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Russia Tests Anti-Satellite Weapon

Published December 21, 2016 in Military , Science , Space , Technology - 0 Comments

Who shot down DMSP-13?

CNN tells us tonight that Russia has recently tested an anti-satellite weapon.

The US tracked the weapon and it did not create debris, indicating it did not destroy a target, the source said.

The Russian test, coming as President-elect Donald Trump prepares to enter the White House next month, could be seen as a provocative demonstration of Moscow’s capability in space.

Russia has demonstrated the ability to launch anti-satellite weapons in the past, including its Nudol missile.

Emphasis is mine, and not in the original article. I remain suspicious that DMSP-13 was shot down by the Russians, although it is clearly unconfirmed at this point. Nevertheless, we know that Russia and China both badly want anti-satellite technology. They have invested quite a bit of money and time into various technologies for it. They know quite well that US space technology puts them at a huge strategic disadvantage. Both nations desperately want to eliminate that advantage if at all possible.

CNN strongly implies that Putin used this test to demonstrate capability and intimidate the incoming President Elect. I remain convinced that Russia has done so before, more than once. I have zero doubt that they will do so again.

What’s the right move for the US? Developing countermeasures is expensive and clunky, so that’s probably what we will do. What we should do is focus on lowering launch costs so that we can replace satellites so cheaply that destroying them is of little gain. The current “commercial space race” is already meeting success on that front. We should do all we can to speed the process. Of course, a little bit of space infrastructure wouldn’t hurt, either.

Falling Into Empire

Published January 18, 2016 in Culture , Economics , Military , Politics , World War IV - 0 Comments

List-Why-Rome-Fell-ENate has signed and sealed the death certificate of the United States.

Seems a bit early to be writing this… but the fact is the history is already written.  The nails are in the coffin.   Its already happened.  The US is down 34 to 10  and there are only 2 minutes to go.  There is no time for a come back.

If you saw the post last night or heard the show you know our friend Rycamor brought a great essay on the life cycle of nations.  This essay is called The Fate of Empires and Search for Survival.  It is written by Sir John Glubb.

I first read the essay Nate refers to several years ago, based on a thread at Vox Popoli. It may well have been Nate who posted the link, or it might have come from Vox himself. It’s been long enough that I honestly don’t recall. It’s a powerful essay, and it’s well worth the read. It’s also quite simple and easy to follow. On the whole, the essay makes a very strong case. But I do have a few issues with it, and I think they’re important.

First, the Sir John’s decision to split the Roman period is a glaring data point. Indeed, the author notes this himself:

(3) The division of Rome into two periods
may be thought unwarranted. The first, or
republican, period dates from the time when
Rome became the mistress of Italy, and ends
with the accession of Augustus. The imperial
period extends from the accession of
Augustus to the death of Marcus Aurelius. It
is true that the empire survived nominally
for more than a century after this date, but it
did so in constant confusion, rebellions, civil
wars and barbarian invasions.
However, this only partially deals with the issue. To be clear, I don’t object to his breaking of Rome into distinct periods. I do, however, object to him leaving out the third distinct period of the Roman empire – the time that we commonly refer to as the Byzantine Empire. It’s important to note that my objection comes not because I think this makes his case weaker, but rather because I think it makes his case generally stronger.
First, the divisions that he does include – the period of the Republic and the period of the Empire – represent a valid and distinct division. We must note that Sir John did not make this distinction arbitrarily – historians have made this distinction for centuries, and for good reason. The Empire was a very different beast from the Republic, and it’s correct to recognize them as so. Indeed, it is also correct to represent the Byzantine Empire as a separate period of its own. All three represent distinctly separate beasts, and although we might quibble about the exact dates of when one became another became the third, we can easily agree that they are, in fact, no longer the same beast.
And yet at one and the same time they clearly are one logical entity. The transition from Republic to Empire to Byzantine Empire honestly is a direct continuum. Roman citizens didn’t just go to sleep one considering their government a Republic and wake up the next morning singing the praises (or curses) of their new Empire. The early Roman emperors, especially Augustus, went to great trouble to maintain all of the outward appearance of the Republican government that they’d replaced. This continued, to one degree or another, all the way through the Byzantine Empire. Until the fourteenth century the citizens continued to call themselves Romans and the Senate – though completely powerless – continued to exist.
The division between the Republican and Imperial periods of Rome makes a nice split that aids Sir John’s theory. At first glance, the existence of the Byzantine Empire – and its thousand year reign – seems to cause the theory some problems.
I submit, however, that it doesn’t. People are fond of saying that every theory has its exceptions, by which they usually mean a glaring counterfactual that doesn’t conform to the theory at all. In reality, however, most real-world exceptions look a lot more like the case of Rome – they kind of fit the theory, but differ in important ways. And that’s why I think the case of Byzantium actually bolsters the theory.
Rome is the exception that proves the rule.
Because make no mistake about it, Rome is an exception – at every level. The very fact that it makes Sir John’s list twice, and with no gap between the periods, demonstrates that. But it’s not just on this list that Rome is the exception. Rome’s exceptional status has been well known for centuries. Indeed, until the current wave of globalism swept our educational system, Rome took center stage in history classes precisely because it was so exceptional.
What made it so exceptional? Lots of things, but here are a few.
  1. Rome built a level of infrastructure that had never before been seen. Their roads and aqueducts ran the length of the empire.
  2. They built to last. A non-trivial amount of that infrastructure still stands today, including some roads and aqueducts but especially a large number of buildings. Some are still even in use.
  3. At their peaks, they weren’t just a power, or even one of a few great powers – they were the great power.
  4. The empires around them had immolated each other (or in some cases self-immolated) so thoroughly that even as Rome’s power waned, there was nobody else to seriously challenge it.

