Thursday, August 6, 2015

Darker Than a Thousand Suns

Hiroshima

Seventy years ago, a nuclear weapon was used against human targets for the first time. Seventy years ago less three days, one was used for - so far - the last time.

The mythology of nuclear weapons and nuclear war is, understandably, much bound up with the element of surreal horror, from stellar temperatures and energies to lingering death from radiation. This is probably as it should be: those things stick in the imagination.

But what really sets atomic bombs apart is not the exotic horrors they release on top of the ordinarily horrific effects of blast and fire, but the mundane fact that nuclear weapons make devastation cheap. Individually they are expensive, but no more than the aircraft and missiles that carry them, and one nuclear-armed delivery vehicle wreaks the havoc that previously called for a thousand.

The good news - again, so far - is that the combination of vivid terror and stark economics has been enough to prevent a third use. It has become harder for elites to retain their illusion of invulnerability. Not only does the bomber usually get through, but if it does, a bomb shelter is unlikely to provide sufficient protection for you, your family, or your assets. These facts seem to be fairly well understood, at a fairly visceral level.

Which is a fairly thin sliver of hope to rest on, but it is the one we have.



The image of the Hiroshima mushroom cloud comes from Atomic Archive.

71 comments:

Katzen said...

Nuclear weapons are what I today consider one of the three "sacred weapons" chemical, biological and nuclear. Anyone of these is almost universally as weapons never to be used, and I'm glad it has stayed that way for decades now.

Nuclear is the only one that scares me, but I personally think that nuclear weapons have actually saved more lives as of now than they killed. It created a limit on how large a conflict any country can have. The images of what a nuclear bomb can do will be forever burned into the collective culture of the world. No World leader no matter how war hungry wants his own cities to turn into a moonscape. Since the end of WWII we see small scale wars, but it has created a long quasi-peace. Not true peace since as the human race I don't believe we can have that, but a peace that does at least keep us from destroying ourselves.

I hope Oppenheimer rests well. His creation that he oversaw might have indeed prevented future world wars, at least for a time.

Eth said...

nuclear weapons have actually saved more lives as of now than they killed

That's an interesting moral point, here. Nuclear weapons indeed avoided the immense bloodbath that a conventional WWIII would have been (and one that may have seen USSR conquering all of Europe, something I am very, very glad never happened). On the other hand, nuclear war almost happened at least three times. And by "almost", I mean "if this one dude had interpreted his orders as he was supposed to" in one case.
So now that the gamble paid off, we can say that it indeed saved more lives that it cost. But was risking more (nuclear war) to gain more (no conventional WWIII) the right choice, morally or pragmatically? Was it avoidable at all? What other courses of action were possible?
All I can say is that it's a good thing it's now an academic question for the historians and alternate-history writers.

Honor Harrignton (I have such a love-hate relationship with this series, that can't be healthy) has an interesting take on this problem, at least at first: yes, any warship worth its salt is a WMD. But using it against ground targets is forbidden by the Space Geneva Convention expy. And it is explicitly said that the only consistent foreign policy of the setting's superpower are "Foreign policy? Meh..." and "If someone, anyone ever violate this treaty - We. Will. Destroy. You."
So even the worst pirate thinks twice before doing that.
Inversely, there are no anti-aerospace ground defences (they would be inefficient anyway), so you won't see ships firing in defence at planets.

With such strongly-enforced conventions (by a combination of basic moral decency, political cost, need to keep resources and/or getting slagged otherwise), we can see major wars happen despite the cheapness of WMDs. It doesn't necessarily means that a planet will surrender once losing orbital control, btw - the invader may have to deploy boots on the ground, covered by "appropriate" orbital weapons. Similarly to the US having to send troops to Afghanistan even after destroying their air power (and being able to slag the entire country, military-wise).

A potentially interesting scenario that comes to mind is Earth and Mars both sending their constellations to the other world but failing to stop the other's, resulting into each controlling the other's orbit with WMD pointed downward. It may turn into a new version of the Cold War with both sides having the capability to slag the other in a moment's notice - but more awkward.

fro1797 said...

Nuclear weapons are a 'genie in a bottle'...everyone is afraid of them, either being used on them or the consequences of using them. Atomic weapons are both the ultimate expression of fire and fear incarnate. Perfect combination for the ultimate deterrent.

Ferrell

Thucydides said...

Alternatively, you can look at the last 70 years as people looking to test the limits of just how far you can actually go without hitting the critical threshold, and finding more and more creative means to "Continue politics by other means".

We certainly have seen large scale conventional conflict on the decline but tactics, techniques and procedures have evolved radically, and I have seen how *our* advantages in conventional warfare have been eroded by insurgency doctrine and the growth of alternative means of conflict (grouped variously under terms such as Hybrid War, Next Generation Warfare, 4GW or Unrestricted Warfare), which apply force in different areas, different directions and at different temporal and physical dimensions (Russian "active measures" can be spread over years to change the will of a population, their leadership and government, while cyberwarfare attacks can be executed in small fractions of a second once the program runs).

Chemical, biological and nuclear weapons will always be threats (and indeed, as the ability to create these sorts of weapons migrated down from nations to eventually "empowered" individuals the threat will actually grow), but warfare and violence will most likely evolve downwards even more, with warfare becoming almost "individualized", if that is a proper term. Pro Russian militias assassinating a particular mayor or police chief change the political situation at a very small and local scale, not "really" enough to evoke a response by the Ukraine military or international community, but done often enough over a long enough period of time can still change the political landscape, even long after the shooting stops. Looking at the Chinese "hack" of personal data of millions of American government employees, the possibility arises that they could selectively target individual Americans with the power of the Chinese State (blackmail, financial incentives, pressure on friends and family, direct action), certainly a far different conception of "war" than previously possible.

War in Space is a popular trope, but still stuck for the most part in a naval war/age of sail sort of dimension. This is way above my pay grade, but as ideas like 4GW or Unrestricted Warfare continue to develop, the idea of constellations of laserstars and supporting ships may be as obsolete as sail driven warships today.

Brett said...

Certain types of nuclear weapon delivery mechanisms are inherently prone to runaway conflicts, especially ICBMs. You either need to build so many ICBMs such that they survive the enemy's first strike and can respond with a credible second strike, or you have to go full-hilt on launching them when it seems like an exchange might be about to happen. That happened about eight times IIRC, and as Eth pointed out this occasionally came down to one man's decision. If Stanislaw Petrov had been more paranoid . . .

Ideally, nuclear weapons would be limited entirely to tactical short-tactical weapons, with limited explosive capabilities (such as a few dozen kilotons or smaller). Small enough so that nobody is wiping out each others' cities in a nuclear exchange, but enough so that any conventional invasion is toast. If that's not possible, then it should be limited to mechanisms that have a built-in delay period and the ability to call them back, like bombers. ICBMs can't be remotely shut down once they're launched.

Some of the developments in conventional weaponry have made nuclear warfare more interesting. The US can destroy ICBM silos with precision conventional nuclear strikes, we're working on defensive mechanisms that can potentially shoot artillery shells out of the sky (never mind missiles), hypersonic missiles, rail guns, and lasers. Warfare could get very strange in the next century.

Elukka said...

I feel like developing large-scale ICBM defenses is the most aggressive and dangerous move possible now. If there's a believable prospect that those defenses will in the future become effective, then the only thing others can do is to start an arms race - build their own defenses, improve their weapons.

Otherwise, if only one party gains defenses they believe are effective (whether they really are matters less) then MAD no longer applies and nuclear war will appear winnable and the prospect of it won't deter conventional war so much. Other dimensions include an incentive to take care of this problem pre-emptively before the defenses come up.

Damien Sullivan said...

Apparently there's professional doubt about the nuclear peace hypothesis; Pinker talks about it in _Better Angels_, though I don't recall the detaisl.

Nyrath said...

Katzen, I am personally more afraid of biological weapons, because they are infinitely scalable.

A single nuclear warhead just devastates one target.

A single test tube full of The Satan Bug could theoretically cause a world-wide pandemic. If you add more people, the weapon will obligingly increase its range of effect to kill them as well.

