The Big Idea: David J. Williams

Everything you know about war is going to change… someday. We know that because it always has before; we’re not fighting wars today like we fought them 70 or 90 years ago, and those were fought differently than the wars before then. What will the next war be? With The Machinery of Light and the rest of his Autumn Rain trilogy of books, author David J. Williams gives you an answer. Here’s the short version of the short version.

DAVID J. WILLIAMS:

“There will be a convergence between the rise of a peer competitor and the maturing of technologies that could threaten U.S. military dominance.”

–Lt. Col. Thomas Bell, USAF, in “Weaponization of Space:  Understanding Strategic and Technological Inevitabilities”

I get bored by all those Hollywood movies in which the world dodges total war/Armageddon at the last moment.

And I’m figuring I’m not the only one.

So I decided to give the people what they want:

The finale of my Autumn Rain trilogy features World War Three across the Earth-Moon system.  I don’t think that’s really much of a spoiler, because it’s kinda obvious from the back-cover…  and besides, the War to End All Wars is really just the background to the trilogy’s finale.  Because while the United States and the Eurasian Coalition are beating the crap out of each other, an even deadlier game is taking place behind the scenes…  as my verging-on-posthuman characters struggle to uncover the secret behind the Autumn Rain experiments… even as those experiments approach culmination…

But I digress.

Regardless of geopolitical permutations, we can postulate certain principles that will govern the next phase of warfare.  I took a stab at synthesizing the research I’d done in writing the Autumn Rain books into an overarching theory:  you can see the entirety of it here—and presented it last year at the Library of Congress and the National Academy of Sciences, so it’s been getting some nice attention.  My basic contention is that the current so-called “generation” of warfare (which favors insurgencies/guerillas) will give way at some point across the 21st century to a new paradigm favoring retooled/revamped nation-states.  Were those nation-states to engage in total war, the ultimate outcome would be totally unpredictable, of course.  But here’s some of the dynamics I would expect to see in what unfolds:

The outcome of the war will be determined in space:  Space is already militarized.  Every time an American GI in Iraq uses GPS, he or she is dependent on space-based assets.  Anyone who wants to neutralize American supremacy needs to eliminate those assets.   In addition, whichever side controls space can engage in strategic bombardment of the other’s homeland from orbit.  (The evolution of space-based weaponry is thus likely to proceed along the same lines of the early 20th century, where each side first used the air for reconnaissance… and then started mounting guns on their aircraft and targeting other aircraft… and then started bombing targets on the ground… )

The war in space will be a function of “topography”:  In the lower orbits, you’re looking at the mother of all free-for-alls, thanks to a myriad intersecting orbits.  But higher up, things are even more interesting.  The key libration points—L4 and L5, where the gravity of Earth and Moon allow a smaller object to remain stationary with respect to them both—will be particularly strategic.  As Heinlein once noted, if you had a mass-driver at L5 (and enough rocks), you could control everything.  Or at least wipe the smile off anybody you didn’t like down on the surface…

Solid vs. space tension:  Though the Moon is lower down the gravity well than L4/L5, your hardware there might be more advantaged, since you could bury it underground, whereas anything hung at L4/L5 would be more than a little exposed.

You aren’t going to see any flying aces:  The rise of UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) is merely the start of it.  With the advent of hypersonic engines, we’re going to be creating aircraft capable of pulling more Gs than a pilot can withstand.  Beside which, those aircraft will be intensely vulnerable to…

Directed-energy (DE) weaponry will come into its prime:  By this I don’t mean handheld laser weapons—that’s something that will remain science fiction – but rather, laser cannons:  strategic weaponry capable of striking targets at long range.  Such weaponry is likely to mature across the next several decades, and will transform warfare.  Not just because you’ll be able to hit any point on the surface at the speed-of-light.  But also because it will make the industrial-strength missile shields that Reagan dreamt of a reality.  Which means that…

Cities will be detargeted, at least initially:  the primary target of weapons will be other weapons, with the #1 goal being the speedy elimination of the other side’s DE capability.  Cities can be nuked (or held hostage to those nukes) once you’ve broken down your opponent’s defenses.  From which we can expect…

Rapid degradation of firepower:   With energy weapons blasting away at one another, the attrition of those weapons will be disproportionately concentrated in the initial stages of the war.  After all, this is speed-of-light warfare we’re talking about.  In particular—and particularly scary—it will almost certainly be necessary to take humans out of the firing loop.  Reaction time will belong to the machines.   And speaking of…

Let’s not forget about cyberspace:   The single best way to deal with an enemy asset is to hack it.  When Russia went after Georgia in 2008, they shut down the Georgian net.  When two superpowers try to do the same thing to each other, look out.

Expect to be surprised:  From the Roman corvus to Allied code-breaking, secret weapons have determined more than one war.  And it’s no secret that The Machinery of Light contains more than one secret weapon…

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The Machinery of Light: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit Williams’ blog. Follow him on Twitter.

