23 November 2014

FWS Topics: Orbital Bombardment

FINALLY! FWS is updated! It has been said that outer space is the ultimate high ground for military engagements, and if we examine orbital space-based weapon platforms seen in sci-fi, it seems that our future will include orbital space as a future battleground. Currently, orbital space is used by military organizations and intelligence services for all manner of satellites that watch and listen. But, could orbital space be militarized? Could we have orbital artillery as predicted by science fiction and the cancelled SDI program? In this blogpost of FWS, we will be discussing orbital artillery and orbital bombardment.

The Outer Space Treaty of 1967 and Space-Based Weaponry
The idea of the militarization of outer space was a real fear in the heady days of the Space Race between the USA and USSR. The Soviets had put up military space stations and a few of them were armed with an 23mm cannon. There was also worry that the arms race would continue into the void of outer space with orbital nuclear missile platforms. In 1967, the United Nations passed the Outer Space Treaty that established legal frameworks on the ownership of celestial bodies, like Luna and Mars. One of the elements of the treaty was preventing orbital weapon platforms that bore nuclear weapons and othe r WMDs. This treaty shaped the research on orbital weapon systems.

The Types of Orbital Artillery

Directed Energy
One of the most common type of orbital bombardment/artillery is directed energy beams that can be used more like knife than an club or even a shower of directed energy death-laser-beams that tear through the planetary surface. Shooting freaking laser beams on the surface of Luna is much easier than shooting them down to Earth or Mars, due to the atmosphere. Any military-grade lethal DE beam would have to be powerful enough to punch through the atmosphere and hit the target with enough energy to be lethal. It is unlikely that lasers will be the orbital DEW system of choice, instead, it is likely that particle beam DEWs would fulfill that role. The use of DE is common in science fiction "kill satellites" as seen in works like Akira.

Kinetic Projectiles or "Rods from God"

Unlike orbiting nuclear weapons, kinetic projectiles are legal under the 1967 Outer Space Treaty (as well as space-based lasers) and instead of those dirty nuclear weapons, these rods from god are able to delivery some serious punch without the nasty after effects of nukes. If we examine the USAF's proposed  kinetic bombardment system, these six meter long tungsten rods impacted the surface of the Earth with the road going at MACH 10 (7,700 MPH). The impact of the rob was equal to between 10 and 120 tons of TNT, less than the 2,000 tons of TNT that the Fat Man and Little Boy Atomic bombs produced when dropped on Japan. Unlike long-range bombers like the B-52 and B-1, the tungsten rods at able to reach their Earth-based target at between 10-15 minutes, and are extremely difficult to intercept like ICBMs or bombers. While this form of orbital artillery is not as effective as nuclear weapons, they can be used in more of combat supporting role and even pre-invasion artillery softening up operations, along with being a effective "bunker buster" system. The data for this section, comes from the Game Theory video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rx5XyspHldk  

Reentry Vehicle
On current ICBMs, re-entry vehicles are used to delivery the nuclear payload safety through the atmosphere and blow the holy jesus out of your enemy. This could be another way to delivery orbital artillery rather than kinetic rods, especially at longer ranges than just orbital space. Reentry vehicles could also pack more countermeasures than just speed to defend themselves. While the RV would be good method of delivering nuclear weapons and other WMDs, they would make for a poor orbital artillery method.
Controlled Meteors
From the Centauri mass driver bombardment of Narn to the Fithp "foot" being shot into the Indian Ocean by rocket motors, meteors have been an excellent form of orbital bombardment, and the oldest...after all, humans are only around due to an meteor strike. Some science fiction works, like Babylon 5 and Starblazers space fleets use controlled meteors and asteroids as a form of orbital bombardment. However, this comes with certain risks...any space rock too big, and you could completely wipe out all life on the planet along with the ecosystem...unless that is your goal, then have at it, and bombing into extinction!

The Dangers of Orbital Artillery/Bombardment
There is nothing more devastating to soldiers than when supporting artillery from field guns to CAS goes wrong. Despite the advancement in battlefield technology, artillery fire can go horribly wrong, and your own forces pay the price. That is the danger today, and that will be a danger tomorrow. Even in video games, nothing is worse than calling down a strike and it wiping out friendly forces. If and when orbital based weaponry becomes a reality, the risk of troops calling down artillery could go horribly wrong, and given the power of rods-from-god, a miscalculation by the director, and an entire city or taskforce could be wiped out. Then there is another risk: overuse. Some orbital bombardment systems have been projected in science fiction as pinpoint laser DE beams able to slice-and-dice enemy tanks and infantry formations. However, the reality is that kinetic bombardment systems would be very powerful, and their overuse or misuse could bring about massive destruction and even nuclear winter conditions. This applies more so to the use of asteroids and meteors as a form of kinetic bombardment, too much and you ruin the planetary ecosystem, and affect global climate change.

