What's happening in China



Retired US admiral wants American land, sea and air drone development to quit coasts for the Great Lakes

What must be another sign of America's decoupling from China is the pressure to accelerate an already established trend to move drone research away from the more vulnerable coastal areas to the interior of the Great Lakes.

Retired US Vice Admiral James Stavridis, writing a Bloomberg essay, wants such research to be even more narrowly confined to Lake Michigan, which is entirely within the borders of the Lower 48 of the United States.

Admiral Stavridis, also the former supreme allied commander of NATO, and dean emeritus of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, is now vice chairman of global affairs at the Carlyle Group, a multinational private equity fund.

He says China s recent enhancement of its operations in Cuba - likely to focus on surveilling the many US military facilities in Florida - should have the Defence Department thinking about safer locations for its more sensitive testing and scientific programmes.

"One idea is to place them away from ocean coasts in the less-vulnerable American Midwest," he said. "The debate is quite timely: This spring, the navy relocated the testing of some cutting-edge experimental unmanned vehicles to the Caribbean, under the authority of the 4th Fleet in Mayport, Florida."

Admiral Stavridis finds this a "perplexing decision" given how US adversaries such as China, Russia and Iran are spreading their influence in Latin America and the Caribbean - and finding willing partners in not just Cuba but also Venezuela and Nicaragua.

"Given the great efforts those adversaries have made in studying how the Pentagon designs and operates unmanned systems, it is only prudent to look at other geographic options for testing and evaluation. Unmanned vehicles, whether armed or equipped with sensors, will be game changers in naval warfare, on the scale that submarines and aircraft altered the scope of war in the 20th century," he said.

One idea, outlined in a recent essay by Jerry Hendrix, a retired US Navy captain, is a proposal for a maritime  Area 52  across parts of Lake Michigan. The Area 52 moniker draws on the fabled Area 51 in southern Nevada, where the U-2 and SR-71 spy planes and the F-117 - the first stealth attack aircraft - were first developed away from public eye decades ago.

A testing base on Lake Michigan seems a highly credible proposal, he said. It is one of the largest freshwater lakes in the world: Over 300 miles long and 118 miles wide, it s 920 feet deep. It has all the room necessary to do full-scale tests of unmanned air, surface and subsurface vehicles on a regular basis. And for once, the Midwest s frigid winters would be a bonus, forcing the drones to prove themselves in a variety of weather conditions.

There is precedent for military testing on Lake Michigan, said Admiral Stavridis. During World War II, the US Navy operated two paddle-wheel-powered aircraft carriers there for pilot training.

"Much necessary infrastructure is already in place," he said. "Naval Station Great Lakes, just outside Chicago, could monitor surface and underwater drones, while the many naval reserve and Air National Guard bases around the region could be used to launch and recover unmanned aircraft."

In addition, he said, the US Navy is ramping up production of its new Constellation class frigates to two a year at a Marinette, Wisconsin shipyard on the lake s western shore. Working in tandem would allow unmanned platforms to demonstrate their capabilities alongside manned surface ships during the frigates  initial trials.

"Perhaps the most exciting component of the Area 52 concept is its potential to create a high-tech corridor in the Great Lakes area. Silicon Valley did not spring from whole cloth. The Stanford University techies who created many of the patentable electronic ideas were supported technologically and financially by NASA s Ames Test Research Centre and the Navy s Moffett Field south of San Francisco Bay. One result was the founding of Hewlett Packard, the grandfather of the computer industry."

Another point to consider is the existence of the Route 128 tech corridor around Boston - where Admiral Stavridis spent five years as a dean at Tufts University - emerged in the 1950s from a virtuous circle consisting of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Hanscom Air Force Base, and federally funded Lincoln Labs. Raytheon Technologies was an early firm that grew out of that public-private partnership. One can envision recreating Silicon Valley or Route 128 in America s heartland.

Also the Midwest has deep intellectual advantages, he said. There could be a strong alignment between Purdue University, one of the world s leading engineering centres; the famed Fermilab and Argonne National Laboratory near Chicago; and the Naval Surface Warfare Centre at Crane, Indiana, which develops everything from micro-electronics to hypersonic weapons.

The University of Chicago, Northwestern University and the Universities of Michigan and Wisconsin are also nearby. Combined with the economic backbone of the Chicago-Milwaukee corridor, all the components necessary to catalyse a new Midwestern high-tech zone focused on naval drone systems are present, he said.

"The navy understands the importance of unmanned autonomous systems, but it should not develop that fleet on an open stage in the Caribbean, where tech-stealing adversaries can sit in the front row. Rather, it should consider moving research, development and prototyping efforts to a new Area 52 on Lake Michigan, potentially aiding national security while helping create a new high-tech zone in the nation s heartland," he said.

Given the current mood of the West in regard to rising tensions with China and the importance of drone technology in the world today, it seems only prudent to think of the Great Lakes area as the centre of future development of this sector.

* - Indicate required field(s).
Where do you think drone technology is likely to develop? Can we take Admiral Stavridis seriously that this is the geographical direction it should take in years to come?

* Message :

* Email :  


China Trade Specialists