I am hardly the first person to note the parallels between the modern United States and ancient Rome. The comparisons are so obvious that my college history professors had to push people away from making the too-easy notes and force them to look deeper. Yet they are there, and they are real. In looking deeper, we must not forget that they exist. But more than anything, I’d like to call attention to point #4 on my list above.

As the US declines, nobody else is ready to take up the mantle.

The fact remains: on the open battlefield – be it land, sea, or air – no other military on earth can touch ours. Every other military is at least one full generation of technology and doctrine behind. That includes our western European allies. During the initial invasion of Afghanistan, our allies offered their aid. In most cases we either turned it down or imposed limits on it because their generation-old tech made it too difficult to integrate them effectively.

No other nation can even come close to the logistical capability that the US provides. It is often pointed out that we spend many multiples of the Europeans on our defense budget. It is equally often forgotten that they can spend so little because our European allies completely rely on the US for logistical capabilities. Indeed, this was official NATO doctrine for decades.

Economically, we remain in a similar boat. Our economy dwarfs everyone. The US still provides 14% of world GDP as of 2014, despite having only 5% of the world’s population. That’s well down from our peak, but not because our GDP has declined – it’s because China and other developing nations have actually been playing some catch up. Yet even though they passed our GDP as a percentage of world GDP in 2014, China did so representing 20% of the world’s population – five times ours.

Yes, 4th generation warfare is a real thing and the US sucks at it. This causes real problems to our military dominance.

Yes, our logistical capability is much more fragile than is often realized, and has also been in decline.

And yes, our economy is built on a foundation of debt that will likely soon prove to be catastrophic.

But the reality is that every other nation on Earth fares worse on at least two of these same scores, most on all three. China’s economy has been growing like mad for the last 15 years, but there are increasing signs that the house of cards is about to come down. Russia and the Middle East have built economies that rely on oil staying at quite high prices – prices that look increasingly like they’re not long-term viable. And Europe is too dependent upon the US. If our economy collapses, theirs goes down even further.

[Side note: I’ve believed for quite a long time that the price of oil was artificially high; recent events back up that opinion. But that’s another post for another day.]

In the comments, Nate’s post already start down the road to this when commenter Susan asks what other countries are ready to step into the void. Nate responds – not incorrectly – that there doesn’t need to be anybody to step into the void. But prior to that, his response that ISIS refugees are the ones conquering territory leaves a lot to be desired. It’s a long way from “conquering territory” to “launching a new empire.”

Where am I heading with this? The short version is this. I agree with both Nate and Sir John – the time of the American Republic is just about up. But I disagree with Nate about what comes next. My personal prediction is that the true American Empire arises from the ashes. Yes, I’m well aware of how much we already resemble an Empire. And yet there are certain lines that our nation has not yet crossed.

This is more fodder for another post on another day, but for now, suffice it to say… we will cross it. The historically literate will recognize its passing when a figure very reminiscent of Augustus Caeser comes to power in the American scene. He will probably retain the outward forms of the American presidency, and most notably the title (Augustus’s official title was neither “king (rex)” nor “emperor” nor “caeser” – it was “consul,” just as the countless Republican leaders before him had been called). The most obvious distinction? When we have a President who serves for life, you will know that the line has been crossed.