Defense Against Orbital Weapon Platforms
Oddly, most military organizations and weapons manufacturers have already put weapon systems into place to counter satellites and the possibility of orbital based weapon platforms. The anti-satellite missile that can be deployed from strike fighters like the American F-15 Eagle, or land based launcher systems, or even submarines/naval vessels. These kinetic-kill warheads are fitted to small multi-stage rockets have proven effective against satellites, and could be effective against orbital weapons platforms as well. While an orbital weapon system could be camouflaged as something else, the moment it began firing, the game would be up, and ASAT weapon systems would be utilized. Of course, one way around this could be the assumed role of the X-37B USAF drone-shuttle: an mobile launcher system based around an space plane design. In the end, one of the best defenses against orbital based weapon platforms is wiping out their command & control system back here on Earth. Whether by direct action, like we saw in Call of Duty: GHOSTS or an EMP blast, any would be effective in taking out one method of controlling orbital weapon platforms.

Real-World Examples of Orbital Weapon System

The THOR Project (USA 1950's-today)
Boeing in the 1950's became working on a kinetic bombardment system called THOR. The idea was to have an orbital artillery system that could not provoke a nuclear exchange, and THOR later would conform to the 1967 Outer Space Treaty. The heart of THOR was long tungsten rods that were the size of telephone poles and could delivery a punch without the risks of nuclear or conventional explosives. Even today, the US Air Force has been continuing the work on THOR as late as 2003. While Project THOR is technical possible, there are challenges with controlling the rod through atmospheric reentry, the cost of putting the system in space, the political heat for having orbital weapons system, and lastly, maintenance. A massive military orbital weapons system would need maintenance, and with the Space Shuttle fleet gone, it would require something like what was seen in COD: GHOSTS to keep the system running. 

Fractional Orbital Bombardment System (USSR 1968-1983)
Leaving it to the Soviets...their space-based weapon system was known as the Fractional Orbital Bombardment System, and basically was putting nukes into space that would be waiting for the order to hit America. Lovely. Th heart of the plan was to put ICBMs into low-orbit, and if the call ever came, the missiles could avoid NORAD and could cut down on flight times, hitting the USA before they could launch their nukes. Of course, the plan is banned under the Outer Space Treaty and the SALT II treaty. While the plan was never carried out, it did lead to Soviet rocket developments, and the entire program was scrapped in 1983.

The Rumored X-37B Space Drone Orbital Weapon Delivery System
For years, there have been rumors of a "secret" space program with their own Space Shuttles and even a space station. In 1999, NASA began the X-37 robotic mini-shuttle program, and in 2004 the USAF took over the project, and began flying the X-37B mini-shuttles on long-term missions for reasons unknown. Recently, X-37B OTV-2 spent 469 days in space, also for reasons unknown. There are some that believe that the X-37B robotic space shuttle is an delivery system for orbital weaponry or an orbital anti-satellite weapons platform that could be using kinetic-based weaponry or even a laser to knock out or fry hostile satellites.  

The 3rd Reich "Sun-Gun"
After the defeat of the 3rd Reich in 1945, the allies began to understand the depth of the scientific knowledge of the Nazis and how much they were pushing the envelope of technology. One of those projects was an orbital weapon system called "Soonengewehr". The Sun-Gun called for a massive 100 meter wide mirror that could focus the sun's light into a directed energy beam that could target any portion of the Earth. This would have orbited at 8,200 kilometers above the Earth, and would have been constructed into portions by the stillborn Nazi space program. The sun-gun would have been manned and possible used Nazi space stations to help construction and maintenance. The Sun-Gun was seen as a tool for 3rd Reich domination of the Earth and a way to keep themselves in power for a 1,000 years. Of course, the allies began winning the war, and after Operation: PAPERCLIP, the Americans felt that the Sun-Gun would have never worked.

The Role of Orbital Artillery/Bombardment in Future Warfare
If humanity is able to escape to the stars and construct off-world colonies and fleets of combat spaceships to protect them, orbital bombardment will be a factor. If there is a armed contest over a settled world, the invading force will need to support the planetary invasion force going dirt-side. While it is likely that any invasion force would carry means of heavy weapons support, the invaders would need time to get the cannons from star-side to dirt-side, and time to setup the field artillery along with any aerocraft.
This is were the orbiting warship comes into play. Any planetary invasion would be first conducted via control of orbital space, much like air superiority. Once that condition has been met, the warships could soften up the planetary defenses via some form of orbital artillery. That could be kinetic rods-from-god or DE weaponry, but either way, the weaponry of the warship would be used in a similar manner to the US Navy using their battleships in World War II to shore bombard prior to an ambitious invasion force landing. After the planetary LZ is secure, and field artillery and CAS are being established, the orbiting warship could be setting up so-called "kill-satellites" to further support the ground forces. This Kill-Sats could be dual-role as well, supporting ground planetary operations with support fire and protecting the planet from any counter-strike.  

From the Fox Mulder Corner...
One of the most infamous video footage of UFOs (or something) in Earth orbit being engaged by some type of weapon systems came from Space Shuttle Orbiter Discovery during STS-48 in September of 1991. Some believe that the amazing footage shows an Earth anti-UFO defense system being use, and missing the alien craft. Of course, NASA and others claim it is ice particles. Even before this, there were claims that the US maintains an orbital weapons system that was piggybacked on the old SDI program. Why does the US military maintain an secret orbital weaponry program. Aliens. Some believe that the US and other nations are fighting a secret war with an alien intelligence.

