Technological decline

If we cannot build high buildings any more, progressives say we are now so sophisticated that we are now superior to status competition based on giant penis substitutes, and status competition based on having a higher corner office than the other business executives.

If high art is an aids infested trannie projectile vomiting over the audience, progressives say that we philistines just don’t get high art.

But the most important thing about a military aircraft is that it can fly faster, higher, and further than its opponents, so that you can get away from enemies, but enemies cannot get away from you.  And of these, the most important by far is to fly faster, so that you can bring trouble to your enemies, but your enemies cannot bring trouble to you.

SR 71 Blackbird, first built in 1972, about the time we put the last man on the moon.

Cruising Speed Mach 3.2
Ceiling 85 000 feet
Range 3 200 nautical miles

Today’s latest and greatest American warplane, the impressively named F-35 Lightning II. Does not that sound so much more impressive than “Blackbird”?

Cruising Speed Mach 1.6
Ceiling 60 000 feet
Range 1 200 nautical miles nautical miles

So let us make a little table:

Capability Then Now
Speed Mach 3.2 Mach 1.6
Ceiling 85 000 feet 60 000 feet
Range 3 200 nautical miles 1200 nautical miles


OK, so how are America’s enemies doing? China claims to be making impressive progess, Russia is not declining nearly as fast as the US. This is fairly typical of a civilization in decline. The center declines faster than the periphery, and the periphery may continue to advance in important respects even after the center has completely collapsed, or been conquered by one of the peripheral states.

China promises for 2018:
Chengdu J-20

Cruising Speed Mach 2.8
Ceiling 60 000 feet
Range 1 830 nautical miles

Since the Chinese are smarter but inherently less creative, they may never surpass America as it was at its height, but they are getting close and still advancing rapidly. Everything Americans once could do, they can copy, and probably over time polish up considerably, improving over the original it in modest ways.

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85 Responses to “Technological decline”

  1. B says:

    Of course the F-35 is a disaster-but not because of speed, or because the US can no longer build fast aircraft. And of course the fact that tranny performance artists have infinitely more prestige than aerospace engineers isn’t doing the US much good, but I sense that there is no shortage of engineers caused by this.

    >But the most important thing about a military aircraft is that it can fly faster, higher, and further than its opponents, so that you can get away from enemies, but enemies cannot get away from you.

    No, it’s not. This isn’t 1942. Aircraft have missiles now, which can cancel out most advantages of speed.

    >And of these, the most important by far is to fly faster, so that you can bring trouble to your enemies, but your enemies cannot bring trouble to you.

    Again, no. Using speed to outrun SAMs is just one tactic. Others are available. In general, the idea that speed rules all was abandoned in the 1960s-1970s, when the performance of the Century Series over Vietnam showed this not to be the case. It also became obvious that an aircraft’s job is not to compete with ICBMs on range and speed. Based on this philosophy, they built the wildly successful F-16 and F-15, which don’t go any faster than the Century series, but do the job much better.

    In reality, the most important thing about a military aircraft is how well it can carry out its mission profile. The mission might be, as it was for an SR-71, to overfly enemy territory, gathering IMINT and SIGINT, in which case speed might be key (though you can also suppress enemy SAMs and send over a U-2, or swarm a bunch of stealth drones.) Or the mission might be to put ordnance on target, in which case the ability to haul lots of ordnance and spend a long time loitering might be much more important than speed-it’s better to have a bird that carries lots of ordnance to target at Mach 0.8 and then spends four hours on station than one that carries a bit of ordnance to target at Mach 6 and spends 60 seconds on station (and did I mention that it’s a lot harder to hit things when you’re moving fast?)

    • Orthodox says:

      Re: putting ordinance on target: the A-10 Warthog.

      • B says:

        Yeah, but that was more optimized to the Cold War hordes of armor scenario. Then it turned out that the A-10 didn’t do that great when it came to actually dealing with hordes of armor. Then it turned out that JDAMs work fine, so why maintain a specialized aircraft that isn’t as good at its specialty as generalized aircraft?

        • cassander says:

          Because the entire 280 plane warthog fleet costs about as much as 20 f-35s. Even if not even the greatest of Lockheed flacks would claim that the f-35 can be in 14 places at once.

          • B says:

            Maybe-but then you might as well use A-4s for ground support, or just drones with 81mm gps-guided rounds. The A-10 is a plane built around a gun, which gun is now superfluous, as its intended targets are not to be found in numbers justifying it, and which gun never worked that well at its stated purpose anyway.

            • jim says:

              In the Gulf war, 1991, and the Iraq war, the Warthog’s guns found plenty of its intended targets – tanks, artillery, armored personnel carriers, helicopters.

              The warthog is what you need when you are up against a conventional army on the ground. If you say it is not much use against guerrillas and terrorists, well, an air superiority fighter is even less use.

              If you are fighting a conventional ground army, you need an aircraft built around a gun capable of killing heavy ground weapons, like tanks, in other words, you need a warthog.

              If your enemy has an aircraft built around a gun capable of killing heavy ground weapons, you need an air superiority fighter to take out that aircraft.

              If your enemy has an air superiority fighter to take out your warthogs, you need an air superiority fighter that is superior to his air superiority fighter.

              So the scenario is: You have tanks and stuff and are fighting an enemy with tanks and stuff.

              To kill his tanks and stuff, you need something like a warthog.