Brett said...

I wouldn't say they are infinitely scalable. There's a trade-off in diseases between lethality and infectiousness - too lethal and the disease burns itself out quickly after killing most of the people in a localized area. The most infectious and persistent diseases tended to be those that killed a large percentage (but not majority) of those it infects, like Smallpox (around 30% for most Old World folks).

Tony said...

Hmmm...

There is a school of thought -- and a pretty persuasive one -- that nuclear weapons actually give the US an advantage in conventional war. The US has a technological superiority in non-nuclear warfare right now. One way to overcome that edge would be to use nuclear weapons against US forces in the field. Except you can't do that without inviting nuclear retaliation against your own homeland.

This of course presumes that the National Command Authority has the guts to resort to nuclear attack of a homeland in response to a tactical nuclear strike against forces overseas. That's not 100% certain. Imagine the Chinese attacking US carrier task forces on the high seas with nukes. A US president -- any US president, regardless of party or politics -- is going to have to think twice and three times about the implications of attacking even legitimate operational targets (e.g. naval and missile bases) on the Chinese mainland. It might be worthwhile in the very long run to make the point about nukes being strictly strategic weapons for total war. But it's hardly politically justifiable in the immediate situation. Few if any civilians would be killed by an attack against a carrier task force, no matter what the mechanism. A homeland naval base is always within or very near to a large city (because it is an industrial facility, at least in part, if for no other reason). And anti-ship missile sites, given the Chinese talent for always thinking these kinds of things through, will almost certainly be in the vicinity of major coastal cities. Oops.

(BTW, I'm certain that there are people at the Pentagon thinking about these kinds of things seriously. I'm just not sure that they know any better what to do about them.)

WRT nuclear weapons in general, they made the Cold War cold, which is a good thing. But they also made it a very dangerous thing, which is not. Before nukes with intercontinental delivery system -- phenomena close enough together historically to be taken as essentially the same capability -- we couldn't get at the Soviets, and they couldn't get at us. That day had passed by about 1960, and then we were stuck for three decades in a very dangerous box. Which has all been said before. Me too.

I guess we should be happy, in this niche community, that the perceived need for quick and reliable intercontinental delivery of nukes led to large ballistic missiles, a capability that gave us manned space flight, in the first instance, and which still supports it today, in the form of the Soyuz launch vehicle.

Damien Sullivan said...

"the most infectious and persistent diseases tended to be those that killed a large percentage (but not majority) of those it infects, like Smallpox (around 30% for most Old World folks)."

Note that's *after* centuries or millennia of population adaptation. Virgin-field diseases can be much deadlier. HIV is 99+% deadly; yes, it's not very infectious, if it were we wouldn't be having this conversation. Eurasian diseases brought to the Americas could easily kill half the population in a single pass, maybe more; total population reduction has been estimated at 95%.

http://www.sciencemag.org/content/345/6193/125.full
As much as 60% of a newly contacted Nahua population in the Peruvian
Amazon died between 1983 and 1985 from influenza, whooping cough, and
other diseases caught from loggers

And that's 500 years after Columbus, hitting the survivors of previous epidemics.

Avian flu mutations can kill 90% of flocks.

I don't know why something like a hybrid cold-HIV virus would be intrinsically impossible. Nice and infectious with mild symptoms, everyone dies ten years later.

Even a historical single-pass 30% mortality disease would be unprecedented for industrial civilization. Bad enough for agrarian societies; I fear ours could simply fall apart.

Geoffrey S H said...

...and in equally cheery news, the UK media is reporting the discovery by scientists that energy 'loss' by astronomical bodies is faster that previously expected, suggesting a nice early heat death for everyone! Now isn't that lovely?

Geoffrey S H said...

https://theconversation.com/dont-panic-but-the-universe-is-slowly-dying-45779

Locki said...

The thing that strikes me about the quasi-peace nuclear weapons and MAD have enforced is it is all predicated on the axiom that no rational person would use them.

This is a similar rationale Honor Harrington series uses to bring your War in Spaaaaace.

The problem with this thinking is it assumes humans are always acting rationally. Which is a patently absurd notion. If there is a tiny sliver of a chance of a crazy irrational human slipping through the cracks somewhere in the nuclear weapon chain - then given enough time it becomes a near statistical certainty an unintended launch (irrational) will result.

Also nations themselves have a long history of acting irrationally when under economic pressure (Nazi Germany taking on UK, France, SU and USA all at once - ditto for WW2 Japan, revolutionary france and the reign of terror, the cultural revolution etc etc etc).

Even worse the actual soldiers in the control chain for the nuclear weapons may act irrationally. The Germanwings suicide-murder would be one example of a highly qualified and vetted person acting irrationally. More disturbingly was this ex Canadian Air Force colonel with top secret clearance who went completely bonkers on a mass murder-rape spree against his own servicepeople https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russell_Williams

Now for military units like the SSBNs I accept you would need two people to go crazy at the same time. Which reduces the chances somewhat but does not make them zero.

At best it merely reduces the chances of an accidental launch by the square root. Also I note there is a history of charismatic military commanders dragging their whole unit with them into irrational idiocy.

Especially when you factor in nations with less controlled militaries and unstable societies (eg Pakistan, North Korea) I fear it is all but a statistical certainty nuclear weapons will be used again someday.

Sorry about the pessimism on a blog which is inherently optimistic.

Interestingly, as I've learnt more about WW2 my opinion on Nagasaki and Hiroshima has changed to the point where I think their use was justified. And this is coming from someone who almost got into a fist fight taking up the oppposite viewpoint at college.

Tony said...

Interestingly, as I've learnt more about WW2 my opinion on Nagasaki and Hiroshima has changed to the point where I think their use was justified. And this is coming from someone who almost got into a fist fight taking up the oppposite viewpoint at college.

I think the use of atomic bombs was rational and, on balance, probably meets Bentham's criteria for a utilitarian good. I would never, however, use the word "justified". I have said in the past that war is always about a search for justice. And I still think that is true -- every attacker has some concept of justice in which they are right to engage in hostilities, even if the wider world thinks he's crazy. But war is never truly just. Even a belligerent that was attacked, and which did nothing to deserve such an attack, engages in many unjust acts in order to achieve what the wider world might consider an ultimate justice.

So, while I can accept that the atomic bombings were the best thing that could be done, I shy away from talking about them being justified. I can't place necessary evils and justice within the same space.

WRT the problem of rational actors and nukes, it can't have escaped anybody that we're seeing that argument played out right now on the stage of US national politics. Now here's what I think is the unaddressed, and thus unanswered issue: Whatever you believe about Iranian rationality and their good will, there is still an ultimate argument to be made about nuclear proliferation being bad precisely because somebody with a bomb can be an irrational somebody with a bomb. Fewer somebodies with the bomb is also a utilitarian good, even if we can't keep the people who already have it from giving it up. (And, once again speaking of rationality, once you have the bomb, giving it up seems like the ultimate irrational thing to do.) That alone, in a utilitarian sense, may be the best argument for attacking the Iranians. Like right now. Sure thing it's not justice, but it does have the practical advantage of making sure we don't have to worry about their nuclear rationality, or that of any other Middle Eastern state that might get into a nuclear arms race with them. Food for thought.

Elukka said...

The idea of attacking another country, killing who knows how many, possibly ruining it for decades and starting off another seemingly endless circle of misery and failed states that are so prevalent in the Middle East, just to destroy a potential threat seems patently absurd to me. Also deeply unjust and immoral, but you weren't necessarily arguing it wasn't.

It also seems to be an argument for striving to destroy all countries that may possibly be a military threat in the future, which seems to imply all countries should be waging constant war and no room should be given to diplomacy and compromise. Should you kill everyone around you because anyone may be a madman with a weapon?

Thucydides said...

When thinking about nuclear weapons use in space, there seems to be the paradox that while the vast distances would seem to make nuclear weapons more useful, the overall environment really makes them rather less useful.

In the vacuum of space, a nuclear explosion is not coupled to any medium to amplify or transmit the power of the explosion, so even nuclear weapons would need to be virtually on top of a target to get a useful effect, otherwise most of the energy is simply dissipated by the inverse/square law for conventional weapons.

