Bilge Pumps Episode 19: It’s China…Again…

By Alex Clarke

So it’s that time again, time for the Bilgepumps to turn to their favorite source of What? Why? How? With that supra-regional nation state, China, its navy and especially its carrier program, with some exploration for why you may not need to worry about tomorrow, but definitely need to start pondering the next decade.

We have made it to Episode 19 and we are reunited with a rejuvenated Jamie to keep Alex and Drach to time. But it is a China episode, so he may be distracted…

#Bilgepumps is a still newish series and new avenue, although it may no longer have the new car smell, in fact more of pineapple/irn bru smell, with the faint whiff of cork– but we’re getting the impression it’s liked, so we’d very much like any comments, topic suggestions or ideas for artwork to be tweeted to us, the #Bilgepump crew (with #Bilgepumps), at Alex (@AC_NavalHistory), Drach (@Drachinifel), and Jamie (@Armouredcarrier). Or you can comment on our Youtube channels (listed down below).

Download Bilge Pumps Episode 19: It’s China…Again…


Alex Clarke is the producer of The Bilge Pumps podcast.

Contact the CIMSEC podcast team at

4 thoughts on “Bilge Pumps Episode 19: It’s China…Again…”

  1. Lots of moving parts in that cruise missile gun. Puts a lot of firepower into a system with many potential single points of failure. Plus I think you will still find the math upside down. We need an 80k ton ship to launch missiles the Russian launch off an 800 ton ship?

    1. I think what they are talking about is effectively an artillery shell with a built in scramjet for propulsion beyond the initial launch. In terms of cost effectiveness I suspect it would be far greater than the Russian missiles you’re alluding to, and wouldn’t take 80ktons but more like 20-30ktons minimum, but if you added more guns, ammo, aux systems, etc it could get well up there and very well might be the better call. Kinda like how the Kirov isn’t strictly necessary to launch it’s missiles, but there are other advantages which make the whole exercise worth it.

  2. I have three big observations I want to bring up here.

    First, regarding your concerns about planning to refight the last war, you appear to be more guilty of that failing than the Marines. Your misconstrue their distributed operations as preparation for the major battles of WWII which is very clearly not their intent. Their actual plan is to distribute weapons and sensors across many small islands to allow them to ambush Chinese warships and possibly aircraft that attempt to enter the area. That’s a sea denial strategy and seems to indicate an intent to contain their forces while cutting off supplies in a long blockade campaign. This is further supported by the fact that there’s no way to take China by amphibious assault unlike Japan in WWII, so a different strategic end goal is required.

    Second, you somehow forgot the oldest mission of the aircraft carrier. Reconnaissance. One of the most important missions of the aircraft carrier in an environment like the Pacific is collecting information since you can’t launch missiles if you don’t know where to shoot. Conversely, carrier aircraft are also ideal for destroying the enemy’s reconnaissance assets to deny them the targeting information required to shoot at your ships in the first place. My personal belief is that this will be far more important than strike in a modern great power war, but we won’t know for sure until the shooting starts.

    Third, I find the idea that drones will significantly reduce the size of aircraft absurd. The cockpit/pilot doesn’t add much weight to something the size of a modern jet, and it’s far more likely the savings from eliminating that would be reinvested into other capabilities, most likely range. For reference, the F-35C’s internal fuel storage weight more than 13 times the weight of a fully loaded Sopwith Camel, so even if we subtract the entire weight of the Camel to represent the pilot and cockpit you get less than 10% more fuel. On a related note, while a hard recovery like you describe is possible and done with small drones (e.g. the Scan Eagle), it requires a greatly reinforced structure which adds quite a bit of weight to the drone.

    Also, I think you should consider the possible impact of nuclear weapons on any future war. We obviously don’t know anything for sure because there hasn’t been a great power war since they became widespread and I’m unwilling to publicly speculate, but there is plenty of material out there for you to consider, especially from the Russians.

    P.S. Regarding heavily armed aircraft carriers, I have an article on the subject in the works I think you’ll find interesting whenever it fits into one of CIMSEC’s topic weeks. The short version is that I took what is conceptually a fairly standard light carrier tailored for self defense with a dozen F-35Bs and ASW helicopters and then enlarged the island to carry the full capabilities of a flight III Arleigh Burke-class destroyer so it doesn’t need an escort.

  3. I agree, although I think the general concept does have some merit as a way to add firepower to carriers. It shouldn’t be too hard to build a missile that launches from their existing catapults to add more strike power as a complement to their manned aircraft, although stores would obviously be limited since it’s competing with more flexible manned aircraft for space.

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