ZSST! BOOM! BA!
Four years ago (1998) I was refining the content of one of the chapters of my book, Destiny, which was published early in 1999, to include better examples of woeful human ignorance. The addition concerned the gross stupidity of India and Pakistan in their development and testing of nuclear weapons. At that time I berated them for, among other things, having no forward vision, as I was aware the USA already had laser weaponry capable of destroying ballistic missiles. A few days ago I read a small newspaper article that finally announced our capability to destroy both ballistic missiles and conventional high explosive projectiles (armor piercing shells, etc.).
I have referenced the article below, and credit goes the "The News Journal©," a Wilmington, DE newspaper owned by Gannett, Inc. They, in turn, got the article, written by one Andrew Bridges, from the Associated Press®. If you read the article from the perspective of one used to dissembling by government for "security" purposes, you will perceive that the admitted capability and the future plans address technologies and implementations already in place, albeit in full scale prototype form in some instances. Indeed, I recall a small newspaper article in 1999 telling residents of a western state that the light beams they might notice in the sky were of a military testing origin, i.e., aircraft to aircraft lasers, and not the presence of UFOís.
Due to size considerations implicit in storing a picture in a Microsoft Word document, the newspaper article is not included within this article, but is instead sent to readers as an accompanying file, named zsst.jpg. Please reference that file and read the newspaper article before proceeding.
Once you take some time to absorb the implications of laser technology on future military and other defense and offense scenarios, you may find yourself wondering if we have just been "teleported" into some science fiction movie of the "Star Trek" variety. The short answer is, YES, we have. Much like the musings of thinkers after the final Los Alamos experiment/test with the atomic bomb in 1945, you will find yourself and many others commenting on yet another release of a deadly genie from a technology bottle.
I specifically recall a conversation with a few of my college classmates back in 1962, after the announcement of the first successful laser. It was a weak little laboratory curiosity. At that time I exhaled a sigh of relief and informed my friends that the answer to our fears of thermonuclear destruction via ballistic missiles and aircraft had just been handwritten on the wall. As is so typical among competitive young people, I was berated for having a too active imagination, as anyone could see lasers were too weak to use in any military application! Ah, the shortsightedness of even students in the physical sciences, not to mention ordinary folks, was and likely still is appalling.
Any student of history who takes the time to note the lapse between a laboratory discovery and commercial or military implementation of the discovered phenomena will note that twenty years is about average. We have, of course, been using lasers commercially for more than twenty years of the forty years that have elapsed since discovery, and that includes industrial lasers of high power used for high precision metal and other substance cutting. Was not the evolution to military application obvious?
Some of you "oldsters" may recall the 1950ís movie "War of the Worlds," first presented as a radio show back in the 1930ís Ö in which the Martians had destructive light beam generators on their spaceships. Then there was Gene Roddenberry and the 1960ís television series, Star Trek, which introduced us to "Phasers." Then in the late 1970ís we had "Star Wars," as our latest "beamed destruction" movie entertainment.
Isnít it funny that our 1980ís president, Ronald Reagan, began our new federal military technology development program, unofficially titled, "Star Wars!" Three primary areas of research within that program were lasers, inductive linear accelerators and particle beams. To my knowledge, the only area of the three studied that did not bear fruit was particle beams, for today we have artillery that uses no conventional explosives for initial propulsion. Yes, the new propulsion technology is the linear accelerator.
Since Iím mixing historical fiction with current facts, I may as well dredge up one more memory of a fictional attack story that was published in Playboy® magazine sometime in the 1960ís or 1970ís (it wasnít worth remembering the title, author or exact publication date). An African dictator was "blinded" during a speech from some distance away, and the perpetrator used a laser. The only reason I bother to mention the story is to connect the reality of lasers today, and especially in our future, with silly legislation related to ballistic fingerprinting of rifles and handguns. That useless citizen control stupidity comes on the heels of the recent sniper attacks in the metropolitan Washington, DC area, and is yet one more placebo from your government that presumes to protect you. Serious assassins of the future will not be using old technology, will they? I guess weíll have to find a way to fingerprint lasers.
So much for history, fantasy and "before the fact" projections of reality. I believe all of us have some thinking to do now about the future impact of defensive and offensive lasers. They are no longer plausibly deniable, as evidenced by the recent newspaper announcement. What we need to consider now is the time lapse between today and that future time when possession of laser weapons will be common in many countries. We also need to consider future "delivery" mechanisms for older nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction. Given additional development time of perhaps five years, we can expect pulse lasers of the present to be replaced with continuous discharge lasers of even higher power, capable of penetrating armor. In short, when a change as profound as military lasers becomes reality, all prior strategic and tactical beliefs and plans relevant to older weapon and delivery systems get trashed. This is no small issue.
Oh, you might think I forgot about our stealth technology. Is it not true that our stealth fighters, cruise missiles and bombers will remain safe from military lasers, whose present capture and lock-on systems appear to rely on radar? Well, lets consider the strategic future of radar. In an earlier time, i.e., before radar, the human ear and eye were used to detect first the pending presence of aircraft via sound and second the specific location of aircraft via a visual process I will call, "where the sky isnít." Today, horizon to horizon magnetic field anomaly detection is the analogue. The perturbation of any measurable field effect, magnetic or otherwise, done in a very rapid scan sequence, indicates precise information about the location and direction of any apparent anomaly. Sure, some of my musings here are not implemented yet, necessarily here or elsewhere in the world, but let us remember research continues and we are not the only game in town. And if our atomic secrets can be stolen, how long will our real or potential enemies lack stealth aircraft or anomaly detection systems other than radar?
