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Anachronisms

As regular readers will know, I have a perverse fondness for bizarre examples of baroque weaponry. So I am very happy to share with you the latest example of forward-thinking militaria to be drawn to my attentiion (thanks, John and Simon!). No less august a periodical than Defense Review reports on the Stavatti TIS-1 infantry combat system ...

a "white paper" proposal that was submitted to the U.S. Army for the Stavatti TIS-1 (Tactical Infantry System-1) Gasdynamic Laser Weapon. The TIS-1 is a laser rifle that utilizes a hypersonic jet of gas to create photonic energy in the form a very powerful laser. Thus the term "gasdynamic". The Stavatti TIS-1 was submitted as a possible technology for the U.S. Army's LFLAN requirement. "LFLAN" stands for "Light Fighter Lethality After Next". LFLAN involves small arms technology proposals that would not be implemented until 15-25 years down the road. In other words, truly futuristic technology.
The laser itself looks pretty reasonable, in an if-we're-talking-about-laser-weapons way ("laser" and "weapon" belonging in the same sentence in the same way as "automobile" and "rubber-band powered"), but the power supply is what makes this one special. In search of the ultimate in infantry-portable enemy-slaying goodness, Stavatti have one-upped all previous attempts by proposing to use a radioisotope generator containing 750 grams of Polonium-210. This would, of course, provide the necessary 100 kilowatts to power the man-portable death ray. It would also provide 125 petaBecquerels of radiation (as compared with the 100 pB of Cesium-137 spewed out by the B reactor at Chernobyl), and the need to pressurize it to 4000psi leads me to agree with my military informant's summary that "it might actually achieve the near-impossible feat of making Project PLUTO look environmentally benign by comparison."

I will also confess that my suspension of disbelief took a slight knock when I got to the bit about the TIS-1 also sporting a bayonet lug.

Anyway, I'd just like to say that I fervently hope the Pentagon's planning and procurement folks give this proposal the attention it undoubtedly deserves. As Polonium-210 is accounted for (when you can buy it) at a market price of roughly $12 million per gram, this weapon system will cost roughly $54Bn per rifle per year to run — the US Army could afford almost an entire squad, and thus might have to scale back their other projects accordingly.

(PS: 100 kilowatts is, in automobile terms, about 130 horsepower. So if you were to ditch the Dr Strangelove power supply the gadget could plausibly be mounted on a HMMV or Land Rover. But I find that idea somewhat disappointing ... and anyway, what would be the point of sticking a bayonet on a vehicle-mounted laser cannon?)

171 Comments

1:

Is it a laser bayonet?

2:

Pah! You're looking at it the wrong way round. Instead of mounting the magic ray gun on a car and using the car to power the gun, I want a car that runs off this polonium engine thing. Who cares about laser weapons anyway? We'll gloss neatly over how I'd take an eight grand car and put a fifty billion dollar engine in it, and just think about how I'd never have to venture into a motorway service station ever, ever again...

3:

'the US Army could afford almost an entire squad'

And they will, while people starve to death on the streets.

4:

A bayonet ona vehicle mounted laser cannon? Why, thats so you can spear the genetically modified fighting beasties that get past the laser.

The comments at the bottom of the defense review article all pan it.

5:

"You can shoot at each other all day. But the bayonet is the weapon that takes you FORWARD!"

And if it means having pressurised Po210 BEHIND you, who would take a backward step?

6:

Kevin @3, I suspect you might have missed the joke ...

7:

No, no, Charlie. You're forgetting the basic principles of Mad Science.

Everyone knows you don't mount laser guns on jeeps. You mount them on SHARKS.

Jeez, kids these days...

8:

Charlie - radioisotope generator containing 750 grams of Polonium-210.
Outstanding. They can call it the Litvinenko 1000 or something...

9:

Forget the laser--sounds more like tech for a grenade.

10:

What I'd really like to see are giant airships bristling with laser cannon powered by onboard reactors. We could have some really impressive battles up in the stratosphere, anything with a LOS is a target...

11:

Yeah, researchers should never consider anything outre or risky...

12:

There is a prizeworthy line in the bullet points for the proposal:

  • A System That is Tactically Superior To All Future Weapon Systems Potential US/NATO Adversaries Will Ever Consider Developing, Derived Solely From US Research/Technology.

They failed to complete the sentence: Unless They Are Raving Batshit Insane!

Also, it has the bizarre statement at the end that they expect it to deliver a recoil force of approximately 90 lbs forward on discharge. Say what? As described, it's a closed system, except for photons.

13:

Yeah, researchers should never consider anything outre or risky...

Well, it's really the power supply that's the problem. A RTG is rather expensive and dangerous, making it impractical.

That's not to say that an energy weapon like this won't be possible some time this century. Right now you could get that sort of output from a fuel cell, and given the demands from the electonics industry to jam more and more power into smaller spaces, I fully expect that by 2040 there will be a power supply that can provide 100kw of power to something the size of a rifle.

Given that combat exoskeletons are likely going to be introduced sometime in the same time period (especially if the power supply gets worked out), we're going to need small arms much more powerful than those we have today.

14:

...but with powered armor, you get to carry much bigger "normal" firearms. A suitably large suit, in the 4 meter height class (weighing, say, two or three tons) would be able to mount a nice-sized gatling gun (in the 12mm to 20mm range), or a single-shot high-velocity "sniper rifle" of up to 60 millimeters without recoil being too much of an issue.

Lasers, for ground troops, are a bit problematic, especially with really high powered ones like the one in the article. At low altitudes, the burning dust particles in the atmosphere would light up the return path pretty nicely, making counterfire a certainty (and a hundred snipers firing at those multi-billion dollar radioactive power supplies would screw up someone's day quite nicely - see "Gust Front" by John Ringo and think of God-Kings on saucers).

A hundred kilowatts gets into the "main battle tank cannon" range of energy. I hope they won't need that much for house-to-house fighting...

15:

Ross, loved the sharks idea. LMAO. Dunno if lasers work well underwater (I guess it depends on frequency and power)but I presume they don't. Would it be possible to train the sharks to leap out of the water when they get near their target? Also, with that much plutonium, you're going to get some really Bad-Tempered Mutated Sea...Sharks.

Firepower for the average grunt has stayed (roughly) the same since the introduction of hand grenades. Sure, the guns are lighter and they shoot more bullets faster, but really, I don't see a guy with a laser strapped to his back having much of an advantage over a guy with a AK47, or a decent RPG. Of course, you could use it to take out tanks and artillery. For the guys who actually know weapons and science (Charlie and Stirling, i'm guessing) how effective would it be to make the armour on the tanks and aircraft highly reflective? (Apart from the, um, slight impact that would have on stealth))?

16:

Cirby, don't you mean "house-through-house" fighting?

17:

...how effective would it be to make the armour on the tanks and aircraft highly reflective?

Negligibly. No mirror is perfect, and with a laser powerful enough to damage armoured targets, even the small fraction absorbed by the mirror (on the order of 1% for the best modern mirrors, if I remember correctly) will be enough to vaporise part of the surface, quickly reducing the reflectivity enough for the laser to burn thrugh it.

In fact it would probably do more harm than good, because of the danger that the briefly reflected beam might hit a friendly target.

18:

I'll see your laser and raise you a compressed gas EFP next to the water truck, anyway.

19:

Colin #11: mirrors are no use. However, you can degrade the performance of a laser weapon by 90-100% by just blasting lots of water droplets into the air around the target. And you can degrade it lots by using an ablative coating -- some surface with a high specific heat capacity that's designed to burn away, carrying energy with it. And you can degrade the efficiency of a laser some more just by presenting a moving target so that it dumps most of its energy into the air around the target or into heating a wide swathe of the target's surface rather than focussing on a single point and obtaining burn-through.

Cirby, Andrew G: my take on the future of weapons is that battle armour and big expensive weapon systems are, IMO, as much a dead-end as the all-big-gun battleship: they'll probably get built, but they're not really relevant. The future is robots and RPVs, diminishing in size and increasing in numbers until we're confronted by millions of stealthed, killer mosquitos providing air cover for suicide-bomber dung beetles. The guys with the powered battle armour or MBTs will be able to drive their heavy metal into enemy territory but they won't be able to climb out of it for a cigarette break without something the size of an angry yellowjacket flying into their ear and exploding. The heavy metal drivers will be like fighter pilots today; demanding better jet fighters like the F22 so they can go dashing around, pulling 9G turns, not realizing they're as obsolete as cavalry officers.

But if you asked me what the future of warfare would be ... I'd have to say, the big lesson of the 20th century is that warfare is capital-intensive and you can't recoup the costs by occupying a developing country. Whether it's feasible to invade and profitably occupy a developed nation that's helpfully turned itself into a panopticon surveillance society (thank you, Tony Blair) is a question that doesn't appear to be being asked yet ...

20:

Charlie, I disagree - you're talking about a nastily hostile EW battlefield which would burn little drones to junk in short order.

If anything makes tanks obselete, it'll be powered-armour portable railguns...

21:

Charlie : Yeah, I agree the battle armor / exoskeleton idea is probably a dead-end, especially considering, inter alia, (a) 4m high targets are good for artillery spotting, and (b) something that big is going to be a really good trigger for a landmine, and (c) it can't fit through the a standard doorway in a house without bending over/crouching.

Thanks for the info on the mirrors/reflectivity, everyone. I remember a brief discussion in a book sometime ago about reflective coating for ICBMs and I seem to recall they came to the same conclusions.

22:

Andrew, from what I've seen on current research, portable railguns are about as difficult to achieve as portable lasers. The power requirements, again, are huge; although the results are certainly worth it, since you're talking pure "kinetic kill". Most proposals I've seen involve mounting railguns on battleships. Plus they're technically very complex, requiring composite materials, etc, so they're not cheap. Most common payloads simply get vaporised before it leaves the rail, or spot-welds themselves to the rails. There are obviously ways of overcoming all of this (and they have been overcome in several prototypes, including amateur homebrew versions), but I still don't think portable versions are practical. It would be cool, though.

23:

You can't use railguns to usefully drive projectiles that travel much faster than high-velocity gun projectiles already do as:

A) air resistance will melt/vapourise them if they have to travel any distance and

B) Make them lose kinetic energy in flight. This is the reason for depleted uranium and tungsten penetrators -- they keep their high speed over a long ballistic path better.

The only real use for ultrahigh-velocity projectiles is at very short range. A slow projectile that hits and damages the target reliably is a much better bet. That involves intelligence and control surfaces and a slow enough projectile that the electronics, sensors and actuators have enough time to track to target.

24:

Robert, well, discuss that with the US since they're looking at them for tanks. Anything slow enough to track is going to be dead meat to even near-future defence systems - Isralie tanks allready have defence systems which make using anything but NATO or Russian front line missiles against them highly chancy.

(And the systems they're deploying later this year can apparently track and destroy conventional tank cannon rounds)

Colin, 4m? Try 2m. Light armour and carrying capacity...

Thing is, the chobham armour of todays tanks is excellent against HEAT warheads, but against high velocity projectiles from a railgun, they're brittle. Perforated and electrical-charge armours have even more issues defeating them.

25:

Colin, why would they be bothered about getting into a house whilst wearing armour? On the current track record, the standard response is to flatten the house with an air strike.

All this talk of lasers with improbable powerpacks reminds me of Arthur C Clarkes short story narrated by the defeated Space ship admiral. Those of you who have read it will know what I mean...

26:


Ah, science marches on. Turns out there are now artificial metamaterials in the lab with reflections of as near zero as you like (though they can't yet handle 100 kW of continuous power).

As for taking out even heavily-armored exoskeletons, the current anti-tank self-forging armor-piercing warheads would do quite nicely. I hear there was a cute system produced as a one-off in the late '70s, early '80s involving an artillery-launched bus carrying a dozen or so PGMs with AP heads. The bus spun like a frisbee over the target area while launching its submunitions. Now that's Ultimate Frisbee!

27:

I wasn't thinking of anime stule mecha, but rather man-sized suits that agument the user's strength a couple times while providing the protection of a light vehicle. Something that 20mm conventional round could stop, but not traditional small arms.

