Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Struck Out by Too Much Tech

I've been bothered for some time that the U.S. military is becoming so dependent on not just GPS -- you've got to believe it's easily jammed or satellites destroyed -- but by high-tech weaponry overall.  Is it safe to have only a few super-capable aircraft or ships or missiles which can be taken out in either a first-strike or by overwhelming low-tech?   

Arthur Clarke wrote a sci-fi story with this idea in 1948,  where one side put all their cards on one fancy weapon which ultimately didn't work, and they were defeated.  The story is "Superiority", in his collection, "The Nine Billion Names of God", but available online here  http://www.mayofamily.com/RLM/txt_Clarke_Superiority.html.  Ironically, the story involves a Professor Norden, which is a veiled reference to the Norden bombsight which vastly improved the accuracy of our bombing in WWII.  Likewise, GPS improves the accuracy of our bombing today.

It is certainly true that high-tech gives a helluva an advantage when it works --but in a protracted war against a major adversary (or adversaries) it may get depleted very quickly.  There's still a lot to be said for sheer numbers.

The problem isn't just GPS guided bombs or missiles -- consider the new fad, UAVs.  Effective, yes, when your enemy is 7th century barbarians, but what if someone more sophisticated jams them? Then what do you do? EMP or radiation will take out the electronics pretty easy.

Submarines don't use GPS, but we're now on the verge of converting all our sub-based nuclear ballistic missiles to plain old bombs, on the premise that GPS makes them accurate enough to take out a hardened silo.  Uh-huh. Even if the GPS works, there isn't very much explosive power you can lob 12,000 miles across the planet from a submarine.  I've got to believe that a hardened silo designed to resist a 200kiloton nuclear warhead inside a radius of 100 yards isn't going to be terribly affected by a 5000 lb conventional explosive.  Assuming GPS still works for a such an accurate counterstrike -- not.

Even if you keep the nukes on our subs, technology is advancing so much, it's hard to keep missile boats hidden these days (the seabed is getting cluttered with sensors), and at any one time, 1/3 of our subs are in port.  Bombers?  A measily 20 B2s. Based at Whiteman, Guam, maybe Diego Garcia.  Don't quite remember.  A few bases. And 94 B52's at bases hither and thither (Grand Forks, Minot, etc).

The first strike problem is one reason I'm so against depleting our nuclear stockpile as Obama is now doing.

Consider the math:  You've got 14 Trident subs (288 SLBMs),  20 B2 bombers, 94 B52s (1083 warheads all bombers, but B1's are no longer used for nukes), 488 ICBMs on land (50 year old Minuteman III's). Say, 5 of those subs are in port at one time.  Realistically, assume a first strike takes out all the bombers and the subs in port.  Easy pickings. But even if all the bombers on alert aren't taken out, you've got to believe a lot of the B52s won't ever reach a target -- they're so damned slow, big and visible.  (Even during the Cold War, 1/3 of bombers were typically in maintenance, and only 1/3 on alert -- I know, I spent 4 years on SAC bases, and I remember when we scrambled for the '73 Arab-Israeli conflict, DEFCON 3.)

As a really bad case, suppose the Chinese and Russians have tracked our subs at sea and they've taken them all out in the same strike. So we're down to 488 ICBMs on land -- that's it.  How many of those will be taken out in a first strike?  Guessing -- probably 2/3 (you have to allow for failures in the enemy's own systems).  The Russians or Chinese would have GPS before the action starts.  That makes most of their missiles very accurate.

So that leaves us with 160 missiles. Single warhead missiles, cause the Lefties wouldn't let us have MIRV.  How many of those work when we launch?  Let's say, 2/3.  108 missiles.  How many hit their targets?  Let's so 2/3 of those.  72.  What military targets are you going after?  Too many.  There will still be a lot left over, and let's be real -- nukes aren't as destructive as you've been told.  The radius of total destruction goes down roughly as a 5th power of the radius.   The world won't have ended (that was all part of  KGB psyops to promote nuclear non-proliferation treaties), and there will be plenty of enemy left.

This is all very pessimistic, to be sure, but even then, it assumes Obama or whoever will order the launch of what survives.  I can easily imagine Obama deciding against launching anythign.  We can't attack the enemy!  All the innocent civilian lives that will be lost.  Etc.  Probably to get the Congressional Medal of Courageous Restraint for the Cowardly Lion.

So a total arsenal of 5400 nuclear weapons can go away very quickly in a first strike. To almost zero.  And then you're down to more primitive weapons.   War then gets ugly very quickly.  Hang onto your musket. 

Think about all this while you follow Obama's nuclear disarmament talks.  And remember, his chief negotiator, Rose Gottemueller (some kind of Russian mole -- http://robbservations.blogspot.com/2009/04/next-phase-in-obamas-rush-towards.html) also wants to eliminate those conventional SLBMs for Trident.

By the way, as a really sour note, I think we're on a collision course with another world war very soon.  Obama is almost guaranteeing it.  I make no hard predictions of timing.  But clearly there are forces trying to provoke something right now on the premise that Obama won't do anything.


