This week’s covers | Edited February 10, 2024
ohHEAVEN OO this week’s cover features the deadly drones changing the nature of war as they swarm over the killing fields in Ukraine. The other is about how Xi Jinping, the president of China, has lost the trust of investors – and how he will struggle to win it back.
In our European editions our commentary describes how the first-person view (FPV) drones are increasing along the lines of Russia and Ukraine. Descendants of racing quadcopters, built from off-the-shelf components, these drones can slide into tank turrets or dugouts. They can injure before they go to kill. In one week last fall, Ukrainian drones helped destroy 75 Russian tanks, 101 artillery pieces and much more.
This is the first time in the history of war that precision weapons have been so cheap and plentiful. America GPS– guided artillery shells cost $100,000 each. Drones can cost as little as several hundred dollars. By 2024 Ukraine is on track to build 1m-2m of them. Surprisingly, that will correspond to shell consumption in Ukraine.
From the beginning, we collected images of drones to show an unfamiliar weapon at work, even as we thought about a design to convey the threat. We started with a picture of a Ukrainian soldier launching his drone through the bare branches of a tree. Next to her, you can see how the X– quadcopter shaped arms could be part of a skull and crossbones.
The drone is not a surprise weapon – there is no such thing. But the sinister threat conveyed by another image, of a skull-shaped drone, is more realistic than it is. As drones proliferate and incorporate artificial intelligence, self-coordinating swarms become possible. People will find it difficult to monitor and understand their commitments, let alone authorize them.
In Ukraine this evolution has already begun. The use of FPV drones there are limited by the supply of skilled pilots and by the effect of jamming, which can separate the connection between the drone and its operator. To overcome these problems, Russia and Ukraine are experimenting with autonomous navigation and target recognition. Never before have microchips and cheap software put information inside the millions of low-level weapons littering the battlefield.
This collective confrontation on our cover hardly looks like a future of war. But that is the point. The revolutionary secret of Drones is that they are the product of widely available consumer technology. They will develop not with the bureaucratic considerations of the military-industrial complex, but at a critical pace, the speed of consumer electronics, which will add new capabilities to each production cycle.
This can be seen not only in Ukraine but also in Myanmar, where rebels have led government forces in recent days and volunteers in small workshops using 3d printers to make components and assemble airframes. Unfortunately, criminal gangs and terrorists don’t seem to be far behind.
We thought we could overcome this new threat with a reference in our title to the ubiquitous Kalashnikov, weapon of choice for guerrillas and grunts alike. Unfortunately, our young drone-aware colleagues did not know what a Kalashnikov was. That’s progress for you.
CEO: Ukraine-initiated killer drones are the weapon of the future
Science and technology: How cheap drones are changing the war in Ukraine
In our American and Asian editions we looked at the Chinese markets. China and Hong Kong shares are down almost $7trn from their 2021 peak – a drop of around 35%, even as American stocks have risen 14%, and India’s 60%.
It is very different from previous years, when foreign investors were shouting that they were part of the most interesting economic story in history. At the time, investors abroad and at home believed that the skillful and determined management of the Chinese government put to shame the frivolous Western policymakers. Today, this trust has disappeared, with negative effects on China’s economic growth.
Since our cover date, February 10, marks the beginning of the Year of the Dragon, our thoughts turned to flying lizards falling to Earth. We were thinking of a spinning dragon, as bad policy undermined confidence, which encouraged worse policy from a government that had lost its grip. We also imagined a dragon being ushered into the stock market’s downward spiral, with Mr Xi hanging on for dear life. And yet, far from being carried forward, Mr Xi is driving investors away – by, for example, cracking down on criticism of the economy and putting data beyond reach strangers
Loss of trust is the result of something, not the beginning. Mr Xi’s skittish policy design was visible as early as 2020, when he clamped down on consumer technology. That led us to think of a cover that referred to our earlier statement on China. A cover from last summer showed a smooth dragon; an attempt to edit this week showed one crash.
We thought we could look further back. We found coverage of the stupid president supporting the market going into 2015. Using it as a trigger, we covered it up in the falling price, which has fallen through the floor. That was a bit. As it happened, the markets were rallying by the time we published our leader – although such small gains are not making much of a dent in the losses over the years. We also thought that Mr. Xi with his arms by his side was passive. That would have been false. The real reason investors have fallen out of love with China is Mr. Xi’s iron belief that he and the Communist Party must be under total control.
Leaders: Can Xi Jinping Win Back the Markets?
Summary: China’s well is under attack from all sides
China: As the Chinese markets fall, the buyers get higher