Subject: Re: Deep Space Bombardment Force
From: Henry Spencer <email@example.com>
Date: Apr 02 1996
In article <firstname.lastname@example.org> Bruce Lewis <email@example.com> writes:
>...If a submerged missile
>boat could be accurately located by a blue-
>green laser radar or an advanced synthetic
>aperture radar mounted on a satellite, it
>might be worthwhile to consider reviving
>the concept of the Deep Space Bombardment
Disregarding the policy issues -- the lack of sophisticated opponents to
justify major new nuclear forces, and the treaty violations involved --
there are several technical difficulties here.
>Instead of deep water, however, the ships of the
>DSBF would rely on "deep space" to protect them
>from detection by an enemy power...
Unfortunately, space-surveillance technology has improved quite a bit
since the 1950s. As Bruce noted, radar is pretty hopeless because of its
inverse-fourth-power range law (the inverse-square law gets you both
coming and going). However, passive detection techniques such as optical
and infrared telescopes suffer much less from this. The vessels Bruce is
proposing would be large, and should be relatively easy to detect --
particularly in the thermal infrared -- even if attempts are made to
render them stealthy.
Remember, you don't *have* to do a complete sky search. It suffices to
track each ship continuously, starting when it leaves port. With passive
tracking, this can be done without alerting the ship.
>A DSBF "boomer"
>might consist of an Orion-type nuclear pulse
>vehicle with long-duration nuclear-electric "cruise"
>engines added. The "boomer" would depart orbit
>with a high velocity using the nuclear pulse system...
Here we have another problem: use of nuclear-pulse engines anywhere in
Earth's vicinity will be devastating to current satellite populations,
which are not hardened against the effects. Even limiting nuclear-pulse
operations to very high orbit, outside the magnetosphere, is not a
complete fix, because the X-rays from the bombs will kick up energetic
electrons from (and within) any solid surface they hit.
As a practical note, also, nuclear-pulse engines are extremely expensive
to run. (The Orion people assumed that fission-free bombs would become
available in the 1960s, but they didn't.)
>...but once the ion drive was switched
>on and used to modify the ship's orbit unpredictably,
>the ability of an enemy to predict its trajectory in
>space would be close to nil...
The basic idea is sound -- using a low-thrust drive to make unpredictable
orbit modifications -- but note that large nuclear-powered ion drives are
not going to be inconspicuous objects. The reactor itself is a copious
source of gamma rays, and conversion of its heat to electric power is an
inefficient process, producing large amounts of waste heat which have to
be radiated away.
The instruments on the Solar Max satellite -- which wasn't even designed
for gamma-ray astronomy! -- detected the USSR's Topaz experimental
satellite reactors quite well at quite substantial distances. In fact,
the Topaz tests interfered quite noticeably with Solar Max's observations
of the Sun.
These particular problems can be circumvented somewhat by operating the
ion drive only intermittently, and by trying to point the emissions in
>A radar capable of searching the entire volume
>of cislunar space to find such ships would have to
>be located on the moon or on orbit=8Band would, of
>course, be the first target for an attack in the
>event of war.
Surely the same criticism can be levelled at satellite systems capable of
finding missile submarines. If space-based tracking systems are not a
threat to the DSBF, they are not a threat to the missile subs either.
Actually, I think the argument is fundamentally flawed, simultaneously in
opposite directions. :-) First, I don't think even large space-based
radars are going to be able to fight the inverse-fourth-power law well
enough to be useful. However, second, the most important point of
tracking DSBF ships is not to be able to find and destroy them during a
protracted war, but to be able to track them during peacetime, so that
attack forces can be positioned quietly and secretly to destroy them at
the very start of the war. It's not necessary that such attack forces
be large vessels or that they trail the DSBF ships around, because the
bad guys don't need to be able to destroy the DSBF ships on a moment's
notice -- it suffices to be able to destroy them at a pre-planned time.
"Gosh, what a shame, all your DSBF ships were destroyed simultaneously
by meteorite impacts. What an amazing coincidence that this happened
just as we invaded West Germany. Of course, we had nothing to do with
it, and there's no cause to get hasty with your other nukes. You'll
notice that *we* haven't used any nuclear weapons."
In any case, this is all a bit silly. The same effect as DSBF can be had,
at vastly lower cost, with well-hidden missile bases on the Moon. The
Moon is too large to search effectively, it provides ample background
clutter to hide low-powered bases, and lunar bases can be hardened against
attack much more easily.
(Of course, it's still a very expensive project that violates assorted
treaties and is impossible to justify since peace has broken out.)
Frankly, I would suspect any 1950s/1960s DSBF schemes of having been
attempts to justify military manned spaceflight, and possibly to justify
Orion in particular. This strikes me as a clear case of starting with a
solution and working backwards to find a problem for it to solve, without
considering whether there are better ways to solve that problem.
Americans proved to be more bureaucratic | Henry Spencer
than I ever thought. --Valery Ryumin, RKK Energia | firstname.lastname@example.org