Archive for the ‘Weaponry’ Category

When your gun says no

Tuesday, November 17th, 2009

I don’t know what’s cooler, a story about black box guns, or the fact that the title namechecks Judge Dredd.

But what I do know is this.  Eventually there will be three types of guns:

1.  Legacy guns dating back to the age when guns didn’t contain tracking/override electronics.

2.  Federal-controlled guns whereby Uncle Sam gets to decide if you can have another shot.

3.  Hacked guns

2. and 3. of course will be tough to tell apart.  This is going to be fun.

Nukes: the third generation

Monday, December 22nd, 2008

Do you realize just how little info there is out there on third generation nukes? It’s a crying shame. Federation of American Scientists even highlights information on fourth generation nukes without saying anything about the third generation. Which is a travesty, as third generation hardware is easily the coolest. Essentially it constitutes a mechanism to deploy a warhead like a beam weapon: you detonate the device and channel the x-rays at the target and whammo. Besides my, er, private collection (of articles, not weapons) the best I can find out there is an old piece in TIME from more than twenty years ago, which isn’t that surprising, given that these weapons were intended to be the crown jewel in the SDI system.  There are times I miss the ’80s.

Space-Centric Warfare, Part Five: Underwater Combat

Friday, July 4th, 2008

(To start reading from the beginning of this essay, click HERE. And by the way, Happy 4th.)

Though the Eurasians possessed no equivalent to the Raft, their own navies didn’t lack for funding. This was in large part due to the fact that the most interesting thing about the ocean was, as ever, what was lurking beneath the surface. In fact, the seas were essentially the only place where mobile weapons/vehicles could be hidden from satellite surveillance. Such surveillance was far better than in the 20th century—when it had essentially been nonexistent—but it still remained far from perfect against a deep-running, stealthy submarine.

All the more so against a submarine capable of suddenly attaining “warp speed”: because, ultimately, the one factor above all else that guaranteed that naval items would be a priority item in the defense budgets was that the speed of 22nd century undersea warfare promised to render that of the previous century slow-motion—literally. Tapping the possibilities inherent in supercavitation technologies allowed the development of vessels that could reduce hydrodynamic drag by traveling inside superheated, self-generated bubbles of water vapor and gas—and that could thereby move at hundreds of kilometers per hour, irrevocably altering the pace at which undersea warfare would be conducted.

A critical byproduct of supercavitation was that it intensified the urgency of anti-submarine strategies, particularly in the vulnerable areas near the coast. Just as with geosynchronous orbit, technological/strategic realities drove a mutual understanding regarding the positioning of munitions here as well:  by the 2080s, the two powers had tacitly agreed to recognize the extension of territorial waters to four hundred kilometers out. Most admirals believed that even this was not enough, given the speed of hypersonic missiles and the reality of directed energy.  Accordingly, those four hundred kilometers were awash with underwater sensors, sea-bottom stations, mines, and anti-submarine submarines.  Destroyers cruised the surface and prowled around ocean-going platforms of varying size, while swarms of jet-copters patrolled the skies.

To be sure, littoral waters were an area where the U.S. (despite the positioning of the Rafts as forward attack platforms) had much more to lose than did the Eurasians, since so many of the large American launch pads were situated in relatively close proximity to the coasts.  The United States therefore poured tens of billions of dollars into its Atlantic and Pacific Walls, which extended as far south as the northern parts of South America.  Nor did Navy (and, eventually, NavCom) officers ever tire of arguing that these defense lines should be extended all the way to the Horn (a strategy that would mean absorbing the few neutral territories situated down there).  It could also be assumed (though no one ever admitted it) that both sides had positioned strongpoints at various places in the deep trenches across the world’s oceans, as these avenues represented logical points of concealment for approaching attack submarines.

In this regard, the most studied and speculated-upon undersea theater was that of the Arctic Ocean, across which the two superpowers directly faced each other at a relatively short distance.  The ice-packs may have been dwindling, but they were still much in evidence—and they would make it even more difficult for space-based and aerial recon platforms to intervene in the ever-shifting game played out by hunter and hunted in the most frigid of all waters.

Space-Centric Warfare, Part Four: Naval Combat

Wednesday, July 2nd, 2008

(For Part One of this essay, click HERE.)