Even if drones do come to dominate the battlefield, there will be a need for human infantry even if it's a small one. And in an environment with high energy weapons and drones, you're going to want to protect that infantry as much as possible.

What I see is something like a squad of power armored infantry supported by a couple dozen drones which they command using on board systems in their armor. Unless we develop true AI, we're going to want someone nearby commanding the drones.

28:

Andrew, re tank-based railguns: An APDSDU spear-based projectile clears the muzzle of a modern tank's gun at about 1000m/s, maybe a bit more. During its trip to target (which can take about 2-5 seconds) it suffers from significant heating from air friction as well as loss of KE. The high density and high melting point of the DU spear both work to keep the KE up and to prevent the spear from melting or even vapourising en route to the target.

To be "better" than conventional guns, a battlefield railgun's projectile will have to clear the muzzle at 2000m/s and more (the railgun record at the moment is about 17,000m/s). Unfortunately, doubling the speed means eight times the air resistance (which increases as the cube of velocity). The projectile also suffers from heating in the railgun due to eddy currents and friction so it's hot to start with.

First-world militaries are looking at railguns, yes, but high velocity is not the real advantage they're seeking as they can get that with rocket-boost and ramjets (see Sunburn/Moskit for an example of reducing the "over-the-horizon to target" time to obviate defensive missile and gun systems). Railguns could work well as short-range weapons but they don't have the ability to crack tank armour at three kilometres range, and that's what winners of tank battles have to be able to do.

Bruce: heavily-armoured exoskeletons have to walk on the ground. Mostly they'll sink into it unless they stay on paved roads and even that might not save them. There's a reason a tank's treads are wide and long. A 70-tonne exo will have to have feet nearly as big as an Abram's treads to prevent getting bogged down.

29:

A few more thoughts:

Drones and such aren't going to be too reliable for close-in combat use, unless they're 100% autonomous. Remote control depends on the EM spectrum for sending data, and anything EM is subject to jamming or other countermeasures. We're getting some good use out of drones, but only against non-sophisticated enemies. Anyone with a decent electronic warfare program will happily knock all of your drones out of the sky, or jam them to the point of uselessness.

...and no, there's no such thing as "jam-proof" or "nondetectable" communications.

Lasers are vulnerable to countermeasures, and are very, very vulnerable to detection (anything with enough power to be useful is basically a big spear pointing back to the firing soldier). And on the modern battlefield, if you're seen, then you're dead. They're already working on stealthed bullets for personal firearms, so the upcoming countersniper tracking systems won't be able to target the firing soldiers.

The F-22 and other stealth planes aren't going to be obsolete for a good long while, since we're a couple of decades away from having a smart enough (and trustworthy enough!) AI that can handle the sort of missions packages that are going to be needed without constant communication to a real person.

As far as personal weapons go, we can already make handheld weapons that can punch through any known armor, for people (a .50 sniper rifle can easily make holes in anything a person could wear and still walk, even with power assist), or for tanks (RPGs and missiles that cost less than one-tenth of one percent of the vehicles that they can kill). Anything big enough to resist regular rifle bullets will also be expensive enough to make shaped-charge weapons cost-effective.

A Barrett firing a SLAP round (Saboted Light Armor Penetrator) can put a bullet through most light armored vehicles - lengthwise. Tungsten bullet going 3,000 fps at 1,000 yards.

Steyr, by the way, is working on a 15.2mm smoothbore APDS rifle that tosses a 20 gram tungsten penetrator downrange at 4700 feet per second, and can make holes in 1.5 inch armor plate at 1,000 yards.

30:

It doesn't seem to have explicitly been stated yet, so I'll say it: this is a hoax. One point of many: RTGs can't be throttled down, so the device would always be emitting its full capacity as waste heat. (It probably doesn't help that said full capacity would be declining quickly, as the half-life of Po-210 is 138 days.)

I know these things because they were pointed out to me at some length when I said, "I found this on the web, does it look sort of reasonable?" on Usenet a decade or so ago. :)

31:

Here's what I see as one part of the future of ground combat.

Imagine one guy, dug in in a heavily camouflaged (and IR-resistant) foxhole, somewhere on a hillside. Spread out over a couple of square miles around him (and also camouflaged) are a hundred or so TOW missiles (anti-tank, optical wireguided) which are linked back to him via camouflaged fiber-optic cables, so that he can scan from their location and eye-guide any of them to a target. (If you like, give him one of those 0.50 cal sniper rifles with the SLAP ammo for last-ditch defense if someone spots and tries to close on his location; but mostly he's just hiding.) That one guy can stop or severely damage a present-day tank column, or force it to detour miles around him. EM jamming won't help. Air recon is unlikely to find him. Carpet bombing might get him, or destroy enough of his TOWs to neutralize him, but it's a matter of luck. He can't challenge and pursue armor, but he's great for zoned defense, and if you've got a lot of these guys spread around strategic passes, they're a nightmare for an armor commander.

Note that this is all present-day technology, just deployed a bit differently. I was wondering if the Iraqis would try something like this in 2003, but they didn't.

32:

Robert:

On the question of railguns, the U.S. Navy is in the process of developing a system to mount on its next-generation warships. The two selling points are range (the Office of Naval Research is looking at being able to lob projectiles 200 miles down range) and being able to nail small, fast targets at relatively close range (by naval standards).

The two biggest hurdles seem to be barrel life, because of the extreme wear and pressure on the rails during launch, and developing warhead electronics that would survive the launch.

33:

... All of which -- and three dollars -- will get you a mug of latte in the face of an urban counterinsurgency situation where the other side uses suicide bombers and your own allies' approach to public relations includes displaying the kneecap- and skull-drilled corpses of their ethnic enemies by the roadside.

Hint: I'd rate a technique for speed-teaching troops any major human language (and the customs of its speakers) just 20% faster as far more strategically valuable than ship-mounted railguns or suit of powered battle armour (or man-portable unobtanium-powered ray guns) any day of the week.

34:

Robert, the warhead electronics shouldn't be a problem. There have been artillery-launched TV-guided shells for more than 25 years now, which means cameras that can withstand 7-10,000 g, and the first generation used vidicon tubes! While a railgun might have higher g on launching, the jerk won't be anywhere near as bad as being fired from a gun tube. Those cameras must have to withstand at least a million g/s.

35:

Charlie:

I agree with you. But unfortunately, things like instructional systems or even AI-driven logistics technologies aren't as sexy as Big weapons systems when it comes to getting R&D and procurement money.

36:

You're right, Charlie, that having troops trained and equipped for the war they're fighting is more important than glitzy weapons systems. I heard one commander last week bitching about the fact that they'd just gotten the troops heading for Iraq trained for insurgency warfare, and the first such group had to deal with sectarian civil war instead.

We all know why these systems are even being considered:
1. There's a $1.0E11 per annum industry that needs to perpetuate itself. And that's only income from the US government. Count in sales to other countries and that figure goes up considerably.

2. The Maginot Line Effect: mediocre generals (the ones most likely to survive the politics and get to high rank) are always preparing for the previous war, in this case the Cold War.

37:

All this talk about drones and such reminds me that there's at least one initiative in the US military research community that actually makes sense. Given that we'll always need infantry (so commanders can have someone to blame the clusterfucks on, if nothing else), there are some ideas on how to help the pbi (poor bloody infantry) a little.

We don't know how to make completely autonomous robots, won't for awhile yet, but we can build robots that don't require all of a human's attention to at least follow a trooper around and hand him ammo. So they're working on the Mule, to carry equipment. Nice, because even with the best pack around, humping more than 60 kilos or so over a hill is asking too much if you expect even troops in the best of physical shape to arrive at the target able to fight worth a damn. As technology gets better, the robots will pick up some other tasks, like guard duty, covering and suppression fire, taking out the other guys' robots, etc.

So maybe in 20 years or so we can build the "Soldiers' Apprentice" like the software apprentices we've been trying to build since the '80s. A trooper can say into into his mike, "Charlie two, suppression fire on target Alpha," and his number two robot will fire some default number of bursts of automatic fire at a pre-designated target. It seems a lot more likely than autonomous combat robots, or teeny-tiny drones that can be taken out en mass by a hand-grenade size EMP bomb.

I keep trying to think up a good future combat story to use these things in, because I want to call them NPCs (Non-Player Characters for the non-rollplaying amongst us). Trouble is, that's the only reason I would want to write about combat; other than that the idea's just not attractive to me. So if any of you wants to use the name, go right ahead with my blessing.

38:

Why stick a bayonet on a vehicle-mounted laser cannon?

'Cause it would look so cool!

39:

Why stick a bayonet on a vehicle-mounted laser cannon?
And where else can you stick your frankfurters and hamburgers when you want to cook them with the laser?

40:

Imagine one guy, dug in in a heavily camouflaged (and IR-resistant) foxhole, somewhere on a hillside. Spread out over a couple of square miles around him (and also camouflaged) are a hundred or so TOW missiles (anti-tank, optical wireguided) which are linked back to him via camouflaged fiber-optic cables, so that he can scan from their location and eye-guide any of them to a target.

Imagine an artillery bombardment, including smoke.

41:

Better still, imagine a mile-wide fuel-air explosion. Crisps all the sensors, the cables, and probably the missles too.

42:

Quick back-of-envelope calculations suggest that even an ordinary machinegun has an average energy output of several kilowatts. not all of it in the bullet.

And, no, a Maxim gun doesn't let you make a nice hot cup of tea. The cooling water tastes foul.

As for lasers, the primary kill effect is the explosive vapourisation of the surface layers of the target. It's a lot like HESH in how it does damage through armour.

This can do nasty things to aircraft and missiles, knocking them out of line with the airflow and creating openings for the airflow to rip open the skin.

Reliability is also a big problem.


Laser weapons tech made some sense in the days of Cold War SDI, since you didn't need to kill every incoming warhead. It was enough to make it hard for the enemy to destroy your missiles by shooting first. In a world of rogue states, it isn't good enough. Almost by definition, they'll not be deterred by the threat of retaliation. A nuke out in the Great Plains is bad, but not for so many people, but a country can't afford to lose a major city.

Or maybe the USA can. What was New Orleans a rehearsal for?

43:

Railguns: Their acceleration characteristics are actually gentler than cannon projectiles as they produce a consistent force on their projectile as it runs down the rail. In contrast a cannonshell's acceleration is highest close to the breech when the propellant gas pressure peaks. A short-barrelled gun (cf the carronade) can throw its projectile at close to the same speed as a longer-barrelled gun.

Using a railgun to fire a projectile 200 miles inland? Bull's supergun designs achieved that sort of range but they worked by firing the shells in a high parabola as quickly as possible to reduce or negate air friction heating and KE losses.

I don't know how far off deployment this proposed USN "conventional" gun system is:

http://tinyurl.com/2jzk94

"The 155-mm gun will provide coverage up to 100 nm miles inland at the rate of 10-15 rounds per minute." No railgun tech needed, and a DD-21 could carry as many as 1200 shells to keep it fed. The two-barrel version drops into a standard foredeck VLS quad-cell with no exotic power and control requirements unlike ship-based railguns.

44:

Yes, that could be reasonably useful, but for practically all purposes, "blowing up stuff" is a solved problem.

Charlie, the scary thing about your language-teaching question is that we invented the Joint Service School for Linguists during the second world war, which used immersion teaching to do something similar, and kept it going in the early part of the cold war on a feedstock of National Servicemen who scored better than average on a test.

Not only did it provide Russian speakers, it also gave us quite a few good writers.

45:

Bruce, in broken or urban terrain the tanks are going to have a heck of a time spotting a two meter tall, stealthed power suit before it nails the tank. In the open desert, sure, might be different.

Robert Sneddon, the problem is that the conventional tank shells are very detectable. And the Isralies new defence systems will be able to knock them down no a regular basis. A far smaller railgun projectile? Not so much. Also, railguns aer far more effective against modern armours.

There are limits on what you can make a HEAT projectile out of which simply don't apply to a "dumb" railgun projectile. The first use is apparently likely to be on a ship - where cooling and power usage is less of an issue.