              For him to kill your warthogs, he needs a fighter aircraft.

              For you to kill his fighter aircraft, you need a fighter aircraft with air superiority – in large part, one that flies higher and faster.

          • B says:

            >In the Gulf war, 1991, and the Iraq war, the Warthog’s guns found plenty of its intended targets – tanks, artillery, armored personnel carriers, helicopters.

            That war was a turkey shoot on open terrain against the perfect enemy.

            >The warthog is what you need when you are up against a conventional army on the ground. If you say it is not much use against guerrillas and terrorists, well, an air superiority fighter is even less use.

            If you can gain air superiority when fighting a conventional enemy, it doesn’t matter what you use to deliver ordinance on their vehicles, as long as it is cheap, accurate and has long time on station. A HEAT round, delivered accurately on a vehicle roof, does the trick just as well as a spray of depleted uranium rounds, and probably better.

            >If you are fighting a conventional ground army, you need an aircraft built around a gun capable of killing heavy ground weapons, like tanks, in other words, you need a warthog.

            You will notice the A-10 has moved to long-range missiles as its primary tool against main battle tanks.

            >If your enemy has an aircraft built around a gun capable of killing heavy ground weapons, you need an air superiority fighter to take out that aircraft.

            Not necessarily-a decent air defense network will do just as well. There’s a reason the 1999 air campaign against Serbia failed to destroy the Serbian military in Kosovo-they didn’t want to put A-10s and AH-64s in because of Serbian AD, which was doing pretty well shooting down low-level drones, and the F-16s were not doing well with target acquisition from 10K feet.

            >If your enemy has an air superiority fighter to take out your warthogs, you need an air superiority fighter that is superior to his air superiority fighter.

            This is symmetrical warfare, but the reality is asymmetrical. You can do lots of things with a SAM network.

            >So the scenario is: You have tanks and stuff and are fighting an enemy with tanks and stuff.

            Which, for the US, is highly unlikely to happen.

            >To kill his tanks and stuff, you need something like a warthog.

            No, you don’t. You need something cheap, low-speed, capable of hanging around for a long time and delivering lethal ordinance accurately. The A-10 is the best they could do in the 1970s, using 1970s tech. Robotics, digital communications and GPS/laser guidance have changed that game.

            >For him to kill your warthogs, he needs a fighter aircraft.

            Or MANPADS, which is why A-10s went to engaging armor with missiles from a long standoff.

            >For you to kill his fighter aircraft, you need a fighter aircraft with air superiority – in large part, one that flies higher and faster.

            Or SAMs, which have come a long way.

            • jim says:

              >In the Gulf war, 1991, and the Iraq war, the Warthog’s guns found plenty of its intended targets – tanks, artillery, armored personnel carriers, helicopters.

              That war was a turkey shoot on open terrain against the perfect enemy.

              So, in every war in recent times against a conventional enemy, the Warthog got lucky. You know what Napoleon said about such luck.

              One of the things that made it a turkey shoot is that the US had air superiority. Iraq could not use its fighters against the Warthogs. Was not sams that gave the US air superiority. In the 1991 war, the US had air superiority through fighter to fighter combat. In the 2003 war, Saddam did not attempt to contest the air.

              In the 1991 war, dogfighting between fighter planes, and the Warthog shooting up stuff on the ground..

              We have no real evidence that this has become obsolete.

              >For him to kill your warthogs, he needs a fighter aircraft.

              Or MANPADS, which is why A-10s went to engaging armor with missiles from a long standoff.

              Did they? Cite?

          • B says:

            >So, in every war in recent times against a conventional enemy, the Warthog got lucky.

            Every war in recent times against a conventional enemy=Iraq in 1991 and Iraq in 2003. Against the fearsome Iraqi Army, pretty much every weapon works like magic.

            One of the things that made it a turkey shoot is that the US had air superiority.

            >In the 1991 war, the US had air superiority through fighter to fighter combat.

            Now, how did that happen? Your original point was that speed was the most important parameter. Were Iraqi fighters slower than the American ones, or was there something else which was important? Anyway, the Iraqi air force didn’t put up much of a fight and mostly focused on ferrying itself to Iran.

            >Did they? Cite?

            Don’t remember original source, corroborated by commenter at 04-11-2011, 10:46 AM here http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/archive/index.php/t-604097.html

            You can also extrapolate from the data (not the spin) of this study when they shot up T-62s (which are 50 years old now, and have been replaced by better-armored vehicles) from A-10’s and got an average of one or two penetrations per 120 round burst: https://archive.org/stream/combatdamageasse00stol#page/n17/mode/2up

            Even the Iraqis in 1991 managed to shoot down four A-10s with their Soviet SA-7s. So what do you think will happen with a real enemy?

    • jim says:

      This isn’t 1942. Aircraft have missiles now, which can cancel out most advantages of speed.

      Not true.

      Missile speeds make plane speed irrelevant only when missile speeds are much, much faster than planes speeds. The python 3 air to air missile is only marginally faster than the blackbird, and probably less maneuverable, so speed makes all the difference in the world.

      If you are flying at above mach 3, you have to get mighty close before python air to air missile can catch up with you before it runs out of puff. So don’t get that close.

