A layman’s view on US vs China

China concentrated on economy in the past few decades learning from the mistakes of Soviet Union that it is not worth competing with US over military expenditure. China, in the immediate future, is more concerned about its neighborhood. i.e. India, Taiwan, Japan, South China Sea. Chinese plan seems to be to reach a stage where it would be very difficult for US to interfere in any action that China takes. China also has a very effective stooge in the form of North Korea. The Chinese economy is so intermixed with that of US that China believes that in the future, in any conflict in the region, US will think that it is not worth interfering. Thus effectively giving China a sphere of influence encompassing most of East and South East Asia.

To achieve this parity, China needs to neutralize the US Navy, US AirForce, US technology, US allies. Lets look at each.

US Navy:
The primary US naval weapons are its carriers. China knows the results of the big carrier battles that took place between the US and Japan during the second world war and knows that building a carrier force to counter US carrier fleet is not sustainable. For one, you need to build at least 10 carriers. US has 12 in its fleet. Allowing for the chance that at least half of them would be at home ports or deployed elsewhere, China can expect that in extreme conditions US will put 6 carrier in the pacific. In the gulf wars, US had deployed 3 carriers. Given the strength of China, we can expect 6. Building a naval fleet of 10 carriers to have a chance of defeating US 6, would take a long time and a lot of money. Besides just building a fleet is not enough. You need the carrier air wing and the experienced pilots to fly the planes. PLAN knows that it cant match the skill of US navy pilots who have an experience of more than 70 years in carrier operations. So carriers are out.

Flight deck of USS Harry S Truman


Chinese Aircraft carrier Varyag in 2005

To neutralize the US carriers, China is developing/deployed carrier killers. Intermediate range ballistic missiles accurate enough to hit a floating carrier. Aegis missile cruisers with their SM2 and SM3 missiles can counter it, but a large number of missiles can still overwhelm them. It just takes one missile to breach the shield. Carriers will have to come inside the range of shore based fighters to hit targets on the mainland. Shore based fighters armed with harpoon like anti ship missiles could be another option. Swarms of anti ship cruise missiles are another option. Chinese Song class diesel submarines and newer nuclear submarines are also another weapon. Remember the incident when a Song class submarine surfaced near a US carrier and none of the 18 carrier group ships detected them? If not sink the carriers, it can at least neuter their effectiveness.

USS Lake Champlain - A Triconderoga class Aegis missile cruiser - The light gray squares fore and aft are the Vertical Launching System containing various missiles including the Standard Missiles

US Airforce:
China is developing its own fifth generation stealth aircraft which experts believe would be somewhere between the capability of an F22 Raptor and an F35 Lightning II and much much cheaper. With the F22 facing serious issues (The entire fleet was grounded recently) and Chinese Chengdu J20 being ahead of schedule (Estimated time for deployment 2017-18), the US air superiority is questionable. The cost of F35 has ballooned beyond the wildest planning and it is now the most expensive weapons system in the world history without the number or the quality associated with it. China can purchase far more of its homegrown stealth planes and would have far larger number of bases out of which to operate. The number of bases that US has in the region is limited. These bases would also be susceptible to missile strikes. Taking out Kadina in japan would itself take out the entire F22 fleet of the region. Obviously US will disburse its air wing. With the superior number of its stealth airplanes, Chinese could overwhelm any US air wing within 30-40 sorties. One of the main reasons for US air superiority in recent wars have been its AWACS. The US war plan has these AWACS operating outside the missile range of enemy fighters and directing their own fighters against the enemy ones. No enemy fighters could reach the AWACS. Chinese stealth fighters could sneak up on the AWACS and take them out resulting in the US stealth fighters having to turn on their own radars instead of relying on AWACS making them easier to find. China also will be operating close to its own territory thus can use its own shore/ship based radars. Compared to the size of Chinese armed forces the other forces in the region would have fewer shore based radars that could help USAF. Also, the sheer number of cheap home built radars would help the non stealth Chinese fighters (Cheaper and older home built J7 and J8 and more modern SU27, SU30 MKK, Shenyang J11 and Chengdu J10) to take on the US F15s and F16s.

F22 Raptop


J20 Vs F22 Vs T-50

US B52 bombers used so well in Iraq and Afghanistan, can only be used where there is complete air superiority otherwise they are just lumbering easy targets. 30 of them were shot down in the Vietnam war by the much inferior Vietnamese air force. Imagine how many of the 74 remaining would be shot down by the Chinese. Only the B2 and B1 would be able to pose a serious challenge. But their effectiveness in turning the war would be limited considering their small numbers. Plus one B2 costs more than a billion dollar. China would have to just destroy 4-5 of the 20 B2s for them to have a loss rate of more than 25% and then being confined back home.

US Technology:
Chinese Cyber soldiers have been stealing secrets from the US government and contractors for years. Chengdu J20 looks surprisingly similar to F22 to realize its origins lies in Lockheed Martin (or may be the design is too optimal to be ignored). China is building its own GPS network to not rely on Glonass or the US GPS. With its anti sat missiles, blinding lasers China could at least attempt to take out US GPS and recon satellites to at least limit their usefulness.