You can get around this to some extent by making nuclear shaped charges, Casaba Howitzers or bomb pumped X-ray lasers to focus the energy of the bomb onto the target, but you are still dealing with a relatively large device that has to be brought to the target by a vehicle or missile bus, so is vulnerable to countermeasures. From a cost effectiveness perspective, you may discover that it is more efficient to fill the sky with our infamous Soda Cans of Death (SCoD) and rely on kinetic energy to destroy the target and saturation to overwhelm defences.

From a defender's point of view, there are multiple advantages. As noted, using a nuclear device means bringing one into range, which is going to be difficult to hide and offers multiple avenues to counter. As well, most practical space habitats and installations need to be heavily shielded against radiation as a matter of course, so you are dealing with an immensely strong armoured target, either buried into the soil of a planet or moon, or covered with a thick envelope of rock, water or engineered materials designed to stop radiation. Finally, assuming the conditions for space settlement and space warfare exist, you will be dealing with habitats and installations which are widely dispersed, so the ability to neutralize them at once is going to be very difficult. Utilizing something as devastating as a nuclear weapon (or for that matter introducing a plague or computer malware) against a habitat or installation will probably arouse a hostile response from multiple other polities in space, and retaliation could be spread out over long periods of time as enemy weapons traverse the distance between habitats or planets, as well as literally through space, as habitats and moons in different orbits will be spread across the Solar System.

They may not all act at once, or even together, but I suspect that they may end up somewhat like the quarrelling Greek City States of the Classical era; prone to bicker amongst themselves but ready to unite against an existential external threat to the extent they are able. (This may even have a historical echo as well; colonies on the Moon and in the Earth's Hill sphere may be "Medised" since they are simply unable to escape the military and economic power of Earth due to their proximity).

So war in space may generally be non nuclear in nature (discounting the energy sources to power ships engines), and may largey consist of economic action, "Active Measures" to persuade populations to support or deny certain courses of action and perhaps Special Operations Forces to slip into hostile habitats and installations to carry out low level sabotage, espionage and assassinations when all else fails.

Tony said...

The idea of attacking another country, killing who knows how many, possibly ruining it for decades and starting off another seemingly endless circle of misery and failed states that are so prevalent in the Middle East, just to destroy a potential threat seems patently absurd to me. Also deeply unjust and immoral, but you weren't necessarily arguing it wasn't.

I wasn't arguing anything. I was illustrating where utilitarianism takes you with nuclear weapons. On the one hand, if you've got the only nukes, then using them to stop a war only makes sense. And by that I mean moral sense, in a utilitarian world. On the other hand, since we know nukes are so bad, then killing a few thousands or tens of thousands to disarm an emerging nuclear state may seem moral, compared to the increased statistical likelihood of hundreds of thousands or millions of deaths if that (or any other extra nuclear states) turns out to be irrational.

It also seems to be an argument for striving to destroy all countries that may possibly be a military threat in the future, which seems to imply all countries should be waging constant war and no room should be given to diplomacy and compromise. Should you kill everyone around you because anyone may be a madman with a weapon?

In appropriate analogy -- the correct one would be making sure that nobody gets a gun that doesn't already have one. There's always somebody -- or several somebodies -- strong enough to restrain a madman before he can do much damage with his fists. But that same madman with a gun can do just too much damage before he can be stopped. One might, applying utilitarian rules, rationally think that when you discover somebody assembling the parts of a gun, it would be prudent to slap him around a little, or even break some bones to take those parts away from him.

Once again, I'm not arguing or advocating anything. I'm just following utilitarian logic where it naturally goes when there's an apparent choice between allowing a dangerous threat to exist, or preempting it.

Enemy said...

@Elukka: You are saying that we should not be developing countermeasures against ICBMs and the like- and I say, that we have already developed such things. Shooting down a ICBM warhead is no more difficult than shooting down a artillery round- and look at all the systems that can do that. Israel with their Iron Dome, us with our CIWS/anti-artillery version of the same (Just the Gatling on a trailer, radar aimed.)

We were shooting down simulated ICBMs with skin hits all the way back with the Atlas Zeus rockets. Heck, the Patriot missile is able to be used against ICBMs, if you hook it to the proper radar. The problem with ICBMs, is that they come in on a ballistic trajectory by their very nature, thus, if you have any sort of track for their trajectory, they are predictable, and you can just throw anything up in the way to ruin them. As a matter of fact, once you have a air defense system that can reliably shoot down something like a SR-71 (Mach 3 cruise at high altitude) you have a extremely effective anti-ballistic missile system, because at the base of it, aircraft are harder to shoot down than ballistic missiles. It is not a matter of aggression or not, but how long are we going to restrict our own systems to fit a treaty that was not very well thought out, or written, rather than any limits of technology.

Eth said...

Enemy:
Shooting down a ICBM warhead is no more difficult than shooting down a artillery round- and look at all the systems that can do that.

Yes it is, and by far. An ICBM's reentry vehicle is going at about 8 km/s (give and take one or two). That's more than mach 20. Add to that multiple independent reentry vehicles and you have to shoot them all down, and they are busy with decoys and ECCM ; what you have here is a very, very hard to stop weapon. I doubt anyone would count on Patriots as serious ICBM defence today.
It is also pretty hard to shoot down while in space, because it's going really fast (so you need a really fast and precise interceptor), and you have only a few minutes, at best a few dozen minutes, to react and target it.
It is generally considered that the only moment when an ICBM is vulnerable is during the initial boosting phase, when it's still a relatively big and slow vehicle at reasonably low altitude. But then, if you were in such position to shoot at it, you probably wouldn't have to in the first place.

It is technologically possible to build ICBM counter-measures. Dedicated interceptor rockets, for example - possibly nuclear-tipped to be more certain to get it, particularly as a last-ditch effort to wipe all its MIRVs out at once (it would still be less damaging for you than taking the hit) if you didn't manage to shoot it down in space.
Or laser satellite. the Soviet Union was actually developing one when it fell (note that it couldn't have attacked ground targets), though the prototype crashed in the atmosphere during ascent due to a bug, and the project was cancelled afterwards. Gorbachev was opposed to it, seeing it as too aggressive and wanted to put scarce funds elsewhere.

And for good reason: if you have ICBM counters, then the enemy's ICBMs aren't a threat anymore, and you can bomb them to oblivion without fear of retaliation. Meaning that they actually have incentives to bomb you to oblivion before you can complete them, or develop their own defences and then both sides are free to duke it out conventionally, with swarms of tanks and jets.
There actually were treatises forbidding anti-ICBM defences, actually, precisely because of that.

This is why you have the Chinese busy developing anti-ship ballistic missiles. An Exocet can wreck a ship, sure, but your carrier group does have some pretty good chances to shoot it down. A mach-20 ballistic missile, on the other hand, will probably wreck your carrier, escort or not.

Tony said...

"...and they are busy with decoys and ECCM"

It's an open secret that with the fidelity of today's sensors and the amount of processing power available, decoy type penetration aids don't work. If they're not exactly the same mass, size, and aerodynamic shape as a warhead, they behave differently in a detectable way, even at altitudes of several hundred kilometers. And if your decoy has to be the same mass, size, and shape as your warhead, it might as well be a warhead.

WRT to ECM (not ECCM), spoofing a phased array detection or battle management radar is not something that can be put on a warhead carrying missile. One could of course dedicate a missile or two to jamming, but one would have to launch those first, so that detection radars are degraded during the boost phase of the warhead carrying missiles. Things get kind of strategically problematic at this point, since jamming a launch detection and tracking system would be kind of an invitation for immediate counterattack...

Tony said...

This is why you have the Chinese busy developing anti-ship ballistic missiles. An Exocet can wreck a ship, sure, but your carrier group does have some pretty good chances to shoot it down. A mach-20 ballistic missile, on the other hand, will probably wreck your carrier, escort or not.

How do they locate a carrier battle group in near enough real time to target it with a ballistic missile? I'm not saying it can't be done. But doing so is just about as hard as detecting and intercepting a ballistic missile attack in the first place.