      Let us imagine a dogfight between a mach 3.2 plane and mach 1.6 plane both armed with python 3s. (python 3 air to air missile has a range of 20 kilometers, and a top speed of mach 4)

      Because the python 3 is only slightly faster than the 3.2 mach blackbird, would have to launch within four kilometers of the blackbird in order for the python to catch up before it runs out of puff. On the other hand, to attack the mach 1.6 lightning with a python 3, only have to come within twelve kilometers. So a plane flying at blackbird speeds, shoots at range ten kilometers and runs away. If they both shoot missiles at each other at the same time and run away at the same time the fast plane is out of range of the slow plane’s python, and the slow plane is within range of the fast plane’s python.

      • B says:

        All things being equal, it is easier to make a missile go faster than to make a plane go faster. Also, planes generally don’t travel at maximum speed. They are generally taking something somewhere, not just flying a route I the shortest time possible. This payload lowers range, and going fast lowers it further.

        Anyway, your example suggests that aside from speed, there are many other ways to improve a fighter plane’s combat effectiveness. For instance, better situational awareness, electronic countermeasures, most importantly, being part of an integrated strike package with SEAD. There is a reason the singleminded focus on speed has gone away, namely, that planes built around speed generally didn’t perform well in real world missions and cost a lot doing little. The SR-71 was in a very specialized role, filling a gap left by reconnaisance satellites.

        • jim says:

          it is easier to make a missile go faster than to make a plane go faster.

          At mach 4, your missile starts to melt. If you make it go any faster it will melt sooner, reducing its range.

          So the fastest missiles cannot go much faster than the fastest planes. So plane speed still matters a lot. Also the melting problem is less serious the higher you are, so if shooting down from high up, the effective range and speed of your missiles is greater.

          If two planes are armed with similar missiles, both of them around mach 4, and one plane can go a bit faster than mach 3, and the other substantially slower than mach 2, the slow plane is hosed good.

  2. Contaminated NEET says:

    I’m not very knowledgeable about aviation, but I know the Blackbird didn’t carry weapons and it had a totally different role from the F-35. It seems to me they’re not really comparable. How does the Lightning stack up next to the fighter planes of 1972?

    I don’t disagree with the larger point that we’re in decline, nor that the fact that the fastest plane was built over 40 years ago and can’t be equaled today illustrates that decline.

    I do strongly disagree with you that “F-35 Lightning II” is in any way a more impressive name than “SR-71 Blackbird.” “Lightning” is such an obvious name for a warplane, plus it’s been used before – it reeks of design by committee. “Blackbird” has originality and class – it’s not trying so hard to sound strong and menacing. It’s like the English bulldog or the French cock compared to the eagle that so many empires and wanna-be empires choose as their emblem. For the code numbers, 71 is bigger than 35, and SR is mysterious and secretive, and apparently stands for “strategic reconnaissance,” which is much more impressive than F for “fighter.”

    • Zoyd Wheeler says:

      Correct. The two aren’t comparable. The SR71 was developed from an interceptor design that turned out to be impractical for that purpose. Soviet warplanes of that era were faster than their successors as well. Mach 3.2 is past the point of diminishing returns. Engineering is a game of trade offs. I infer that Jim is no engineer.

      Still. The F35 is idiotic, especially at the preposterous cost. The F22 can’t seem to operate without sometimes asphyxiating the pilot. The Air Force regards that as a training issue, or a public relations matter, or some such idiocy. Truly, we are boned.

  3. freeman says:

    I would agree that the SR71 was a more impressive feat of engineering, but you’re still comparing apples to oranges. The SR71 was primarily for reconnaissaince, so it sacrificed certain aspects such as maneuverability and payload in favor of speed and endurance. The fighters of its era were optimized more for maneuverability and payload. The Soviets came up with a high speed fighter (Mig25, I believe), but it could not catch the high speed recon and strike aircraft it was intended for, and had many problems due to heat changes at different speeds. Its most likely easier to make a missile go faster than an aircraft, because it would be an order of magnitude lighter than the aircraft ita fired from. Due to not having a payload and a pilot, its much easier to accelerate to high speeds. I think it would be fair to use the F-15, which was an exceptional aircraft, as a baseline.

    The problem with the F-35 is mission creep. In a goal to cut costs and make an aircraft that covers every mission in the service, they have created a jack of all trades and master of none. It is designed for roles such as close air support and air superiority that require opposite characteristics. The major difference between legacy and modern fighter aircraft are their signature reduction or “stealth” as women call it. How effective they are against modern weapons has yet to be proven and will probably require a shooting war.

  4. Dan says:

    It’s been something like 10 years since I read it, but I think Ben Rich’s SKUNK WORKS covers the SR71’s development, and how unlike anything else it was (ie, to the best of my recollection, not a fighter plane), the engineering challenges faced, etc. IIRC, at sea level it was barely structurally sound, but when heated by it’s typical operational speed, it was. Also, I think it’s primary defense against attack was the altitude it flew at?

    • scientism says:

      Ben Rich ends the book by describing how progressivism has destroyed the industry and claims that it’s no longer possible to build such aircraft. He describes, for example, how in later years they were forced to take a certain number of Hispanic workers to meet quotas (this on a top secret project) and had to give legions of pointless government bureaucrats clearance. He describes how they now have to create so much paperwork (on health and safety, diversity, etc) they need a separate hangar to store it. And this is a book from 1996, so I can’t imagine how much worse it is now.

  5. Dan says:

    Sorry, typo: 20 years since I read it.