Orbital Bombardment and Science Fiction
As with many elements in Sci-Fi, EE "Doc" Smith did it first, and this includes orbital bombardment, but it would take the Cold War and the Space Race for science fiction to develop orbital bombardment that was more hard science based. Of course, human beings have been always seen and experienced the power of meteors, and this common human fear is linked to orbital bombardment. During the Cold War, the idea of orbital weapon systems and asteroids-as-weapons took shape with Robert Heinlein's The Moon is a Harsh Mistress from 1966. Given the popularity of that work, the idea of orbital bombardment entered more of the minds of sci-fi creators. It also helped that during the Arms Race and the Space Race, that Boeing was working on the rod-from-god Project: THOR.
During the 1980's, with the rise in science fiction and war gaming, and SDI; orbital bombardment became a hot topic. This fueled a number of examples in sci-fi, and one of the greatest lines fucking ever in a sci-fi film: I say we take-off and nuke the site from orbit. It's the only way to be sure. In 1986's magnum opus, ALIENS, the idea of orbital bombardment was wrapped into one of the best lines of the one of the best sci-fi movies of all time, and that triggered a number of other sci-fi creators to include orbital weapon systems, including nuclear, into their stories and creations.
This was especially true of anime and manga, as seen in Gundam and Space Cruiser Yamato, and later, Bubblegum Crisis. Today, orbital bombardment is common in science fiction works, especially in the realm of video games. When video game technology improved in the 1990's, creators could place more complex elements graphically into the game, and one of those items was orbital bombardment. Today, you can see examples in games like HALO, Mass Effect, and of course, Call of Duty: GHOSTS.


The Attack on the Founder Homeworld from Star Trek: DS9

There are times when I respect the storylines and plots in Star Trek, and one that left an impression on me was the 3rd season 21st episode called "The Die is Cast". In the 1995 episode, the Cardassian and Romulan intelligence services unite for a clandestine mission to orbital bombard the homeworld of the Founders, and attempt to end the threat of the Dominion to the Alpha Quadrant once and for all. A small taskforce of top-of-the-line warships from both powers arrived in the Omarian Nebula, the location of the Founders' homeworld, and the seat of power of the Domination. Also, their intelligence indicates that the Founder homeworld is the main production site of the Jem'Hadar's life-giving Ketracel White.
It was hoped that this assault on the heart of the Dominion would produce its collapse, however, the Battle of the Omerian Nebula was the result. At first, the combined fleet was able to pound the homeworld with torpedoes and directed energy fire, it seemed too easy, and that was because the Founders learned of the plan, allowed to be carried forward, and setup a trap for the combined fleet. The Founders left their world, and allowed the fleet to destroy 30% of the planet's crust, and during this moment, 150 Jem'Hadar warships descended on small attack force. It was a slaughter, and wiped out the majority of these intelligence services power and influence, allowing the Founders to have an easier time subjugating the Cardassian Union and the Romulan Star Empire.

The Fithp Invasion of Earth from Footfall
One of my favorite sci-fi novels of all time is Footfall by the dream-team of Niven and Pournelle. The elephant-like alien race, the Fithp. The Fithp are a young race from Alpha Centarui that used technology and knowledge left by another species that shared their world. The aliens construct a interstellar vessel and spend nearly a hundred years traveling to Earth in cryo. The goal is conquest and subjugation. Throughout the book, the Fithp use in-orbit lasers and kinetic bombardment to soften up Earth for the invasion or just surrender. When humanity uses nuclear weapons at the site of the Fithp invasion in Kansas, the aliens responses with dropping a massive asteroid into the Indian Ocean, nearly wiping out India, and allowing for the aliens to control the bulk of Africa. Given the popularity of the novel and that Pournelle worked on Project THOR, Footfall would influence a new generation of sci-fi creators to include some of the concepts in the novel. If you have not read it, please do so...now.

The Covenant "Glassing" from the HALO Universe
It just has to be said...the Covenant are just dicks. It is not enough for them to destroy human colonies and kill everyone there, but then they have to go and burn the world black with ship-mounted plasma artillery. The massive plasma cannons on Covenant warships are altered to allow them to project plasma in linear beams that hit the surface of a planet with vastly intense heat, alter top soil to lechatelierite, a form of silica glass. It takes the aliens days to glass an UNSC colonial world. The world suffers global environmental damage that forever alters the planetary environment and leaves the atmosphere in a state of nuclear winter. Covenant glassing operations can be conducted from orbit or even endo-atmospherically. It is believed from some footage from the end of Reach, that the future UNSC has a slow method of reversing the effects of glassing.

The Zentraedi Holocaust from the ROBOTECH Universe
In the final battle in the First ROBOTECH War, the SDF-1, the UN Spacy Forces, and the rebel Zentraedi forces under Breetai all attempt to stand up against the invasion by the Zentraedi Central Fleet, and force of 4.8 million warships. Supreme Commander Dolza fully intends to wipe out humanity, the Earth, and the inflected rebel Zentaedi for good. During the battle, the central fleet pounds Earth with laser and particle beam fire that renders the surface of the planet a wasteland, killing billions. While the central fleet was destroyed, by the SDF-1, humanity was nearly wiped out. The Zentraedi Holocaust, as it was later called, killed over 5 billion humans, and altered the course of the species for all time. Only a few million survived, along with the off-world human service-members, and the civilians of Macross.