Glitch shows how much US military relies on GPS

Jun 1, 8:55 AM (ET)


DENVER (AP) - A problem that rendered as many as 10,000 U.S. military GPS receivers useless for days is a warning to safeguard a system that enemies would love to disrupt, a defense expert says.

The Air Force has not said how many weapons, planes or other systems were affected or whether any were in use in Iraq or Afghanistan. But the problem, blamed on incompatible software, highlights the military's reliance on the Global Positioning System and the need to protect technology that has become essential for protecting troops, tracking vehicles and targeting weapons.

"Everything that moves uses it," said John Pike, director of Globalsecurity.org, which tracks military and homeland security news. "It is so central to the American style of war that you just couldn't leave home without it."

The problem occurred when new software was installed in ground control systems for GPS satellites on Jan. 11, the Air Force said.

Officials said between 8,000 at 10,000 receivers could have been affected, out of more than 800,000 in use across the military.

In a series of e-mails to The Associated Press, the Air Force initially blamed a contractor for defective software in the affected receivers but later said it was a compatibility issue rather than a defect. The Air Force didn't immediately respond to a request for clarification.

The Air Force said it hadn't tested the affected receivers before installing the new software in the ground control system.

One program still in development was interrupted but no weapon systems already in use were grounded as a result of the problem, the Air Force said. The Air Force said some applications with the balky receivers suffered no problems from the temporary GPS loss.

An Air Force document said the Navy's X-47B, a jet-powered, carrier-based drone under development, was interrupted by the glitch. Air Force officials would not comment beyond that on what systems were affected.

Navy spokeswoman Jamie Cosgrove confirmed the X-47B's receivers were affected but said it caused no program delays.

At least 100 U.S. defense systems rely on GPS, including aircraft, ships, armored vehicles, bombs and artillery shells.

Because GPS makes weapons more accurate, the military needs fewer warheads and fewer personnel to take out targets. But a leaner, GPS-dependent military becomes dangerously vulnerable if the technology is knocked out.

James Lewis, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the glitch was a warning "in the context where people are every day trying to figure out how to disrupt GPS."

The Air Force said it took less than two weeks for the military to identify the cause and begin devising and installing a temporary fix. It did not say how long it took to install the temporary fix everywhere it was needed, but said a permanent fix is being distributed.

All the affected receivers were manufactured by a division of Trimble Navigation Limited of Sunnyvale, Calif., according to the Air Force. The military said it ran tests on some types of receivers before it upgraded ground control systems with the new software in January, but the tests didn't include the receivers that had problems.

The Air Force said it traced the problem to the Trimble receivers' software. Trimble said it had no problems when it tested the receivers, using Air Force specifications, before the ground-control system software was updated.

Civilian receivers use different signals and had no problems.

Defense industry consultant James Hasik said it's not shocking some receivers weren't tested. GPS started as a military system in the 1970s but has exploded into a huge commercial market, and that's where most innovation takes place.

"It's hard to track everything," said Hasik, co-author of "The Precision Revolution: GPS and the Future of Aerial Warfare."

The Air Force said it's acquiring more test receivers for a broader sample of military and civilian models and developing longer and more thorough tests for military receivers to avoid a repeat of the January problem.

The Air Force said the software upgrade was to accommodate a new generation of GPS satellites, called Block IIF. The first of the 12 new satellites was launched from a Delta 4 rocket Thursday after several delays.

In addition to various GPS guided weapons systems, the Army often issues GPS units to squads of soldiers on patrol in Iraq and Afghanistan. In some cases a team of two or three soldiers is issued a receiver so they can track their location using signals from a constellation of 24 satellites.

Space and Missile Systems Center spokesman Joe Davidson said in an e-mail to The Associated Press that the system is safe from hackers or enemy attack.

"We are extremely confident in the safety and security of the GPS system from enemy attack," he said, noting that control rooms are on secure military bases and communications are heavily encrypted.

"Since GPS' inception, there has never been a breach of GPS," Davidson said. He added that Air Force is developing a new generation of encrypted military receivers for stronger protection.

The military also has tried to limit the potential for human error by making the GPS control system highly automated, Davidson said.

GPS satellites orbit about 12,000 miles above Earth, making them hard to reach with space weapons, said Hasik, the defense industry consultant. And if the GPS master control station at Schriever Air Force Base, Colo., were knocked out, a backup station at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., could step in.

Iraq tried jamming GPS signals during the 2003 U.S. invasion, but the U.S. took out the jammer with a GPS-guided bomb, Hasik said.

The technology needed to jam GPS signals is beyond the reach of groups like the Taliban and most Third World nations, Hasik said. Jamming is difficult over anything but a small area.

"The harder you try to mess with it, the more energy you need. And the more energy you use, the easier it is for me to find your jammer," Hasik said.

More worrisome, Hasik said, is the potential for an accident within U.S. ranks that can produce anything from an errant bomb to sending troops or weaponry on the wrong course.

In 2001, a GPS-guided bomb dropped by a Navy F-18 missed its target by a mile and landed in a residential neighborhood of Kabul, possibly killing four people. The military said wrong coordinates had been entered into the targeting system.

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