As for weapons vs power armour...sure...but the majority of current armies and especially irregular fighters DON'T have anything like that on hand. And you can't spray that kind of fire arround. And there are psychological problems with sniping which don't apply so much to rifle-type weapons..


As to the guy on the hillside, use a few conventional-explosive EMP bombs. Oops, crispy fried control links.

46:

(Robert)see Sunburn/Moskit for an example of reducing the "over-the-horizon to target" time to obviate defensive missile and gun systems

Do you happen to know anything about the Rolling Airframe Missile thing the Americans have installed which is supposed to be able to shoot those down? I'd be intrigued to know just how it goes about hitting something that spends its final approach dodging all over the show.

47:

Robert, according to the Navy the railgun would get the range by firing the shells in a high parabola. There are contracts out with firms like General Dynamics and Lockeed Martin to design the projectiles.

As for the 155mm gun, I am aware of the program. The shells use a rocket assist to achieve the range. The railgun is a follow on technology designed to replace the 155mm guns when/if it becomes mature enough for operational use.

A note on energy weapons. Lasers get a lot of press because they're sexy, or rather everyone has seen their representations in popular fiction. As many of the posts here have noted, there are lots of practical reasons why you're not going to see soliders carrying around laser weapons anytime soon. Certainly not lethal ones, although both the US and China have developed sysetms to dazzle or blind people/infantry.

There's been a lot of work on solid-state light-emitting diode-based lasers with the goal of getting one into the 100 kilowatt range-which is considered the minimum for weapons-grade use. The advantage of these systems is that their power comes directly from the vehicle and not a lot of dangerous chemicals (big problem with the airborne laser). There are prototypes in the 50 kilowatt range. But these are vehicle-based (mainly aircraft) weapons.

The energy weapons that aren't getting a lot of press, and that the government and contractors are really tight lipped about are microwave devices. They have the advantage of not being affected by atmospherics (as much). And as Andrew mentioned, if you fry the electronics on a cruise missile, a command post or any advanced platform, it's out of the fight. It's what the US military refers to as "mission kill"—the platform has been rendered as useless as if it were blown up. And in a really fast moving battlefield, there is a good chance that the war may be over in days. (A caveat. I'm referring to state-on-state conflicts here. Not things like insurgencies. Consider this an ideal scenario).

48:

Clifton, the man in the foxhole kills one or two tanks, and then a dismounted infantry platoon sweeps the hillside and kills him.
Or he gets gassed, or killed by artillery prep, or blinded by smoke, or the control cables to the launchers get severed by fragments.

And what exactly do you tell this man? How's he going to feel about being left on his own (actually as part of a four-man STA team) to stop a tank offensive? Where's his route in and out? What's his E&E plan? How are you going to redeploy him when the breakthrough happens 20 km to the south instead, or when he's eaten his fourteen days of compo?

Henry: first use of lasers as an anti-personnel weapon in war: 1982, the Falkland Islands, by UK forces against Argentinian ground attack pilots. Allegedly (it's illegal to use blinding weapons).

49:

It's all good, clean fun, but would anyone like to input some ideas about actual costs for weapons that in all liklihood won't work in the rain (like the F117 and B2).

Or is every envisioned future conflict the USA expects to engage in going to be a desert war? The man in the Kremlin would like to plan accordingly, and his ideological brother in Beijing.

50:

Adrian,

The RAM is basicly a modified AIM-9 Sidewinder, with radar target seeking in addition to the original IR seeker. The Sidewinder has a well-proven ability to hit franticly maneuvering targets. Those Sunburns are probably bigger than some of the fighters Sidewinders have shot down. Of course, the Sunburns were designed to take down a CVN with one hit so you realy do have to intercept or decoy them all.

51:

If only the Americans can afford to use such weapons, you avoid fighting Americans.

And if you have to, you don't fight the battles they expect to fight.

Generals have been attacking their enemy's weaknesses for as far back as we have records of war.

Osama bin Laden is only the latest of a long line.

52:

Does anyone here really believe in these "knock tank rounds and RPGs out of the air" systems?

53:

It's not that I believe in them, it's that the IDF has demonstrated them.

54:

Andrew, there's a big difference between a demo and a genuine operational capability. And there's a big difference between being able to field a specific weapon in a carefully planned scenario -- e.g. defending fixed locations such as settlements within rocket range of the Lebanese border -- and fielding a system that "just works", out of the box, on the move and amidst the confusion of battle, whatever conflict you drop it into.

Arguably, even the M16 or SA80A2 rifles don't meet that final requirement adequately.

55:

"In a world of rogue states, it isn't good enough. Almost by definition, they'll not be deterred by the threat of retaliation."

This suggests to me that there should therefore be a steady stream of outrageous provocations by rogue states.

56:

Charlie, Andrew:

The first version of any complex weapon system that gets fielded is almost guaranteed to be flawed. Viz the M16 (for years you couldn't put more than 16 rounds in the clip without guaranteeing a misfire), the Main Battle Tank (air conditioning problems, I think. Can't function if your crew is literally toast), F-111 (they put the flap control just a little too close to the wing retract), F-104 (plane flies faster than the 20 mm shell it fires), UH-1 helicopter (didn't have a gun pintle; try doing a pickup in a hot LZ without at least 1 machinegun), B1 bomber (wing tanks crack and spill fuel all over the engines) and those are just off the top of my head.

This is complicated by the fact that military R&D and procurement is a bureaucracy with a large CYA index. The US Army knew about the M16 for years, and refused to fix it. Is it any wonder that grunts take new equipment very suspiciously? And it tends to be "expended in combat" so they don't have to use it?

57:

There's also a good deal of federal money coming into continuous-speech natural language translation. The NLP community has demonstrated enough ability to deliver that I wouldn't be terribly surprised if it worked in ten years or so.

I can't tell whether this will that America's ill-conceived military adventures will end up working out better than they otherwise would have, or whether it will end up tempting our leaders to pick ever more dubious cases, so that the marginal invasion remains as cack-handed as ever.

58:

Pah. The SA-80A2 is a fix of a very badly-designed weapon. It might be up to "adequate" standard by now. The by-word for reliability in assault rifles is the AK-47; even if the build quality tends towards rubbish, it at least maintains that level in conditions that make its puny western cousins sputter and die.

Also, Uzis, sand, etc.

59:

The single biggest problem with the M-16 was when they cheaped out and used the wrong powder in the bullets, which caused jamming and fouling. Other issues also came up from "saving money" (Robert McNamara should burn in hell).

AK-47s are okay as long as you have an outrageous amount of ammo handy to spray bullets all over the place, but not so good if you actually need to hit anything specific from more than a hundred yards. Note how those "crappy" M-16s let US troops dominate the opposition in the last couple of wars, while you're at it. Being able to hit a target with a portable, lightweight weapon makes a huge difference, and reliability under extreme abuse is only really necessary for equipping second-rate soldiers (moderate abuse is one thing, and all soldiers to that to their firearms, but the AK was designed for people one step up from the short bus).

Then you also get into the "make the weapon do something it was specifically designed not to do" issue, such as the Humvee (a light truck that people decided to use as an armored vehicle after we took it into war for about the third or fourth time).


60:

The RAM is basicly a modified AIM-9 Sidewinder, with radar target seeking in addition to the original IR seeker. The Sidewinder has a well-proven ability to hit franticly maneuvering targets. Those Sunburns are probably bigger than some of the fighters Sidewinders have shot down.

Yeah, but inbound at nearly mach 3? Not the same as when something's running away, unless my intuition of the geometry of the situation is completely mistaken. And fighters have pilots, who lose bladder control at high gs.

Of course, the Sunburns were designed to take down a CVN with one hit so you realy do have to intercept or decoy them all.

Carriers have lots of sealable internal bulkheads afaik so I don't think you could sink one with just one hit, though you could probably make it unhappy.

61:

"In a world of rogue states, it isn't good enough. Almost by definition, they'll not be deterred by the threat of retaliation."

There's only one real live'n'dangerous rogue state on the planet right now, and with any luck it'll go away of its own accord on March 1st, 2008.

62:

Charlie, well, they're rolling the system out to operational status this year. Taking down the rockets is an entirely different problem...the tank systems can't defend anything not within a few meters of the tank for a reason.

And want to take out a carrier? Shival II supercav torpedo with a tactical nuclear warhead. China probably have those too.

And Charlie, you're saying that Iran's gonna disolve on Marsh 1st 2008? (yes, that IS sarcasm..). I'd be more impressed if it wasn't for the handful of Iranian elite troops who got caught napping in Lebanon...

63:

Which handful? Links and cites, please.

64:

Two seconds with google...

http://www.worldnetdaily.com/news/article.asp?ARTICLE_ID=51470
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/5192990.stm
http://www.iranfocus.com/modules/news/article.php?storyid=8009

Iranian Revoloutionary Guards, tyvm...

The missile (a C-102)which crippled an Isralie ship during that conflict was also an Iranian design, and it's strongly suspected (but not known) that Iranian technicians were involved in the firing.

65:

Andrew, Iran is predictable. It's only really a regional problem for Israel; if the US wasn't so heavily into Israel as a regional sock-puppet it wouldn't be a problem for the US, either. It's also -- seen from the outside -- no less democratic than the USA. (Here's a hint: both countries, if you don't kowtow to the dominant ideology, you don't stand a chance of being allowed to win an election. The mechanisms of enforcement are different, but the outcome is the same.)

Incidentally, on the subject of states sponsoring sock-puppets abroad in order to promote their own militarist agenda -- it seems to me that what's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, and what Iran's doing in Lebanon is no different from what Israel was doing with the Phalangists, years ago, or the USA is doing in the Middle East with Israel.

Pot. Kettle. Non-white colour.

66:

Andrew, I had a look at the BBC report you tagged. It did not mention Iranian Revolutionary Guards being found in Lebanon. It reported an Israeli cabinet minister *saying* they were there but not actually producing any tangible and verifiable proof of their involvement. Quelle surprise.

Worldnetdaily is a kook news website which I do not patronise TYVM.

I fully understand your belief that Hezbollah are a bunch of illiterate wogs who ride camels and live in tents and can't be expected to be able to operate anything more technically advanced than an SMLE so they imported those devious Persians to do the dirty work for them. It's the same sort of thinking that posits the Iraqis (the most literate and technically savvy Arab country in the region courtesy of its secular ruler until he was deposed by the US and replaced by loony fundies) can't build EFP IEDs despite their home-grown CBNW programs in the 80s and 90s (and don't forget Bull's supergun...)

The second-most stupid thing to do in military terms is to underestimate your enemy. The Israelis committed that sin last summer during Operation Destroy Lebanese Democracy and they paid the price. Hopefully they have learned from it.

The most stupid thing? Don't start a land war in Asia.

67:

Charlie,

There is a substantial difference both practically and in international law between supporting the legitimate government of a country, and supporting a political parties armed wing.

Israel cut their ties with the Phalangists. Syria and Iran have not cut their ties with Hizbolah. This, as with most unilateral climb-downs, has had extremely poor consequences for the side which climbed down.

(And find where I said I agreed with the Lebanon occupation...I never did. But...since it ended, there have been constant acts of war committed by a Lebenese political party, who by their own statements should of disbanded their armed wing when Israel withdrew...)

If you don't like America's involvement in Israel, you need to do "something" about arround 2% of America's population, and their demographic concentration in particular. Oh, and the American defence industry, which does VERY well off cooperation with Isralie companies.

As for myself, I don't think reprisentative democracy is stable in even the moderate term. And it's not proving so, is it?

Rifles. Nuclear centifuges. Fuel air bombs.

68:

And want to take out a carrier? Shival II supercav torpedo with a tactical nuclear warhead. China probably have those too.

The first job you're going to have is getting within six miles of an American carrier to fire this unguided torpedo. In a war situation, the Chinese are NOT going to be able to do this, unless they get extremely lucky. Ditto for most of the missiles they would try to fire and kill carriers with.