The USAF ODIN and the Federation's LOKI Space Platforms from Call of Duty: GHOSTS
While fans and players of the Call of Duty franchise were very unhappy with the online play of Ghosts, the campaign was rather solid, and had an original "Invasion USA" storyline that involved real-world orbital kinetic bombardment by hijacked USAF "roads from god" satellites by South American forces. The ODIN Space Platforms, or Orbital Defense Initiative were satellite launcher platforms that fired  six meter long tungsten rods from orbital with great accuracy. When the Federation took control of the ODIN space station, they bombarded main cities of the United States as a prelude to their massive invasion. Only through the brave actions of USAF personnel did the full might of ODIN was avoided.
To finally end the US, the Federation takes survives elements of the ODIN space station, and creates their own space-based weapon platform, LOKI. Unlike ODIN, LOKI could be controlled by a ground based operations center, the robds were smaller allowing for them to be used in a close  fire support role, and there were more platforms, allowing the Federation to carryout further offensive operations. During the apex of Ghosts, the USAF space warfare team, LCARUS, mounted an assault on the Federation LOKI space station, and turned the Federation's weapon against them, wiping out the ground-based control center, and the Federation naval force. LOKI was destroyed by the USAF LCARUS team. ODIN and LOKI may be one of the most accurate real-world examples of space-based weapons platforms in popular media.

The Centauri Mass Driver Bombardment of Narn from the B5 Universe

During the Narn-Centauri of 2259, the superior Centauri Republic gained the upper hand, and finally arrived at the homeworld of the Narn. When the Narn refused to surrender, the Centauri did not mount an invasion of the planet, but instead used retrofitted mass drivers on their Primus class battlecrusiers to propel asteroids. This form of planetary bombardment is illegal and ban by the League of Non-aligned Worlds, but te Centauri gave zero fucks, and did it anyway. For four days, the Centauri warships bombarded the surface of Narn, and finally, the Narn government gave in and surrendered to their former masters. Narn was already a world still scarred by the Centauri strip-mining efforts during their occupation, and the pounding from space didn't help. For over a year, Narn was a world under a nuclear winter, and it would take over ten years with the help of Minbari atmospheric processors to clean most of the air.

Here is the dialog from the episode:

Londo Mollari: Refa, any force attempting to invade Narn would be up to its neck in blood—its own!

Lord Refa: We have no intention of invading Narn. Flattening it, yes—but invading it? We will be using mass drivers. By the time we are done their cities will be in ruins, we can move in at our leisure!

Londo Mollari: Mass drivers? They have been outlawed by every civilized planet!

Orbital Bombardment from DUST 514
In the EVE Online military sci-fi shooter, DUST 514, players can call down three types of orbital strikes as fire support and even turning the tide in the online gaming arena. The first type of orbital strike is the Pulse Laser Strike that fires a high damage laser beam, but it only covers a small area. Next is the EM strike that used electro-magnetic energy blast to strike an larger area, but is a non-lethal strike, bring down shields and electronics. Lastly, there is the Hybrid Strike that combines lasers and other times of ammunition that the most devastating. Of course, giving the offensive power of the orbital strike, it is harder to achieve battlefield reward.

The Lunar Catapult from The Moon is a Harsh Mistress
Robert A. Heinlein's famous 1966 book is often praised, cited, and still read today, and does have a kick ass title...but, I've never liked it. I've read it several times to see what the fuss is all about, but much like Starship Troopers, Heinlein seems to suck the excitement and joy out of the basic plot. However, I do respect some of the themes, ideas, and of course, TANSTAAFL. In 2075, Lunar colonies are populated by the unwanted of Terran society, and computer technician Manuel Garcia befriends the Lunar colony computer system, HOLMES-IV. Due to Earth's demands, and the limited resources on the Lunar colonies, the export of wheat from Luna to Terra must be stopped, or less the Lunar colonies will descent into madness and cannibalism. Lovely. The computer, Manuel, and others in the Lunar liberation movement use the catapult launcher system to throw large lunar rocks at unpopulated areas of Earth, resulting in kinetic bombardment terrorism. The effort is successful, and Lunar becomes a free republic. Some falsely believe that The Moon is a Harsh Mistress to be the first real example of orbital bombardment in sci-fi, however E.E. "Doc" Smith takes that cake.   

The Xindi Probe Attack from Star Trek: Enterprise "The Expanse"
In the opening to the 3rd Season of much maligned Star Trek series Enterprise, the Xindi use an sphere-shaped weapons probe to test the design for their "super-weapon" that was designed to destroy the Earth. This one-man probe was a scaled-down prototype of the larger planet-killer particle cannon, and was designed to real-world test the weapon against conditions on Earth. While smaller, this particle beam sliced a canyon from Florida to Venezuela, killing seven million. This fuels the Federation and the Earth Military to rearm the NX-01, and sent on a hunt for the Xindi.

