can't even write decent sci-fi
. Given my experience with his books
, I was intrigued to examine his proposals for taking down the only market dumb enough
to buy his stuff.
Warning! This writeup is entirely my own fairly idiotic opinions. I haven't read the article in question, I don't work for the government or even their bosses and thus am not qualified to pen any of the following screed. But, natch, I will anyway.
- "Build Your Own," i.e. duplicate America's space assets. This was the original plan of the Soviets, but they ultimately failed at it... China is trying it now with slow success, and American space superiority may be challenged by Europe, Japan, or even some Middle Eastern countries if funding is allowed to dwindle.
It's difficult to see how this will take down 'the U.S. dominance in space' and ruin our economy. While it's true that a determined competitor could produce a 'better cheaper' infrastructure...so what? The amount of money the U.S. brings in by selling launches and space access is miniscule compared to the GDP. What will it get you? Recon imagery? You can buy that now from Space Imaging and others, or SPOT if you don't want to buy from the U.S.
- Detonate a nuke at high altitude to disable American satellites. EMP attacks in space may be possible for the next few years before boost-phase missile defense systems go into operation.
Um, sure. If you have the resources to toss a large nuclear weapon up into the ionosphere and detonate it, it's likely that the resulting EMP and scintillation will cause your infrastructure as much harm as it will ours. Besides, the first people to try this trick were, in fact, um, us, using sounding rockets launched from Johnston Island. The first such test took down radio communications around the Pacific Rim for several hours in addition to damaging the electrical grid in Hawaii. Given that, and given the degree to which the U.S. depends on space-based assets for missile warning among other fairly important tasks, I would feel relatively confident in saying that U.S. birds are shielded against this sort of thing. It doesn't take much. Finally, most of the nastier electrical effects of EMP are an atmospheric effect; while there are effects outside the air, remember that satellites are designed to live in an environment far nastier than terrestrial gear.
- Put tiny satellites in space to disassemble American communications. (Doesn't that reek of bad sci-fi?) Yup, it does. How, precisely, would they do this? Actually intercepting and mucking with the satellites? That's a severely tall order, especially if you don't want to be caught doing it and receive a fresh hot one in 20 mins or less! Jamming? Satellites (by nature) use directional communications for much of their more critical functions.
- Throw sand into space to chop up American satellites. (Doesn't that reek of bad RPG's?) Hey, I liked that RPG! (Sandcasters, anyone?) Anyway, this is not nearly as easy as it sounds. It's a pretty complex bit of orbital mechanics, and would likely only work once or twice. Besides, most of the really important communications gear is out in geosynch - where you don't have large crossing speeds to help you. If you want to get out there, that's more of a pain - and more visible. Hitting a target the size of a VW Beetle at ~25,500 miles altitude isn't exactly a cakewalk.
- Hack American satellites from the ground. Although Chinese and Russian hackers have been in the news so often as to make the public uneasy, hacking a defense or communications satellite is a very improbable task unless you have access to a government ground station, or unless the original programmers have put back doors in the software. (Either way, it's not an implausible idea if someone happens to put the right social engineering skills to work.) While this is the most likely to cause trouble, the trouble it *would* cause is minor. As sekicho notes, this isn't very feasible technically; even if it was possible, coordinating the number of intrusions that would be required (so that the defenders don't just disconnect their systems when this starts) would be extremely difficult.
- Put electronic noisemakers in space to overpower American satellites. Sterling notes the obvious flaw in this idea: a satellite giving off this much interference would be very easy to home in on and destroy. Um, yeah...also, powering this satellite and designing it so that it could block directional communications to the birds would be extremely difficult. Sure, you might disrupt TV or XM radio, but...so what?
- Shoot down satellites via laser/particle beam. (Need I even mention how badly this reeks of sci-fi?)Nope, you don't. Look, when we can do this, I might think about getting worried.
- Drive a truck nuke into Washington. (Why didn't Al-Qaeda try this? I honestly don't know.) Great. You can be the victor, and the baddest boy on the remaining cinder. How is this a win? Even if the U.S. doesn't come after you (um, schyeah...) the rest of the world isn't precisely going to feel comfortable with your methods of ascendency...after all, look how much many folks hate the U.S., and we (so far) aren't in the habit of tossing nukes around except for that first unpleasantness.
- Destroy the American communications network from below: i.e. ground stations, land lines, etc. See my "First General Problem" below.
- Bribe American ground operators... similar idea to 5. above, except more plausible than a remote hacker attack. Bribe *all* of them? Without warning anyone? Without getting discovered?
- Avoid space and go to nuclear weapons or terrorism. Then again, this is what America is expecting, isn't it? My thoughts exactly.
- Wait it out and let the United States collapse on its own.I'm not sure this counts as 'destroying the U.S.' and am not even going to address it.
My First General Problem: A lot of these look like actual war. The problem there is that they also look like (in most cases) they won't work against a prepared defense, and certainly not when the U.S. military is out looking for you with everything from bribes (probably bigger ones than you can afford) to LGBs. You'd need the serendipity of a good sci-fi novel to make this happen...and, as I've already commented re: Sterling...
My Second General Problem: Many of these options are really only viable if you have at least the current resource base of the U.S., in an some cases, not even then. If it requires achieving technical and resource parity with the U.S., why bother to do it once you've done so? Just outcompete us.