Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Will shooting down satellite NROL-21 be a provocation?

I look at why the Navy will try to shoot down the satellite NROL-21 as it falls to earth and whether this act contributes to the 'militarization of space' at Pajamas Media.

Space has been militarized since the days of the Nazi V-2. An Air Force academic paper recalls the Eisenhower administration’s concern that the Soviets would emplace a nuclear bomb in space. The Soviets actually deployed the Fractional Orbital Bombardment System (FOBS) in 1968. The R-36 missile had “the probable mission of providing a first-strike capability to allow the destruction of United States LGM-30 Minuteman silos and launch controls before they could retaliate.” Though warheads in orbit were retired in 1983 as a part of the SALT II treaty, they remained deployable until 1995.

Plus, the Pajamas Media story (and YT) is quoted in the New York Times. Technically, I'm not "of Pajamas Media" but the Belmont Club is one of the member blogs of that organization, and I wrote the piece for Pajamas. I don't mind if they think I'm of PJM. PJM has come a long way and it's an honor to write for them.

Nothing follows.

31 Comments:

Blogger Peter Grynch said...

I recall research on bomb-pumped orbital x-ray lasers as an SDI initiative. An orbital weapon doesn't have to leave orbit in order to do damage. The electromagnetic pulse from a megaton nuke exploding in orbit over the US would kill every integrated circuit device on the continent.

The Air Force is supposedly working on a Mach-six bomber which can take off from bases in the US and deliver a bomb payload anywhere in a few hours. The Navy is developing an air-force-in-a-can which consists of a ship capable of launching a flock of armed unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

Personally, I think we should give Israel our plans for the neutron bomb.

2/20/2008 12:57:00 PM  
Blogger newscaper said...

The EMP bomb is one reason I worry about a confluence of Iranian sattteite launching and nukes, even in the absence of a true ICBM -- launch a "satellite" that pokes along in LEO for a while then, when no one expects it, it goes BOOM. A sat orbit would be low and "flat" whereas a long range ICBM is a high lob that's easier to see coming amidst the other stuff in orbit.
FOBS is sneaky, and for the purposes of an EMP burst, great accuracy is not at all needed.

Regarding EMP in general, I would hope like hell that someone in DoD or Homeland Security is working on a government/industry partnership to make sure key civilian facilities are EMP hardened.

2/20/2008 01:37:00 PM  
Blogger wretchardthecat@hotmail.com said...

I think I was wrong in saying the Russians violated the ABM treaty. My primary source for this was an article by Major Terence Dorn in which he says:

Ballistic missiles are an appealing weapon for developing nations. They serve as status symbols, have a long range and a short flight time, are low in cost, and have an ability to carry a number of different warheads. Defenses against TBM attack are not as mature or widely deployed as are defenses against aircraft or other delivery systems. While no hostile nation or organization currently possess the capability to threaten the U.S. mainland with a missile attack, the possibility of a limited, long-range threat from the third world sometime in the near further seems entirely plausible. The proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and missile delivery systems that could be used to transport them to their targets pose a direct and viable threat against the United States and its allies. Various governments have demonstrated their willingness to employ weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles in ongoing conflicts. Since 1980, ballistic missiles have been used in six regional conflicts. While adherence to the 1972 ABM Treaty is of paramount concern to the U.S. government, it is sobering to note that for nearly the past decade only one city on Earth has been protected with an active antimissile defense system… that city is Moscow, the capital of the very government with whom the United States had an agreement that prohibited the deployment of such a system.

But a more detailed account of the Soviet ABM system can be found here and it suggests that the Soviet deployment was legal. It was simply that the US didn't deploy its allotted 200 interceptors. So the Soviets were not in violation.

In 1962-63, the Soviet Union began constructing the world's first working ABM system, which was designed to protect Moscow. Originally, the system was intended to have eight complexes, each with 16 interceptors (for a total of 128 interceptors), in the Moscow area, but construction slowed in 1968 and by 1969-70 only four of the sites, with a total of 64 interceptors, were completed. Plans for additional sites were scaled back in 1972, when the signing of the ABM Treaty limited the Soviet Union and the United States each to two ABM sites totaling 200 interceptors. The system's architecture shrank again to one site with 100 interceptors when a protocol to the treaty was signed in 1974.

2/20/2008 02:47:00 PM  
Blogger newscaper said...

Wretchard,
I've mentioned elsewhere the US 1970s ABM system.

It was tested, deployed and fully *operational*, in ND, the Safeguard system.