All of the attention upon space left the leaders of the non-space services scrambling to assert the significance of their own theaters (though they hedged their bets by building up their own space-based presences). They experienced mixed success in this regard. Perhaps the fiercest such debate centered on the role that the sea would play. Unsurprisingly, the navies of both sides argued that Neptune’s arena would be a crucial one, and they mounted a wide range of arguments to support their claim.

The experience of the U.S. Navy in developing and making its case is particularly instructive. Its officers contended that since all the nations across the three Eastern continents were either neutral or Eurasian vassals, attacks launched from the oceans were the most immediate route, save from space itself, to deploy U.S. munitions without warning into the East’s defenses.  Indeed, at the core of the Navy’s calculations was an attempt to replicate a key component of its strategy during the First Cold War:  namely, encircling Russia and China with a series of bases capable of projecting force into their homelands.

The question, though, was the nature of that force.  The dominant naval platform of the 20th century, the aircraft carrier, had become obsolete long before the full resurgence of the Eurasian powers.  Carriers were simply too vulnerable to waves of torpedoes and ever-faster cruise missiles.  An increasing proportion of the force in any one carrier group had to be dedicated solely to protecting the carrier—yet such precautions failed (in spectacular fashion) against more than one “rogue state” in the first two decades of the 21st century.

The solution to all this was as radical as it was expensive:  since a maneuvering boat was essentially motionless relative to onrushing hypersonic missiles, why bother trying to build any evasive capability into a capital ship at all?  Why not make it motionless?  Thus was conceived the Raft (also called the Floating Fortress, in homage to Orwell): several kilometers along each side, racked with weaponry, and boasting full-length runways, as well as space launch facilities. content_military_04floating.jpg In the eyes of their designers, two factors made the Rafts a survivable proposition:  first, most of their weapons could be utilized for defensive purposes against oncoming missiles (e.g., the craft possessed a myriad smaller lasers that could be trained directly upon such incoming targets) and, second, a Raft was so large that even a direct hit was unlikely to be fatal.  When possible, Rafts were placed on or near the equator to maximize their space-launch potential.

It can safely be asserted that the construction of such behemoths laid to rest any notions that the U.S. navy was run by hidebound reactionaries wedded to the capital ships of a previous generation—but how they would perform were they to be put to the test remained to be seen.


Space-Centric Warfare, Part Three: The Moon and the Libration Points

Tuesday, June 24th, 2008

Further out in space, the Americans held a considerable advantage: until the Zurich Treaty, they enjoyed a monopoly on the Earth’s only natural satellite. They also controlled L2 (the libration point behind the Moon), L1 (situated just in front of the Moon), as well as L5, at sixty degrees angle to the Moon. The Eurasians, by contrast, only controlled a single libration point, that of L4 (by virtue of the Russians having placed a “research station” there shortly after Olenkov came to power), and—in the wake of Zurich—a quarter of the Moon (though by 2110, the extent to which they had consolidated their foothold here was open to question).

Yet the actual significance of such dispositions was open to debate. Certainly the Americans had aggressively deployed resources to the Moon. Furthermore, in the years preceding Zurich, the hindmost libration point figured increasingly in their plans as the site of a reserve fleet that could cover their Lunar assets. But some prominent figures in the U.S. military (none of them in SpaceCom, it should be noted) argued that the Moon was a dangerous diversion. They pointed out that, since it took even the fastest spacecraft two days to cross from the Earth into the Moon’s orbit, any attention devoted to Earth Beyond was by definition a waste of resources. Even the utility of the Moon as a directed-energy weapons platform seemed problematic to such strategists: why put them there when you could simply deploy them closer to Earth?

This private stance aligned with the Eurasians’ public one. For, denied most of the key points in the Cislunar regions, Russia and China instead concentrated their efforts on areas closer to home—or so they claimed. While the ongoing war of words between the two superpowers lies beyond the scope of this inquiry, it is worth noting that the Eurasian rhetoric made much of the American near-monopoly on the Moon and nearby points. Even after Zurich, the press in Moscow and Beijing accused the United States of seeking to conquer the Solar System, or—with perhaps less hyperbole—of harnessing the resources of the Moon in order to dominate the Earth.

