indigenization of military capability) strongly suggests.
China, which has studied the topic extensively, does not consider the economics to be the primary cause of the dissolution of the USSR. China puts the blame on the political decisions of the top leadership.
 

Khalij e Fars

Junior Member
Registered Member
China, which has studied the topic extensively, does not consider the economics to be the primary cause of the dissolution of the USSR. China puts the blame on the political decisions of the top leadership.
I understand China's view, I think they don't want to say the model itself was unsustainable. But yes, political decisions of Gorbachev were terrible, no doubt. Important lessons for China there. And I think they are implementing those lessons very well (especially about corruption).
 

AndrewS

Captain
Registered Member
I understand China's view, I think they don't want to say the model itself was unsustainable. But yes, political decisions of Gorbachev were terrible, no doubt. Important lessons for China there. And I think they are implementing those lessons very well (especially about corruption).
An old discussion on China and the Soviet Union below.

 

gadgetcool5

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It certainly is the same gloom-and-doom agenda, regardless of what the IP is. Will he also peddle conspiracy theories, argue that China sucks at "propaganda", has a terrible strategy, no allies, Huawei is doomed, etc.?
No, I'm not saying everything is doom-and-gloom. This article simply presents some interesting points on technological development.

The complexity of modern technology means it no longer is composed of simple "plans" or "blueprints" that can be easily learned. Modern military technology is composed of entire systems of:
1. Thousands of engineers, and managers working together with institutional knowledge, professional experience and know-how, hard won and developed,
2. This in coordination with traditional technology ("blue prints"), but also software systems that are developed and refined over years and decades,
3. A complex network or ecosystem of hundreds if not thousands of suppliers in different industries (such as semiconductors, material science, aerospace, etc.), all of which have the same groups of engineers and managers with their own institutional knowledge,
4. Backed up with billions of R&D spending on basic research, which for the US, spans not only the US's own spending but includes that of the Five Eyes, and to some extent, Western Europe's, Japan's, and Taiwan's as well.

And if any part of this ecosystem, if any one of the areas (such as semiconductors) is lagging behind, it hampers the development of the entire ecosystem. Because, for example, if you can't build the best computers, you can't build the best software to test your engines. Or if you can build the best computers, but you don't have the best engines, then your computers don't have the best data to simulate on and test against. Etc. etc. Basically it's a massive complex network with every piece having to work together at optimal efficiency. This is why it's really hard. This should not be a controversial claim. I mean, take an example from military-civilian crossover technology. Boeing launched project 367-80 in 1952, first flight 1954, and it was already in service by late 1958, ushering in the jet age. Meanwhile China launched the far more modest project ARJ-21, first flight not until 2008, and not in service until 2016. (And this is using GE engines!) Why has it taken longer? Because the technology has gotten more complex. The article doesn't say it's impossible.

I think if China wants to succeed it must be clear eyed about what the challenges are.
 

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