The USSD Particle Satellites from Bubblegun Crisis: 2033
The United Nations Strategic Space Defense Force of USSD is a branch of the United Nations has a network of  200 of these Kill-Sats, the VA-61 that are constructed around a particle beam emitter that has the destructive power to scar 100,000 miles. The role of the USDD is to enforce global peace, but some have been able to hack into the satillites, and use them for their own purposes, namely the evil megacorporation of Genom. Genom helped developed the "killer doll" Boomer project for the USSD, as a ground-to-space link to help target their kill-sats on more of a pinpoint target.

The Slug's Rod Attacks from Orphanage by Robet Buettner
In the excellent first novel by author Robert Buettner, Orphanage, the world had moved away from war, until the kinetic rods began dropping onto the Earth from Joviah moon of Ganymede. These aliens, called Slugs, are an advanced alien race very different from mankind, and their goal is to soften up Earth by using massive kinetic manned rods from Ganyeme. Earth quickly becomes a mess, cities are gone, economies are a wreck, and there are orphans...lots of orphans. Some rods are intercepted by armed space shuttles, but most get through. Earth is near collapse, and a despite plan is put into action, orphan-soldiers using old equipment and a advanced warship travel to Ganymede and assault the Slugs at their homebase. The destruction of the Earth by the alien rod attacks are nice touch and how it effects all levels of society. If you have not read Orphanage by Robert Buettner, than do so. This one great military science fiction book!

The Hammer of the Dawn from the Gears of War Universe
One of the more famous orbital bombardment systems in modern video games is the Hammer of the Dawn. The Dawn is an Imusion-powered laser DEW platform, developed by the COG during the Pendulum Wars, prior to the Locust invasion. During the Locust Wars, the Hammer of the Dawn became key to supporting COG missions and was used to destroy much of the surface of Sera. While the Dawn was extremely effective, it also took forever to boot up, and it was out of range more than it was in range. The games never make mention on how many Hammer of the Dawn satellites there are, but by the 3rd Gears of War game, the Dawn Kill-Sats were breaking down and taxed by overuse.

The AEGIS Orbital Defense Platforms from Babylon 5 "Endgame"
In the final showdown between the forces loyal to dickhead President Clark and B5's liberation force, Clark was losing and decided to turn the planetary defense grid of orbital weapons platforms called AEGIS back onto Earth. AEGIS platforms were equiped with missiles and heavy-duty particle cannons that could level wide areas of the surface. The liberation fleet destroys the AEGIS platforms and saves 40% of Earth's population from certain death. The AEGIS defense grid is rebuilt just in time for the Drakh attack on Earth in 2266.

The SOL Weapon Platforms from Akira
In the landmark manga and anime work Akira, there is an directed-energy orbital weapons platform called SOL or Satellite Orbital Laser. This large orbital weapons platform was developed by the Japanese for World War III. This was seen in the anime, and the American laser satellite called FLOYD was seen in the manga. During the end battle between Tetuso and the whole of Neo-Tokyo, the SOL is used for an attempted assassination of Tetuso, and the SOL first projects a aiming beam that focuses to an DEW beam of some power.  The SOL was destroyed by Tetuso in the Akira anime. Given the number of the SOL platform seen in Akira, 740, there is a possibility of more SOLs.

The Alien Relativistic Missiles from The Killing Star
One of the saddest books about alien contact is 1995's The Killing Star. A swarm of relativistic missiles from an alien intelligence hit Earth hard, killing the bulk of humanity in the first strike that rates as an extinction level event. Only because a few humans were off-world, could complete extinction be avoided, plus the aliens' took one male and one female human for their zoo, and the squid-like aliens tell the humans that once humanity was about to master relativistic travel, than they were a threat to them. The concepts in the novel are hard science fiction and this book rates among my favorites. It is such a sad story though.

Imperial of Man's "Exterminates" from WH40K
There several methods that are used by the Imperial Navy to attack and overwhelmingly assault the surface of a planet. This order is called "Exterminates", and the shipboard weaponry of the Imperial warship can be used, along with virus bombs and cyclonic tropodes. Few sci-fi works have ever shown the level of death assoicated with orbital bombardment than WH40K.  Exterminates is used through the various WH40K media, from books, video games, and the RPG. I became aware of orbital bombardment from the older PS2 WH40K video game Fire Warrior.

The Nerve Gas Orbital Modules from Moonraker
In the outlandish bat-shit crazy 1979 Bond film Moonraker, humanity was nearly wiped out by evildoer Drax and his nerve gas orbital bombardment. In the film, evil genius Drax of Drax Industries plans on wiping out all life on Terra by using nerve gas orbital module deployed from his space habitat station. Once human life is gone, Drax and his handpicked colonies will reseed Earth and Drax will become supreme ruler of the new human race. Of course, James Bond and Holly Goodhead take to an orange and white space shuttle and stop his evil plans. It is believed that Call of Duty: Ghosts used some of Moonraker for their own orbital space combat scenes. This marks on of the few times FWS as ever talked about James Bond, despite me being a huge fan of the Bond films.