Eth said...

(Woops, ECM indeed. I don't know what happened there...)

I was specifically referring to the last phase, when the reentry vehicles are in the atmosphere and about to hit their target. Sending decoy ballistic missiles is indeed impractical unless rockets become massively cheaper (the nuclear warhead would be the limiting factor), which won't probably happen anytime soon. By "decoys", I mean chaff & cie, probably like the kind you see on a plane.
For example, the warhead of the Russian Topol-M (SS-27) has decoys, and obviously can make evasive manoeuvres. It is supposed to have other counter-measures, whether they fall into ECM or not I can't tell, but given we can cram those on a fighter jet, I would be surprised if there weren't some on a warhead.
In fact, the Topol-M is specifically advertised to pierce all US existing and planed missile defences. Whether it is an exaggeration or not, displaying such confidence (and expecting to be taken seriously), it shows that ICBM interception is hard.
(Note that the Topol-M has a single warhead, but there is apparently a modified version with MIRVs called the RS-24 Yars).

How do they locate a carrier battle group in near enough real time to target it with a ballistic missile? I'm not saying it can't be done. But doing so is just about as hard as detecting and intercepting a ballistic missile attack in the first place.

Right now, they would have a hard time, as their capabilities to detect and track a carrier group, in the few thousands of km of the missile's range(*), are still lacking. They are working on it, though, for example by building more and newer maritime surveillance/radar planes, and more generally building a maritime surveillance network.
What they would need is someone (let's say, a long-range radar plane) to keep track of the carrier once detected, and guide the missile mid-course - a bit like the recently upgraded Tomahawk missile is now fit for anti-ship duty - until the missile itself can target the ship.
The carrier group can escape by spoofing or evading tracking (or shooting the plane down), as with other weapons. But if this fails, it will make for a hard projectile to stop, particularly with saturation attacks.

I'm not certain how it would be as hard as detecting and intercepting an ICBM: the carrier is slower, less manoeuvrable, bigger and with way more time to target and fire at it. Or did I misunderstand what you meant?

(*)This is shorter than ICBM range, but it doesn't change much for the reentry vehicle. They probably wouldn't develop intercontinental(/transoceanic?) anti-ship missiles anytime soon, because of the targeting problem.

Thucydides said...

Attacking a carrier battle group with a ballistic missile is more of a day after tomorrow technology, since issues like locating the battle group in real time and effectively transmitting this to the missile have not been completely worked out yet. And of course, warfare is more like a dance, even as we speak there are various efforts underway to render a ballistic missile attack vs a carrier battle group ineffective.

Based on more general readings and experience, it seems that in many circles, the focus in now moving towards persuading opponents not to fight in the first place. Russian "New Generation" Warfare doctrine, Chinese "Unrestricted Warfare" doctrine and what in Western circles is called 4GW are all based around the principle of attacking the enemy will on all levels, and while destroying a multi billion dollar aircraft carrier would most certainly effect the will of the United States, it is uncertain in effect (if Americans react the way they did to Pearl Harbour, then the effect is negative for the attacker). Persuading people to protest in the streets against the deployment of the carrier in the first place is far more cost effective, and while it may not have an immediate effect (the USN might set sail anyway), it will also be planting seeds of doubt in the minds of politicians, who might become very adverse to committing to actions which might expose the battle group to danger. And using Unrestricted Warfare as an example, attacking financial markets using trading and arbitrage against the enemy economy, or using the vast trove of information collected against US government employees to pressure them to cooperate, or using the information to destroy their personal finances, reputation or have their security clearances revoked is not only capable of paralyzing the United States, it might not even be recognized as a hostile action at first (and effective counter responses generally do not include carrier battle groups as the only tool in the kit bag).

In terms of actual physical effects, this goes right back to the discussion of how to defeat RBoD's: swarm them with thousands of inexpensive SCoDs. Even without networking and cooperative swarming between the various weapons in a deployed "flock", sheer numbers can overwhelm virtually any defensive system (even if you simply make the enemy expend all ammunition or fuel for the laser generators), and of course adding "intelligence" to the incoming swarm of weapons will make the job of the defender exponentially more difficult. Of course giving up old tools is only sensible if there is no more reason to use them, but having WMD still available is another means of sowing fear and doubt into the minds of real and potential opponents.

Tony said...

Eth:

Once again, it is thought buy people that I trust that 21st Century sensors and computers can resolve and discard an penetration aid that isn't almost exactly the same mass, size, and configuration of a real warhead. Now his may be speculation or wishful thinking, but with high enough sensor resolution and enough data processing power, there's no fundamental reason that the subtle differences in trajectory couldn't be detected.

WRT this:

"I'm not certain how it would be as hard as detecting and intercepting an ICBM: the carrier is slower, less manoeuvrable, bigger and with way more time to target and fire at it. Or did I misunderstand what you meant?"

Of course I was speaking in terms of overall degree of difficulty, not one-for-one correspondence in tactical factors.

Additionally, how hard do you think it really is to detect and intercept a terminal phase MRBM warhead? It's 24 years now since Patriot kinda-sorta demonstrated such a capability. I think current fleet defense missiles might be capable.

Tony said...

Please, please, please, can we forget about all of these sill-ass theories of war that are nothing more than sales talk?

Eth said...

Thucydides:
Attacking a carrier battle group with a ballistic missile is more of a day after tomorrow technology, since issues like locating the battle group in real time and effectively transmitting this to the missile have not been completely worked out yet.

Technically, there is nothing preventing it. Terminal guidance can be precise enough, there are ways to communicate with a re-entry vehicle (using the plasma sheet as antenna is studied, for example) and there are already cruise missiles re-targeted in real time.
Whether they already perfected it is anyone's guess. After all, whether their system is already that good or not, it's not as if we would find out in the next few years (not before they get their surveillance network at least), so they have time to perfect/fix it anyway.

And of course, warfare is more like a dance, even as we speak there are various efforts underway to render a ballistic missile attack vs a carrier battle group ineffective.

Certainly there are, but what would be cost-effective? Let's not forget that missiles are way, way cheaper than carrier battlegroups, so we are talking about saturation attacks, not lone missiles. What kinds of defences could work well enough to be reasonably sure to stop all of them?

Tony:
Once again, it is thought buy people that I trust that 21st Century sensors and computers can resolve and discard an penetration aid that isn't almost exactly the same mass, size, and configuration of a real warhead. Now his may be speculation or wishful thinking, but with high enough sensor resolution and enough data processing power, there's no fundamental reason that the subtle differences in trajectory couldn't be detected.

Maybe you're right, but frankly I don't see that working. Assuming raw computing power is enough (which I'm not certain of given how hard on hardware fluid dynamics can be, but could accept), you still have a very uncooperative target that is not only manoeuvring hard but also doing its best to blind and spoof enemy sensors.
In space, I can see the advantage for the defender: you can see it arrive for a comparatively long time, it has limited manoeuvring capabilities and there is nothing but what it brings - but here atmosphere is a pretty huge factor, not only in terms of possible movement (and without those pesky exhaust plumes) but also to hinder sensors enough that it can't be accurately modelled.

Additionally, how hard do you think it really is to detect and intercept a terminal phase MRBM warhead? It's 24 years now since Patriot kinda-sorta demonstrated such a capability. I think current fleet defense missiles might be capable.

I suppose you are referring to Patriots intercepting Scuds.
(We can ignore the initial failures, as they had to rework an anti-aircraft missile into an anti-missile one.)
Those Scud-B were glorified V2. Stopping a modern ballistic missile would probably be at least as different as spoofing a Redeye or a Stinger.

Eth said...

these sill-ass theories of war that are nothing more than sales talk

But this is kind of the point, actually. As Tucidydes said, no-one wants a big war, so they're showing off to try and deter the other side(s) off.

The US say "we have hundreds of bases all around the world, ballistic missiles, as well as submarines and planes (if I mean when they work; if we have enough of them) that will hit you before you know they were here. Don't provoke us."
China says "We can blow a carrier battle group away (as soon as we can see them. Which is very soon. Uh, very soonish.) Get out of our lawn."
Russia says "Well, good old nuclear deterrence: don't fix what ain't broke. (What can go wrong?) So be careful with us. (Oh hi China! Didn't see you there...)"
And so on...

