November links: US-China War Fiction, Drones, Far Cry 6
Oh boy. Typical part-time writer move to post nothing for 7 months and be like "oh guys hey I'm sooo sorry but life got hold and [something something] was sooo crazy and that's why I haven't posted anything in a while." I don't blame you if you forgot you subscribed and you're wondering what this is all about. So let me re-introduce myself: I'm Nick and I'm a dork who likes writing and podcasting about planes and loud jet engines and also technology in a wide sense.
After about April or so of this year when I posted the last article I shared publicly (this one) I made a promise to myself to stop bullshitting and juggling eight hobbies to focus on nabbing my Private Pilot certificate, which I just did this last Wednesday. It was a grueling 6-hour ordeal (which I'm told by some CFIs I know is a little crazy for the most basic pilot qualification) and I came out the other end of it exhausted and I practically wept when the FAA examiner handed me my "temporary airman certificate." It's been a year and four months since I started the journey, 106 flight hours, so it was elating to cross that finish line on my first checkride attempt.
In the wake of that experience, I'm writing a two-part series on flying, starting with "why do it if you're not flying for a career" and then another piece on tactical advice for aspiring private pilots. Those should come out over the next week, so this installment of the newsletter is going to focus on media of interest.
This edition's rabbit-hole: Taiwan and US-China war possibilities
The geopolitics around Taiwan are crazy. Technically, neither Taiwan nor China have relinquished territorial claims on the other. Taiwan still claims mainland China as its illegally-occupied land and China considers Taiwan a rogue state. China overflies and incurs on Taiwan's airspace routinely with military planes. Xi Jinping consistently makes aggressive noises about re-taking the country by force. To top it all, the United States has a policy of "strategic ambiguity" about whether they would actually come to Taiwan's defense if it were attacked, but yet our leaders, dating back to Nixon, chose to endorse the One-China policy as a way to normalize relations with Mao during the Cold War. It's confusing and a little scary.
I recently read "2034" by Elliot Ackerman and Admiral James Stavridis and "Ghost Fleet" by P.W. Singer and August Cole, which are both fiction novels about a near-future US-China conflict and noticed some funny parallels and differences between the two.
- Both characterize the United States as basically in decline and have bleak views about the next ten or so years.
- In both, the Chinese employ magical weapons (some absurd AI in 2034's case and US-reliance on Chinese microchips in Ghost Fleet's case) to thwart US military technology like the F-35. They both really shit on the F-35.
- Both seem to romanticize the "old" military tech: The mothballed ghost fleet and the F-18 Hornet. Strikes me as curmudgeonliness and fear of change.
- Both sets of authors reveal what I think is a staggering ignorance about cyberwarfare and how it actually works. Ghost Fleet features, among other things, hacking that is akin to dance-fighting in VR. Written like someone who took their cues from the movie Hackers from 1995.
- For some reason, the US's nearly 200 F-22 Raptors play absolutely no role in the fight in either book. Don't know if that's the US Navy bias coming through in the authors?
- 2034 was written after Trump was elected and has a noticeably darker view of America and its ability to be come together
- Ghost Fleet was written right before Trump was elected and features the United States pulling together and outsmarting and out-innovating the Chinese "Directorate" (which are basically a fascist replacement of the Communist Party and yet at odds with the US over resources, chiefly: Oil).
- While there was actually quite a bit of interesting military and strategic background in both books, they don't give the US military or US intelligence really any credit whatsoever in the early stages of these imaginary conflicts.
- Ghost Fleet features a lot more discussion of drones and how they will change warfare which I thought was actually prescient and interesting.
Links and media commentary
The most beautiful footage of an F-22 Raptor I have ever seen (courtesy of my friend Rob). Link
Counter-drone swarm technology. Link
You can learn to fly the original T-6 Texan in Palo Alto. Link
An interview with Stanley McChrystal. Link
I've been playing Far Cry 6 on PC. Thoughts:
- I guess open world video games need some repetition in their systems, but I felt at the end that I was slogging very similar go-here-kill-bad-guy or go-here-get-something missions to get to the next cutscene to see what the story did. I am very happy they didn’t detonate a nuke at the end like the last one. It’s also super beautiful and there were many moments where I paused to appreciate the virtual sunsets. There were lots of distracting side systems and missions that I just didn’t really care about—the bandidos operations, cockfighting, racing (all of their cars seem to handle like shit?), etc. I would have rather they invested in a killer main storyline that put more emphasis on Anton Castillo’s character (would have liked if they filled out his backstory a little more).
- Only real complaint I have is that I saw at various points what looked to be MiG-15s from Castillo’s air force flying over and I was pissed that you couldn’t fly jets and only shitty prop planes, but maybe I’m missing something
The movie Dune was fantastic. I loved this bizarre, chilling scene. Like an idiot, I never read the book, so I'm doing that now.
A hilariously awful game trailer. Link