US allies:
None of the US allies in the region, Japan, Korea, Taiwan have the kind of strength to take on China. Their contribution would be mostly more as a support and base locations. The only US “Ally” that could change the course of war is India. If in a full fledged US-China war, India enters on US side, they could tie up a lot of Chinese airforce plus threaten Chinese bases with their carriers.

One thing that goes in favor for US is experience. US armed forces have continuously been involved in one conflict or the other for the past 200 years. That sort of experience counts a lot. A single veteran soldier is worth more than a few rookies. US is not going to fight the war with a fixed play book. They are smart and will figure out ways to counter Chinese strengths during the war. US commanders are experienced and have sufficient freedom to operate independently. Chinese military leaders lack that. In addition, US armed forces are well integrated. Navy, AirForce, Army are used to heavy coordination with each other. China is still to learn that. US also does regular military exercises with its allies thus interoperability in war is improved. Plus we are not counting the other US allies, UK, Britain, France, Germany. They can turn the war. China does not have an ally except North Korea, which would just want to fight with South Korea and cannot be relied on to go by the plan. Russia can get enough spooked by a rising china on its southern border to support the allies, if not by actual force, at least by mobilization. That will tie up a lot of Chinese assets on their northern border.

The conclusion of the long writeup: China – US one on one can go either way. With everyone involved, the allies win.

Disclaimer: The views are my own and I am neither a military strategist nor related in any remote way to armed forces of any nation.

Human Evolution : From hominids to Homo sapiens

Are these our ancestors?

Hominids or Hominidae is the family of mammals which includes Homo, Gorilla and Pan genus. Around 14 MA ago, the Ponginae subfamily separated from Hominidae. Until a few years ago, the family Pongidae included all extant species of the family Hominidae excluding Humans. Pongidae branch (Chimpanzee and Gorilla) separated from Hominidae branch (Australopithecus and Homo) around 6 Ma ago.

One big happy family

Anthropologist Yves Coppens believes that the collapse of East African Rift Valley resulted in this branching. The species in the West and Central Africa developed into the Pongidae branch whose descendants still live there while the ones in the East and Southern Africa developed into the Hominidae branch. The recent discovery of remains of Australopithecus around 2500 km to the west of the rift valley has challenged this theory.

East African Rift Valley

Around 3.5 Ma to 4 Ma , the hominidae become bipedal. The hands, which were now free from the task of locomotion, could be better utilized for other activities. The various species of Australopithecus existed between 4 Ma to 1.5 Ma. Sometime between 3.5 Ma and 1.5 Ma, Australopithecines and Homo diverged.

The various species in human evolution are not strictly linear and many of them may have existed at the same time.

Human Evolution <Image courtesy http://www.cartage.org.lb>

Till 2010, Homo habilis was believed to be the first species of genus Homo. But the discovery of Homo gautengensis put a spanner in that theory. It is now believed that H. gautengensis evolved earlier than H. habilis. H. habilis were the first tool makers. H. habilis remains have been found only in Africa. H. habilis were around from 2.4 Ma to 1.4 Ma. A million years! Compared to that, the human history (i.e. the written part) is only about 5200 years old. By the time we are a million years on this planet, the year would be 1000,000 AD, give or take a few thousand years.

The next stage in evolution was Homo erectus. Sometimes, the early part of H. erectus are classified as a separate species, H. ergaster. H. erectus ruled our planet from about 1.4 Ma to around 70,000 years ago. Their remains have been found in Africa, Europe and even in India. There are evidences of controlled fire in the places where H. erectus remains have been found indicating that they may have discovered fire and cooked their food. They were perhaps the first hunter gatherer hominids. The particular year of 70,000 indicate that they may have become extinct due to Toba eruption. Like the year without summer, Toba catastrophe was caused by eruption of a super volcano at Toba in modern Sumatra. This eruption was 8 on VEI index. The eruption resulted in 6 – 8 years of volcanic winter. It resulted in a population bottleneck in the Homo population.

Around 400,000 to 30,000 years ago, Homo neandarthalensis existed in Europe and parts of Asia. Mitochondrial DNA evidence suggests that Homo sapiens and neandarthalensis did interbreed. Sometime around 30,000 years ago, they became extinct, possibly due to competition with true humans.

One theory of evolution from Homo erectus to Homo sapiens suggests that H. sapiens emerged in Africa and they later replaced the H. erectus in Africa as well as H. erectus that had dispersed earlier. This is known as the “out of Africa” theory of human evolution. Another theory suggests that Homo erectus to Homo sapiens happened in different regions of the worlds. It is believed that increasing dependence on technology put more evolutionary pressure on the transition to H. sapiens. And due to this pressure, H. erectus in various regions of the world transitioned to H. sapiens more or less simultaneously.