Letís look at the development time lapse issue. Note that laser weapons do not have any special component that will be hard to manufacture, e.g. nuclear weapons required the ability to convert uranium ore into fissionable material, which was and is a complicated process, whereas laser technology is more akin to latest developments in electronics and optics. Our Japanese friends, if they could get even a small amount of "secret" information, could be cranking out killing lasers of many varieties within about two years! So could the North Koreans, etc.
You might remember the somewhat recent case of theft of nuclear weapon secrets by a federal employee who was of Chinese origin Ö and that he delivered the stolen information to the Peoples Republic of China. You might then also realize how fast China has developed both major megaton nuclear weapons and the missile delivery systems that can send them here. What about the preservation of secrecy regarding laser weapons?
Will we be able to secure the details so as to preserve our strategic advantage? I think not. Even in a tight security environment, let us recall two problem areas. First, many scientific discoveries in history occurred more than once in the same time frame in different geographic locations. Second, loss of only one weapon in, for instance, an airplane crash, vastly shortens the time frame for others to copy the applied technology. This leads to the future state where our satellites and space stations become sitting targets for earth based lasers operated by our enemies, and lets be realistic, no space station can be defended against an earth based station, unless, of course, "Scotty" can put lots of power into our "shields!" Does, uh, anyone out there know anything about shields?
Do we now have an offensive capability that has no corresponding and practical defense? Perhaps we can have heavy armor in space and have our military lasers duck behind the armor between shots! Alas, I see no analogue for our communication satellites. With a recycle time of about four seconds, during which new targets can be acquired, a few enemy ground-based laser installations could destroy our entire communications satellite network, commercial and military, in about two minutes for one "side" of the Earth. Thus, selective destruction could first blind us re defensive response, and then systematically eliminate those above Earth communication systems that are non-military.
Warfare in a laser environment is over very soon after it starts, with definitive results for one side or the other. Just play an old video game like "Defenders" and you will understand the timeframe issue. Also, consider that ground-based laser installations can be built to protect the site from space-based lasers except during the "firing" interval.
Wattage of ground-based laser installations can and will be vastly higher than that of the space-based installations, as it is basically simple to provide vast power from underground nuclear power generation facilities. This means that the strength of the laser "firepower" will be overwhelmingly in favor of ground-based installations, such that there is literally no contest of consequence. Lasers, like atomic weapons, are and will be ideal for the technology/engineering escalation game as we move forward in time.
If lasers can be used to knock out cruise missiles, as indicated in the newspaper article, then our entire fleet of military aircraft becomes utterly useless, especially with the advent of field anomaly detection systems. Gone are the days of thinking that we can produce a superior bomber or fighter jet that can penetrate enemy defenses. What we have is a pending graveyard of very expensive and destructive flying toys. What we may witness is the rebirth of tanks and ships that, by design, can be armored so heavily that even a laser may be ineffective or at least slow in its capability to destroy the armored vehicle. Given advanced communications, the location firing the laser at a tank can become a target of yet a different laser. And so it goes, on and on, ad nauseum!
Thus we proceed to the consideration that faced the USA when the first atomic bombs were used Ö that of assuring that our enemies would never get a strategic advantage that would undermine our military superiority. We knew that the Soviets would have nuclear weapons within a relatively short timeframe. And most of you will easily recall now the escalation race with the Soviets in acquiring more and better nuclear weapons and delivery systems from 1945 through the 1980ís. It seems, therefore, that if we wish not to repeat history as it played out re nuclear weapons, that the only sure path is to deny any potential enemy country the ability to have laser weaponry. By now, you must understand that we achieve that state only by total physical domination of all other countries, which is, in a word, sick.
Our present intimidation of Iraq re nuclear weapons and UN inspections may be a template for the future for limiting weapons for all countries that are not major military powers today. On one hand, this approach could be very good, provided the UN Security Council and General Assembly gain vastly increased power. Unfortunately, the USA is publicly proclaiming its intent to attack Iraq without UN approval if the pending inspections do not occur according to our wants. Ultimately, the world is in major trouble if one or two countries, by virtue of military might, are permitted to dictate terms to all other countries. Our lasers are now yet one more strategic advantage that we are and will be using to enforce our will, but who will keep us fair and honest? Yes, absolute power does corrupt absolutely. Simply consider what life would be like if our police were not held responsible for their methods of maintaining peace.
Some days it just doesnít seem to make sense to be a taxpayer! Of the trillions spent for strategic defensive and offensive weapon systems, from 1940 to the present, what do we have to show our taxpayers and other world citizens that would engender trust and hope? Have we any reason to believe that the massive military drain on our tax revenues will ever stop, so as to allow improved use of those tax revenues for internal national infrastructure, education, HealthCare, etc.?
Unfortunately, if we stand back and look at the real problem, which is our human tendency to endlessly repeat the worst of history, we quickly realize that no military weapon system will "help" us. We must, as I so strongly indicated in Destiny, change humans, esp. the human brain via genetic engineering. It is only through equal and vastly superior mental capability that we will one day put away our unintelligent behaviors regarding dominance and war and grow up.
Now lets look at the "bright" side of the laser issues. First, lasers do not leave nasty residues like nuclear waste. We simply have targeted and contained fires, meltdown, etc. Death by laser will be amazingly quick, perhaps with a brief few seconds of pain. We might even replace lethal injections as our preferred method of killing death row prisoners Ö wouldnít it be more fun to "zap" them into oblivion? Just think of the entertainment value of televised laser executions!
I am, as you can readily see, not very happy with the implications I identified in this article. I too need some more time to think about our future in the face of laser weaponry. And I hope, with little optimism, that our "leaders" have considered a great many more implications than me in this cursory and preliminary article. I wonder if they have reasonable and actionable answers?
ZSST! BOOM! BA! No, that isnít a football cheer.