No-one actually expects a big war. And while Russia will probably never engage in strategic nuclear warfare unless something goes very, very wrong, China and the US could theoretically get themselves in an unfortunate escalation leading to war neither side wanted.
For example, China is starting to use drones to asses what they claim is their airspace above the Senkaku Islands.
That's a problem with the Japanese: with fighters on both sides, one can show up and tell (or sign) the other to go away. It happens from time to time in varied places (like around Russia), and rarely leads to any serious incident. That's all a game about maintaining conflicting claims and testing the other side's readiness level.

The problem with drones is that they have a very bad field of view, so fighters have a hard time forcing them to go away - they have a hard time to be physically seen by the drone. As a result, a drone could blissfully ignore the plane and continue its patrol. And after all, the drone pilot has more to fear from his superior right next door than a plane half a sea away, contrary to a fighter pilot. (And said superior doesn't have to fear loosing one of his men.)
Now, the Japanese have a choice: either they let the drone go and reinforce China's claim, or shoot it down.
Now, if China gets their drone shot down, they can either let it slide and appear weak (and weaken their claim) or respond by a show of force - that has a chance to see some more shots in anger, which can easily turn into an open confrontation. And once that begins, it may be too late to back down and turn into a serious war.

Is that probable? Clearly not. Is it possible? Absolutely.
Sure, both sides have too much to loose, but literally the same was said to prove that an European war was impossible in 1913, and the same again during the Cold War before the repeated near-Armageddon were heard of. But then again, it did hold, and the Concert of Europe did hold for a century.
Which means it's great stuff for a near-future political/military fiction. I've heard there are some pretty good books are using it. Let's just hope they are self-preventing prophecies.

(And personally I would expect them to break the Internet and world finance even before serious military action.)

Thucydides said...

I'm sure Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping or the various leaders of the Jihadi movements are happy when people dismiss their activities as "sales talk". The demonstrated effectiveness in places like Georgia, Crimea, Iraq and Ukraine would suggest otherwise. Much of China's activities in the last decade are meant to demonstrate they are a global Great Power again, capable of building a chain of naval bases across the Indian Ocean, building and announcing advanced weapons or showing up off the coast of the United States with a naval task force (just recently near Alaska).

Colonel Thomas X. Hammes book "The Sling and the Stone" has many interesting case studies, but you can even see the evolution of these ideas in books like "The Transformation of War" by Martin Van Creveld or "War in the Shadows" by Robert B. Asprey.

Since the modalities of warfare have expanded drastically (no one seems to dispute the threat of cyberwar or terrorism, for example), we will see all kinds of strange and unexpected means of forcing the enemy to bow to our will. In the Western world, warfare is considered "the extension of politics by other means", and Col Hammes sums it up thusly:

"Fourth Generation Warfare uses all available networks - political,economic, social and military- to convince the enemy's political decision makers that their strategic goals are either unachievable or too costly for the perceived benefit"

So if we are talking about war in space, I would see that attacking the enemy will would be vitally important, both to preserve the expensive and fragile biomes that people live in (and discourage attacks on your own biomes), and to minimize the expenses needed to actually have a functioning military force which might need years to simply deploy to targets across the solar system.

Geoffrey S H said...

Its been quiet here, so I thought I would introduce a small thought I had today. one of Henry V's warships was discovered this week, the 'Holygost' (Holy Ghost). It had small numbers of cannons, and some iron spears thrown from the 'castles' that could penetrate any armour. I found myself thinking about how both hard and soft sf authors have included historical analogies such as viking longships, ships of the line and even roman galleys into their future settings (though the only galley analogy has been in the ultra soft warhammer setting admittedly).

i don't think medieval carrocks and cogs have been done much though. How could one translate them and other medieval aspects translate into a (reasonably hard) opera sf setting? battle of Slueys Quicklime clouds being changed into shrapnel clouds for example?

Tony said...

Eth:

WRT discriminating warheads from decoys, CFD has nothing to do with it. You're trying to detect trajectory differences caused by differences in density between warheads and inflated decoys. Also possibly detecting differences in IR signature. That's way more about sensor sensitivity than computing power.

WRT MRBMs and "modern" ballistic missiles, the big physical difference is reentry velocity. But it seems like we've got SM-3 to cope with that. The possibility of penetration aids and terminal maneuvering does exist, but -- just like a lot of things that have been sensationalized about Chinese capabilities -- well, you know...

Tony said...

4GW and Unrestricted Warfare are yesterday's news (by about 15 years). Putin is just filling up power vacuums that appear within his plausible sphere of influence. The Chinese could certainly try to be a big fish in a small pond, and dare us to do something about it, but I'm not holding my breath. If their actions get intolerable, well, force majeure still works. There's just a higher threshold to its use nowadays.

Tony said...

WRT historical warship types in space opera, one has to satisfy the condition of a fairly closely analogous operational environment. So, for a carrack equivalent, one would have to posit an environment where merchant ships doing part time duty as military vessels could be effective, and where close combat (even if just in the space opera sense) was desirable.

Well, I'm just not seeing that. There was a very real set of reasons why warships became specialized, and I seriously doubt we're going back on that. Also, when a ship's drive -- especially at operatic levels of power -- makes such a good weapon at close range, it doesn't seem like close range combat would ever be a great idea.

Sorry, but them's the breaks.

Geoffrey S H said...

Many medieval warships were specialised, or were built for fighting first and cargo second. The Holygost is a prime example of specialisation.
Re: modern hybrid warships. There are some astronautix examples of scientific craft with considered military varients (Salyut/Almaz being the example on Astronautix). Bulking up a force with missile armed cargo craft does not seem too foolish if one just needs missile numbers increased. Your spinal railgun ships/ laserstars would be the specialized craft.


May I ask you to define 'close combat'? I'm not thinking of people sword fighting on the heat radiators (is that what you meant by 'space opera sense?), more just a combination of long range spinal mounts and some short range turrets/micro-missiles on struts/astronaughts leaning out hatches with guided bazookas (every gram counts! Use your existing crew as turrets and purchase off the shelf bazookas to save on r&d etc)/whatever to fill the approaching craft's approach with shrapnel to force them to dodge into the path of the next guided spinal round.

Lastly, you yourself stated you thought missions for the forseeable future would involve highly hetergenous spacecraft types being used. That does not clash with the hetergeneity of medieval tonnages and ship types within a fleet.

I'm sorry, but I don't see how its completely unworkable. Hard perhaps, and even an opera setting might be difficult to justify over a long period of time. But in a short setting, with some of the realistic elements found in places like astronautics, it might serve as a 'transition stage' in the setting as more suitable craft are developed.

Ironically I was thinking less of the function and more of the aesthetics when I first put the post, and I wasn't entirely clear on that, my apologies. I was picturing hardpoints- 'fighting platforms' at the top and near-bottom of a craft, either for small missiles or a turret, or for cargo if your craft has to moonlight as a freighter (as you have hammered into us time and time again, spacecraft are a costly form of transport due to service costs, make money where you can).
I even took some material from what has been discussed here before (an ion engine for long distance journeying, and a high acceleration rocket for battle maneuvering, bolted onto the same military spacecraft), and realized it was similar to the current understanding of war galleys in the medieval period as outlined by N Roger- sails for long distance travels, and oars for maneuvering. 'Ion Galley' anyone?

I understand that some analogies would not work, but it doesn't seem unduly unworkable in this context.

fro1797 said...

How about a freighter with a "cargo" of combat drones and an upgraded sensor/fire control suite that is used as a convoy escort? It would look like a civilian craft, drive flare included, right up until it launches a flock of little weapons platforms to shoot at you and your own shots.

Ferrell

Tony said...

Many medieval warships were specialised, or were built for fighting first and cargo second. The Holygost is a prime example of specialisation.

Actually, it's not. Holigost was a very large carrack, and it was purposed for war, but it was still just a carrack. A specialised warship would be a Mediterranean war galley.