The problem with most "ship killers" is that they're BIG, and take a correspondingly large ship or ground location to launch. The SS-N-22 Sunburn is fast, sure, but it's huge - 4500 kilograms. It has an effective range of only about 120 kilometers - nowhere near long enough to get into effective range of an American carrier group during a war situation.

If we're in a war status with China or Iran, there's not going to be a working launch/guidance system anywhere near a coast or in the ocean that could handle the job.

The missile (a C-102)which crippled an Isralie ship during that conflict was also an Iranian design, and it's strongly suspected (but not known) that Iranian technicians were involved in the firing.

Israel has reported that it was a C-802 (not a 102), a Chinese design, and it was fired at close range (as these things go), at a ship that had its ECM and other active defenses turned off. Actually, they fired two at the Israeli ship, and only one managed to hit it, while the other hit an Egyptian merchant ship.

Not exactly a shining endorsement for that level of tech. A 50 percent hit rate on an undefended target falls into 1950-era US technology.

Iran supposedly only has about 60 of these things, by the way, mostly at one base (they only have a few ships that can fire these missiles), so one quick air raid and most of their antiship capability goes up in smoke.

Sure, it's a big mistake to underestimate your enemy, but as recent history keeps showing, the other guys have been underestimating the US military for most of the last couple of decades. Up until early 2003, the US was supposed to lose upwards of 50,000 troops during the early part of the Iraq invasion. Ditto for the first Gulf War. Afghanistan was going to be the grave of the Americans, except we've been killing about 20 to 50 Talibanis for every Allied life lost...

69:

Cirby: I caught a brief report a short while back where an American carrier group in the Far East recently had a Chinese sub pop up to the surface within the group's defensive perimeter before it could be tracked and intercepted.

Surface warfare guys have a naive belief that they can successfully fend off determined submarine attacks. Submariners call them "targets".

Re "grave", it's not an open-battlefield situation that is a problem for the US Army/Marines. With control of the air they can smash anything they desire and avoid any threats they don't want to meet at that time. No-one with any knowledge of the situation really expected the US forces in Gulf War 1, Afghanistan or the Iraq invasion to lose lots of troops during the initial push (excepting a Galahad-style incident).

It's the colonial occupation that costs in terms of blood and treasure (Iraq, about 2600 combat deaths and 500 billion dollars of "emergency" expenditure with no end in sight).

As for Afghanistan, great, you're killing 20 to 50 people (I'll even give you that many of those are actually Talibanis and not just locals caught in freefire zones) for every American life lost. So, being generous, by the time you've killed a million "Talibani" you'll have lost a division, 20,000 troops, and the war will still not be won. Is there a limit to how many people you will kill on their own home ground, is there a limit to the numbers of your own people you will send to die in foreign lands to bring the benighted savages there the benefits of democracy and freedom at the point of a bayonet?

70:

"AK-47s are okay as long as you have an outrageous amount of ammo handy to spray bullets all over the place, but not so good if you actually need to hit anything specific from more than a hundred yards. Note how those "crappy" M-16s let US troops dominate the opposition in the last couple of wars..."

I'd just like to point out that although this is the case for battlefield situations outside urban areas, the majority of places US troops are currently engaging in combat are inside cities. Which are places where the terrain is quite built up and often LoS is less than a hundred yards.

71:

Charlie, have you read Robert Kagan's "Dangerous Nation"? It's a look at early US foreign policy (18th & 19th centuries). There has always been an interesting disconnect between how the US views itself and how the rest of the world views it (as a dangerous nation).

To Americans, or a large segment of them, everything the US does is justified. The wars with the native americans are a good example. The federal government want to peacefully absorb and modernize the indian nations. Unfortunately, there was a large section of the electorate that wanted to settle the west. What usually happened was some settlers arrived, exercised their "natural right" to develop "unused" land, and settled on lands granted by treaty to the indians. The government couldn't do anything about it, if they did the government would change in the next election. Then, once the indians struck back against the settlers, there was a huge uproar and the government was forced to send in the militia, break treaties, and suppress in the indians in support of illegal squatters. If the didn't, an more settler-friendly government would be elected in a year or two.

Our relations with Spain, France, and the UK were similar because we saw their presence in North America as being a direct threat to US security. And Europeans knew this, they knew that sooner or later the US would force war if they stayed in the Americas.

To the rest of the world the use were gold and land hungry expansionist and warlike. To Americans, the US was the guiding light of civilization and the champion of freedom, progress, and liberalism alone in a world divided between despots and savages.

We still see the world this way.

72:

That sounds about right, Andrew.

73:

The first job you're going to have is getting within six miles of an American carrier to fire this unguided torpedo.

There's a maritime museum in Sydney with a fun exhibit -- a decommissioned diesel-electric submarine.

Among the associated memorabilia in the museum is a photograph of a CVN -- I forget which one -- taken through the periscope at a range of 3000 yards. Point-blank, in other words, slap bang inside its destroyer screen.

It was taken during the Vietnam war, but the point stands: as the submariners say, "there are two types of ship: submarines, and targets".

The US army hasn't been involved in a symmetric conflict with a real enemy since Korea -- and we're getting a reminded of its incompetence in dealing with asymmetrical struggles right now.

74:

To the rest of the world the use were gold and land hungry expansionist and warlike. To Americans, the US was the guiding light of civilization and the champion of freedom, progress, and liberalism alone in a world divided between despots and savages.

Chosen People syndrome, innit. Another reason why the Israelis inspire a loyalty verging on imprinting.

75:

The second-most stupid thing to do in military terms is to underestimate your enemy. The Israelis committed that sin last summer during Operation Destroy Lebanese Democracy and they paid the price. Hopefully they have learned from it.

I read one article that mentioned the surprise of some Israeli troops when Hizbollah fighters called out to them in Hebrew, which they had apparently assumed was too difficult for Arabs to learn or something.

76:

Cirby,

The Shival II, unlike the I, is guided. And the chinese wouls be perfectly happy to lose 20 of their small hunter-killers to nail a carrier group.

There's a reason America is trying to develop a supercavitating machine gun for underwater point defence.

"Israel has reported that it was a C-802 (not a 102)"

Cite? All the news sources I saw said a C-102. And yes, it's confirmed that the Israelie ship didn't have its active missile defence online. (It MAY have jammed, and as we know from the Falklands that means missiles can lock onto other targets....)

Adrian, more that most Arab fighters don't bother because of cultural reasons. But it does reinforce the point that the Hizbollah forces killed were, by and large, hardened fighters every bit as good as the active forces of...say...the Syrian Revoloutionary Guard and they can't get replacements in an instant.

77:

Adrian, more that most Arab fighters don't bother because of cultural reasons.

Cultural inferiority to the Israelis, YM?

But it does reinforce the point that the Hizbollah forces killed were, by and large, hardened fighters every bit as good as the active forces of...say...the Syrian Revoloutionary Guard and they can't get replacements in an instant.

Can't help thinking you're working mighty hard to find a silver lining there.

78:

The USN brass hats have a big problem admitting that their CVNs can get hurt. Wargame designer Mark Herman gave a very entertaining talk at an ORIGINS convention back in the nineties about his arduous-but-successful effort to convince the USN to accept the validity of simulations that showed CVNs going to Davey Jones' Locker.

79:

Somebody may have nabbed an Iranian General:


http://obsidianwings.blogs.com/obsidian_wings/2007/03/iranian_intelli.html

80:

Chosen People syndrome, innit. Another reason why the Israelis inspire a loyalty verging on imprinting.

I suppose a large segment of their supporters see them as bringing civilization to an otherwise barbarous region. The region was sadly neglected under Ottoman rule, and the Palestinians did get to do much with it either. It's the same rational that causes Americans to view North America as a pristine wilderness before they came.

81:

Andrew G, #71: yeah, that sounds like a solid analysis. And it's fostered by the incredibly propagandized self-portrait of the USA that's disseminated via the media. The First Amendment is a brilliant agitprop tool -- after all, knowing you've got freedom of speech means you don't have to waste time worrying about whether what you're being told is true.

82:

"I'd rate a technique for speed-teaching troops any major human language (and the customs of its speakers) just 20% faster as far more strategically valuable than ship-mounted railguns or suit of powered battle armour (or man-portable unobtanium-powered ray guns) any day of the week."

DARPA presents....

http://www.tacticallanguage.com/tacticaliraqi/

It doesn't teach the entire language, but it teaches a core subset aimed at basic conversation and culture - politeness, getting directions, and the like. The combination of traditional training, arcade-game drills that force you to speak the language, and missions which force you to speak and designate appropriate gestures, soak the material into your head quite efficiently.

It's an excellent piece of training software.

83:

Adrian,

Difference, not inferiority. And don't think it's a "silver lining", think it's the point - trying to paint Hizbolah as being able to bounce back by simple recruiting isn't true, and their bases are so much rubble. Hence why the Lebenese government is now pushing them, poltically and economically.

And as to the American view, heck yes. You can't even get the concept that their worldview might be biased at the first pass to them. I *know* my bias, dosn't stop me from holding it but I make a point of reading the other side as well.

84:

James #82: this leaves me scratching my head. Because if they've got it, why ain't they using it? It's not as if the idea that the US army is occupying Iraq is new -- at this point it's five years since they began invasion planning -- and the idea that they might not want to be dependent on native interpreters should have sunk in within, say, a year of the start of the occupation. But there's apparently a huge shortage of Arabic speakers, both in the State Department and the US military. The mind, she boggles: if you're going to set yourself up as imperial occupation power in a region, it behooves you to be able to cross-check what your collaborators are telling you ...

85:

if you're going to set yourself up as imperial occupation power in a region,

You hit the nail on the head right there -- the US doesn't want to be an imperial occupying power. That may be what we're doing, but we're going to pretend that we're not.

We're a liberating ally of Iraq, not occupiers, so we don't need translators. :)

86:

Andrew: I know that, but every time I force myself to confront it is a *headdesk* moment.

(It's deeply peculiar to watch, from the outside, an imperial hegemon deep in existential denial.)

87:

Would you rather we went for full-on Empire? I wouldn't.

88:

A few late comments:

Drones - in Iraq, they're being used against a low-tech enemy which lives off of Saddam's depots (and some US stuff, for the Shiites). In that environment, drones are very survivable - like tanks, aircraft and even helicopters. Against a higher-tech opponent, drones would still be very useful. The differences would be that they'd be used up faster, the ratio of expendables to durable drones whould be higher. Commo links would generally be tight-beam, supplemented by limited autonomous actions (such as return-to-base if communication was severed for a certain amount of time).

The big thing is that going to war against a higher-tech opponent with a drone force optimized for a lower-tech opponent would lead to severe problems. If the US was relying on non-expendable drones and high-quality communications, the drone force could be decimated rather quickly.

M16's and US military superiority - last I heard, *nobody* in the US military wins by gun-to-gun superiority, any more than hand-to-hand superiority. The US uses every gadget available.

89:

Re AK47s vs. M16s:
Most rounds expended in infantry combat are intended to make the other fellow keep his head down, so accuracy isn't much of an issue. Furthermore, the general availability of full-auto personal weapons has degraded the average accuracy of the combatants. It's really hard to get the average soldier to care about aimed single shots when he can hose down the target with a high probability of at least one hit. On top of which, the kind of combat we're in these days involves broken terrain (often including buildings) with short LoS. There's a reason why the M4 rifle the US is using in Iraq is basically an M16 with a lower effective range.

On another axis of comparison, the M16 was designed to be maintained by a high-tech rear-echelon repair facility. If a weapon is captured by the enemy in an assymmetrical theater the hope is that it won't stay reliable enough to be used. By contrast the AK was designed to be dragged through the mud and maintained with Iron Age tools if necessary. A lot of the AKs in central Asia have never been within a thousand kicks of Russia; they're copies made by tribal metalsmiths on lathes run by yak-power. A perfect weapon for insurgencies and other guerilla operations.

90:

Charlie: regarding #84. Just because its being developed doesn't mean they're going to use it. DARPA programs are by their nature, experimental. When they get spun off into an existing procurement/development program is when they really reach their potential. A lot of DARPA programs are run just to see if something it technically feasible.