The disgrace is that a Democrat Congress *shut it down*, a bought & paid for WORKING system, shortly after it was fully activated.

You have to remember this was in the day of post-Nixon backlash against anything done by Repubs (not too disimilar IMO form the way they betrayed South Vietnam), as well as detente pacifists who thought even agreed upon systems were too provocative, as well as the time of idiots like William Proxmire who frequently aimed his money-saving animus at the wrong things.

Of course the Soviets were never stupid enough to shut theires down just because we did ours.

I can just see a Dem Prez & Congress doing it all over again, failing to get the lesson.

BTW, you are quoted in an odd way in the NYT story, as if you are being critical -- and the article just sort of trails off there with no wrapup.


BTW, the idiots whining over "weapons in space" would need a change of underwear if they ever googled FOBS or Operation Argus.

2/20/2008 03:26:00 PM  
Blogger RWE said...

I think that very few people indeed realize what is involved in this intercept – it is not at all like a SAM site on the ground shooting at an airplane.

Hidden behind the seemingly simple act of a ship shooting a missile at a satellite is what is required in terms of data acquisition, processing, formatting and transmission. Keeping track of a satellite in order to enable a “pop-up” intercept requires that the target object be tracked by a variety of world-wide radars and that data relayed in real time to a processing capability that can summarize the positional data and predicted path. Then that data has to be transmitted to the launch site, again in real time, and in the proper format, and fast enough to enable an intercept to be set up.

For every launch from Cape Canaveral and Vandenberg those kinds of calculations have to be done in order to meet treaty requirements in regards to avoidance of manable objects. During some of my launches that darn Salyut space station kept cruising over right in the middle of the window. (You would almost think they were interested in our launch pads.) Other similar analyses are done for our launches to make sure we don’t accidentally shoot down some of our low-flyers.

But that kind of capability is associated with the capabilities of a major test range – and the accuracy is only that required to make sure you don’t come within 50 miles of the object. Doing that for a ship on an operational mission so to ensure a hit-to-kill is another story. The fact that they have assembled that kind of capability and the associated technical and organizational linkage is significant.

While at the Pentagon I had the job of developing that kind of coordination capability to support various kinds of tests in space. Everybody needed it for different reasons – Army, Navy Air Force, SDIO, NASA - but no one wanted to cooperate. The anti-SDI forces in Congress wanted to sabotage it. Internal to the Air Force the “operators” saw it as an attempt by the R&D guys to hang into their disintegrating empire. We failed to get it done. Looks like they finally did, to some degree. And that is what is really significant.

2/20/2008 03:48:00 PM  
Blogger NahnCee said...

Too bad they couldn't schedule it for the 4th of July, so that the rest of the world could see what America means by the word "fireworks".

I don't care if it is provocative. Russia and its minions need to be sternly reminded every once in a while exactly who they're messin' with, as does that Muslim imam who's preaching that the earth is flat because none of the current science that proves that it's round is in the Koran. I'll bet there's also nothing in the Koran about the American Navy shooting dead satellites out of space.

2/20/2008 03:50:00 PM  
Blogger MKSheppard said...

[b]Hidden behind the seemingly simple act of a ship shooting a missile at a satellite is what is required in terms of data acquisition, processing, formatting and transmission. [/b]

Not really. NIKE was doing this back in the 1950s.

And AEGIS has a lot of NIKE in it.

All that needs to be transmitted to the cruiser are three solid paints on the satellite's trajectory (you can accurately define an arc with just three points); and the on-board computers on the cruiser will do the math and calculations on their own to figure out the ballistic trajectory of the satellite. Then it's just a matter of some more calculations to figure out when to launch the SM-3 so it's in the same point of space that the satellite is at the same time. Splat.

One of the greatest frauds perpetuated on America has been the "idea" that ABM requires an impossibly high level of technological sophistication; when you really only need late 1950s computers and technology to do it.

2/20/2008 04:15:00 PM  
Blogger Fred said...

nahncee,

Let us take comfort in the fact that that that upright simian in Tehran thinks the earth is flat, and that they remain scientifically retarded for the foreseeable future. It might buy us some time, since I am anticipating that the next four to five years will be a wide open window for them to hurry up their nuke weapons' program and bring it on line.

Obamasama and the people who are going to put him in the Oval Office are going to be slapped hard by reality. If the Donkeys stop the missile defense program, they are going to wish we still had those 1950's nuclear war shelters still around.

2/20/2008 04:23:00 PM  
Blogger MKSheppard said...

I think I was wrong in saying the Russians violated the ABM treaty.

Actually, they did Wretchard. On a massive scale.

