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Fragments of stealth
April 29, 2008 7:42 PM   Subscribe

The F117A Swan Song, the Fall of the Belgrade Embassy...and China Rising China Matters blog offers a fascinating take on "the role that the Belgrade bombing seems to play as the creation myth of the birth of the 21st Chinese strategic military doctrine, founded on the assumption that the U.S. will unscrupulously use its military, diplomatic, and propaganda advantages not only to contain China but even to attack it when need, desire, and circumstances permit."
posted by Abiezer (41 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
China invaded America already, via the trucks at Walmart.
posted by Brian B. at 8:02 PM on April 29, 2008


Interesting. The stealth fighters short lifespan came up in this thread, but that theory of why it was retired wasn't mentioned. It still seems like an awfully short lifespan for a fighter plane to me.
posted by Artw at 8:08 PM on April 29, 2008


The article gets a bit tinfoily though. I find it a little hard to beleive that America deliberately fucked with China in such a way. Of course, the Chinese may feel differently.
posted by Artw at 8:15 PM on April 29, 2008


Artw, the F-117 wasn't a fighter. All it could do was drop laser-guided bombs. As so, it wasn't terribly useful compared to something like the F-22 which can do air-to-air and air-to-surface jobs. I sort of think of the F-117 as a fancied-up technology demonstrator of limited utility that was put into production and given an F designation for public relations purposes.
posted by zsazsa at 8:18 PM on April 29, 2008


Early prototypes
posted by hortense at 8:21 PM on April 29, 2008 [2 favorites]


zsazsa - that would basically be my interpretation too. Though TBH in wars that are actually likely to be fought the F-22 doesn't really seem that value for money either, except maybe if things go horrendously bad with China or Russia. I guess that it could be argued that theres the argument that the value in having a super dooper air supremacy fighter is in not having to use it.
posted by Artw at 8:25 PM on April 29, 2008


hortense - The B2 is a different beast.
posted by Artw at 8:26 PM on April 29, 2008


The article gets a bit tinfoily though.

Agreed.
posted by tkolar at 8:35 PM on April 29, 2008


Am I crazy, or didn't the U.S.S.R. break up in 1991? I thought it was a typo, but the author refers to the U.S.S.R. or the Soviets several times.
posted by Sangermaine at 8:35 PM on April 29, 2008


I know bugger all about military matters, but I've read this blogger before on aspects of policy thinking in China I'm a little better informed on and he seems to know his stuff there, so regardless of speculations about U.S. motives (which I think he ultimately says he doesn't really know one way or the other) I was more interested by his account of the Chinese response, and the event as a turning point, which rang true to me. I must admit I posted the article up here partly to hear anyone who does know take it apart if required though.
I thought the detail about planners not accounting for obsolete radar still being in use was one of those salutary tales on the limits of even the best laid plans too.
posted by Abiezer at 8:52 PM on April 29, 2008


The article gets a bit tinfoily though. I find it a little hard to beleive that America deliberately fucked with China in such a way.

That the U.S. bombed the embassy deliberately is a lot more believable than the official story of "outdated maps". I actually thought it was conventional wisdom that it was done on purpose, though the version I have heard is that the reason it was bombed was not because of F117A, (which even then was already almost 20 years old), but because the Chinese were actively aiding the Chinese military by letting the Serbs use their embassy as a rebroadcast station after NATO destroyed all their normal ones. That story has the backing of several NATO sources and seems a lot more plausible than the one in the post, which seems to be only have Chinese sources and is set up in a way to make China seem much more innocent than it probably was.
posted by afu at 9:03 PM on April 29, 2008


I refuse to believe this story on account of the fact that it implies the CIA is competent.
posted by Panjandrum at 9:08 PM on April 29, 2008


I could certainly see the embassy bombing becoming a matter of intense speculation and interest, not to mention resentment, to the chinese while the west just chalks it up as one of those things and quitely forgets about it. People tend to remember that kind of thing, and be a bit bitter (I know that if you mention the subject of the US bombing somewhere to me it isn't long before the subject of various incidents of friendly fire against British troops pops into my head, and I'm pretty sure they were all straight fuck-ups). Makes it all the more regretable really.
posted by Artw at 9:10 PM on April 29, 2008


Artw, the F-117 wasn't a fighter. ... it wasn't terribly useful compared to something like the F-22 ... I sort of think of the F-117 as a fancied-up technology demonstrator of limited utility

Indeed. It was a subsonic bomber with a tiny payload with one mission (suppression of air defenses), that it could perform only at night. Everything the F-117 could do, could be done better and cheaper with Tomahawk missiles and GPS-guided munitions, and none of the F-117 technology was used in future iterations of stealth designs (the B-2, the F-22, etc).