  6. Robert Brockman II says:

    AF-12 variant of SR-71 was armed with missiles.

  7. Red says:

    With topics like transistors I’m not sold that we’re in decline because it’s pretty clear that material science continues to improve. On the SR-71 the decline is clear.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lockheed_SR-71_Blackbird

    “In 1968, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara canceled the F-12 interceptor program; the specialized tooling used to manufacture both the YF-12 and the SR-71 was also ordered destroyed.[17] Production of the SR-71 totaled 32 aircraft with 29 SR-71As, 2 SR-71Bs, and the single SR-71C.[18]”

    So it was going to be a war plane but the proggies killed it and killed it in such a way to make it impossible to revive. This also makes it clear that we stopped advancing top speeds due to politics, not because speed suddenly become irrelevant.

    “Around Mach 3, the increased heating from the shock cone compression, plus the heating from the compressor, was enough to get the core air to high temperatures, and little fuel could be added in the combustion chamber without melting the turbine blades. The maximum speed was limited by the specific maximum temperature for the compressor inlet of 800 °F (427 °C). 1990s studies of inlets of this type indicated that newer technology could allow for inlet speeds with a lower limit of Mach 6.[44]”

    This shows a direct decline in the ability to even pick long hanging fruit. This means our ability get things done is in steady decline. Hell the F22 could even do oxygen masks without almost killing a bunch of the test pilots, and that’s pretty basic tech.

    I know some people who’s family’s work for Lockheed. They’ve confirmed that the quality of the new engineers is shit. When fresh out of college guys are told by the older die makers(but less senior due to education) that the cad design they want to submit to the CNC won’t work because the machine won’t operate in that manner, they ignore the tool and die guys because the computer didn’t reject it. They can’t understand why the part they ordered up is wrong because they don’t understand how the machine works and they’re not interested in knowing. We’re not producing people who can build black birds anymore.

    Finally, here’s how America rewards our engineers:
    http://www.policestateusa.com/2013/police-kill-80-year-old-man-in-his-bed-after-claiming-his-house-smelled-like-meth/

  8. peppermint says:

    If high art is an aids infested trannie projectile vomiting over the audience, progressives say that we philistines just don’t get high art.

    Do they? Or do they claim that it is high art art because it challenges our values? Meanwhile, there is no real high art, due to the market distortion of copyrights. Composers can maybe write some great music for videogames.

    The F-35 is a “multi-role” aircraft, sacrificing everything for everything. The F-22 should be compared to the J-20. They are broadly comparable.

  9. thinkingabout it says:

    allegations of technological decline are overstated. I think the larger issue is the will to do wasteful things like put a man on the moon or build ever faster planes. The F22 was a abetter plane than the F35, but politics killed it. There is no doubt that America could put a man back on the moon next year if it wanted to – it has the tech and the resources. US GDP is 15 times larger now than in 1970, but the cost of putting a man on the moon is the same. What is questionable is whether a 15 times larger technological project is possible now, that would be an apples to apples comparison.

    • jim says:

      We seriously wanted and seriously needed to build a bigger and better building than the trade towers. And we could not.

      Therefore, not lack of will, but lack of capability.

      • peppermint says:

        Did we? Who’s “we”? Yes, lack of capacity. There will be skyscrapers when land in the city is valuable again and can be reasonably expected to stay valuable – NYC just elected a communist mayor and repudiated the successful tactics that brought the city back from where it was earlier.

        Now, someone did suggest a giant Chicago Spire luxury condo building. Which means that someone thinks that that area will have adequate policing for the next 20 to 30 years.

        • jim says:

          Because of the high likelihood that New York will follow Detroit, there no good capitalist reasons to build tall buildings there. There were, however, vital issues of national prestige. Therefore, it is not lack of will, but lack of capability.

          • peppermint says:

            National prestige? That presupposes a nation to feel prestigious, and a nation that wants to feel prestigious.

            Leftists would only want to build the Freedom Tower if it was going to be a mosque. They certainly don’t want to see luxury condos – can you imagine how gauche it would be to live in the Freedom Tower? – and rebuilding office space is only a good idea if it’s going to be filled with minority-run businesses.

            Well, what they get is government offices because there are just enough people in the government who think there should be something there, and some Chinese company is also moving in.

            I don’t see why you seem to think the UAE has the capability to build stuff and the US doesn’t. Seems to me the construction market is global, and the US will build stuff as soon as the cities get managed better with less criminals running around and less threat of tax changes.

    • peppermint says:

      the F-22 was killed? News to these guys – http://www.f22-raptor.com/

      The F-22 will be needed if the US ever gets in a fight with a country that has J-20s or whatever, and everyone knows it. The only question is whether the US will continue to exist for long enough to get in that fight.

      I agree with the liberals that the F-22 is useless. They say because they don’t want the US to be able to win a serious war, and it is useless for the police actions they want to engage in while condemning.

      • jim says:

        The F-22 will be needed if the US ever gets in a fight with a country that has J-20s or whatever, and everyone knows it. The only question is whether the US will continue to exist for long enough to get in that fight.

        If the J-20 performs as promised, it will wipe the floor with the F-22

        • Red says:

          I still haven’t heard that the Chinese can build their own jet engines. They still buy almost all of them from Russia.

