Boffin hats on chaps, what the hell is this about?
July 20, 2006 9:27 AM   Subscribe

What is going on in Huangyangtan?

The Register site has an article and series of pictures featuring a scale model of a mountain range which has been identified as an area on the China/India border that is apparently in dispute. What I'd like to know is what you guys might think this is about. The current theory is that it is some sort of training aid for pilots but I can't see how having a scale model of the terrain would really be of use, surely it would cost less to model this in a computer. I would assume that the Chinese use computerised simulators for pilot training so I am hoping that someone can scratch their head and dislodge the scalp of wisdom for me. Has anyone seen anything like this before?
posted by longbaugh to Travel & Transportation (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
You know how, when you want to remember something, you can write it out long hand as an aid to memory?

Maybe they had the pilots model that thing out of clay with their own hands for the same reason.
posted by StickyCarpet at 9:34 AM on July 20, 2006

Fluid dynamics (say, applied to seismology or the movement of the atmosphere, i.e., weather) is notoriously hard to model even on massively parallel supercomputer networks, no? And there are intrinsic limits to computer models.

The area modelled is the east end of the Karakoram range, the most geologically active area on earth, where the Indian plate is colliding with the Eurasian plate (and creating the Karakorams and the Himalayas).

Chemical weathering on these new (in geological time) mountains has removed CO2 from the air, creating a cooler and drier climate (some even speculate that cooling spurred to do with human evolution). Now we're heading into a warm period, accelerated by human industry, the same sort of industry that's literally and figuratively heating up all over China.
posted by orthogonality at 10:00 AM on July 20, 2006

My first guess was raining for reconnaissance pilots too, but I don't see why it has to be a military installation. Could be some other type of research or training. Geology lessons, maybe?
posted by EndsOfInvention at 10:03 AM on July 20, 2006

Best answer: The kind of high-level computerized pilot simulators you're talking about are extremely expensive -- and can only be built using equipment which the US won't sell to the PRC.

In other words, there's no reason to believe that they have such things in sufficient quantity.

I think the guess about it being for pilot training is probably a pretty good one.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 10:03 AM on July 20, 2006

Best answer: Also, there's no telling how long it's been there. It may be 25 years old.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 10:04 AM on July 20, 2006

Perhaps its a giant sand-table for gaming out troop movements and air cover. Looks like the chinese are into kriegspiel.
posted by Chrischris at 10:05 AM on July 20, 2006

Best answer: This thread on the Google Maps discussion forums has been having the same conversation. They've also discovered another strange structure a few hundred miles west, featuring what looks like enormous masking tape outlines (maybe preliminary work for a second one?)
posted by justkevin at 10:07 AM on July 20, 2006

It's cartographic research, a prototype of a Borgeian Projection.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:07 AM on July 20, 2006

Ha, that was the fable used by Baudrillard in Simulacra and Simulation, and that we are reality is the map.

I didn't realize that computer modeling of terrain was so expensive and hard to do -- or at least such that a nation like China couldn't build what they need.
posted by geoff. at 10:15 AM on July 20, 2006

FYI. That thread justkevin linked to was linked to in the first paragraph of the Register article.
posted by vacapinta at 10:18 AM on July 20, 2006

Response by poster: (cheers vacapinta - I marked it as best answer for those too lazy to read it within the article...)
posted by longbaugh at 10:26 AM on July 20, 2006

Could something like this be used to help program flight paths for cruise missiles? Or some other sort of weapon system that has to traverse mountainous terrain?
posted by Thorzdad at 11:50 AM on July 20, 2006

I used to live near something called "The Bay Model" on Kent Island (Maryland) int he middle of the Chesapeke bay.

It was essentially a colossal warehouse with a giant scale model of the Chesapeke in it, complete with bay water and simulated tides (or so I heard). It was used for wargames acoording to my dad, who never specified his source. I can't seem to find anything about it on the web...

The point is, the U.S. was making things much like this until rather recently. I'd go with the "can't get computers" explanation.
posted by phrontist at 11:56 AM on July 20, 2006

YES! Found it...
posted by phrontist at 11:57 AM on July 20, 2006

Phrontist alludes to what I was wondering about: a hydrological model.

Why would China want a hydrological model of a desolate mountainous region? Well, their biggest problem now and into the foreseeable future is energy. Could they have built this model to assess the potential of the modeled area for hydroelectric generation? If it turns out to have a lot, that would certainly make it more worth fighting for. Also, they need water.
posted by jamjam at 12:33 PM on July 20, 2006

Probably what SDB and ChrisChris said: it's a military training aid, to assist pilots and planners in visualizing the terrain where they may fight. Which in this case is a disputed area between China and India. While nowadays the US does all this stuff on computers, the PLA might not yet or this is just a legacy throwback to when tensions between the two countries were at a higher level.
posted by SenshiNeko at 9:40 PM on July 22, 2006

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