....and when something is developed, sometimes good old fashioned military conservatism gets in the way. Case in point, the so-called Pain Beam that the Defense Department developed as a way to disperse crowds and for use when less than lethal force is necessary. By all accounts its ready to go. Commanders in Iraq have been begging for it (especially the Marines), its been tested to death. ...but the military keeps pushing the deployment date back. Previously they wanted it in the field this year, I believe. Now they're talking 2010. The scuttlebut is that the brass is unsure of how to exactly use the system, and there's a fear of negative PR is someone claims they got cancer/burns/ingrown toenails from exposure.

Anyway, just an example of how a variety of things can conspire to prevent a technology from getting into the field.

91:

A couple of folks have remarked on how easy it is to get a sub inside a carrier task group - in peacetime. In a war situation, that's not so easy. There's going to be active pinging and countermeasures all over the place, and no, even having one of those cute little diesel-electrics won't help. Iran has three, count 'em three, Kilo-class submarines, run by a navy that's, at best, third-rate. They'd be operating in shallow waters, from bases that are certainly kept under 24 hour surveillance by air and by sea. This is not conducive to making a good attack run on a full Carrier Task Force run by the most powerful and technically advanced navy on the planet.

The Shkval-2 isn't really a true homing torpedo - it has to drop out of supercavitation to activate its homing head and retarget, then go back into inertial mode, which means it can still be spoofed or blown out of the water by countermeasures. It's basically still an autopilot/inertial nav weapon, and is only effective if you put a tactical nuclear weapon on board.

China has a decent chance of taking out one or more carrier task forces, if they don't mind the fact that we'd reduce their military to zero ships and zero planes in about a week, as a start for World War IV...

On the M-16/AK-47 issue: the "spray and pray' tactic that the AK-47 was designed for is paying off in Iraq in one way - they're using up all available stocks of ammo for the weapon. International 7.62 ammo prices have more than doubled, since they've used up the in-country stocks of available ammo way too fast, and need a whole lot more to keep up operations. This also makes it easier to find the bad guys, since they're the ones bringing in truckloads of 7.62 ammo for their friends.

The C-802 and Israel: globalsecurity.org says it was a C-802 (an improved 801), and that the press got it wrong. Iran has had C-801 and C-802 missiles since 1991.
http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/china/c-802.htm

92:

Charlie #86:
I don't think we're seeing denial of hegemonic ambition here in the US, so much as a complete lack of understanding of the necessary consequences of our actions. In fact, as I've said on so many occasions that most of my friends are sick of hearing it, at least in the last couple of generations, if not before, our educational and social systems have conspired to foster the belief that well-intended actions can't have bad consequences. We're not evil emperors, just dysfunctional ones. Not that that matters in the least to the people on the other end of the barrel.

There is another aspect to it: most of us still believe for some reason or other that our government represents our long-term best interests. Didn't think I could put "government" and "our interest" in the same sentence, did you? So even when the Pres has less than 30% approval, the disapproval is over relatively narrow issues of not having pulled it off right, rather than of having lied, cheated, stolen, brow-beaten, etc., the nation into doing something that's very bad for it and everyone else around.

Lest I be deluged with flame over this comment, I hasten to point out that I am not anti-American; it's my country too. I'm just looking for the appropriate place to provide a good swift kick to get it back on the track it's supposed to be on.

93:

WWW.strategypage.com has had quite a bit to say over the past few years about the contrast between the "spray and pray" insurgents and the laser-tag trained US troops. It seems that one way to tell which side is which in a firefight is that the Iraqis (both sides) tend towards rock and roll while the Americans tend to use single shots.

The website also gives another reason for the worldwide AK-47 ammo shortage: The US is buying gobs fo the stuff for marksmanship training of Iraqi government troops which consumes a vast amount of ammo. Also, Americans use the AK-47 as well. As has been pointed out, in urban combat the Ak is good accurate enough most of the time. Another reason for AK usage is that the M16 and AK47 sound very different when fired, and G!s using the AK don't immediately announce themselves as being Americans.

94:

Henry Kenyon #90:
That whole non-lethal weapons initiative has had a rocky road to get past the deep conservatism of the Pentagon brass. After all, conventional wisdom says you want to kill the other guy, not leave him around to attack you again. What they've missed completely is that non-lethality is the only way to ameliorate the severe propaganda advantage of the unconventional side of an asymmetric war. It may hurt like hell, and you may get cancer 20 years from now, but in the meantime you've just been prevented from {blowing your enemy up,killing enemy soldiers,starting a riot to use for cover,whatever} and you haven't even created a martyr for the cause.

95:

It's not going to diminish their propaganda advantage. The body counts will be embellished anyway. Keeping prisoners alive hasn't helped too well in the propaganda war either. And on the flip side, to lesson their fear of being killed will only encourage them to fight longer.

96:

Hmm. The Tactical Iraqi website has a notice that "Tactical French" will be coming in 2007. What is the DOD planning?

97:

Licking them to death?

98:

Difference, not inferiority.

Feh, semantics.

And don't think it's a "silver lining", think it's the point - trying to paint Hizbolah as being able to bounce back by simple recruiting isn't true,

Apparently they're *really* picky about who they take, as they don't want to end up infiltrated up the wazoo like the Palestinians.

and their bases are so much rubble.

Pocket Stalingrads, innit. But wait - is that the slosh of pouring concrete I hear?

Hence why the Lebenese government is now pushing them, poltically and economically.

I'll be interested to see how well they manage to keep it up.

99:

The USN brass hats have a big problem admitting that their CVNs can get hurt.

Sunk costs?

100:

Henry @99: that microwave 'pain beam' is a really bad idea for crowd control. Reason: only the front line of the crowd is going to feel it -- if there's any depth to the crowd, people behind the front aren't going to know what's going on because it's invisible and silent. So they're not going to move back. Result: folks in the front of the crowd are going to end up with really unpleasant third degree burns, if not the next best thing to spontaneous human combustion.

Also, microwave exposure tends to induce cataracts.

Burning people alive, or blinding them, are negative strikes if you're looking for a more merciful form of crowd control than rubber bullets and tear gas.

101:

Adrian Smith, see, the whole different/inferior thing is... afaik... crucial. (Their people are different, their government is inferior)

Charlie, that assumes something. It assumes that the press will follow the people hit by these weapons up on any serious basis. That's...not a safe assumption.

As a note, Poland is doing very well selling AK-47's to America and American allies. Sure, you CAN make an AK-47 in a small workshop, but factory-made ones are more reliable..

102:

Andrew: it depends on which press does the following.

CNN? You're spot on.

Al Jazeera? I can see them doing a really meaty follow-up a year afterwards.

Abu Jihadi's recruiting website and suicide bomber chat room? GIF! GIF! GIF! (Sorry, having an alt.tasteless flashback to 1994.)

Remember, the #1 tactic all recruiters learn during wartime is: "wave the bloody shirt".

103:

How long can a USN force sustain high-intensity ASW operations to keep a sub out of launch range for a Sunburn?

Could a country such as China afford to risk a boat coat-trailing in a situation short of war?

My recollection is that the USN uses fixed wing aircraft from the carrier for a lot of long-range ASW screen, and hence depends a lot on sonobouys. They're a limited resource.

104:

Re: Language

Have you ever tried actually communicating with someone in a Poona call centre, as opposed to speaking the same language as them (approximately)?

Right, now transpose that to a conflict situation.

On the other hand, if you've tried it you've already experienced the conflict situation.

105:

Another one for the books, Charlie.

Commons Committee savages new Bowman radio system (via The Register)

One of the minor defects is that at full power the guy carrying the radio gets radiation burns. The cure? Don't use full power.

106:

Dave @105: *winces*

(A mcguffin I intend to use in a future Laundry spoof thriller is the theory that the GEC defense overruns of the late Thatcher era -- things like the Nimrod AEW and Tigershark projects that collectively ran over £3Bn over budget -- were actually dodgy accounting to cover up some very British black military projects, including the militarized Concorde squadron operating in BA livery out of a hangar at Heathrow ... but in the real world, they're just not that competent.)

107:

106: I think that Greg Bear used the same idea once, only using NASA. I can't remember the story's name, though.

108:

You can't switch off an RTG, so how the hell does it dissipate 100kw of heat when not firing? Without killing its holder?

109:

Neel: I suspect you're thinking of "Senses Three and Six" by David Brin.

110:

The first job you're going to have is getting within six miles of an American carrier to fire this unguided torpedo.

I'm certain there's a Chinese team working on a process around the lines of:

i, Put BigHonkingWeapon on seabed near China in strategic spot during peace time.
ii, During time of crisis tell US to stay away from strategic spot "or else".
iii, Fire BigHonkingWeapon when US decides to demonstrate it rules the waves.

It's like I keep asking wingnuts who express overconfidence in the power of the US Navy against Iran (and, admittedly, it *is* powerful) - how many Tomahawks does it have to launch to sink the Asian landmass?

111:

China has a decent chance of taking out one or more carrier task forces, if they don't mind the fact that we'd reduce their military to zero ships and zero planes in about a week, as a start for World War IV...

And an appropriate quote from "Dude, Where's My Car?":

"And then?"

Let's say you're right. China starts moving on Taiwan, a hairball arises, and with little losses to the US, the remnents of China's navy are cowering in port, and Chinese warplanes aren't going within 50 miles of the coastline.

And then?

I mean, seriously, China isn't in a mood to surrender, teh US can't invade, both sides are avoiding throwing nukes - but making sure the other side knows it has them, and I suspect China can last a hell of a long time not trading with the US.

And then?

112:

Tony, re #111: In that particular scenario the bottom has fallen out of the renminbi ... and the Chinese have retaliated by dumping their T-bills.

When that particular shit hits the fan, the economic fallout will be global. But if it comes to Depression 2.0, my money is on the Chinese government being able to feed its people better than the Americans, if only because they've got the troops to keep order on the streets and dole out the rice. Who's going to do it in the mid-west ... Walmart?

113:

Charlie, the Nimwacs cost overrun thriller is a beauty of an idea. But I would point out, having lived near Heathrow whilst the concs were operating, everyone for miles around knew every movement.

By the way, your last comment reminds me of the old story about the Soviet politico who visits New York and finally asks which government minister is in charge of the bread.

114:

112: Actually, Wal-mart did a rather amazing job during Hurrican Katrina: when they got news of the coming hurricane, they prepositioned enormous quantities of emergency supplies to all of their supply depots near the Gulf Coast, and were already distributing aid while the US federal government was still drafting press releases. If FEMA were a tenth as good at supply chain management as Wal-mart, New Orleans would be in a rather better condition than it is.

115:

Neel 114:
As someone who has stood in front of the Supply Chain IT Hellmouth, watching the poor lost souls of programmers getting sucked in, I am impressed by Wal-mart's achievement. And I don't say that lightly, since I really despise their business and labor relations policies.

But it raises a point nobody's mentioned in this thread. We've been talking about the glamorous side of military R&D, the sexy weapons and tactics that go with them, but we've ignored what Napoleon said about armies and stomachs.

Anyone know just how modern the DOD's (or the MOD's for that matter) supply systems are? Are they as flexible as they should be to move combat units rapidly into developing theaters? Looking at the results in Iraq I'm skeptical. On the other hand, until I read Neel's post I didn't really believe that any corporate supply chain could react quickly either.

The question of government supply chain flexibility is being hotly discussed here in the States right now, because the $1E9 food for aid program is getting ragged on by NGOs and other aid organizations as being far too slow to be helpful in emergencies, while the local politicians are adamant that the program was designed to help subsidize American farmers, so buying the food closer to the emergency site is not acceptable.

116:

Regarding a war with China, both Charlie and Tony are right to a degree. It would likely mean a global depression. But I think the US would come out better than China. China would likely see most of it's oil and other shipments stop as the US Navy blockaded it.

The US, meanwhile, is a food exporting country so keep it's population fed isn't a problem. Oil could be a problem, but if the global economy has also tanked then oil prices have likely plummeted, and the US could "arranged" and oil-for-food program with some of the countries hit worst.