SA-5 GAMMON cheating

The SA-5 has a marginal ABM role; in very much the same way the present day PATRIOT PAC-3 does.

Fun fact; when you design a missile to intercept a fast, high altitude, manouvering target like a bomber, due to the speed and energy requirements for the missile; you automatically gain an ABM capability since re-entry vehicles and ballistic missiles don't manouver.

PATRIOT was significantly cooled down by Congress in the 1970s to comply with the ABM treaty; PAC-2 and PAC-3 were aimed at putting that capability back in.

By the way Wretchard,

Your link says:

Ballistic missiles are an appealing weapon for developing nations. They serve as status symbols, have a long range and a short flight time, are low in cost, and have an ability to carry a number of different warheads. Defenses against TBM attack are not as mature or widely deployed as are defenses against aircraft or other delivery systems.

Exactly right. Ballistic missiles are viable delivery systems for madmen and dictators in the absence of defenses, because it allows them to cheaply hold nations hostage to their whims. Why do you think China and Russia are so upset over our ABM programs? They're happy with the current balance of terror which can be maintained cheaply for them (In China's case, about 20-30 ICBMs capable of reaching the US), and don't want to have to do an expensive weapons deployment program to maintain that balance of terror.

2/20/2008 04:25:00 PM  
Blogger MKSheppard said...

Regarding EMP in general, I would hope like hell that someone in DoD or Homeland Security is working on a government/industry partnership to make sure key civilian facilities are EMP hardened.

Newscaper, they already are. What do you think Commercial Off the Shelf (COTS) acquistion has caused in the electronics industry?

By the way, EMP is not a magical "kill all electronic device" effect. A lightning strike at seven miles from your house will hit your computer with more broadband energy than a nuclear initation at 100 miles; due to the inverse square law.

So what causes EMP effects? It's really long wires (like power lines) picking up the induced voltage from the EMP and amplifying it; and anything plugged in and receiving power from that power line gets hit by the induced line surge.

Defeating the line surge is as simple as buying a surge suppressor. The (in)famous STARFISH PRIME test was a lot more prosaic than most people believe.

U.S. Nuclear Weapons: The Secret History by Chuck Hansen has this to say about Starfish Prime:

The electromagnetic pulse (EMP) from Starfish Prime sent massive electrical currents surging through power lines in the Honolulu area, 800 miles from air zero. Hundreds of burglar alarms were set off and 30 strings of street lights at various locations on Oahu Island were knocked out. The sudden surge of current burned out fuses and opened circuit breakers over a wide area.

Repairing a lot of equipment "damaged" by Starfish Prime was as simple as re-closing opened circuit breakers, and replacing burned out fuses (which had done their job by the way, which is impressive, considering nuclear induced EMP line surges are significantly 'faster' than lightning induced surges).

2/20/2008 04:36:00 PM  
Blogger newscaper said...

mkshepars,

Also IIRC, the Soviets cheated with an extra big radar installation or two they built, that violated the ABM Treaty.
Early Warning was one thing, rightly seen as a stabilizer, but too capable radar could direct an ABM system too. Of course we never called the Soviets on hardly any of their cheating -- closest thing was Reagan's Pershing II IRBMs and cruise missiles making the USSR blink with its SS-20s in Europe... although I think it was mostly just a case of putting 'em back on railcars to move 'em eastward again as needed.

2/20/2008 05:17:00 PM  
Blogger PeterBoston said...

I hope the USN hits the satellite with the first shot. The ability to do so would not be lost on those who may base a future aggression on their perceived missile technology shield.

I do not think, however, that the Other should be Russia. Instead of posturing at every opportunity like it's 1962 we should be furthering our common interests with Russia and Central Europe. The State Department's official recognition of Kosovo's self declared independence can do nothing other than encourage other breakaways in Central/Eastern Europe and the Caucuses. The great majority, if not all, those breakawyas will be Muslim.

With Western Europe looking wobbly on good days I fail to see how busting goodwill bridges with the Orthodox countries, most of whom have 700 years of history resisting Islam, helps us keep the Islamic tide contained in the mud flats.

2/20/2008 05:47:00 PM  
Blogger NahnCee said...

Because the Russians *have* nukes - right now - and have threatened more than once to use them on us.

The Muslims are just wannabe's.

2/20/2008 06:35:00 PM  
Blogger NahnCee said...

.