Re: modern hybrid warships. There are some astronautix examples of scientific craft with considered military varients (Salyut/Almaz being the example on Astronautix).

Almaz was always a military reconnaissance platform. The Salyut name and advertised missions were a cover story.

Bulking up a force with missile armed cargo craft does not seem too foolish if one just needs missile numbers increased. Your spinal railgun ships/ laserstars would be the specialized craft.

First of all, I don't think single massive gun ships would ever work.

Missile armed cargo ships? What about target acquisition, discrimination, and assignment? That's why you can't just bolt a bunch of JDAMs on a 747.

May I ask you to define 'close combat'? I'm not thinking of people sword fighting on the heat radiators (is that what you meant by 'space opera sense?), more just a combination of long range spinal mounts and some short range turrets/micro-missiles on struts/astronaughts leaning out hatches with guided bazookas (every gram counts! Use your existing crew as turrets and purchase off the shelf bazookas to save on r&d etc)/whatever to fill the approaching craft's approach with shrapnel to force them to dodge into the path of the next guided spinal round.

What I meant by "space opera sense" was within human eyeball visual range. Since I don't think that would ever really happen with space opera levels of energy available, the rest is just nonsense.

Lastly, you yourself stated you thought missions for the forseeable future would involve highly hetergenous spacecraft types being used. That does not clash with the hetergeneity of medieval tonnages and ship types within a fleet.

When I think of space opera -- even a "reasonably hard" space opera -- I'm not thinking of anything like the foreseeable future. I'm thinking of torchships.

I'm sorry, but I don't see how its completely unworkable. Hard perhaps, and even an opera setting might be difficult to justify over a long period of time. But in a short setting, with some of the realistic elements found in places like astronautics, it might serve as a 'transition stage' in the setting as more suitable craft are developed.

Just not buying it. There are very good reasons military ships have to be specialized. Unspecialized ships with non-professional crews just couldn't compete.

I even took some material from what has been discussed here before (an ion engine for long distance journeying, and a high acceleration rocket for battle maneuvering, bolted onto the same military spacecraft), and realized it was similar to the current understanding of war galleys in the medieval period as outlined by N Roger- sails for long distance travels, and oars for maneuvering. 'Ion Galley' anyone?

Mediterranean war galleys used wind to augment oars, when the wind was with them, but AFAIK they still used oars all of the time.

Tony said...

Ferrell:

How about a freighter with a "cargo" of combat drones and an upgraded sensor/fire control suite that is used as a convoy escort? It would look like a civilian craft, drive flare included, right up until it launches a flock of little weapons platforms to shoot at you and your own shots.

Repurposed commercial hulls, like whalers turned into corvettes in WW2, work when the potential attacker has certain vulnerabilities, like u-boats. If you go back in the history of convoying, you'll find that convoys had to be escorted by real warships, because they were attacked by real warships.

But in a larger sense the convoy premise probably doesn't apply in space, because convoys are only rational when the enemy can attack by surprise. That's probably not a realistic situation in space.

fro1797 said...

Or if only one side has armed spacecraft...just because you can see them coming for weeks, doesn't mean you can do anything about it.

Ferrell

Tony said...

If you can see them coming for weeks, you can launch interceptors.

Eth said...

They may not arrive on time, though.

Tony said...

With operatic amounts of resources, it should be obvious that a power could establish interceptor bases in covering orbits, so that no enemy could get to shipping en-route before an interceptor could intervene.

fro1797 said...

And the enemy would also be able to put bases in similar orbits...An escort would go a long ways to deter attacks in the first place.

Ferrell

Jim Baerg said...

I'm not sure I mentioned this blog
http://planetplanet.net/
before on RPM.

It is by someone involved research on the formation of solar systems & has lots of fodder for SF world builders.

See also my recent comment on the
http://www.rocketpunk-manifesto.com/2010/04/forbidden-planet.html
post for a link in that blog relevant to venus.

Geoffrey S H said...

I give up. Everytime I try to contribute something its meagre, even after 6 years of learning from here and elsewhere. Even the history related stuff, which I sunk a lot of money into with uni courses, is worthless. A learnig experience is useless if nothing comes out of it.

I'm sorry I bothered you. I should never have wasted anyone's time. I won't post on here again.

Tony said...

fro1797:

And the enemy would also be able to put bases in similar orbits...An escort would go a long ways to deter attacks in the first place.

We have to remember a couple of things here:

1. Resources, even when they are operatic in nature, are finite. The enemy can only accomplish so much.

2. Convoying is highly resource inefficient. You're basically putting a sufficient defensive force at every point that could be attacked, when only one out of every five or ten defensive points actually do get attacked. Now that's a necessary evil in the nautical environment, where the enemy can appear from over the horizon or from below at a moment's notice. In space? Not so much.

Now, if we want to look at the strategic picture -- and opportunities for storytelling -- it seems that enemy outposts and forced threatening trade might be the first targets in an opening gambit of a war. It also seems likely that such facilities and forces would be high priority targets. One might imagine a very destructive attrition campaign (on both sides) against enemy forces capable of attacking commerce accompanying the opening moves of a war.

Tony said...

Geoffrey S H:

I give up. Everytime I try to contribute something its meagre, even after 6 years of learning from here and elsewhere. Even the history related stuff, which I sunk a lot of money into with uni courses, is worthless. A learnig experience is useless if nothing comes out of it.

I'm sorry I bothered you. I should never have wasted anyone's time. I won't post on here again.


Hmmmm...I apologize for calling some of what you said "nonsense". But it still was kind of irrelevant if we expect professional military forces, equipped with highly developed military technologies, to be involved.

In any case, if you're still reading, there are some very simple steps you can take to avoid feeling "meagre", at least about military topics:

1. If you read it in a science fiction novel or story not written by a military veteran, and it has to do with warfare, it's almost certainly wrong.

2. Don't rely on what they taught you in university. Academic historians are almost always wrong about war and military technology.

3. Assume as an absolute bedrock starting point for every notion, that things in real life are always much harder than they would seem at first blush. If you can't find it (or a very close analog) in history, it's not because it hasn't been seriously considered, probably hundreds of times. It's because there's something in real life that makes it inadvisable. Take a few hours to research the subject and find out what that thing is, and whether or not it would apply in space, either in the PMF or in an operatic setting.

And that's about it. In short, be skeptical of authorities without considerable military experience, and take care to broaden and deepen your personal knowledge of the subject.

But giving up is never the answer.

Damien Sullivan said...

And Tony drives away another commenter!

Tony said...

Truth be told, you drove me off for a while once, a few years ago. The only difference is that (if Geoffrey is truly gone) I'm not going to tell myself "good riddance".

Locki said...

A reuseable rocket lands vertically! (commercially funded no less).

Liquid water discovered on Mars?

And no posts or comments from one of my favourite sci-fi blogs on the topic?

These are two of the most extraordinary events we have seen in space exploration in years. I'd love to hear people's thoughts

Eth said...

A tiny run of extremely ephemeral, hard to purify water on Mars, so it's not Canals 2: Rising Tide. But there is water ice if humans do go long term there. And who knows, if there is some subterranean water on a semi-regular basis, maybe something of the primitive life that could have appeared when Mars was a nicer place could have survived...
So yeah, that's a big deal.
And kudos to NASA's PR team for the timing, let's hope it will give them a bit more of the budget they need.

I don't like Bezos. I don't like Amazon. At all. But we have to recognize the guy's and company's talents, and that can only be good for the space industry - either with a new strong player, or at least with added motivations for the giants to move faster!
Let's remember that it was a sounding rocket, not an orbiter. A reusable first stage for an orbiter is a harder proposition, so SpaceX still have the lead there, IMHO.
I still think the Adeline team got the best solution so far (though whether the rest of Arianespace can actually use it at its full potential remains to be seen - it's a big, slow company), but then again I have an exaggerated fondness for European aerospace. (Now if this Sabre thingy actually works, I'll take the exaggerated back.)