It did one thing well -- it looked bad-ass. Sometimes, that's enough.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:11 PM on April 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


Afus link certainly makes a lot more sense. Long term... still probably not that great a move.
posted by Artw at 9:12 PM on April 29, 2008


hortense - what an interesting link! thanks
posted by Auden at 9:35 PM on April 29, 2008


At this time, Little Zheng emerged from the bedroom. Little Wang grabbed hold of Little Zheng

Oh, I see. PLA slash porn.
posted by dhartung at 10:31 PM on April 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


There's an unpublished memoir floating around that's purportedly written by a Chinese intelligence agent. One of the chapters involves the embassy bombing and supports the account in afu's link. The author says he received a phone message from a NATO contact six hours before the event informing him about the bombing, and then learned of further plans to bomb a hotel (which had begun broadcasting after the embassy was hit), but was able to make a report in time to stop the transmissions before NATO struck again. His report is kind of sensational - he goes on to talk about attending a briefing in Macao between stints of government-sponsored gambling and whoring - so he might not make for a very convincing witness.
posted by zhwj at 12:43 AM on April 30, 2008


That the U.S. bombed the embassy deliberately is a lot more believable than the official story of "outdated maps".

I agree wholeheartedly, although in the interests of balance the possibility of a US government agency causing hugely expensive destruction through a simple mistake shouldn't be underestimated.
posted by protorp at 12:46 AM on April 30, 2008


"Analyzing the experiences of the Kosovo conflict, RAND opined: ..."

Speaking of RAND, this looks interesting: A Litany of Horrors: America's University of Imperialism
posted by homunculus at 1:05 AM on April 30, 2008


It continues to amaze me how many nice, left-wing, anti-Iraq people consider Kosovo to have been a good, necessary, and legitimate war.
posted by nasreddin at 2:15 AM on April 30, 2008 [2 favorites]


The second bomb hit the middle of the roof and went through to the first floor auditorium, causing no fatalities but giving Ambassador Zhan food for thought by incinerating his office and melting the frame of his day bed.

His day bed? I want that job.

Oh wait, I work from home.
posted by Jakey at 5:07 AM on April 30, 2008


China spends something like 1% of what the US does for their military. So they have some reason to be apprehensive.

In the most recent conflicts involving both, Korea and Vietnam, they held their position while we backed down.
posted by StickyCarpet at 5:13 AM on April 30, 2008


And as far as the deliberate bombing of the embassy is concerned, it seems the most parsimonious explanation compared with the suggestion that out of all of the wrong buildings in Belgrade, they managed to bomb that one. The actual reason for the bombing may not be clear, but it seems likely that it was intended.
posted by Jakey at 5:19 AM on April 30, 2008


Following the bombing, crowds gathered and stoned the US embassy in Beijing. This was not reported at all in Chinese media, probably to avoid generating even larger crowds. Someone I know had a visa-application appointment at the embassy that day, but when she arrived the police turned her away. They apparently did nothing to stop the rock throwing, at least not until later.

"...founded on the assumption that the U.S. will unscrupulously use its military, diplomatic, and propaganda advantages not only to contain China but even to attack it when need, desire, and circumstances permit."

Sounds pretty realistic to me. I really wish the US would stop throwing its weight around; it does nothing for us citizens.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 7:19 AM on April 30, 2008


Artw writes "I find it a little hard to beleive that America deliberately fucked with China in such a way. Of course, the Chinese may feel differently."

I remember at the time thinking that it was hard to believe this wasn't a deliberate "mistake". Whether it was an accident or not it must have left a lasting impression on the Chinese. Along with the chemical plant bombing and the attacks on the Canadians in Afghanistan a lot of people in Canada have a pretty low opinion of either the USAF or the people setting policy on these matters.
posted by Mitheral at 7:40 AM on April 30, 2008


It continues to amaze me how many nice, left-wing, anti-Iraq people consider Kosovo to have been a good, necessary, and legitimate war.

Maybe if Iraq would have been about protecting the Kurds from Saddam's attempted genocide rather than "regime change" and "terrrrrer", you would have more supporters on the left.
posted by Pollomacho at 7:45 AM on April 30, 2008


Some of you are missing the point, it's not about whether China had F117A parts in the embassy, it's about the lesson China learned from the bombing, which is nicely summed up in the paragraph quoted from the article. The F117A story is just China's cognitive dissonance for not being able to retaliate in any meaningful way.
posted by furtive at 7:52 AM on April 30, 2008


^...it's not about whether China had F117A parts in the embassy or whether the USA bombed them for that reason...