        • Thrasymachus says:

          You are supposing that the military equipment the Chinese build will be of much better quality than the other things they build. Every Chinese product I have ever used had been junk. Some stuff works fine if it is junk, other stuff not. I suspect the J-20 will not work that well because the Chinese just can’t make good stuff.

          • You are perhaps the most isolated person when it comes to tech then. Apple Macbooks are all built in China and they are the best laptops in the market today. China is willing to sell you whatever quality you wish to pay for.
            The Dollar Store and The Apple Store are both stocked with Chinese made products. It’s not China’s problem that you only wish to visit the Dollar Store.

          • jim says:

            Your cell phone is probably made in China. My cell phone seems to work fine.

        • peppermint says:

          you know, the F-15 goes “Mach 2.5+” (I’m assuming the actual top speed is classified), with a combat range of 1000nmi and a flight ceiling of 65,000ft. The F-16 only goes Mach 2 with a combat range of 340nmi and a flight ceiling of 50,000ft.

          The last lunar landing was in December, 1972. The F-15 was introduced in 1976; the F-16 was introduced in 1978. Look at that technological decline! By 2000, the USA will be a country of troglodytes who can barely identify flint and pyrite to set a fire.

  10. R7 Rocket says:

    http://mashable.com/2014/04/25/elon-musk-spacex-booster-stage-atlantic/

    There’s decline in many areas, but not in others.

    • jim says:

      Elon Musk is like General Flavius Stilicho. Sooner or later, politics will cut him down. When Rome produced great men, it killed them. Elon Musk will be destroyed.

  11. According to Wikipedia SR-71 were in use since 1964.
    But they were mainly reconnaissance, and not many of them. Why weren’t they used for combat more, since they were so superior? Were they very expensive?
    Could they not land on a carrier?
    They must have had some drawback not to be more widely used?

    • jim says:

      They must have had some drawback not to be more widely used?

      Their drawback was that we could not build them any more.

      • Rollory says:

        Now you’re the one making stuff up. The SR-71 gathers data. It is much easier and more effective to do so from orbiting satellites or internet backdoors, and much less risky. In practice it is simply not particularly needed anymore by the people who would be putting it into budgets.

        As has been pointed out, also, the SR-71’s mission profile had nothing to do with that of a combat fighter, and your comparison is nonsense.

        The underlying premise of the post may be correct, but none of the evidence you are supplying actually supports that premise.

  12. jim says:

    It is standard procedure to build the reconnaissance version before the fighter version, since attaching weapons to the platform makes it more complicated and increases the number of things that can go wrong.

    The earliest Blackbirds were built only for reconnaissance. The fighter version was to be the YF-12. The YF-12 was built in test versions, successfully operated over long ranges at mach 3.2, successfully shot down target drones, but never went into manufacture.

    Four YF-12 prototypes were built. They were reasonably successful as prototypes.

  13. Dr. Faust says:

    I’ve read through most of your posts on technological decline and can agree with some of it. Looking at video games is interesting. The only real improvements have been in graphics. But that has seemed to stall out. One of the complaints about the release of the PS4 was that it was a barely noticeable upgrade from the PS3.

    While the graphics have little or no improvements to them one of the arguments against the new generation of video games is that there has been a decline in overall game quality, level design, and creativity to games.

    As far as objective standards in video games the load times have increased, the dependability of the hardware has decreased, and homogenization of competition has increased, across each generation of console gaming. To put it simply, every generation has gotten worse except slight improvements in graphics.

    Jim, this is slightly off-topic but do you believe there will be a SHTF event in the future or will the decline be a slow process? Also, when?

    • peppermint says:

      The PS4 and Xbox One are constained by their thermal envelope, and price, to be middle of the line PC hardware. What’s special about them is the heterogeneous architecture, which isn’t really being used yet.

      Hardware is less dependable today than it was 30 years ago, which is funny because it lasts longer before becoming obsolete now.

    • Spph says:

      The games may suck, but I’m sure the source code comments have been scrubbed for gender-less pronouns.

    • jim says:

      Jim, this is slightly off-topic but do you believe there will be a SHTF event in the future or will the decline be a slow process? Also, when?

      Yes there will be a shit hits the fan event in the near future, probably around 2026, and yes, the decline will be a slow process.

      Dark ages come on gradually, with GDP per head declining at one percent a year for several hundred years. Left singularities come on with a bang, or rather a rapid series of bangs each bigger than the last, with startling political extremism rapidly giving way to even more startling political extremism.

      The dysgenic effect of the self liquidation of the elites will contribute to economic decline, but not in ways that are dramatic and immediately obvious.

      • zhai2nan2 says:

        >Yes there will be a shit hits the fan event in the near future, probably around 2026, and yes, the decline will be a slow process.

        I am a fan of John Bagot Glubb’s idea that empires last 250 years on average.

        1776+250 = 2026.

        Did you pick the year 2026 because you agree with Glubb, or were there other reasons?

        • jim says:

          My own estimate. Just extrapolating various trends, in ways that are highly subjective and difficult to explain or justify to other people. We would hit infinite leftism in 2032, and things usually explode a bit short of infinite leftism.

        • Red says:

          America’s only been an empire since 1865 and a world empire since 1945. Glubb’s timing is quite off for America if you’re predicting a near term collapse.

          I think it’s very likely that we will have a full on 1984 style police state apparatus by 2020. How long we can continue in such a state is hard to say.