The time is not yet ripe for Americans to choose to elect that man (remember: Augustus was elected to his first term as consul). But it is coming. The right man has not yet presented himself for the post. But he will.

The US is declining, but not into nothing. We are falling into empire.

There Will Be War: Volume X Review

Published January 13, 2016 in Book Reviews , Military , Science Fiction - 0 Comments
There Will Be War: Volume X

There Will Be War: Volume X

I finally had a chance to finish all of the stories by my co-authors in There Will Be War: Volume X. With apologies to my other co-authors, I didn’t actually receive my author’s copy until about 24 hours before it went live on Amazon. Then the holidays hit. And then John C. Wright sent me a manuscript, and I got a little sidetracked.

I must say, though, I am blown away by this collection. I am absolutely honored to have my own piece set beside these other contenders. There is not a single weak piece in this collection. Seriously. I make a few nitpicks about some of them below. This should not be taken in any way to mean that I didn’t enjoy them.

I did definitely enjoy some more than others – but I can almost guarantee that your experience will be different. Ever story in here is strong enough that somebody will consider it to be his favorite. Heck, two poor, deluded souls even thought my own story was the best in the collection, for which I’m very grateful but I ask you to please stop smoking crack.

Below the fold are my own thoughts on the individual stories for any who would like to read them. There are no huge spoilers here, but neither is it fully spoiler free. Proceed at your own risk.

Continue reading

Dragon vs Spitfires

Published May 25, 2015 in Fantasy , Military - 0 Comments

A while back, I responded to the fantasy hypothetical: who would win if a dragon fought an Apache Attack Helicopter? Anybody familiar with modern armament should know how that paring turned out.

This morning, I received the following message over Twitter:

Hiya 🙂 Tell me; if a dragon fighting for the Nazis fought against four pilots flying Spitfires during the Battle of Britain who would win?

Philip Tolhurst

"George and the Dragon" by Philip Tolhurst

“George and the Dragon” by Philip Tolhurst

It turns out that Philip has already taken his own stab at the question in his book George and the Dragon. A book which has just catapulted pretty high up my “to-read” list, because it sounds awesome. Until I get a chance to read it, though, let’s take a look at the question:

Dragon vs Spitfires: Who would win?

This fight is going to be far more interesting than the Apache fight.

The Supermarine Spitfire was an interesting plane, and pretty advanced for its day. The aircraft had several armament variations, which would obvious affect the outcome of the battle. Early versions carried four .303 Browning machine guns. Later versions carried eight of these guns. These guns had a tendency to freeze at high altitude that wasn’t corrected until 1938 – that would definitely put a kink in things.

Unlike the modern Apache, the .303 ammunition would not have been depleted uranium, since the material wasn’t really available until the 1970s. However, they could have had access to steel core ammunition rather than lead, and probably would have used it if needed.

The Spitfire also set speed and altitude records for its day: 606mph and 50,000 feet. Neither of those is shabby. That’s just shy of the speed of sound and nearly ten miles up. The aircraft was known to be more maneuverable than other airframes of the day, which is a definite plus.

However, the Spitfire also needed an average of 4500 rounds to shoot down an enemy aircraft. That’s a lot of rounds, and a typical enemy aircraft wouldn’t be anywhere near as well armored as a dragon. On the other hand, the scenario posits four Spitfires. Four to one seems to improve the odds somewhat.

Whereas an Apache would out and out destroy the dragon, this is a far more interesting match. And at the end of the day, the outcome is going to come down to these factors:

  • How powerful is the dragon in question?
  • How smart is the dragon in question?
  • How good are the tactics of the Spitfire squadron?

Without an element of surprise, my money is on the Spitfires – but I doubt they’d win every time. But more often than not. Probably three out of four encounters, maybe as many as seven out of eight.

This is where an author could have a lot of fun, and create some pretty good drama. Because this is a fight that’s close enough to even that any particular instance of the fight could legitimately go either way. And that’s a great source of drama, which is why I’m definitely interested in George and the Dragon. Also, I love the title and its play on the famous English legend.

My take: if the dragons catch the English by surprise, it goes badly at first. Then they adjust their tactics, maybe tweak some weaponry, and end up winning in glory at the end of the tale. Which is probably exactly what happens in the book. But that’s a great layout for a story that has an awesome setup and promises to be a lot of fun.

I will let you all know after I’ve had time to read it!

Who Shot Down DMSP-13?

Who shot down DMSP-13?

Who shot down DMSP-13?

A 20-year old military space satellite was shot down this week.