HERCULES and PETER the GREAT from Meteor (1979)
In the much panned 1979 disaster film, a massive asteroid is headed to Earth that will produce an extinction level event, and there seems to be little to stop it. But wait! The United States and the USSR both have secret nuclear weapon platforms that completely volatile the Outer Space Treaty. In the film, Sean Connery was the developer of the American HERCULES weapon platform, he is brought on to help with redirecting the asteroid from hitting the Earth and killing everyone. The Soviets have the PETER the GREAT nuclear weapon platform.


  1. A really informative post, so thanks. The power of a kinetic orbital weapon is quite terrifying, once you realise that if they were in position, there is little to stop them being used, unlike nuclear weapons. The same applies with lasers or any other DEW system. I think that if such systems are ever used then it will be KE, rather than DEW, because the 'rods from god' can be made as large or samll as needed, while DEW systems have a minimum power before they become practical, and also require large amounts of power.
    Of the two types of DEW, laser and particle beam. Lasers seem the most likly, as they have the benefit of accuracy, allowing them to be used in support of ground troops. Particle beams will be inacurate due to wind sheer as they pass through the atmosphere, and so ould be better suited to strategic rather than tactical operations.
    In my own work kinetic weapons are most commonly used, unless the mission is to render the planet inhabitable, in which case a DEW system is used. This system is composed of particle beams firing heavey antimater particles. THese beams are used to target weak spots in the crust of the planet, activating hundreds of volcanos simultaniously. The dust thrown into the air by the erruptions, along with mousture boiled from the ocean by the beams, puts the planet into a nuclear winter that will last for at least twenty to thirty years, and make almost all life forms extinct.


  2. A little correction, you made mistake in W40k. Not "Exterminates" but "Exterminatus"... and to be more precise Exterminatus extremis.

    It is more of absolutely planetary annihilation procedure then an classic orbital bombardment. One of the best description of that procedure is destruction of Isstvan V by the hand of Archtraitor Horus Lupercal of Lunar Wolves/Son's of Horus Legion.

    First they use a Virus Bombs with the Life-Eater Virus that annihilate all organic life on the planet in very fast speed. This generate a gigantic level of flammable gases in atmosphere, then a single lance strike ignite it. And we receive an extinction level firestorm that purge a surface and burn out the atmosphere.

    Similar effect gives the atmospheric Incinerator torpedo.

    The most catastrophic in effect is a Cyclonic torpedo, it delivery system is tasked to punch through planet surface and drill deep in to the core there explosion of Melta warhead destabilize the planetary core and break it from inside. It is used against non biological Xenos.

  3. Btw: FWS will research in the topic of generally speaking "drop pods"? You already cover the dropships but what about single use (or in some cases multiple use) drop pods in the potential future military actions?

  4. Great post and an interesting subject!

    About the "rods-from-god" concept I believe it faulty, my reasons:
    1. Impact power
    One ton of tungsten rod moving at 10 mach (3430 m/s) has a kinetic energy of 5882.45 MJ.
    Ek=0.5*1000Kg*(3430m/s)^2=5882.45 MJ
    One ton of slowly falling TNT bomb has 4184MJ energy.
    That mean that tungsten rod moving at 10 mach have relative effectiveness factor, or R.E. factor, of 1.4. That not really impressive…
    According to Wiki there are explosives with higher R.E. factor than 1.4
    And I bet there more powerful HE still unknown to Wiki in the militaries arsenals.
    2. Penetration
    Giving the low R.E. factor some suggest that the rods could be used for "bunker buster".
    However, "bunker buster" bomb not only penetrate the bunker roof, that the easy part, but else penetrate it while deliver the explosive inside the strong shell to be dentate after impact. Tungsten rod can't do that.
    Even if all you need is roof penetration that could be done easier using a shaped charged bomb, similar to what inside antitank missile but bigger.
    Another thing usually not considers – the rods aren’t simply dropped from orbit, each rod must have a rocket engine to decelerate it for entry trajectory.
    When penetration is needed the most effective way is dropping the bomb at 90 degrees angle. Very hard to do with heavenly rod, you need a powerful rocket to decelerate the rod tangential velocity from the orbit velocity to target velocity (earth rotate so even bunkers have tangential velocity!). Bigger rod rocket meaning more expensive system and more expensive lancer to put the satellite with the rods and their boosters.
    3. Response time
    While it's true that time between deployment and strike is shorter that ICBM what is also true is that satellite rotates around earth and not hovers around. It could take hours till the satellite is in the right position to lance the rod (lance not drop!).
    4. Intercepting
    There aren’t (yet) known certain method to intercept incoming ICBMs, so why develop a killer rods satellite?

    That "dangers of friendly fire" explaining remained me of a grim joke in the IDF:
    "A paratrooper made a mistake – a paratrooper is dead, artilleryman made a mistake – a paratrooper is dead"


    1. "so why develop a killer rods satellite? "
      If any nuclear nation on earth were to launch it's weapons the reaction would be instant. the Us developed systems to spot the launch and allow retaliation. The Russians did the same. The Chinese likely have followed suit. the stealthiest ICBM launch option is a submarine like the US Ohio class but once she fires everyone knows there is a nuke flying.
      What I see systems like Thor as first strike options. the opening action that is intended to render a enemy defenceless in the first surgical action. thee effect of a KE Orbital strike would be a instant near surface impact event akin to a earthquake, that would have the effect akin to a small tactical nuclear strike.
      the launch limitations however would prevent extensive deployment of such a system a Work around of course would be something like autonomous orbital assembly. like we see in Darpa's Phoenix program, what has been theorized as under testing by the Russians and Chinese as well.