Also, as far as the first episode goes, the Expanse looks great. It also looks pretty close to the book, and the hardest high-SF I've since in a show since... since ever, in fact. Magical torch drives, fantastic heat sinks (and lack of radiators) and conspicuous lack of visible fuel tanks, but meh, even 2001 didn't have those last two.
Damn it, I hate to watch a show (or at least a season) that is not over instead of taking it at my own pace.
Though I do have a minor problem with the books, where obvious solutions to problems somehow take hours or days for the characters to figure out. Mark Watney they aren't...

And I really, really wish this is actually the beginning of a Golden Age of hard-SF on the screen.

Eth said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Locki said...

I don't like Musk, I don't like Bezos, I don't like Amazon and I don't much like Tesla either. I find their hubris and social media image insulting to the dedicated engineers and scientists who came before them.

But I'm still amazed they landed that rocket vertically. Maybe they are finally learning to walk the walk.

Liquid water on Mars is fascinating from my point of view because it raises the tantalising prospect of "proving' life beyond earth within our lifetime.

I know its a bit odd for a rocketpunk blog but the whole idea of manned spaceflight has lost its lustre for me. I'm finding the discoveries of our robots much more fascinating from a science point of view. The contributions of Hubble, Cassini-Hyugens, New Horizons, the upcoming James Webb telescope and a myriad of other satellites and probes has providing a treasure-trove of information that will keep our scientists busy for decades.

In comparison I can't think of anything really concrete the ISS has contributed. Even the moon landings, whilst a magnificent feat and one of the USA's finest achievements, really didn't contribute anything a good probe wouldn't have. All that money to prove the moon was mostly silicone and almost certainly had a giant impact terrestrial origin.

Thom S said...

"And Tony drives away another commenter!"

Luckily, for every one who falls three more will take his place :)

"I know its a bit odd for a rocketpunk blog but the whole idea of manned spaceflight has lost its lustre for me. I'm finding the discoveries of our robots much more fascinating from a science point of view. The contributions of Hubble, Cassini-Hyugens, New Horizons, the upcoming James Webb telescope and a myriad of other satellites and probes has providing a treasure-trove of information that will keep our scientists busy for decades.

In comparison I can't think of anything really concrete the ISS has contributed. Even the moon landings, whilst a magnificent feat and one of the USA's finest achievements, really didn't contribute anything a good probe wouldn't have. All that money to prove the moon was mostly silicone and almost certainly had a giant impact terrestrial origin."

Just to add to this, I think it has become very apparent that people just aren't well built for space travel. With improvements in robotics and the prospect that we'll have a lot more control over biology* in the next century than we do now, it may seem almost hilariously anachronistic to talk about "manned" spaceflight at all - a bit like imagining cars that inexplicably have a horse shoved in somewhere.


*Not to mention the fact that the two seriously begin to bleed into each other at some point.

Thom S said...

Since it's been a while (read: years) since I last commented, can I mention that the post system here seems very... uh... "retro", now that I've gotten used to having a full text editing panel when I post.

Are there plans to update/migrate? Or should I relearn HTML tags?

fro1797 said...

If there is enough water on Mars for there to be subsurface flows, there should be enough to support a large, permanent outpost. The technology of tail-sitter rockets is cool and I hope it works out. Anything to reduce costs in rocketry is good. As far as robots vs people goes in planetary exploration, robots tend to lead to new robots to do more experiments that the scientists have discovered they need to do. If a scientist were on site, then they wouldn't have to wait years, or decades to do the next experiment, and would be able to follow more leads with the data they find. Plus, they could do research that robots aren't equipped to do. That would be one reason to build a permanently manned base on Mars and the other worlds.

Ferrell

Thom S said...

The fact that it is an order of magnitude cheaper to send a robot makes this argument a bit moot, unfortunately.

Just to give you an idea of the scale of the disparity here, a manned mission to mars is projected to cost something like $100 - 500 billion. Curiosity, on the other hand, was costed at $2.5 billion once all was said and done.

This means that, for a single flags-and-footprints mission, you could launch between 40 and 200 rovers (a veritable fleet!) to do science on the red planet.

fro1797 said...

Well, if cost were the only factor, I'd agree with you, but we have to deal with politicians and their motives are like plastic sacks blowing in the wind...

So maybe there is hope; if some of these privately funded missions have even modest success, (or even the appearance of success), then maybe a large scale manned exploration of Mars might happen. I'm not going to hold my breath, but stranger things have happened.

Ferrell

Locki said...

I bet you the real scientists are praying day and night for a carpet bombing run on Mars, Europa and Enceladus and a gallery of space based telescopes (IR and visible wavelength) instead of one futile manned mission to Mars that has a 10% chance of ending in catastrophic failure.

A manned mission to Mars has nothing to do with science and everything to do with ego.

As we get used to robots and unmanned systems in our own society (drones, reapers, self driving cars, robot aged care helpers etc etc etc) my guess is a future generation will view our desire to personally send some dude to Mars (he'll be driving around in a "robotic" rover anyway) as a quaint curiosity of a similar magnitude as trying to build a cannon to shoot some poor SOB to the Moon.

Eth said...

I've just found a new, very compelling argument for colonizing the Solar System (and in particular the myriad independent objects of the Belt and further) as fast as possible - and ideally the stars beyond that:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lHcTKWiZ8sI

This may be the most terrifying thing I've seen from this century. I don't know about you, but I sure as hell don't like the idea of sharing a (globalized) world with a great power doing that. On today's Earth, efficient ideas are emulated.

fro1797 said...

Eth...that was a 21 century update to "1984"...in the real world...I'm with you, let's move to Mars...I'll gladly grow pumpkins in a dome...

Ferrell

Thom S said...

I've already hashed this out with folks elsewhere, but the sesame credit system is (according to the Chinese folk participating) not much more than a credit rating system at this point. Said Chinese folk were also very upset with Extra Credits for making numerous errors and omissions in that piece.

What spooks me is the fact that it seems to take no evil government plotting whatsoever for this sort of control to be exerted on people. I mean, my medical aid scheme now does insurance and banking as well, while my bank has gotten into telecoms. All of them, in turn, share the same credit rating services across the banking, insurance, medical aid and telecoms sectors. Going even further, my medical aid now tracks your shopping patterns using a gamified system ("opt-in", of course), then feed the results into your risk profile.

Meaning that my life is potentially being monitored on a minute level by a bunch of entities which all have the means and incentive to exert strong social control via my credit rating, insurance premiums and so on. As such, the day is now upon us where an assessor or algorithm hidden inside the vast network of interlinked and interoperated companies notices my age, spending habits, medical history and so on and then preemptively blows up my credit access/insurance premiums/health care because I've been labelled a liability.

And the worst of it is that, unlike a large government system of control, I won't have any form of recourse whatsoever. I won't even have enough information to work out what I've been blacklisted for - because all the data and algorithms will be proprietary; hidden behind a maze of legal contracts and intellectual property. I'll just suddenly be unable to get loans at non-usurious rates, afford healthcare or use a phone.

This scenario, frankly, scares me a lot more than anything an intrusive state could dream up.

fro1797 said...

Thom S; you're right, that is scary...and worse than '1984'.21 century serfs won't be tied to the land, but their credit scores.

Ferrell

Eth said...

Thom S, do you have some more complete sources on the Sesame Credit system? I'd be very interested to learn more on the subject.

You are right to be afraid from uncaring, abusive megacorps, though I do feel that a centralised government is even more dangerous in that regard, as its functions extend to more of a citizen's life. But then again, Scilla or Charybdis (if not 'and')...

Thom S said...

This is actually from the private section of a forum, but I feel that the author would be okay with reposting it here. The discussion was being conducted by picking apart long arguments, so I've cut it into comment/response segments for clarity.

Warning: salty language ahead...

A:
And the BBC report was a hoax as well?

B:
Considering the amount of shit they got wrong, including using alot of "facts" that happened to first appear from EC? Yeah, truly reliable. I forgot Eastern media does nothing but post lies and propaganda but western media would never do such a thing, thank you.

A:
That is pretty much par for the course when it comes to the Chinese government.