2/20/2008 06:35:00 PM  
Blogger Fred said...

peterboston,

You are forgetting that Russia is using the Islamic Republic as a proxy against us. Russia considers us the #1 enemy, not Islam. I fail to see what we have in common. And after the stunt they pulled just before the launch of OIF, the Operation Sarindar (the removal of the chem and bio goop and programs they loaned to Iraq into Syria and Lebanon)it's obvious that we have no common interests. Now, they are perfectly content for the Syrians to have that stuff and use it against the Israelis.

Russia is the bad actor on the stage, not us. Has Russia ever offered freedom to any nation or ethnic group? Never in its history.

It may seem that I am demonizing Russia and Putin, but have I stated anything that is not true?

2/20/2008 07:25:00 PM  
Blogger eggplant said...

MKSheppard said:

"Repairing a lot of equipment "damaged" by Starfish Prime was as simple as re-closing opened circuit breakers, and replacing burned out fuses (which had done their job by the way, which is impressive, considering nuclear induced EMP line surges are significantly 'faster' than lightning induced surges)."

Starfish Prime happened in 1962. Almost all electronics back then was vacuum tube technology. Most vacuum tubes are immune to EMP (the vacuum tubes and relays were still confused by Starfish Prime). An EMP attack against the US would fry most of our integrated circuit technology.

Concerning NROL-21: The big problem with whacking NROL-21 with an ASAT weapon is all the garbage that is left in Low Earth Orbit. An astronaut in a pressure suit becomes instant road kill if he gets hit by a tiny speck of paint going at 7.5 km/sec relative velocity. A great cloud of that garbage will be created after they whack NROL-21.

The US should let NROL-21 reenter on its own and settle later for any damage caused.

2/20/2008 07:30:00 PM  
Blogger newscaper said...

"Concerning NROL-21: The big problem with whacking NROL-21 with an ASAT weapon is all the garbage that is left in Low Earth Orbit. ... A great cloud of that garbage will be created after they whack NROL-21."

Not quite -- it is in a descending orbit, each pass dipping into the outermost fringes of the atmosphere slowing it down ever so slightly, bleeding of energy. It is already coming down -- this will ensure it comes down in small enough pieces, most of which hopefully burn up.

2/20/2008 07:46:00 PM  
Blogger Nichevo said...

eggplant, they intend to hit it at low altitude (240 nmi IIRC) and on the way down. The space garbage would not be persistent. Unlike China's test.

2/20/2008 07:53:00 PM  
Blogger Tony said...


Did anyone bet against this? Star Wars – whoo-hoo!

2/20/2008 08:03:00 PM  
Blogger Zenster said...

As MKSheppard succintly notes, the only countries to be "provoked" are those whose offensive capability will be neutralized by a functional American ABM system.

Also, for those of you who keep predicting doom and gloom about EMP, please read up on the topic. Far back as the 1980s, America was already addressing the problem of ESD. Methods like input-mounted snap diodes, solid state air-gap device construction and simultaneous switching output designs can divert tremendous amounts of energy with incredible response times.

Face it, if our IC circuits were so totally vulnerable, we would never have built fly-by-wire fighter aircraft.

2/20/2008 08:11:00 PM  
Blogger MKSheppard said...

And the satellite is gone. Good shooting Navy.

2/20/2008 08:25:00 PM  
Blogger eggplant said...

Newscaper said:

"it is in a descending orbit, each pass dipping into the outermost fringes of the atmosphere slowing it down ever so slightly, bleeding of energy. It is already coming down -- this will ensure it comes down in small enough pieces, most of which hopefully burn up."

NROL-21's orbit is highly elliptical. The nominal periapsis altitude for a low orbit military recon satellite is about 70 miles but the apoapsis might be over 500 miles altitude. ASAT's work as kinetic kill weapons, i.e. chemical explosive force is not effective at high altitude. However, after the ASAT hits NROL-21, it won't be like one ball bearing hitting another, rather it'll cause a cloud of fragments to have a distribution of velocities. For some fragments, this will cause the original periapsis to be raised to what ever the impact altitude was as well as putting the fragments into a distribution of new orbital inclinations. Instead of one piece of junk with a known ballistic coefficient coming down within a predictable time to a fairly predictable location, there will be a cloud of junk with a wide distribution of ballistic coefficients coming down in a manner almost impossible to predict.

Taking out NROL-21 with an ASAT is a bad idea.

2/20/2008 08:38:00 PM  
Blogger eggplant said...

Zenster said:

"Face it, if our IC circuits were so totally vulnerable, we would never have built fly-by-wire fighter aircraft."

Aircraft and ICBMs have their electronics protected against EMP by Faraday shields. Your toaster and TV probably does not have a Faraday shield around its electronics. Most electrical consumer products have integrated circuits in them that are vulnerable to EMP.