    2. No
      Check the numbers, that near-future orbital rod lancer has a R.E. factor of chemical explosions. Meaning you can use CONVENTIONAL bomb with the SAME mass as the rod and achieve the same devastation or better. If you want equivalent of 12Kton of TNT you will need to lance to orbit an 8,500 ton tungsten rod with a few thousands ton of decelerate rocket…
      Those kinetic rods aren’t the non-radioactive nukes that movies, books & video games claim them to be.


  5. Great comments!
    I agree Moran, kinetic weaponry is much more deadly than DEW, and the idea of rods-from-god would be a terrifying reality. Tell me more of your work Moran.
    Thanks for the more detailed information on the orbital bombardment in the WH40K universe, Shas. Been a long time since I played WH40K...around President Clinton's first term in office.
    Yes, FWS will be discussing Space Drop Infantry or "Spacebourne" forces and their drop pods/modules in a upcoming blogpost...most likely around January of 2015.
    Your explanation of kinetic bombardment Yoel is brilliant. Most believe that rods-from-god would be a super-weapon and all powerful. Like most weapons, there are pluses and minuses. I like the IDF joke...very true

  6. Interesting post, William, it is kind of crazy that the Air Force already has concepts for orbital bombardment. The problem, of course, is how to put all those heavy satellites into Earth orbit with our current launchers. :-)

    I wondered, watching Akira, what the response time of the laser satellite was from the call for a strike to the laser zeroing in and firing. Depending on what orbit it is in, it may not pass over certain areas of the Earth at all- this is why spy satellites are in polar orbits. In a polar orbit, a satellite passes over every area of the Earth, eventually. But it will only show up over a target zone at certain predictable times. So what do you do if all your kill sats are on the wrong position to launch a strike when you need orbital support?

    Of course, Heinlein pointed out in one of his books that an orbiting nuclear warhead can't "fall" on a city that is directly beneath it- it must begin to deorbit itself thousands of miles from its target so that it arcs down to atmospheric reentry over the hapless target. The same would be true of a "rod from god".

    With beam weapons, I would have other concerns... will a laser beam penetrate the atmosphere effectively? What about clouds? Particle cannons might seem a surer thing, except that all the atmospheric mass is a heck of a lot of shielding. Also, while neutral particle beams work best in vacuum, charged particle beams work best in an atmosphere- except that the orbiting kill sat has to deal with both. There are probably solutions to these problems but they are something to think about.

    I think your comment that the greatest danger posed by orbital bombardment is over-use is quite insightful. In SF these weapons are often apocalyptic when used en masse... in real life heavy bombardment with asteroids could trigger a "nuclear winter" in addition to all the damage done by the impacts. At this point in history, controlling WMDs before their use destroys us remains one of the challenges of our time.

    Even more "surgical" strikes could be devastating to the people in the areas hit. Think of all the damage bombing does in war zones today. But, because such strikes can be done from a safe distance without endangering your own personnel, the public could easily fall into the fallacy that they are fighting a "clean war". But what would happen to us if some orbiting alien were to wipe out transport networks, hospitals, power, and sewage systems? Bombing someone back into the stone age from a distance can hardly be called clean.

  7. My own belief is that lasers would be used for precision, kinetic energy for bombardment.
    First off, directed energy weapons: lasers are subject to atmospheric phenomenon like dust and clouds but on a clear day, could provide precise and powerful strikes, and be in target faster than any other form of artillery. Perfectly suited to fast-moving ground operations, limited only by human error so they would likely be partially computer controlled. However there are still limitations to laser beam intensity. If an area is too saturated by a high-intensity photon beam, the atmospheric absorption of energy would create a dense mass of air that could defocus the beam, rendering it ineffective as a weapon but could cause spectacular mid-air shockwaves.
    Particle beams lose energy rapidly in anything but vacuum, so the amount of energy put into the system would be orders of magnitude higher than the actual damage-output that would be felt planetside. Particle beams also ionize the air in random patterns, so they are about as accurate as a lightning bolt. Pre-ionizing the air with a laser and creating a comductive channel for the particle beam to travel could be a viable option, but would be as complex as both a laser and particle beam combined, and would still lose energy with range. Another option is neutral particle beams, but these are most likely for use in vacuum, as this limits the electrostatic repulsion that positive or negative beams experience have that limit their range in space: the individual particles repel away from each other and defocus from a tight destructive beam with great damage and pentration to a defocused swath of particles more easily defeated by standard spacecraft radiation shielding.
    Kinetic energy weapons would be less precise, but could be very powerful as they can be scaled to necessary size and damage. Their advantages over bombs or explosive shells is they are cheaper and harder to destroy: a laser could prematurely detonate explosives by heating them past their autoignition temperature, but a kinetic energy weapon would have to be vaporized, or at the least enough damage done to the ablative shielding as to make the atmosphere rip the slug or rod to pieces. Still, orbital craft would be limited by the number of projectiles they carry whereas lasers would only be limited by power and cooling. So, an intitial bombardment would be most likely done using KE weapons and, aftrr ground forces are delpoyed, sustained bombardment by laser DEWs. Particle beams could potentially be used for disrupting the power grid and disrupting communications, but then again priority targeting could accomplish the same goal with less specialized equipment.