Yet, such rhetoric aside, there was much evidence to believe that, in reality, the Eurasian military viewed Cislunar space as crucial. And not just because of the resource issue. Helium-3 and off-Earth minerals were important, yes—but the really critical thing about Cislunar space was that it represented the high ground in the invisible topography of the Earth-Moon system. The amount of energy required to get material to the Cislunar was far greater than the amount of energy required to get material to Earth from the Cislunar. And the policy of Olenkov in this regard—to build up L4 as one of the greatest fortresses of all time—was thus matched by his successors: even post-Zurich, they studded their own slice of the Moon with bases. Yet what kind of combat might transpire on the Lunar surface—or among the libration points—remained unclear.


A Theory of Space-Centric Warfare: Part Two (Earth Orbits)

Tuesday, June 17th, 2008

(For Part One of this essay, click here.)

Of all orbits, the geostationary are the most valuable, with the rest of the geosynchronous orbits running a close second. Across the 21st century, they had thus become quite crowded. For obvious reasons, they were particularly ideal for surveillance; accordingly, each superpower placed numerous satellites above the homeland of the other. Satellites deployed into “the geo” had other uses as well; they could serve as weapons-platforms against those in other orbits, and played an important role in communications networks.

Yet geo orbits presented planners with a complication that gradually became evident as the number of vehicles overhead increased in tandem with rising international tension set in motion by the Second Cold War. For such satellites were especially vulnerable to the ever-present possibility that an apparently harmless communications satellite would be utilized as a space-mine. A single nuclear blast could thus damage or disrupt adjacent enemy assets, provided the aggressive power was willing to trade off the loss of his own in the vicinity. (And, while less dramatic than nukes, a point-blank strike with space-to-space missiles or a KE kill vehicle was also an option.)

Nor was this problem limited to one of deception, since it was inevitable that both powers would place overt weapons above each other’s homelands. While this could be accepted as inevitable in the continually shifting satellite configurations that characterized the lower orbits, it was quite clear that a plethora of Eurasian and U.S. weapons permanently parked adjacent to each other in the most strategic orbit of all was inherently destabilizing. The most serious pre-Zurich incident between the superpowers—that of the Mauritian stand-off—thus paradoxically resulted in decreased tensions, once each side had moved to neutralize all potentially hostile geosynchronous/geostationary satellites above its own territory. But, with the polarization of geosynchronous “territory”, the ability of each side to defend its geosynchronous position in depth—and the premium placed on a side’s ability to penetrate the other’s—became critically important.

At the time of Marshal Olenkov’s death, the poster-child of this development was the PanAsian command-satellite Roaming Tundra. A colossus hardened against both EMP blast and directed energy weapons, itself bristling with firepower, this craft was believed by U.S. intelligence to house key space-based Eurasian battle management computers, as well as a cadre of Russian and Chinese commanders. A whole grid of defense networks surrounded it, including directed-energy platforms, hunter-killer satellites and minefields of tiny micro-satellites. The U.S. geo featured a similar arrangement, centered upon three smaller stations.

But when it came to the lower orbits, matters were far more ambiguous. Planners experienced considerable difficulty formulating a set of general principles that might address how combat was likely to unfold across these regions. And with good reason. A myriad different orbital levels and inclinations (including those that led across the poles) meant that thousands of satellites were continually changing position relative to each other. Of course, the position of any one satellite was entirely predictable—unless one of them fired motors to change its orbit.

Such motors were rarely ignited, however. Not only were the precise maneuvering capabilities of any given battle-sat a closely guarded secret but, also, a maneuver for any purpose other than the correction of orbital decay tended to make everyone nervous. And (needless to say) everyone was nervous enough already, for sweeping above their heads was a dizzying array of military hardware: full-scale SkyMechs, smaller directed energy platforms, mirror satellites to reflect both space-based and ground-based lasers toward their target, kinetic energy kill vehicles, manned space-stations of every size and description, and devices that added to the general tension by virtue of their purpose being not entirely clear. It seemed likely that conflict here would be as chaotic as the disposition of forces; studying the issue, generals exhaled deeply and braced themselves for the mother of all free-for-alls.


A Theory of Space-Centric Warfare: Part One

Sunday, June 15th, 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.)

More human than human

Friday, June 13th, 2008

” . . my concern goes to the development of humans as special weapons. Here is a virtually unlimited field which a few powers are now developing.” –Paul Muad’dib in DUNE MESSIAH

One of the aspects of THE MIRRORED HEAVENS that’s gotten a fair amount of attention is how spymasters rewrite their agents’ memories (a dynamic that’s made all the more complex by two of those agents believing themselves to have once been romantically linked). In that sense, the book ended up being a cross between James Bond and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind: people looked at me like I was crazy—or at least, I seem to *recall* them looking at me like I was crazy—but my agent (er, literary not espionage) smelt opportunity, and here we are as a result of her astuteness.