And after the war, both US and Chinese currency would likely be undervalued, leading to an export and manufacturing boom in both countries and the expense of Europe and the rest of the world.

117:

Re: US Navy blockade of China's oil.

China is planning to buy oil and gas via overland pipelines from the Middle East. They are not totally dependent on oil tanker deliveries even now. The US on the other hand... what if those Chinese subs don't bother trying to knock out US carriers but instead go out and start whacking oil tankers or even oil-rigs in the Gulf? Even the US Navy can't escort and protect everything on the open seas, even with a convoy system.

118:

109: Yes, that's it. Thanks a lot!

116: The US government might come out better than the Chinese government (I wouldn't lay money either way), but war between would suck bowling balls through a garden hose for us individual citizens. I mean, war between the two of the three biggest trading nations would mean the end of the global system of trade. I literally can't count the number of ways that would make my own life worse, and I'm more insulated from the consequences than most. We're talking a disaster of WWI-level proportions, and we all know what that led to.

119:

Regarding a war with China, both Charlie and Tony are right to a degree. It would likely mean a global depression. But I think the US would come out better than China. China would likely see most of it's oil and other shipments stop as the US Navy blockaded it.

Possibly - but China is probably in a better position to cut back than the US. And I have to wonder what steps it could take to strengthen oil supplies from Russia, out of reach of US intervention.

The US, meanwhile, is a food exporting country so keep it's population fed isn't a problem. Oil could be a problem, but if the global economy has also tanked then oil prices have likely plummeted, and the US could "arranged" and oil-for-food program with some of the countries hit worst.

No. The US is a prime example of a country that turns oil into food. I'm not saying it will start producing less than it needs to feed itself, but oil prices will directly hit at US agriculture. Oil prices are unlikely to plummet; rather they will rise, especially if China starts hitting at worldwide oil shipments (and why wouldn't it?)

And another point - escalation without turning nuclear. Attack South Korea by land, and the US is drawn into an arena where China has fewer disadvantages. Occasionally lob missiles at Taiwan, Japan and Okinawa and you tie down the US Navy and cause massive headaches. And, for that matter, start shooting down satellites if you can...

Or China can simply say "we want peace, and, oh, by the way, we're cutting off all trade with the US and sinking our capital into the EU and Russia" and stop the hot fighting. They might even be able to pull off a good cost-effective Cold War by posturing cheaply and requiring the US to use expensive counters to guard very diverse interests (such as, say, by moving missiles one way or another or by supplying weapons technology to Iran or the Lebanon...)

120:

For one thing, I don't think China *can* stop oil shipments to the US. They may be able to take out parts of the US Navy and hurt it much more than the Navy thinks, as discussed above. This doesn't mean the have the force projection to blockade every oil producing region. The US will import from Nigeria and Venezuela if they have to.

And China's much more vulnerable. The US already has forces in the Gulf region, if they don't want oil leaving and going to China, it won't. And oil pipelines are even more vulnerable. A few cruisemissles and they're cut off. Or, failing that, hit Chinese refineries.

And yes, oil prices will plummet. If world finances collapse, then demand will go way down. In the US, oil will go to the military and farming if Congress is smart enough to direct it there. The general civilian population will have to get used to rationing, just like in the 1970s. The only way oil prices will rise is if the European economy is somehow untouched by a war between the US and China *and* China actually succeeds in blockading the middle east. Given the international nature of the oil industry, how would the EU feel about Chinese attacks on European oil tankers bound for the US? While the US Navy would simply board and redirect ships bound for China, I don't think the Chinese have this option. If they want to stop oil heading toward the US, they have to sink tankers.

And just think how much people will love China for creating dozens of burning oil spills...

China's only real hope for winning a war with the US, is not to fight one. A cold war is their best option, if they really feel they need to fight.

Personally, I think the US and China have more common interests than not. We're natural allies, and historically have been friends more than rivals. Jingoism and some ideological differences are the biggest wedge between us.

121:

Possibly - but China is probably in a better position to cut back than the US. And I have to wonder what steps it could take to strengthen oil supplies from Russia, out of reach of US intervention.

China is not, in any sense, in a better position to cut back than the US (in oil, specifically, but in many other things, too).

Consider that, with domestic production, plus the oil we get from Mexico and Canada, we'd still have about 60% to 75% of demand. We wouldn't be hurting near as much as China. For one thing, their food distribution system would come to a crashing halt (they have, relatively, no domestic oil available, while the US could cut back to just using domestic oil and still crank out enough to feed everyone and have a moderately effective economy, although much of the world would get hungry very quickly once the US food exports stopped).

Tony: The "China does economic war" scenario, basically, won't work. They can't just decide to start doing all of their business with Europe - the market isn't there, or they'd be doing that already. They sell to the US because the US is the only place for them to sell that much stuff to.

A war between the US and China would wreck China's economy in a couple of months, literally. Tens, if not hundreds, of millions of Chinese would be out of work, they'd have no foreign income (almost all of their major exports go by sea), and the oil that keeps their economy afloat would dry up in less than a month. The only hope they'd have would be a ground war with Russia, over the Siberian resource deposits. That would not be pleasant, to say the least, and they'd end up with Russia AND the US at war on the same side. The last country that had that happen didn't enjoy the experience.

122:

Alex. #113 ... there's a simple answer: Concordes flying in BA livery. Just describe 'em as "charter flights" and nobody will notice the difference.

123:

Yes, it was a bit suspicious that the Concorde which crashed didn't have any famous people at all on board. What are the odds of that happening? I mean, Concorde was like the 37 bus for the super-rich, and we're supposed to believe that it just had a lot of obscure Germans?

And why, exactly, is one of the retired Concordes now positioned in Bermuda, of all places?

124:

Charlie, thing is something on Al Jazeera is likely to be dismissed as propaganda. And in all honesty, there's a good chance it WOULD be at least partially as well.

And ooh, yea, "Senses Three and Six" - great story. It's written from a somewhat different perspective, though :)

Neel Krishnaswam, well, Europe is busy setting up a huge internal free market to buffer against external trade issues.

cirby, and the Chinese leadership would care because? If they took Taiwan and a portion of other countries, they'd be sitting pretty in the long term, and sitting on a large proportion of the worlds semiconductor plants. Also, Russia might well back China. They've been making those noises anyway, since NATO and the EU are in a quite nasty on/off dispute with Russia over the Russian-EU border nations and their future allegiences.

125:

I think the EU are more concerned about their natgas supplies.

126:

Ajay, you're getting too close to my plans. Keep your distance.

127:

"On the other hand, until I read Neel's post I didn't really believe that any corporate supply chain could react quickly either."

Posted by: Bruce Cohen, SpeakerToManagers


IIRC, FEMA operated with great speed, flexibility and efficiency under Clinton. And in 2004, in Florida (i.e., swing state in an election year with Bush's brother responsible), it was very competant at handling hurricanse. It used exotic concepts such as 'pre-positioning'.

It was only in 2005 when it failed abysmally. In short, if an agency is crony-riddled, the president doesn't care, and the primary group of affected people don't have muc clout, the agency doesn't work worth a sh*t.

128:

Barry,

Those events make for an imperfect comparison. Florida had a lot of experience with hurricanes. The state and local governments were well practiced. They knew what they were doing.

Katrina was damage on vastly greater scale. It's as though someone watches firemen rescue a cat from a tree and then claims they must not have cared when a California wildfire runs out of control.

129:

Who needs those newfangled ray guns? Stick with the classics.

Science 9 March 2007:
Vol. 315. no. 5817, p. 1348
DOI: 10.1126/science.315.5817.1348

News of the Week
NUCLEAR WEAPONS:
Livermore Lab Dips Into the Past to Win Weapons Design Contest
Eli Kintisch

Weapons physicists at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, with help from Sandia National Laboratories, have won a Department of Energy contest to design a new H-bomb by imitating an already-tested weapon just enough to prove their design will do the job.

http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/summary/315/5817/1348

130:

Randy, I'm from Florida originally and I agree with you. Especially in the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew back in 1994 the state and federal governments really upped thier Hurricane prepardness in Florida.

They've been a fact of life since the state started getting built up in the 1960s, it's just something people expect and are used to like earthquakes in Japan.

During hurricane season every grocery store will be extra stocked in water and food, with alchohol lamps and other hurricane gear. Hardware stores will stock up extra wood to cover windows, etc. All of this happens leading up to the season whether or not a hurricane is on its way.

When a hurricane does approach, every news program will monitor its progress giving updates. The state usually does a good job of telling the right people to evacuate, though sudden changes in the course of the hurricane have been known to mess that up. They have evacuation routes planned ahead of time and cleared. Hotels in surrounding regions are expecting the influx of people. Large parking garages (like the one at my college) will open up for residents who don't have a covered place to store their cars. Designated shelters will be ready for people with food and bedding. Churches too.

Then, if it does turn out to be a bad hurricane FEMA and state agencies, not to mention no profits, and ready to rush in and help because it's the same drill every year.

The worst thing that could happen to Florida is if it was missed by hurricanes for 5 years in a row. That's basically what happens to other coastal parts of the South, and they're much less prepared for it than Florida when one does hit.

131:

Charlie, rarely ... no, never before have I found you to make strangely out-to-lunch sounding statements. Why then the comment in no. 112? After all, the number of serious observers who believe that China's social stability rests on a more solid foundation than the U.S. is, well, zero. Were you attempting to bait the wingnuts? It just seems very unlike you.

132:

cirby, and the Chinese leadership would care because?

Because they'd have a revolution. They're in the middle of changing to a market economy, and have a moderate amount of unrest already. A collapsing economy would take away that economic dream for almost all Chinese, and the old men in charge would suddenly have a bunch of middle-power bureaucrats and functionaries who would have no hope of getting the money and power they see on the near horizon.

Combine that with the loss of confidence of the peasant class, along with a big dose of starvation, and China would be in the same state Iran is currently getting ready to face.

China now isn't China in 1947.

133:

I know this is the flamebait, but : China and the US have no reason to go to war (apart from that little island people the US does/does not recognize). China is the US's #1 trading partner, with most favored nation status. The only reason I can see for Chinese action against US interests is to prevent the US from, in turn, preventing China from doing something (like - thank you Mr Clancy - invading Russia). And only after that does it comes down to a question of escalation. The recent satellite-kill test was interesting, of course, and there's only one reason to make that public - to let people know you have that capacity. Although I'm pretty sure US DOD satellites are pretty stealthy, I'm also sure everyone knows exactly where they are. What would the consequences to the US military (particularly the Navy) be of losing, say, 25% of their surveillance / navigation/boost-phase detector satellites (particularly geosync over Asia)?
If I was the US, at that point I would start considering nuclear options - but, again, China would know this...Maybe I'm being a real pre-World-War-II British Prime Minister, but I don't see it happening. Unless someone can point out a few good reasons for China to do something drastic. I suspect China are more worried about North Korea than they are about anyone else.

134:

With reference to my own comment, I am aware that killing geosync satellites is much harder than LEO satellites. Or maybe it isn't? Anyone know?

135:

Charlie - there's a bug in your post-acceptor that muddles all the words in my posts around, and adds in extra ones. Like "the flamebait" and "that little island people". It must be a bug - my typing is perfect...

136:

Colin, US forces are heavily dependent on over-the-horizon, satellite dependent communications. Especially the navy. The satalight kill test was a response to certain American tests, no more.

If they really wanted to screw things up for the American forces, they could detonate a nuke in high orbit. No stealth sats anymore after that.

137:

Anyway, there's no such thing as a stealth radio transmitter, which is essentially what a satellite is.

138:

Randy, Andrew - I agree about the competancy (and the value of experience/expectations; a friend described how things were set up in Florida for hurrianes). However, I was talking about FEMA, a federal agency. Presumably, many of the personnel shift about as needed, which meant that hurricane expertise was available; also presumably, Florida would be FEMA's 'hurricane academy'. However, FEMA screwed up quite badly, and and the administration screwed up equally badly. The only conclusion is that the administration is to blame.

139:

Anyway, there's no such thing as a stealth radio transmitter, which is essentially what a satellite is.