          • R7 Rocket says:

            Hard to do a police state when you’re having trouble paying the troops and heavily armed militias are backing them off.

        • Thales says:

          Strauss-Howe generational theory also suggests ~2020.

          • Dr. Faust says:

            I’ve read that as well. They predict a large scale war every 80 years. That would leave just enough time for the majority of veterans of the previous war to die off and for people to “forget war”.

    • Erik says:

      I don’t think video games have gotten worse; I speculate the issue is more that “video games” aren’t a very unified category and don’t have clear metrics of success.

      ‘Good features’ (read: features I like) get invented in some game studio, and only spread very slowly to other places, having to be re-invented repeatedly because there’s little transmission. This includes features like a minimap, pause button, the ability to name/annotate your savefiles, or remappable hotkeys, which I would consider important user-oriented functionality. But there’s no good quality of life measure the way there’s a graphics measure.

      So instead of being able to adjust the WASD movement for your AZERTY keyboard, video games have better graphics, which is understandable because better graphics is a benchmark that’s both easy to measure and plays well in trailers – it’s hard to make an interesting trailer about how your game lets you distinguish the “finished overland travel” savefile and the “testing alternate loadout” savefile where your competitor’s savefile only reads “LILAC CITY – PLAYTIME 43:06”.

      • Van Phauc says:

        Video games just got dumbed down for a mass market casual audience, it’s not really a matter of technological decline.

        They just abandoned a certain segment of their old audience in favor of catering to the masses.

        • jim says:

          The promise was ever better graphics, ever more detailed physics engines. Failure to progress on these fields is not a matter of marketing.

        • Dr. Faust says:

          The PS2 was released in 2000. The PS3 was released in 2004 and was a substantial upgrade from the PS2 in graphics. The PS4 was released at the end of 2013 and was a much less substantial improvement in graphics even though it took double the time to design and produce as its predecessor.

          If Kurzweil is right then there should have been a greater improvement with less time but the opposite occurred. There is no accelerating returns in video game graphics. In fact it’s likely a decelerating return, double the time and half the performance.

          Video games are directly linked to the idea of the Singularity since the technology ties into so many other facets. VR, AR, graphics, social media, processors, memory, AI, internet speeds etc. If video games have stalled in improvements – which I believe they have – then so has virtually every other area.

          • dnf says:

            Correction: PS3 was released in 2006 or 2007 i think. Consoles usually launch with hardware comparable(tough not really better) to the high end computers of the time. PS4 and Xbone are comparable to low end/mid end computers of today.

            Companies with lots of money don’t push for graphics and technology anymore, only mid tier developers with the help of crowndfunding or unpaid modders.

          • Dr. Faust says:

            They don’t push for graphics anymore because it’s not possible to do so and retain a competitive price. The demand is still there though as games are judged just like women, looks first.

  14. John says:

    This is silly. The SR71 is totally incomparable to a modern multirole fighter jet; for instance it required its own blend of extremely stable, extremely expensive fuel, that could only be ignited by essentially dropping a bomb in it. That’s just one aspect; every part of the plane was designed to do exactly one thing: fly high and fast. It succeeded wildly, but it’s unsurprising that planes not optimized for that single criterion don’t go as fast – it’s like comparing modern nuclear warheads to the Tsar Bomba.

    The fact is we don’t make them anymore is because for the reconnaisance mission, satellites are cheaper and less prone to being shot down, if you can wait 24 hours, and so are drones, if you can’t. Regardless, you can detect them coming from a long, long ways away – it’s nigh impossible to make something that flies that fast (and hence hot) that’s also stealthy, and if you can detect it, to a close approximation you can kill it.

    • jim says:

      The YF-12 was the SR71 with weapons. Four prototypes were built. They could blow stuff up and still perform as well as the SR71

      • B says:

        The opposite-the SR-71 was a weaponless development of the A-12. The A-12 ran some missions over North Vietnam and had a few close calls with SAMs (even in the 1960s, the gap was too close for comfort.)

        It is not true that missiles melt at Mach 4. The Phoenix, a 30 year old missile, goes Mach 5.

        Finally, note that the SR-71 was revealed in the 90s, 30 years after starting operations. I would expect that right now, there are classified aircraft flying around which outperform the SR-71. USG does not tend to retire a capability unless it has something to replace it with.

        • jim says:

          It is not true that missiles melt at Mach 4. The Phoenix, a 30 year old missile, goes Mach 5.

          For an optimistic value of mach. 4800 kmph, which is only moderately faster than the SR 71, 3540 kmph

          To catch an SR71, has to be a lot closer to the SR71 than to catch a plane that flies at half the speed.

        • Red says:

          We don’t make Phoenix’s any more. All modern Air to Air missiles are in the Mach 3-4 range. Not surprising considering that a Phoenix cost half a mil back when million bucks was big money.

    • Red says:

      If everything you said was true, why did we destroy the tooling for it? All you’re doing is repeating the official cathedral line on things.

      I posted above that given the same ability with modern materials we could make an SR71 that would go Mach 6. That could out run any interceptor missile in existence.