B:
Yeah, the Chinese government has done many questionable things regarding human rights and social issues over the years, this doesn't mean that literally every poorly researched automatically gets accepted as truth, sorry to tell you.

A:
Anyways, you know as well as I do that the PRC is almost alien in the way that they do things.

B:
Yeah, it turns out when the worlds 2 super powers tend to fuck with you constantly for decades over the dumbest shit or constantly backstab you, you tend to become a bit distrusting of outside influence, not exactly shocking.

A:
The level of oppression that they face on a daily basis (well, what they wouldn't see as oppression) is mind blowing.

B:
"What they wouldn't see as oppression" are you FUCKING KIDDING ME? have you ever been to China? Please do and actually talk to some of the locals before making such fucking statements, Jesus Christ.

A:
Hell, I once had a 30 minute argument with a Chinese exchange student who kept yelling at me that the 1989 incident was all a hoax put on by the western media

B:
Oh, you spoke to 1 exchange student, that clears everything up, Let me pull out Anecdotes of all the people I've met who believe 9/11 was a government inside job, that the moon landing was a hoax, that JFK was killed by the CIA, that Kent State was intentionally done to suppress the Anti Vietnam movement, that FEMA is planning death camps for us all, that the Waco Siege and Fire were lit by the FBI, and that DIA is the secret headquarters of the Illuminati and then present this as evidence as this is what every American believes.

A:
Social ostracization is common, individuality is discouraged like a motherfucker (although this is hardly unique to China),

B:
I guess all the Chinese citizens I've met with very different and unique personalities and interests were just the robotic ones then.

A:
and you constantly hear about bloggers/whoever on social media being punished severely for the most ridiculous things.

B:
I never said China didn't commit human rights violations, but it makes them an easy target to just make shit up about them.

Thom S said...

A:
And you see the Sesame Credit system as a hoax, despite its existence and mandatory enrollment? This is the country that pays people to post government propaganda crap on the internet.

B:
Despite It's existence as only with Alibaba for their own use with Tencent being interested, the fact Extra Credit lied about it being linked to the government and the Central bank of China approving it (they never actually did, it was proposed but nothings come of it), and the fact that all of 0.08% of the population are actually enrolled with Alibaba's credit score? Yeah, but yeah I forgot, it's the PRC, So I should just instantly discount all of that because I'm not capable of free thought and need to mindlessly hate on Russia and China like everyone else in the west does no matter the context. But hey, considering the west is fucking retarded enough to believe that 500 people died from a failed Long March 2 launch based solely on the words on an Israeli visitor who never even spoke to anyone at the area and only did a brief driveby of evactuated buildings in the area as evidence for his claim, but just said "YEAH, THAT MANY PEOPLE TOTES DIED, JUST TRUST ME BECAUSE THEY'RE LYING!" even after genuine evidence such as population growth figurers after the accident and population for the area at the time (which was remote as fuck) flat out proved his claims were complete and utter bullshit, So I guess I'm used to this level of cognitive dissonance from western media who hypocritically make fun of eastern media, yeah, Chinese media lies, Western media does it too, the difference is the motivation, in the case of the west it's because fucking with the truth sells better, not exactly a good reason to trust them without question.

Thom S said...

A:

Alright, let's take a look at a wonderful article by Zheping Huang (a graduate from the University of Hong Kong with a master's degree in journalism).

http://qz.com/519737...and-mine-sucks/

According to Huang, who writes with a great amount of tongue-in-cheek humor and seems to have a grasp on internet trends in the east and west, these scores are popping up all over the internet. Citizens of the PRC are now actively sharing photos of their scores on social media (but not facebook, because facebook is evil according to China as you well know).

According to Huang, the score:
•Is maintained partially by an Alibaba-affiliated company that also runs Alipay
•Ant Financial claims that it evaluates one’s purchasing and spending habits in order to derive a figure that shows how creditworthy someone is
•Passing numerical benchmarks entitles one to certain perks, like small loans or waivers on deposits
•The Author's score is quite low
•There are financial incentives and other rewards for a higher score

Ant Financial told the publication that Sesame Credit is intended to incorporate online and offline data to generate credit scores.

Five things factor into your score:

The first category takes into account purchases made using Alipay, and looks at purchasing volume

The second category involves personal information, like one’s job. Entering information results in a higher score.

The third and fourth categories measure timely payments on bills and credit cards, respectively.

The fifth: when more friends join Sesame Credit, your score will go up.

This lays the foundation for a terrifying social system as outlined by numerous sources. And of course, the system does become mandatory in 2020. And mind you, "Sesame Credit’s release in January followed a government directive last summer calling for the establishment of a “social credit system.”

You can see the translated government document here titled "Planning Outline for the Construction of a Social Credit System (2014-2020)".

In one of the first paragraphs it says:

"...its inherent requirements are establishing the idea of an sincerity culture, and carrying forward sincerity and traditional virtues, it uses encouragement to keep trust and constraints against breaking trust as incentive mechanisms, and its objective is raising the honest mentality..."

So, forgive me for referencing this government document/solicitation for exactly what the youtube video laid out.

Mind you a little farther down it says:

"(3) Guiding ideology and target principles.

...ensure that sincerity and trustworthiness become conscious norms of action among all the people."

You can read all of this for yourself, and I would suggest you do so (because it is very goddamn scary). It is noteworthy to point out that other goals laid out are

(2) Strengthen the construction of a sincerity culture.

(1) Build mechanisms to incentivise trust-keeping and punish trust-breaking.

Now according to Rogier Creemer, who researches Chinese law and media at the University of Oxford “The government wants to build a platform that leverages things like big data, mobile internet, and cloud computing to measure and evaluate different levels of people’s lives in order to create a gamified nudging for people to behave better. In China, we know that will happen in finance, but the documents also include things like your driving record, and also your professional evaluation, like how good a lawyer your customers think you are.”

So do you honestly not see that Sesame Credit could in fact be exactly what the video presents it to be? Because in the government solicitation that calls for the creation of such a system, it clearly lays that out.

Thom S said...

B:

What in the actual fuck? did you just ignore everything I wrote? I even admitted there was a proposal from the Central bank (which would require government approval/basically is the government proposal) and it hasn't gone anywhere.

If anything, that article basically confirms what I've already said on the topic, which is that A. It's not mandatory to enroll, most of the population isn't, he signed up just to see what it was for Christ's sake and what he'd get with his financial background (read: financial) "entitled" him to. B. there currently is no connection to the Central Bank/Government, we're not speaking of proposals or ideas, the original topic I posted about was that extra credit was full of shit saying all of this was mandatory and fully implemented, and that they were full of shit as usual (and have been on several other occasions, pretty ironic people have no issue when these dipshits lie but the second you point out they are infact lying you get accused as a "defender of the lying eastern media!") and C. by extension, as of now, only Alibaba and Tencent more recently, with some random, much smaller 3rd party businesses are using it currently.

For the love of god, It's like you're intentionally trying to put words in my mouth here.

Oh, don't worry, the Benevolent US government would never make such a program for use on their own population and the rest of the wo....

PRISM_logo.png

......Oh.

But at least it's a good thing that, unlike those dirty Chinamen who just sit there and be oppressed, US citizens fought against what's perhaps the most Orwellian tool ever created in our day and age and didn't just sit back bitching about it on the internet for a few days then doing a 180 and calling Snowden an unpatriotic traitor who should be hung for high Treason! Western citizens are so much more willful and individualized, how could I forget?

Thom S said...

On a final note, this article was also mentioned as a more balanced counterpoint:

https://www.techinasia.com/china-citizen-scores-credit-system-orwellian

fro1797 said...

Here's a new topic for you, Rick: building a space infrastructure to support a mission to Proxama b...
Ferrell

Matter Beam said...

Hi!

I've started a blog with a similar premise to this one, called ToughSF.

Some regular commentors from here have started to pop up in my posts. We discuss mostly the same things as here. I'm inviting the rest of you to come over!

Toughsf.blogspot.com

Rick said...

Believe it or not ... a new post:

Trantor: the Big Town

http://www.rocketpunk-manifesto.com/2017/01/trantor-big-town.html