Air Force Space Command said DMSP-F13’s power subsystem experienced “a sudden spike in temperature” followed by “an unrecoverable loss of attitude control.” As DMSP operators were deciding to “render the vehicle safe” the Joint Space Operations Center at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, identified a debris field near the satellite.

Sudden spikes in temperature don’t “just happen” in space. In fact, there must be an energy source to cause such an event – even here on Earth. The energy has to come from somewhere. What kinds of events can cause such a thing in near Earth orbit? There really isn’t much in the way of natural phenomena that can do it. Solar flares maybe, but they wouldn’t be precise enough to hit just one satellite.

But there is one thing that can do it: ground based anti-satellite lasers. Although there is very little public information about such weapons it’s widely acknowledged that several nations have experimented with them. There’s been quite a bit of speculation over the last fifteen years about such weapons, and a few other tests are believed to have happened. Nothing else really makes sense as a cause for this event.

So the question is, who shot it down? Was it a test of a US system, shooting down an old, unused satellite because we knew nobody would miss it? Or was another nation attempting to send us a message? There is a very real chance that either Russia or China wanted to let us know that they could shoot down our GPS satellites if they wanted to, and that there isn’t really anything we could do about it. Given how much we rely on those systems, that would be a huge tactical and strategic loss to the US in any conflict.

My money is on Russia, shooting it down as a warning for us not to get too involved in the Ukraine. Odds are good that whoever did it has found a quiet, plausibly-deniable way to let the White House know that they did it.

Ukrainian Ceasefire Violated

Published February 19, 2015 in Europe , Military , Politics - 0 Comments

It took even less time than I expected for us to see the Ukrainian ceasefire violated.

The city of Debaltseve effectively fell to rebel fighters days after the cease-fire was signed last week with the heavy involvement of European leaders.

I’m shocked, shocked to see that Putin signed a cease fire he didn’t intend to live up to.

But U.S. lawmakers say the latest developments only underscore the need for greater involvement by the U.S. and its allies.

Do they want a world war? Because that’s how world wars get started.

Apache Beats Dragon

Published February 12, 2015 in Fantasy , Military - 2 Comments

The Smithsonian Channel recently published a video purporting to describe what would happen in a confrontation between a dragon and an AH-64D Apache attack helicopter. They are dead wrong. Here’s what would actually happen.

A couple of caveats first:

  1. I am assuming the conditions of the dragon as specified by the video. Change the conditions of the dragon and the outcome changes, naturally. But…
  2. I am leaving magic aside and assuming an organic beast. Look, if you add magic into the system then the winner of the fight is whomever the author in question wants to win and the rules of the magical system can be jiggered to be whatever they need to be to assure that outcome.

Despite caveat #1, the case I outline below effectively applies to any conceivable organic creature that is recognizable as what we would call a dragon.

Despite caveat #2, the dragon as posited in this video is not actually possible without magic. It’s capabilities as an animal defy known limits of both biology and physics. For the sake of argument, and for a fun blog post, we will ignore this. The video itself, although it doesn’t explicitly state it, implicitly clearly assumes no magic and is trying to posit a, “what if this creature existed in the real world” scenario. We will take it on its own terms.

More Powerful Than You Can Possibly Imagine

apacheThe primary problem with claims such as those made in this video is that they are made by people who do not understand the raw destructive power of the weapons they describe. More fundamentally, they lack an understanding of the relevant biology and physics.

This is pretty easy to sympathize with. Most of us are not biologists, physicists or weapons designers. Our military represents a very small portion of our population, and most of us have never served in it and directly experienced these weapons. On the other hand, most of us have at least a little bit of experience reading or watching fantasy stories that involve magic and dragons. Hollywood – the prime source of most people’s knowledge of the military – doesn’t understand the military weapons any better than the average civilian. So we have an opinion that is a bit skewed toward these things.

There’s another issue. Past a certain point, unless we can put direct metrics on it and quantify it, the human brain starts lumping all massively destructive things together into one category: really destructive things. So fighter jets and tanks and attack helicopters and dragons all kind of get stuck together in our heads. Unless we quantify it.

And once we quantify it, a different story altogether emerges. The reality is that modern weaponry has far surpassed just about anything you’ll ever see in any fantasy story ever written. The frightening magical weapons of yore just aren’t all that impressive compared to modern military capabilities. But most of us don’t realize it.

On to the details.

As the video states, the Apache carries two primary weapon systems: an M230 chain gun and the AGM-114 Hellfire missile. Either one of these systems is sufficient not just to defeat the dragon but to turn it into a pool of goo. Here’s why.