  15. Erik says:

    My impression after consulting a technically inclined contact for a second opinion:

    The SR-71 Blackbird was an overgrown engine with wings that fit in one specific niche.
    It was very good at its mission of doing fast flyover photography, but this is mostly obsoleted by the development of spy satellites.
    It had a high speed, but the function of flying to faraway targets and surprise bombing them is mostly obsoleted by ICBMs.
    It was difficult to arm due to the stress of flying at high speeds.
    The low maneuverability and high fuel consumption of the SR-71 makes it a bad fit for air patrol, as its normal turn radius is 100 miles or more. This gets worse at very high altitudes where there’s less air to turn with, so trying to use the ceiling leaves you broadcasting your future position. High speed doesn’t let you outrun missiles if the missiles are coming from the front and you can’t turn, and the SR-71 nearly can’t turn in combat timescales due to its low maximum G load – less than 1 degree per 2 seconds, while the F-16 turns in excess of 40 degrees per second. (F-16 is used by both his country and mine, not sure about F-35.) This also leaves the SR-71 susceptible to having someone come from the side with an AMRAAM (Mach 4) or other fast missile.
    Finally, the SR-71 had very low payload space, so there was practically no niche left for it.

    • Dan Kurt says:

      re: ” the SR-71 had very low payload space, so there was practically no niche left for it.” Erik

      Kelly Johnson in his book, Kelly: More Than My Share of It All ( or possibly in Ben Rich’s Skunk Works as I have read both of the books ), mentioned that the SR-71 could drop from altitude a solid piece of steel that would on impact with a ship be capable of destroying said ship by kinetic effects.

      Dan Kurt

      • Erik says:

        Pretty much any aircraft can carry an anvil aboard and drop it from high altitude. I don’t see what’s unique about the SR-71 here, and I have the impression it’s not competing for being able to carry the largest amounts of anvils, nor for being a fuel-efficient anvil delivery system.

        • jim says:

          To deliver the largest amount of anvils, need the famous warthog.

          To defeat enemy planes in air to air combat, need air superiority.

          To get to an enemy ship in order to drop an anvil on it, need air superiority. The ability to deliver one anvil where the enemy seriously does not want you to deliver it is better than the ability to deliver a thousand anvils in contested airspace.

          If the SR-71 was built to go places so that the enemy could not prevent them going places, it was capable of killing targets deep inside enemy territory.

          • B says:

            To deliver the largest amount of anvils, need a B-52.

            To get air superiority, you can take many approaches. For instance, fast, long-range missiles with standoff. Or swarming with drones. Or using electronic attack to break the enemy’s OODA loop. Or preferably all of the above, combined. Aspergy focus on one thing tends to get you what the European knights got-right as their armor hit its peak, it became obsolete.

          • peppermint says:

            Why drop an anvil, instead sending a ballistic missile or a cruise missile? Of course, the Navy’s new plan is a railgun.

          • B says:

            Humans in a plane are notoriously bad at hitting things. Hence, laser guidance and GPS are a massive improvement. This even applies to such low-level static short distance stuff as mortars and sniping-hence, the emergence of gps-guided rounds for the former and smart rounds and scopes for the latter. This is also what made the A-10 obsolete.

      • peppermint says:

        that’s great, the Nazis were developing a suborbital “skip” bomber that would have been nuclear armed if Heisenberg hadn’t screwed up. Nuclear weapons make everything obsolete except for quiet submarines and sneaky light infantry.

    • jim says:

      Perhaps, but this sounds suspiciously like the argument that the reason we don’t build tall buildings any more is that these days business executives are too sophisticated to be impressed by a higher corner office than the next guy’s corner office. When the two towers came down, and we faced an urgent geopolitical need to replace them with something bigger and better, it became obvious that we could not.

      The Chinese seem to be laboring under the old fashioned delusion that an air superiority fighter needs to have air superiority.

      • Erik says:

        The F-16 can turn on, if not a dime, then at least on a mile. So can the J-20, or at least the Chinese say so, although I haven’t got a source I trust for that assertion.
        The SR-71, by contrast, turns on approximately the state of Ohio. It has a range that’s several thousand miles longer, but it needs over five hundred miles to circle.
        My impression is that this makes the SR-71 bad at air superiority because it can’t do a second pass in short order, can’t stay on patrol over a single objective, can’t do much about targets or enemies behind it, can’t turn around in less than 10 minutes, can’t use its massive speed to hunt down multiple targets that have split up, can’t zig-zag to bomb things that have not conveniently lined up in single file. If there are five targets in close proximity and no three are in a straight line (the SR-71 deviates from a straight line at 1 degree per 2km), then the SR-71 needs three runs to hit all five, and will spend half an hour and a thousand miles circling around between runs – but the shortest course is predictable half an hour in advance, which is bad for a plane in enemy territory, so probably even longer.

        • jim says:

          My impression is that this makes the SR-71 bad at air superiority because it can’t do a second pass in short order, can’t stay on patrol over a single objective, can’t do much about targets or enemies behind it, can’t turn around in less than 10 minutes, can’t use its massive speed to hunt down multiple targets that have split up, can’t zig-zag to bomb things that have not conveniently lined up in single file.

          Air superiority is superior in order to take out high value targets. You are telling me that the Blackbird is piss poor at doing the Warthog’s job.

  16. Glenfilthie says:

    Doh – Jim, the two birds have different mission parameters. Good gravy, the F35 is a fighter attack craft and has the airframe to support it. The Blackbird is about speed and surveillance and is obsolete thanks to satellites that can now read the newspaper over your shoulder from 15 miles up!