2/20/2008 08:43:00 PM  
Blogger Tony said...

To the main question - "Will shooting down satellite NROL-21 be a provocation?"

Who cares?

The Chicomms clearly were caught compromising the Clinton White House and stealing controlled technology.

The Russians are flying Bears over our carriers again, just like before Pax Reaganus. They are threatening targeting us again, re-instating the Cold War agin us.

The Persians are touting a space program, (AWST equates it to a 1960's era Scout missile with a 100 lb. payload), and declares they are making us quake in our boots.

Who exactly are we going to "provoke" who is not already totally provoked to the max and hating our guts?

I say: F- them, let's show them what investment in self-interest and military R&D can do. Like the original defenders of democracy, the Navy of Athens and the Army of Sparta.

BOOM! goes NROL-21.

And the Aegis/Standard Missile system is just an example of the watery nodes on the global missile defense system, that runs from Patriots in Israel to those big boys up in Alaska, the THAADs who knows where in between, and as we saw today, who knows what the US NAVY got trolling the seas.

Hope for Peace, prepare for invincible War.

2/20/2008 08:45:00 PM  
Blogger eggplant said...

MKSheppard said:

"And the satellite is gone. Good shooting Navy."

Here's the key Pentagon quote:

"Nearly all of the debris will burn up on re-entry within 24-48 hours and the remaining debris should re-enter within 40 days"

In other words: NROL-21 is now a cloud of debris. By the way, the "40 days" number is a Wild Ass Guess made for public consumption. All it takes to kill an astronaut is a bit of junk no bigger than a pin head.

2/20/2008 08:50:00 PM  
Blogger MKSheppard said...

Aircraft and ICBMs have their electronics protected against EMP by Faraday shields. Your toaster and TV probably does not have a Faraday shield around its electronics. Most electrical consumer products have integrated circuits in them that are vulnerable to EMP.

Eggplant, this is false.

Just about every electronic device worthy of the name is faraday shielded from your car's computer system to your PC (if you haven't gone crazy and blinged it out with 100% transparent windows)

There is nothign special about a "Faraday cage"; it's a metal enclosure (aka box).

Just look at FCC requirements for computer and home entertainment equipment; they all emit electromagnetic emissions when turned on; yet they must not interfere with each other; e.g. you can put your Playstation on top of your television (a giant electron gun) without causing problems in the Playstation.

For cars, the kind of electromagnetic interference caused when your car's sparkplugs fire makes an EMP pulse look small due to distances involved (hint; your car's control computer is much closer to the sparkplugs than a high altitude nuclear initation)

2/20/2008 09:01:00 PM  
Blogger Fred said...

Does anyone have a fix on WHY Sen. Carl Levin is so intractably opposed to the EMP? Even the very concept of missile defense? I mean, the guy is a U.S. Senator and he should be concerned about the defense of his nation. Yet, he seems weirdly fixated on honoring an outdated ABM treaty that was pretty much a dinosaur by the late eighties.

2/20/2008 09:02:00 PM  
Blogger eggplant said...

Google "emp semiconductors" and you'll get plenty of information about EMP.

The government link below about EMP is of interest:

http://www.doh.wa.gov/ehp/rp/factsheets/factsheets-htm/fs41elecpuls.htm

That's the nice thing about the Internet, i.e. multiple sources of information.

Read the different sources, evaluate their credibility and then form your own opinion.

2/20/2008 09:22:00 PM  
Blogger newscaper said...

I always loved how defeatist (if not outright pro-communist) leftists simultaneously condemn missile defense as bot a) ineffective AND b) destabilizing, provocative.

Which is it?

Surely if "it won't work" then our potential adversaries will just mock us rather than being nervous, no?

Of course they cling to the childish notion that if it isn't 100% foolproof then its worthless, ignoring that a merely substantially effective system pays great dividends in adding uncertainty to any attack plans by an enemy.

2/20/2008 10:53:00 PM  
Blogger newscaper said...

Wretchard,

Minor technical complaint...

Is there any way to keep long URLs from getting truncated by your style sheet defining the left column of comments?
If someone forgets to handcode a link, copy&paste of the URL is no biggie, but right now long ones are impossible to fully select.

2/20/2008 10:55:00 PM  
Blogger eggplant said...

Newscaper said:

"Is there any way to keep long URLs from getting truncated by your style sheet defining the left column of comments?"

Sorry about that, the following link will take you to the EMP article.

2/21/2008 01:56:00 PM  

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