The M230 Chain Gun

The M230 chain gun fires 30x113mm rounds at a rate of 625 rounds per minute. The Apache carries 1200 rounds for this weapon. Just so that you can get a visual, here’s what a 30mm round looks like.


(Note – I am unclear on the exact round here. It is a 30mm round, but it might not be a 30×113 as fired by the M230. It is very similarly sized, though, and serves as a good visual reference.)

In case you weren’t clear on it, that thing is huge. When fired by the M230 that massive round leaves the barrel at 2,641 feet per second. That’s right – half a mile every second, or more than twice the speed of sound. Now, the kinetic energy on that round is crazy. One or two rounds would liquify a human being on impact on that basis alone.

But the kinetic energy is only part of the fun here, because the Apache is likely to be firing the M789 HEDP (High Explosive Dual Purpose) round. Yup – high explosive. That round is specifically designed to explode inside its target (via a delayed impact fuse).

Oh, and the effective firing range on this weapon is 1,640 yards – or 0.93 miles. The Apache is shooting one thousand, two hundred of these things at our dragon from nearly a mile away.

This chain gun is designed to be an anti-armor weapon. In other words, it’s designed to take out heavily armored tanks. That dragon isn’t merely Swiss cheese. It’s a puddle of glop.

The AGM-114 Hellfire Missile

The video is joking, right?

The Hellfire missile has been known to successfully disable an M1 Abrams main battle tank (friendly fire incident in the first Gulf War in 1991). Now, for those who are uninitiated…

The M1 Abrams features reactive armor made from depleted uranium – one of the densest elements known to man. Sixty tons of it. Remember that number because we’re going to come back to it when we talk dragon flight characteristics later on. The M1 Abarms is pretty much the most heavily armored beast ever to hit a battlefield. And Hellfire took it down.

The final scene in our video shows the Apache firing all sixteen of its Hellfires at the dragon. Good luck finding any parts of the dragon after that.

Oh, and you think the 1,640 yard standoff range of the chain gun gave the Apache an advantage? The Hellfire’s effective range is five miles, which it will be covering at a speed of 995 miles per hour. In other words, it will close that entire distance in less than 20 seconds. That poor dragon doesn’t even know what vaporized it.

Demonstration Video

Here is a video that shows, as the title says, an absolutely typical Apache attack with Hellfire and 30mm gun. Pay particularly close attention to what happens to the pickup truck.

Dragon Flight Characteristics

The final consideration: if the dragon is capable of flight, that puts some serious constraints on it. Specifically, it must maintain a given lift-to-weight ratio or it will never, ever get of the ground. Given the basic configuration of a dragon, it’s primary lift source is its wings. And from the size of the wings, we can put an upper end limit on the amount of lift generated. And it’s not pretty.

We have a lot of physical examples of this in the real world. In order to fly, birds have various weight-saving features: hollow bones, hollow feathers. Most of their size is actually feather mass, which is seriously light.

red_dragon_by_caiommNow, hollow bones are pound for pound stronger than non-hollow bones. But nevertheless, by making them hollow, strength is sacrificed in order to make them far lighter. That’s why the story of nursing a bird with a broken wing back to health is a common one that many of us have heard. Those hollow bones break easily.

Remember that depleted uranium armor we mentioned up above? Seriously tough stuff, right? The drawback is that it’s heavy. The C-17 Globemaster is one of the largest cargo planes ever built. It was specifically designed to airlift the M1 Abrams. It generates a lot of lift, largely due to it’s colossal size and gargantuan wingspan. It’s 174 feet long and 170 feet in wingspan. If you’ve ever seen one in person (I have) it’s truly awe inspiring for its size.

It can carry one M1 Abrams. Because the tank is so stupidly heavy.

If our dragon is going to fly, it has to have weight limits. Now, as I mentioned way back at the beginning of this post… people with far superior aeronautical knowledge to my own have already analyzed the traditional European dragon design and concluded that it could never fly anyway. The wings don’t generate enough lift to get the body off the ground. But as I noted above, we’re hand-waving that away for the sake of taking this scenario on its own merits.

If you up-armor the thing to a point where it’s even close to withstanding the weapons noted above then you lose even the benefit of the doubt that we gave it. Our dragon never gets off the ground.

Nevermind the fact that there is nothing known in the organic world that can withstand the weaponry that I described above. Even in the engineered world, there’s not really a lot that can stand up to it. Those things are brutal.

The dragon loses. Period. Full stop. End of story. Any other outcome is, well, fantasy.