Not necessarily. Stealth low-orbit optical or passive EM recce satellite streams the image take to another satellite in high orbit via a microwave or laser link - almost undetectable, negligible or zero sidelobe leakage - and the other satellite relays it to earth. The advantage of this: you can't see the recce satellite, so you have no idea when it's overhead.

140:

Barry is right: FEMA under the Clinton administration had prepared plans for the New Orleans levees breaking, plans which the Bush administration FEMA left on the shelf. That's a consequence of cronyism leading to incompetence, just as Barry says.

The only place I part ways with him is that FEMA's performance post-Katrina has been so relentlessly abysmal that I suspect that they've completely lost the capability to act effectively, and that today even a disaster threatening a politically-important constituency (eg, rich Florida Republicans) would not be sufficient to get them off their butts. I hope this can be fixed by a new administration, but I worry that FEMA may have lost too many of its best midlevel bureaucrats to the private sector already. (That is: good people can quit bad jobs.)

141:

Barry, I see what you're saying, and more or less agree. But I think that Florida also doesn't need FEMA as much as New Orleans does/did, because of local prepardness. It's possible that without local work in Florida to help them out, FEMA would screw up just as badly there.

Still, FEMA's cronyism and mistakes don't excuse the State and local governments of Louisiana for being unprepared as well. Private citizens and businesses acted far more quickly and were better prepared than *any* level of government. Katrina is a case study of bad leadership...

142:

Ajay, that only works against opponents who don't have a satellite tracking system with the capability of NORAD's Celestrak. This system keeps tabs on everything over 10 centimeters in largest dimension up to about 25,000 kilometers (those are the published figures; I wouldn't be surprised if the actual figures were better). I have trouble imagining a useful satellite with an optical and radar cross-section less than 10 centimeters, no matter how stealthed.

Granted, there's only one of those systems, but you can do a lot with less, if your sensors are reasonably good. A large part of the catalog of orbital objects is publicly available; if you spot something that's not in the catalog you can concentrate your resources on it, ignoring the other stuff that isn't potentially hostile.

143:

On FEMA, I'm just saying that Katrina can't be compared to your garden variety hurricane. Whether you like it or not, the federal response to Katrina was faster than to most of the other hurricanes. It just seemed worse because there was so much more damage to contend with.

I've gotta wonder what kind of sniping there would be about FEMA after an asteroid hits, and that response isn't instantaneous either.

144:

Whether you like it or not, the federal response to Katrina was faster than to most of the other hurricanes. It just seemed worse because there was so much more damage to contend with.

Possibly, depending on your definition of 'faster'.
They haven't been able to get people out of trailers, they haven't been able to clean up debris, there are areas that still don't have basic services back: that's not good performance. They were offered help from other states, from other countries, and refused it: why should we say they did a good job?

It isn't really 'how long it takes to clean up everything', it's how long to do the basic stuff that everyone needs to start putting things back together. (Repair and rebuilding after the 1994 Northridge earthquake took ten years. We understand it isn't instant. We don't understand doing as little as possible.)

145:

For a definition of "faster", Popular Mechanics magazine called it the largest and fastest rescue op in history:

REALITY: Bumbling by top disaster-management officials fueled a perception of general inaction, one that was compounded by impassioned news anchors. In fact, the response to Hurricane Katrina was by far the largest--and fastest-rescue effort in U.S. history, with nearly 100,000 emergency personnel arriving on the scene within three days of the storm's landfall.

Dozens of National Guard and Coast Guard helicopters flew rescue operations that first day--some just 2 hours after Katrina hit the coast. Hoistless Army helicopters improvised rescues, carefully hovering on rooftops to pick up survivors. On the ground, "guardsmen had to chop their way through, moving trees and recreating roadways," says Jack Harrison of the National Guard. By the end of the week, 50,000 National Guard troops in the Gulf Coast region had saved 17,000 people; 4000 Coast Guard personnel saved more than 33,000.

These units had help from local, state and national responders, including five helicopters from the Navy ship Bataan and choppers from the Air Force and police. The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries dispatched 250 agents in boats. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), state police and sheriffs' departments launched rescue flotillas. By Wednesday morning, volunteers and national teams joined the effort, including eight units from California's Swift Water Rescue. By Sept. 8, the waterborne operation had rescued 20,000.

While the press focused on FEMA's shortcomings, this broad array of local, state and national responders pulled off an extraordinary success--especially given the huge area devastated by the storm. Computer simulations of a Katrina-strength hurricane had estimated a worst-case-scenario death toll of more than 60,000 people in Louisiana. The actual number was 1077 in that state.

www.popularmechanics.com/science/earth/2315076.html

I'm not going to dispute that bureaucracies are slow (I'm generally not in favor of them!), but you're bringing up something entirely different. I'm simply pointing out that Katrina has been used as another playing card in the political deck, and it shouldn't surprise anyone that politicians would try to make hay out of it. That's what they do.

146:

Possibly, depending on your definition of 'faster'.
They haven't been able to get people out of trailers, they haven't been able to clean up debris, there are areas that still don't have basic services back: that's not good performance. They were offered help from other states, from other countries, and refused it: why should we say they did a good job?

Because, for the most part, the stuff you listed isn't FEMA's job.

They respond to emergencies. Most of the things people are complaining about are either supposed to be from other Federal agencies, or local authorities. Even the Federal assistance is supposed to funnel through the local and state governments - and, before anyone mentions it, there's no mechanism in place for the US government to kick out the Governor and city authorities for merely being incredibly incompetent.

When I was taking classes in Emergency Management in college, one of the scenarios we looked at was New Orleans. The response to the Katrina flooding was much, much better than anyone predicted, and the big problem was something that everyone knew about - you can't get more than 90% of any population to evacuate, no matter what. You could put a 100 megaton nuke on a pedestal in the middle of a city, and around 10% would stick around, because they don't believe it would really happen.

That Clinton Administration "plan?" Hogwash. There have been plans for New Orleans flooding for years (I read the one from FEMA from 1988 while I was in college), and the Clinton plan was the same as always: Evacuate as many people as possible, watch the city flood, then deal with things after the waters have receded. They had some nice ideas about mitigation, but since mitigation in the New Orleans sense means "you have to move out of the bowl," that would never have happened.

All of the real Federal mechanisms are devoted to saving lives in the short term, then working on things as they come for the long run.

But the real plan was, as always, "let the locals do what they can, then help them out when they ask for it." Local governments are ALWAYS in the best position to assess the damage, even when things go completely to hell. If they can't handle it, they MUST ask for help (no, New Orleans and Louisiana did not do this on time), and there are massive mechanisms for getting that help in place. There were National Guard units ready to go, hundreds of FEMA trucks loading up, and Red Cross units ready to go in and feed people, except the Governor refused to ask officially. There were people calling, saying "just say the word, we're ready to go." Word was not said.

After they finally got permission, things happened really fast. Shipments of supplies arrived in less than two days, from a thousand miles or more away (delayed by several hours, since the NHTSA had to inspect several major bridges, and the major Interstate bridge east of New Orleans was cut). That means that FEMA arranged for hundreds of trucks, arranged for the supplies (pulled from warehouses or bought), got them organized, got them loaded, and got them on the way (with fueling stops provided in the storm-affected areas) in less than 24 hours...

Remember those buses you saw evacuating the Superdome? FEMA had to hire them because New Orleans didn't use the buses they had on hand - which was in the FEMA-approved, New Orleans-run evacuation plan.

FEMA had to find a couple of hundred long-range buses, hire them, drive them from east or north of Mississippi through northern Louisiana, into east Texas, down through Houston, and into New Orleans from the west (for you folks in Europe, imagine Paris has a huge disaster, but that most of the aid for it has to come from Turkey or Bulgaria).

Slow? Nope.

147:

Nick Tarleton @108.

You've just reminded me of "Reason" from Neal Stephenson's "SNOWCRASH". Not a lot of water in a desert though.

148:

Bruce, and that system can't cope with even minor solar flares. Sure, the US space command goes to high alert at that time, it's still ideal for nastyness.

(How do you get round that? Um. So far nobody's been able to work out a good way...)

149:

Andrew, sure it wouldn't be hard to get something stealthy done during a flare (assuming your satellite survives; predicting flare intensity isn't an exact science yet, certainly not far enough ahead to base a force-integrated op on, and if you depend on the bird for the success of the op, better be ready for Plan B). But expecting to run long-term (like greater than a couple of weeks) stealth surveillance or tactical signal interception seems highly optimistic to me.

Interesting though, this might return us to seasonal warfare, like in some places where you couldn't raise levies or move troops in the winter because the roads were impassible to large groups. Only we'd be on the 11-year Solar cycle instead of the sidereal year.

150:

Bruce Cohen: "I have trouble imagining a useful satellite with an optical and radar cross-section less than 10 centimeters, no matter how stealthed."

Funny, my coinventor, the late Jim Stephens, who was the 2nd most patented person in JPL history, had no such problem. For legal reasons I can't go into detail, but think for a few minutes about what you can do with a phased array of microsats, each entirely cryogenic (say 10 degrees Kelvin through and through) each shielded in onion-like layers of frozen hydrogen.

Then try to convince yourself that there aren't any of these already.

One of the few nonclassified pages I can send you to is a wildly different application:

http://magicdragon.com/ComputerFutures/SpacePublications/STAR.html

151:

Hmmm ... OK, might work, though I have several questions. For one thing, I'm assuming passive cooling: the sats stay in a cold bath during launch, and have an operational life limited by the sublimation of the hydrogen shield. How long would that last in sunlight? And what prevents anyone from seeing the plume of boiling hydrogen?

Active cooling clearly won't work: you'd have to dump the waste heat somehow, and that would result in some part of the sat being even hotter than normal for a body getting heated by sunlight.

I'd say this would take some serious tech to make it happen, so I'm not too worried about it for at least a year or two.


152:

cirby, I'd ask you to stop lying, but judging from your Lancet post comments, that's not in your programming:

http://www.snopes.com/katrina/politics/blanco.asp

To others - in terms of local/state handling of Katrina, how has any local/state government handled something of that magnitude?

153:

[Been ill, then been overseas for a bit ... ]

Guys, play nice. I've just installed a disemvoweler plugin and this thread is getting sufficiently annoying that I'm tempted to start using it.

154:

Charlie, my apologies to you, for tracking mud on your blog.

155:

I'm reminded of David Brin's book Sundiver, which used a laser to dump the heat. Something to do with a laser not being anything close to a black body, but I suspect handwaving taking place.

156:

Barry:

Snopes missed something pretty huge when they wrote that article. The bit in the emergency declaration:

SECTION 2: The state of Louisiana's emergency response and recovery program is activated under the command of the director of the state office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness to prepare for and provide emergency support services and/or to minimize the effects of the storm's damage.

...means that she allowed her "STATE office of Homeland Security" (not the Federal one: Louisiana renamed their disaster response as "Homeland Security," which has caused a lot of confusion over the last couple of years by people like yourself and the Snopes crowd) to take control of the state response (and then promptly didn't do much of anything).

Meanwhile, President Bush told FEMA to stand by and start getting ready in a limited fashion - all they can do until AFTER disaster hits, and local authorities request assistance. You can't start moving into a disaster area until after the disaster has ended, by the way, so Federal aid couldn't really start coming into New Orleans until that Tuesday, at the earliest (actually, some arrived late Monday, when technically-unauthorized National Guard and Coast Guard chopper flights started).

Since the material had to come another thousand miles or so from unaffected areas, the fact that FEMA response started arriving on the day after the hurricane says a lot about how "slow" the response was.

Unfortunately, despite what almost everyone seems to think, Blanco didn't actually request much aid of any sort until after the levees broke - she did, however, start the process of getting some Federal cash (90% of the money requested was tagged for clearing roads of debris). Her declaration of emergency broke down to "get out your checkbook, FEMA."

Blanco didn't specifically request anything else, which is the big problem. The system was (and still is) set up so that the local officials have to ASK for help, either specifically, or by saying "we're screwed, do whatever you feel is necessary." Blanco didn't do much of the first, and REFUSED the second.