(forgot that part)
posted by furtive at 7:53 AM on April 30, 2008


CPB : It did one thing well -- it looked bad-ass. Sometimes, that's enough.

*points to F117A*

You do not want to fuck with us, we've got Batman on our side!

[With apologies to whichever comedian it was who I'm paraphrasing.]
posted by quin at 8:12 AM on April 30, 2008


For something built by aliens it’s really not that great.
posted by Artw at 8:20 AM on April 30, 2008 [2 favorites]


Whether or not the bombing was deliberate, the assumption that the US will play dirty and plays to win is the only reasonable foreign policy stance any nation should take. Trust, but verify, amiright, Israel?
posted by mwhybark at 8:51 AM on April 30, 2008


1960s tube amplifier enthusiasts will be thrilled to learn that the Yugoslavian air force attributes the shootdown of the F117A to P-12 type vacuum tube-technology Russian radars so old the U.S. considered them obsolete.

According to their account, the F117A Stealth fighter was detectable by antique radar operating at wavelengths of 2 meters—a detail that had supposedly escaped the Stealth designers, who operated on the assumption that the plane would only have to be invisible to modern centimeter and millimeter wavelength radars.


Interesting.
posted by caddis at 8:52 AM on April 30, 2008


I wonder if a good rule of thumb for automated defenses might be that if something shows up on 2 meter radar but not on centimeter or millimeter radar then you should blow the shit out of it immediately.
posted by Artw at 9:05 AM on April 30, 2008


I have heard the same thing as afu, from a very credible source; however that is emphatically not what the Chinese man on the street believes.
posted by alexwoods at 9:06 AM on April 30, 2008


According to their account, the F117A Stealth fighter was detectable by antique radar operating at wavelengths of 2 meters—a detail that had supposedly escaped the Stealth designers, who operated on the assumption that the plane would only have to be invisible to modern centimeter and millimeter wavelength radars.

I am not a radar physicist. My understanding is that the longer-wavelength radar is good enough to tell you that something is coming, and roughly how many somethings are coming, but not good enough to target a weapon (hence the manual targeting on the missile).

Another important part of the shootdown was that the higherups were dumbfucks and kept sending planes on the same routes, so that the missile battery had a good idea of when and where an F-117 would show up, how high it would be flying, which way it would be heading, and how fast it would be going. Oops.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:21 AM on April 30, 2008


I always thought that this was the death knell of the F-117.
posted by Pollomacho at 9:30 AM on April 30, 2008


I was in China when the Belgrade embassy was bombed. It was a very tense time for us for a few days. We got thrown out of cabs for being Americans and had to walk everywhere. We were refused service at a few restaurants because we were foreigners. The Chinese students that the day before had been all eager to practice English with us were too busy organizing bus trips to protest in front of the U.S. embassy to pay us any heed. We stayed inside a lot after accidentally getting stuck in a mob of people that were not particularly friendly - nothing happened, but it felt very tense. It calmed down after about four days, and everything went back to normal, but I think I still have one of the "Target Kosovo" T-shirts that became de rigeur for a few weeks afterward.

I have heard any number of theories for the bombing. Some people who should be "in the know" maintain the official "it was an accident" line, while others are pretty much saying what afu did. I have to say that I have never heard this particular theory about the F-117 technology from anyone I would consider a credible source.

This incident seems to really have had a major impact on U.S.-China military relations, more so than even the EP-3/Hainan Island snafu. I think the idea that this was a "turning point" in Chinese thinking on a potential conflict with the U.S. rings very true.
posted by gemmy at 9:50 AM on April 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


You can still see the scars where the bricks were chucked at the U.S. consulate in Chengdu I believe, gemmy. We had an American acquaintance working as a forestry expert in the city whose apartment was besieged by a mob at one point; definitely very scary stuff. Another colleague was in Markam in west Sichuan, old Tibetan Kham. The police came to "rescue" her in case things got ugly but of course the Tibetans weren't reacting in the same way at all. I was on home leave and missed the whole incident.
posted by Abiezer at 1:42 PM on April 30, 2008


China: Restrictions on Lawyers Fuel Unrest. Legal Profession Becomes ‘More Dangerous Day by Day’
posted by homunculus at 3:03 PM on April 30, 2008


Three Chinese banks in world's top four: study
posted by homunculus at 4:23 PM on April 30, 2008


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