    The F35 is NOT a lemon, it is the best bird in the ring today. The survivability on this bird is estimated at five to one. (I know, estimates at this stage are what they are – but the pilots are on board with the engineers, so I take their assessment a little more seriously). With a kill to loss ratio like that, the economics of this bird change drastically.

    A little objectivity, please!

  17. jim says:

    The F35 is NOT a lemon, it is the best bird in the ring today.

    Best at what? You really cannot build one warplane for both ground support and air superiority.

    You can, however, build one warplane for nothing much, and justify its inadequacy at air superiority by its ground support role, and its inadequacy at ground support by its air superiority role.

  18. J says:

    We are living now in the era of Tamir (Til Meyaret) and the Iron Dome battery, that is able to shot down an artillery projectile. It can get down anything from up to 10000 meter high. The coming wonder is the Iron Ray which will need no rocket to shot down anything in the air and the stratosphere. In these times, what is the use of a metallic coffin at any speed?

    Your concept of technological progress is unimaginative. To what shall I compare your thinking? Like an 18th century horse-drawn carriage maker, you can imagine progress as better, bigger, faster cars with four, six, twelve horses! The future is something else, I dont know what, but different. Intelligent energy beams, possibly.

  19. sgfsgs says:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boeing_X-51

    mach 5.1. unmanned but its intended for manned models in the future.

  20. Brendan says:

    There is also this:

    http://www.space.com/12670-superfast-hypersonic-military-aircraft-darpa-htv2.html

    ‘The HTV-2 is part of an advanced weapons program called Conventional Prompt Global Strike, which is working to develop systems to reach an enemy target anywhere in the world within one hour’

    Air superiority? Though it looks some time off…

  21. Tantumblogo says:

    I’m a newbie here and while I see much to agree with here, this comparison is as silly and apples to orangutans as it comes.

    First of all, the SR-71 entered service in 1969 after its predecessor, the even faster A-12, was retired. But your speed and altitude comparos are meaningless. The SR was designed for a very specific mission and the F-35 for a completely different one. The SR was a Cold War recon aircraft, hideously expensive to maintain and even moreso to fly. The F-35 is a post Cold War attack/jack of all trades replays of the truth that even 40+ years of aviation progress cannot make one aircraft perform radically disparate missions. It is TFX all over again, but we are so dang far down the path we cant turn back now. The power of the USMC, which loves to pretend it is the poor stepsister of the services, knee-capped the design with the near useless STOVL requirement.

    Having said that, aside from the unique capabilities of the F-22 (which should have continued in production in lieu of the JSF), top speed is nearly meaningless as it is never, ever reached in combat. F-15s with M2.5 top speed virtually never exceed M1.5. They dont have the fuel to do so. The same goes for every other supersonic aircraft. Getting up beyond M1.2-1.5 simply leaves a pilot with empty tanks. That is why most modern combat aircraft ceased being designed for M2+ speeds after around 1970. It is a capability that is simply never used in combat. Even the F-22 cannot supercruise for more than 20-30 minutes at most, unless it plans to hit a tanker or land immediately.

    It is possible to design long range M3+ aircraft, and the US is the only nation to ever do so. But it was found through enormous expense and effort that low-observables and more moderate speeds were a better way to achieve military objectives. That direction or choice is debatable and there are still some advocates like Stuart Slade for the high-Mach paradigm as being more survivable for the future threat. But such are a distinct minority in the defense biz.

    None of this is not to say that the F-35 is not a stuttering clusterfark of a malignant failure. It is. Worst design in 50 years. But the design is compromised due to high-level policy decisions, not lack of engineering ability. The fact that a design so poorly conceived and expected to do so much is even in the air and making some progress is a testament to impressive engineering skill. The F-111B was also an impressive achievement if a hopelessly compromised concept..

    A few more points:

    1. I would take any notional performance figures for any Chinese aircraft with a huge grain of salt. The Chinese aviation industry is yet to field a truly modern indigenous aircraft in any numbers. No, the J-12 is not modern, and the J-11 a copy of a 40 year old Soviet design.

    2. It is interesting how you switch from advocating “speed is life” to arguing against A-10 retirement. The A-10 top speed is slower than a WWII prop fighter.

    3. There have been tens of billions spent on black aircraft whose capabilities are not public knowledge. But it is a good rule of thumb that any such aircraft that becomes public knowledge, like the Boeing “Bird of Prey,” has already been supplanted in service. So recent noise about the SR-72 may have some significance. Your argument may well be obsolete, but we are unlikely to know for a long time.

    So is this just about a narrative, or about making a factual point?

    • jim says:

      F-15s with M2.5 top speed virtually never exceed M1.5. They dont have the fuel to do so. T

      That is because, unlike the Blackbird, they use afterburners to achieve high speed. It is not an inherent problem of high speed, it is an inherent problem of technologically inferior engines. The Blackbird could cruise at high speeds without wasting huge amounts of fuel.

      At low speeds, the Blackbirds engines functioned like a turbojet. As the speed got higher and higher, the engines functioned more and more like a ramjet, thus became more efficient at high speeds, instead of horrifyingly inefficient.

      Engines that use afterburners to achieve high speed, rather than ram effects, are simply inferior.

      2. It is interesting how you switch from advocating “speed is life” to arguing against A-10 retirement. The A-10 top speed is slower than a WWII prop fighter.

      A-10 is ground support. Ground support and air superiority require opposite characteristics.

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