Most specifically, the request for National Guard assistance, which took far too long. A Governor has to sign a specific form to allow units from other states to come in, unless there's a massive, Federal-level emergency that can allow the President to override that requirement (and no, Katrina didn't qualify). There were other boneheaded moves, like blocking the Red Cross from entering New Orleans (to encourage people to leave the city).

There were some good things done by local Louisiana National Guard units, though- against orders. The unit in the Superdome (didn't know they were there, did you?) had brought in a couple of truckloads of water and supplies in direct contravention of policy (the Superdome was a shelter of "last resort," and wasn't supposed to have any supplies on hand).

So, before you ever try to accuse someone of lying, do a bit more than a two minute Google search on "how to defend Governor Blanco from her massive screwups."

157:

Hmmmm...cirby or Snopes.com.

I think I'll stick with Snopes.

158:

Barry:

It's not an either/or.

It's that the thing Snopes addresses is only about 5% of the actual issue. They are correct in the one thing they talk about - it's just that so much other crap isn't even mentioned (or, indeed, needs to be mentioned for that one urban legend).

Sure, Blanco did "declare an emergency," which is the precursor of all of the other stuff that needed to be done. Declaring a "state of emergency" (or a disaster) is NOTHING except a starting point. In this case, it qualified Louisiana to get Federal funds to help clear their roads and some other stuff. It did not allow National Guard troops to come in, it did not allow the Red Cross to go wherever they were needed, and it didn't allow FEMA to help with the evacuations. That came later, after a whole lot of pressure was put on Blanco by pretty much everyone, in both parties.

It takes a whole series of separate actions, over the course of several days, to get things really rolling. By declaring an emergency, she qualified the state of Louisiana for Federal aid of certain types, and that's about it. If they wanted anything else, that had to be requested, too. It's not automatic, and it can't be (there are too many variables in this situation, and it takes a competent local government to either ask for the correct assistance, or tell the Feds that they're overwhelmed and need the Feds to step in and take over).

This (go back and read the Snopes article again) DID NOT HAPPEN. It's still not happening. Almost every story you hear about FEMA pivots on either Louisiana or the City of New Orleans failing to do something - or blocking a Federal package.

They don't have phone service in much of New Orleans, because the local government keeps screwing around with permits and zoning. People can't get loans and/or grants, because the City keeps screwing around with permits (which blocks the Feds from passing out money due to laws that FEMA can't just choose to override, or they'd be legally in very hot water).

There are a helluva lot of flooded-out cars still sitting around, because Mayor Nagin turned down an offer from one salvage company. Those guys offered to pay $100 per car if they would be allowed to tow the cars off and scrap them. Nagin's folks refused, and are instead paying tens of millions of dollars to someone else to haul the cars away (the job got stalled for well over a year while Nagin and his buddies stalled).

159:

Dave,

Oh, handwaving, for sure. The conceit was that because a laser beam has a very low entropy and is directional, it could dump energy away from the ship, through the heat coming in from the surrounding photosphere. Forgetting about the thermodynamic aspects for a minute (It's not my strong suit, though I'm fairly sure his explanation will turn out to be constrained by the same information/energy considerations as Maxwell's Demon), the laser would have to be fairly powerful to pump away the required energy, and the system wouldn't be very efficient; I can't think of any really good way to pump a laser with heat except perhaps with an endothermic chemical reaction in a gas flow.

160:

Dave,

Sorry, hit the Post button prematurely. I wanted to add that the chemical pumped laser is the best design I know of for getting a man-portable battlefield energy weapon, and it's not a whole lot better than the balonium-powered one Charlie started this thread with.

161:

Bruce Cohen: "How long would that last in sunlight?"

The clever passive perforated onionskin hydrogen ice sublimation cooling gives astonishingly longer lifetimes than ever seasoned Physicists guess. The theory, computer simulation, and experimental measurements on stiffened hydrogen ice agree. Again, I suggest the nonclassified reference, which says what it is allowed to say.

And how do the bad guys find a very slowly generated cryogenic hydrogen gas plume?

162:

Jonathon,

For part of the orbit of the satellite that cloud of hydrogen will be getting hit by the solar wind. Some of it will be swept away, but some will stay in orbit and become heated, and some will also be ionized by collisions with the wind or UV from sunlight. So there's going to be a faint hydrogen glow from the cloud near the satellite. If this is imaged by two separate cameras, a rough stereo separation measurement would give both position and altitude.

The glow should be easiest to see when the cloud is further from the sun that the earth, but not in the Earth's shadow. It will be in the wind and sunlight, but seen against the cold, black sky, for maximum contrast.

163:

Charlie: RE #82:

Sorry about the slow reply!

The reason the Tactical Language program wasn't used before the invasion... is that it didn't exist. :) Development began in 2004, and the full version got delivered to the USMC and the US Army last spring.

As far as I know, use is spreading rapidly.

Note that Tactical Iraqi *does not* create a linguist or an interpreter; it provides basic language and culture skills.

And I'm not disagreeing on the poor-preparation angle. But you'd commented on training language skills with software.... :)

164:

Cirby: Landrieu declared the state of emergency *Saturday*. Shrub didn't get around to that until, what, Sunday night, Monday? After the storm had hit, anyway. For Ghu's sake, FEMA is supposed to be ready to move as soon as the immediate emergency is over, not three-to-five days later. That's the whole point of the prepositioning of people and supplies: to get in fast and do the immediately necessary stuff (like getting food and water to the victims). When people can get in *on their own*, while the Red Cross is being told 'you can't come in yet', it says that things were totally f*d up and something was seriously wrong in the command chain.

165:

Hi Charlie !
I am sure the last thing on earth you need are suggestions for future novels, but since you brought up the topic (fascination for weapons) maybe you could write about High-tech Black Project weapons like Aurora, X-Ray Lasers casting negative Shadows and all this other stuff the tax payers money is wasted for. Just for a little insight.
I mean we stay in the realm of 'reasonable speculation' or else we could be away to 'Above Top Secret' and their Antigravity Crafts hiding in Groom Lake or wherever.

166:

P.J.:

Once again, that whole "state of emergency" thing isn't something you should get too stuck on. FEMA can (and did - they had a local command post online) start sending people in before a state of emergency is even declared, for that reason, as long as other criteria are met. BUT... other requests have to be made (which, once again, didn't happen because the Governor was too busy screwing up).

...and no, they didn't wait very long, it just takes a couple of days to get a few thousand people and a thousand or so trucks into a disaster area. For one thing, it took about a day to get the bridges all checked out and the roads cleared of debris (someone has to drive to the bridge over trashed roads, inspect it carefully, then get back and tell the rest of the world which routes are safe).

The major westbound Interstate highway into New Orleans was completely destroyed in places, with things like barges dropped right on the road. As I said above, add a thousand or so miles of detour into the equation.

No, you can't really "preposition" people and supplies for things like hurricanes close to the area, since they can't be in the path (or the potential path) of the storm. They become victims instead of rescuers, in that case. The first responders (one more damned time) are the LOCAL people, who have been taking Federal money and getting Federal training in how to deal with this crap. If Louisiana and New Orleans had bothered to even comply with their own plans, most of the real problems wouldn't have happened.

The people who went in solo or in small groups were often completely unprepared and untrained, and some of them got into severe trouble (like Sean Penn almost sinking that bass boat he bought in Houston for his little photo op, and then running out of gas a while later).

When you're bringing in a couple of thousand rescue workers, the FIRST thing you have to do is get advance teams in, with supplies for the rest of the to survive on for the first day or so. You also need tens of thousands of gallons of fuel for trucks and copters, water by the truckload, and to arrange places for the workers to sleep and such. This takes at least a day, even when you're completely ready for things.

The first major part of the FEMA/Federal response started getting into New Orleans about 48 hours after the hurricane was finished. It took about another day for the first busloads of people to start getting evacuated from the Superdome (they had to find and hire buses and get them into New Orleans from over a thousand miles away AFTER they found out that the state and city folks had screwed that pooch, too).

The Red Cross was barred from New Orleans by (again) Governor Blanco's order, by state law officers (who got their authority from that chain of command). Once again, not FEMA's fault.

167:

(I had a big post here, but it seems to have gotten lost, oh, well, maybe it'll turn up)

Landrieu declared the state of emergency *Saturday*

...and, once again (as I mentioned a couple of times above), that's not really the issue.

Issuing a declaration of a state of emergency is the equivalent of writing your name at the top of a test paper.

Unless you then go on and do all of the rest of the stuff you need to do, you still get a zero.

That's what Blanco did.

For Ghu's sake, FEMA is supposed to be ready to move as soon as the immediate emergency is over, not three-to-five days later.

Nope. FEMA's job is to coordinate all of the folks who do the actual work. Due to the differences in size and scope of big disasters, there's no way in hell to be ready for a disaster of any size. What you do is put the structure in place so you can respond in the right fashion AFTER the first responders do their work.

FEMA doesn't "do" that much rescue (those first few days). That's the job of the cops and the firemen and the National Guard and other local groups - all of which are called out by (ta-daa!) local and state governments, not FEMA. There is something called an "Urban Search and Rescue Task Force," which, while deployable by FEMA, is composed of and run by local governments or organizations. There's not that many of them, though - a drop in the bucket compared to normal first responders.

Thee's also DMATs, Disaster Medical Assistance Teams - which are (again) volunteers who get funding and training from FEMA, and who deploy in case of a disaster. There were DMATs on hand at the Superdome before the evacuation even started, by the way.

The second-tier responders are folks like the Red Cross (along with a whole lot of volunteer groups, like churches and other organizations). Those folks, by the way, were already showing up in the first 24 hours in most of the region - except in places like New Orleans, where the state police kept them out in order to "encourage" people to leave the city.

Most of FEMA's actual work comes later, when they start doing their real work, AKA "writing checks and coordinating recovery." Even that, however, is dependent on... guess who (and if you don't put "local and state governments" at the top of the list, you got it wrong).

When you look at the "failure" of the FEMA response to Katrina, don't forget that they seem to have done pretty well in southern Mississippi, where the immediate damage was immensely worse, due to the fact that local and state authorities did what they were supposed to do...

168:

Adrian Smith wrote:

I read one article that mentioned the surprise of some Israeli troops when Hizbollah fighters called out to them in Hebrew, which they had apparently assumed was too difficult for Arabs to learn or something.

That cannot possibly be correct. Not only does Isreal have millions of Arab citizens, most of whom are bilingual in Hebrew, the languages themselves are so similiar that for an Arab outside Israel learning Hebrew is no more difficult than learning another dilaect of colloquial Arabic.

169:

Bruce - "balonium". LOL. I might steal that, it's better than "unobtanium".

170:

That cannot possibly be correct. Not only does Isreal have millions of Arab citizens, most of whom are bilingual in Hebrew, the languages themselves are so similiar that for an Arab outside Israel learning Hebrew is no more difficult than learning another dilaect of colloquial Arabic.

Well, I don't seem to have put the link anywhere sensible, so perhaps I just imagined reading the article, and noting its all-too-plausible implication of casual Israeli contempt for all things Arab.

171:

Would you not say that something like Shades of Grey or other software means of making piracy more difficult might be worth employing by writers and their associations?

Those who try to make a living at this find that voluntary collection doesn't come close to what publishers pay. If publishers can't make money they won't pay authors.

Some of us are a bit concerned about this. Even those of us whom you use as parody figures and whose positions you distort for reasons I am not sure of.

For the record, I have never been in favor of criminal enforcement of laws against intellectual property theft, and I have written with more contempt -- and earlier -- about the RIAA than anything that has appeared here. I do think that sites that offer free copies of other people's works as the attraction to come to that site should be shut down, and there ought to be laws that allow them to be shut down. I do think that people who make money selling my works, either by sellling them or using them to draw eyeballs for advertisements they run, ought to be shut down and there ought to be laws that allow them to be shut down.

If you want to argue against that, do so; but making me a shill for RIAA because you couldn't find anyone else to parody isn't a very respectable thing to do. If you want to refute me, refute what I have said, not some straw man.

Jerry Pournelle

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This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on March 4, 2007 4:07 PM.

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