Archive for February, 2008

A Reality Check for the Navy/More Thoughts on the Sat Shootdown

Saturday, February 23rd, 2008

Lest the Navy (or anyone else) get too excited over its demonstration of missile defense technology, here’s a reality check:

If the weather had sucked, they would have delayed it.

And they almost did. But fortunately the seas weren’t too rough come launchtime. But folks, this is ballistic missile defense that we’re talking about here. Missiles don’t get fired when the weather’s great. They get fired when someone hits the trigger. Which is why ground-based defenses like the ones in Alaska (and eventually in Eastern Europe, depending on what the Russians have to say) are ultimately more critical than ships.

It’s also why as missile defense continues to gain momentum, sooner or later its advocates will be renewing their call for space-based weaponry. Ultimately, it’s hard to have a serious missile shield without that. In fact, it’s sufficiently hard that missile defense is likely to become a stalking horse (some would say a trojan horse) for space weaponization. Meaning that when the time comes, such weaponization will be portrayed as a necessary step to realize the full value of investments we’ve already made, rather than the start of a new arms race.

The Stealth Crash

Saturday, February 23rd, 2008

A B2 bomber has crashed on takeoff in Guam. The two pilots bailed out in time.

We’ve noticed some confusion out there in the blogosphere regarding this and the last high-profile Stealth incident, the Kosovo shootdown in 1999, with some folks thinking these were the same type of aircraft. They weren’t. The one that got shot down by Serbia in 1999 was the F-117 Stealth fighter/ground attack aircraft. And apparently the Russians got a good look at the wreckage. They’re now busily working on their own: one more component of their post-Cold War military resurgence.

Decoding the Spysat Smackdown

Thursday, February 21st, 2008

Last night the U.S. bagged its first satellite since 1985. The debris is still up there, but the political fallout is just beginning. Three things seem clear enough at this point.

#1: No Ifs, Ands, or Buts, This Was an Anti-Satellite/Anti-Missile Test: The claim that we had to blast this thing out of the sky due to the risk of hydrazine spraying all over some schoolyard was bullshit, pure and simple. This was an absolutely golden opportunity to show off some tech that’s already proven it can do the job: the SM-3 missile has been tested successfully before against incoming dummy warheads. Only this time it nailed a satellite (albeit at a slightly higher altitude). Proving that national missile defense can do more than just bag missiles . . . .

#2: It Was Also a Message: China and Russia introduced new text for a treaty banning space weapons earlier this month. This was the U.S. answer.

#3: With More Than One Audience: National missile defense (aka “Son of Star Wars”) has prospered under eight years of Bush II. It represents a fairly significant component of the military-industrial complex at this point, and its champions are understandably concerned about budget axes, particularly as the nation sails into ever choppier economic waters. While the sat shootdown would never have been greenlighted had the U.S. leaders not wanted to send a “diplomatic” message (per #2), there were a lot of people at the Pentagon licking their chops at the prospect of getting to demonstrate in the most public way possible just what they’ve done with all the money they’ve been given. One more reason why you can be pretty sure they didn’t think they’d miss.

2110: Notes Toward a Theory of Space-Centric Warfare

Monday, February 18th, 2008

The revolution in military strategy that the arming of the heavens heralded extended to every arena of warfare. By the 2020s, it was already accepted as axiomatic that whoever controlled space would control the world. But the thousandfold nuances and corollaries to this basic postulate took some time to work out—and left a myriad questions in their wake. Certainly, it was recognized fairly early on that the ability to project power from space onto the ground rendered the heartlands of the major powers more vulnerable to swift attack than ever before. While in the 20th century satellites stood by to give notice of ballistic missile launch, and fighter-jets patrolled those areas through which bombers would have to pass, now space-based munitions would be able to rain destruction down on any point with little or no warning. All the more so as many of those weapons would be traveling at the speed-of-light, since directed energy weapons attained maturity well before the middle of the twenty-first century.

Consequently, as the Second Cold War intensified, the two superpowers redirected resources toward a defense in depth around the (extensive) geographies under their direct control. In the new paradigm, ground- and aircraft-based lasers and missiles would join forces with their counterparts in space to respond to attacks that hurtled in from beyond the bounds of air—and to grapple directly with the sources of those attacks. One secondary outcome of this stance was that it rendered Europe’s efforts to ensure that it would not be the cauldron of a future conflict tolerable to both superpowers–the margin of advantage that would have been provided through European bases was, ultimately, negligible. Yet it should be noted that most of the neutral powers did not fare as well as the Euro Magnates. Many of them—particularly those that occupied valuable equatorial territory (the ideal point for launch-sites)—found themselves absorbed within the superpowers’ defense grids so that the ever-growing launch architectures could maximize their ground-to-space capacity.

From the perspective of civilians dwelling within the U.S. or the Coalition, however, the most significant implication of the mass deployment of space-based munitions was the end of the era of mutual assured destruction (MAD). For, although it was true that the distance that nuclear-tipped missiles had to travel was now far shorter, the rise of space-based defense systems and speed-of-light weaponry meant that any missile could in theory be stopped. In fact, it was highly likely that any one missile would be stopped. This in turn resulted in the targeting of both nuclear and conventional warheads away from civilian sites and toward military ones; to do otherwise would have been to waste weapons that could have been used on targets with counterforce capabilities.

Furthermore, the actual importance of nuclear weapons diminished with the rise of hyper-precise firepower. There was, after all, little sense in using a politically problematic nuke when a powerful conventional device or a directed energy broadside would do just as well. Yet the sweeping aside of the MAD era left at least some military planners feeling somewhat nostalgic: whereas a city-busting nuclear exchange had always been at once both the standard wargaming conclusion in a clash between the superpowers of bygone days—as well as the central factor that made such a war less likely—now that certainty was gone. Was conflict more probable? If so, to what extent had that probability increased? How might such a confrontation play out? And how might it end? These were questions that persisted even after the Zurich Treaty . . .

(To be cond.)