The hominid evolution had three main physical characteristics:

  1. Changes in the upper body allowing rotational motion of the shoulder joints
  2. Changes in the lower extremities including the pelvis that allowed perfect and fast bipedal motion
  3. Increase in cranial capacity, change in position of foramen magnum and stereoscopic vision.

Hands were able throw objects accurately and with greater force and they were sensitive enough to make tools and even art. Foramen magnum is the hole in the skull though which the spinal chord passes. Change in its position resulted in requiring less powerful muscles to keep the head upright which helped in getting us standing on our two feet.

How does archaeology helps in knowing about early cultures?

Archaeology, as so many modern words we use, has its origin in Latin. Archaeo stands for earlier or ancient and is derived from Greek word Arkhaio. Thus Archaeology means logos or study of that which is ancient. The word paleo is also of Greek origin and means ancient too. So what is the difference between Archaeology and Paleontology? A rough difference would be that Archaeology deals with human history while Paleontology deals with history of other organisms and how they came about. Archaeology starts some 3.4 million years ago when first humans walked earth while Paleontology starts around 4 GA years ago when the first life was formed.


Temple I at Tikal. Image taken by Raymond Ostertag. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license.

People playing Rise of Nation might remember how this wonder raises the lumber gather rate and lumber commerce cap. 🙂

99% of the human history spans the prehistoric cultures. These cultures have left no written legacy behind. Thus a major part of Archaeology deals with knowing about these societies through non written means. We have some knowledge about the myths and stories and the way of life of 1% of the human history. Imagine what stories our ancient ancestors told around those prehistoric fires. Who were their heroes? who were their villains? what acts of bravery, courage and love did they sang about?

The stages in an Archaeological Find generally pass through the below stages:

  1. Identifying the proper archaeological site
  2. Conducting a survey of the site
  3. Excavating artifacts and remains
  4. Studying these artifacts in the immediate surrounding of where they were excavated
  5. Comparative analysis of the artifacts from different locations

Sites were identified based on local myths and oral traditions, certain items found on the surface due to erosion, supposed location of battles/settlements etc. In recent times more scientific methods have been adopted for identification. These techniques include:

  • Aerial Photography: Aerial photography helps in identifying changes in ground level, differences in soil marks, difference in vegetation due to presence of buried remains. Remote sensing (Satellite imagery) can also be used for identifying these sites.
  • Magnetic sensing of buried metal objects like coins, armor and weapons. There are many instances where amateur enthusiast have identified hoards of coins and even locations of major battles using their metal detectors.
  • For underwater sites, techniques like sonar imaging and underwater cameras are used for identifying the sites.
  • Electrical, seismic and chemical anomalies due to the presence of previous human presence are also the means of identifying sites. Measurement of phosphates and potassium in soil indicates presence of human settlement. Human construction like foundations of houses affects the electrical conductivity. Seismic measurement, for example by exploding a small bomb and then measuring the waves as they travel through the ground, gives an idea of what lies beneath.
  • Normal human activity like road building, foundation digs also unearths these sites. The initial sites of Harappan civilization were identified when workers working on a nearby railway tracks hauled stones off the site for construction.
Howard Carter opening the final door of the burial chamber in the Tomb of Tutankhamen.


Howard Carter Google Doodle

Studying the artifacts in the immediate surrounding of where they were found is very important as the layers in which they were found, what other objects were found with them, where were they relative to other objects gives important clues to the archaeologists. Sometimes the same site would be the location of many successive generations. In such places, the deeper you go, older the artifacts get. The layer in which a particular artifact was found can give an idea about its age. The archaeologists maintain a detailed record of the site with its map, the location at which the artifacts were identified, inventory of the items excavated.

By analyzing, these artifacts and their surroundings, archaeologists helps us understand not only where and when these people lived but also how they lived, what changes occurred in their culture and why. Archaeologists try to identify the pattern in the human history and try to explain the reasons for these patterns.

Panoramic View of the Great Hypostyle Hall in the Karnak temple complex.


Optical Mouse

We are back with the Disassemble series. This time with an optical mouse. We will try to figure out how the optical mouse works.

Tools of the trade.

We open up the mouse

and the insides plop out.

The LED that you see in the image below is the source of the red light that you see under the mouse.

The plastic “thingy” has a convex lens that directs the light from the red LED and directs it downwards.

There is another convex lens on the thingy, seen as the round dent in the image below.

The lens gathers the reflected light from the surface on which the mouse is resting. The light goes into a small hole pointed in the image below on the underside of the mouse.

The light goes into the hole which is part of a microchip. The chip is basically a very sensitive signal processor that continuously compares the images sent in through the hole and compares it with the previous images to identify the movement of the mouse.

This LED is just to light up the scroll button. Just above the this LED is the middle button below the scroll wheel.

The red thing pointed is compressed when the left mouse button is pressed.

Scrolling the mouse wheel turns this contraption which in turn translates that into signals that the laptop can understand.

A simple collection of a couple of LEDs, one of which is just for show, and a microchip is what it takes to move that versatile little pointer on your whim.