  8. About that 1967 space treaty. Do u actually believe that it's gonna hold up. Based on my experience in life...NO. We'll trample a guys skull til it pops off on black Friday for a copy of halo the master BETA!!!!! Collection. Yeah a treaty isn't gonna stop a space war. What do you think. Also the UNSC navy had an orbital bombardment called the mac cannon ( can use in halo wars) it's pretty cool to use. And as a thought for the next post or something u should look.into private military contractors

  9. Flying to Valhalla (1993) is the first book by Charles R. Pellegrino concerning relativistic attack, The Killing Star is the second (with George Zebrowski, 1995)

  10. About the 1967 space treaty, it will most likely hold up among modern governments even if expanded to say, a Martian colony. Why? Because we still abide by rules placed forth by the Geneva and Hague conventions a century later, despite the fact that their arbitrary restrictions set forth have certainly cost soldiers their lives. A prime example is the performance of 5.56 NATO, what's lethality has been questioned due to reports of targets remaining standing and fighting despite taking multiple hits to center mass. This is typically attributed to the bullets failure to perform, as the 5.56 relies on the bullets propensity to tumble end over end in soft tissue: without tumbling, M855 is really no different than a standard FMJ. When the projectile fails to tumble it's lethality drops greatly, and getting the bullets to tumble consistently, particularly at extended ranges, has proved difficult. The Hague convention prohibited use of hollow pointed ammunition in war, yet hollow points would be the best way to increase consistency of lethality. The military must abide by this rule despite the very real possibility that it's limitation has cost soldiers their lives. With hollow points, a 55 grain .223 can knock a fist - sized hole in a 200 pound deers chest and drop it immediately, I've seen it myself. Despite this, military acquisitions personnel hands are tied, and the convention must be abided by lest one be accused of war crimes. As long as the possibility of major retribution exists, the rules shall be followed with one notable exception. Counter-Terrorism units frequently use hollow - point ammunition as they are not considered regular military, instead acting as a police force. As you can see, even if the rules cannot be broken, they can be bent somewhat. As an example, one could have a high-energy laser mounted on a space station or ship to protect it from space debris strikes, calling it a "space broom" or "counter-asteroid system" despite the fact that it could easily puncture an enemy crafts hull. Technicalities such as these are typically thought of as a scourge to todays modern read-the-fine-print-or-else way of covering ones ass, but they can be easily exploited as a convenient and believable excuse for weaponization of space or any other legal stumbling block one may encounter in writing.

  11. Some excellent stuff here.

    I see there's been some discussion on The Outer Space Treaty of 1967 and Space-Based Weaponry. One thing that I think is important to keep in mind is that most of the prohibitions concerning military activities only apply to celestial bodies. Aside from WMD's, there's really nothing concerning activities conducted in space itself, or even in orbit around a celestial body. I think it's unlikely we'll be fighting over the Moon or Mars anytime too soon, so I think there's a good chance that warfare in space will be taking place before we ever have to worry about treaty violations. While I'm sure that at some point we'll want to take fighting to the surface of some place besides Earth, orbital warfare will probably dominate for quite some time before surface warfare off of Earth is practical and desirable.

    Which brings me to thoughts on how well this treaty will hold up when it comes time for someone to want to violate it. I think that the greatest strength of this treaty is that the equipment necessary to violate it is expensive and will probably require some specialized R&D. Even a run of the mill infantry assault rifle will likely need to be modified to function well on the surface of Mars. So the deterrent against violating it is that it takes a significant investment just to prepare to violate it.

    The downside of course is that if your adversary violates the treaty then you get put at a significant disadvantage, much more so than the use of any other banned weapon. Hollowpoints may give your adversary and advantage over your FMJ using forces, but at the end of the day actually hitting the target counts for much more than what you hit the target with.

    Of course the treaty may never even make it to the point of being violated. Enough states may pull out to make it irrelevant. While it's unlikely to happen anytime soon, imagine if North Korea or Iran were to decide they want land military forces on Mars to claim it for themselves. I can't imagine that the US would stay with the treaty for long. And if the US drops out then odds are good that Russia will drop to counter the US, China drops to counter the both of them, India drops to counter China, and then Pakistan drops to counter India. Which as some of you may notice, is similar to the order that nuclear weapons were acquired. All it takes is one state to drop out, and the treaty will probably only have a handful of minor players left as parties to it.

    Also, I'd like to mention one other orbital bombardment example, one from Star Wars. Although we never got to see it in the movies, the Expanded Universe has mentioned the Republic and then Imperial Navy's Base Delta Zero procedure. Apparently it was similar to Covenant glassing, and could according to Wookiepedia could be carried out by a single Star Destroyer in a single day. But for practical reasons it wasn't used on every planet like the Covenant did. And then I suppose that the Death Star does technically count as orbital bombardment as well.

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