At any rate, turns out the Pentagon is on the memory trail, too. Wired’s Danger Room reported earlier this week on how the U.S. military believes itself to be locked in a “brain race”, in which the victory will go to the side that manages to produce the most enhanced soldiers. To be sure, the Pentagon has been adamant that its goal here is simply one of helping the troops to “be all they can be.” So, for example, eliminating the need for sleep=worthy stretch goal. Increasing alertness to razor-sharp precision=worthy stretch goal. So far, so good.

But, as Wired notes, the documents (available here) also reveal more ambitious goals. And more specific anxieties. The brain-computer interface is one such focus: some of this involves tapping the subconscious in battlefield situations, some of it focuses on investigating the advantages that a more seamless man-machine interface might yield. This wouldn’t just mean stuff like thought-controlled MiG jets piloted by Clint Eastwood, which is obviously what we all want to see, but also (though the report doesn’t mention it), implants that essentially enable telepathy. The latter of which appears in THE MIRRORED HEAVENS on a more-or-less routine basis.

And then there’s the possibility to fuck with memory, either via an interface or via drugs. The report is very carefully worded: this is yet one more thing that our nefarious adversaries might get up to at some point, and thus more thing we’ll have to watch very closely, blahblahblah. But anyone who’s studied the CIA’s track record with MK-ULTRA (which centered around the effort to use LSD as a mind-control agent), knows that governments love this kind of stuff the way pigs love shit. Indeed, the report goes on to talk (in the context of a brain-computer interface) about the potential for “remote guidance or control of a human being.” They don’t specifically link this to memory, but it doesn’t take much to draw the connection.

To be clear: none of this is right around the corner. But all of it raises critical questions. For now, I’ll content myself with just one. We’re rapidly approaching the point where certain types of soldiers will be way more than just “professional soldiers.” They’ll be engineered. (And we haven’t even started talking about the can of worms that genetics might open.) Are such soldiers ever going to be capable of re-entering society in a civilian role? Will they simply become part of the growing legion of private mercenaries that now support our public-funded armies? Or will they never leave in the first place? Maybe they won’t want to.

Maybe the idea will never occur to them.

Thoughts amidst the heatwave

Sunday, June 8th, 2008

Lots going on this (sweltering) weekend. Starting closest to home with the announcement from Jay at Fantasybookspot regarding three winners of signed copies of The Mirrored Heavens. My congrats to everybody; I’ll try to make my signature at least somewhat legible, but no guarantees. (I’ve got a feeling a lot of my parallel universe dopplegangers are doctors, but I have yet to figure out how to confirm this.)

Meanwhile, several blocks from where I’m writing this, Hillary Clinton conceded yesterday. An impressive performance, but I remain unconvinced that she’s going to go all-out for Team Obama unless she gets that VP nod (which has to be seen as unlikely). One suspects she just may find all sorts of critical issues that keep her chained to the Senate floor from hereon in. And McCain’s challenging of Obama to town halls is a cagey move. It’s like boxing: Obama’s rhetorical firepower gives him the longer reach, so the only solution is to get in real close and try to limit the number of setpiece speeches he does. This is going to be an interesting summer.

On the international front, Wired’s Danger Room has a cool post on Russia’s smart tankbusting bombs. And man, those things are nasty. I’m not going to try to offer them up as evidence in the Great Russian Decline Debate, but it’s a good reminder that while it’s sunk a long way from its Red Army days, the Russian military remains second only to us.

Whereas the Pittsburgh Steelers of the 1970s were second to exactly none. Which may be a bit of an awkward segue, but it’s the best one I can think of in switching gears to acknowledge/salute Dwight White, defensive end on the Iron Curtain. He died at the all-too-young age of 58 on Friday, but those of us who were around in the era of shag carpeting and bell-bottom pants can only scratch our heads in awe as we recollect the man who staggered onto the field at SuperBowl IX with pneumonia and proceeded to smash the Vikings running attack into ribbons and score a safety while he was at it. A fallen warrior indeed. RIP.