19 thoughts on “The Big Idea: David J. Williams

  1. I am definitely going to read these books. I have never heard of this author before this, but this by far the best Big Idea hook I have seen and I have gone back and read large parts of the blog over the last 7 years

    “I get bored by all those Hollywood movies in which the world dodges total war/Armageddon at the last moment.”

    The author’s description is outstanding. It sounds like he knows what he is talking about and has done research. Most books like this are just written by some guy who learned about war and international relations from comic books. I like realistic Sci-Fi thrillers. I can generally tell when the author is faking it or has holes in what is going on.

    I have not really a really good WW3 book where we didn’t have some miraculous lets all be friends and stop this madness since Red Storm Rising by Tom Clancy in the 1980s. Even in that one, he had the Soviets collapse way too quick so it was not bloody enough for my tastes.

    Finally a military Sci-Fi author who actually did real research.

  2. It felt like Red Storm Rising thrown in a blender with Richard Morgan, Bruce Sterling, methamphetamine, and a rabid wolverine.

    I was hoping the author would have included a chapter with the jump cuts between all the main characters synchronized around them all having to go to the bathroom at the same time. Who knew you needed the executive node to use the executive…throne?

  3. I’m scratching my nose and wondering how the whole Kessler Syndrome feeds into this. That’s the one we’re now seeing, where orbital debris makes it more and more difficult to maintain satellites unholed.

    Then again, I haven’t read the series, so for all I know, it’s a central theme.

    Still, there are a couple of responses to warfare in Earth orbit. Either the debris makes it a no-fly zone in short order, or whatever is in the space theater is armored to the point where it can survive an ordinary collision, at which point warfare really changes, because we’re talking about ultra high-velocity debris, and if you can make effective defenses to space debris that are light enough to launch, you can mount them on a humvee (or a soldier) and make them bullet-proof.

    Just a conjunction in my reading, and good luck to David with the new launch.

  4. I’m really looking forward to cracking this one open – I’ve got to still read over The Burning Skies first, but that’s next on my list right afterwards.

  5. This sounds like an awesome trilogy. I may have to venture to my local bookseller this weekend…

  6. Armor in space isn’t goign to happen until there is a major game changer as far as the cost of getting things into orbit goes.

    It’s currently cheaper to spend a lot of money and build a board and chips that are radiation-hardened than it is to take a normal board and wrap it in enough lead to protect it from radiation.

    It costs more than a thing’s weight in gold to put it into orbit, which ain’t cheap when you’re talking inertial armor to protect you against orbital debris.

    I also think that, at least of late, history is showing us that, no really, we’re solidly in fourth generational warfare.

    State to state warfare is nothing but mutually assured destruction once both states have nukes. Even if it’s one or two nukes. This is clearly demonstrated by simple facts such as the US invading Iraq (which didn’t have nukes) and taking a hard line against Iran (which doesn’t have nukes) and taking a velvet glove approach to North Korea (which probably does have the bomb).

    All the third world asshole countries are figuring out the basic rule: Disarmament is for suckers.

    If you disarm, the US invades. If you’ve got the bomb, the US deals with you.

    I don’t think space will change that in any significant way.

    The main reason state-to-state war becomes nonviable with nukes is because you know where their population is, which can always be the final target.

    You can hide your nuclear subs under the ocean and hide your nukes stealth bombers and hide your nukes in stealth space craft in deep orbit. But there is no way you can guarantee you’ll take them all otu in a single attack. Which means your population is open to counter attack from that one nuke out of a thousand that you didn’t destroy. ANd one nuke is a lot of damage for you to take.

    The reason for the shift back to non-state warfare is because you don’t know where the target is. You don’t know who the enemy is. It is not a question of whether you have the weapon or not, its a question of not having a target.

    Libya tried state terrorism, be we know where they live and we bombed them and sanctioned them and they eventually stopped making our news headlines.

    Al queda can be anywhere. You can’t sanction what you can’t see. You can’t bomb if you don’t have a target. (well you can, but that’s why 90% of our predator kills in Pakistan in 2009 were civilians)

    In state-to-state warfare where both sides have nukes, averting war at the last minute makes sense.

    It’s state-to-state war where one side does NOT have nukes is where war to the finish is going to happen. Avatar should have ended with the humans nuking the planet from orbit, killing all the blue people, and taking their unobtanium. It’s how war works.

    UAV’s, stealth bombers, robot warriors, remote controlled vehicles, all of that changes nothing in state-to-state war when both sides have the bomb. Because you always know where the other side lives, and there is absolutely no way you can be absolutely certain that your preemptive strike is goign to absolutely wipe out ever last nuke they have. And they know where you live.

    I can’t actually think of a single incident in history where two countries had nukes and both decided to duke it out directly in conventional war. Pakistan and India both have the bomb, and both have had “skirmishes” and border “incidents”, but never a full out war. US involvement in Korea and Vietnam and Afghanistan (1980′) were all proxy wars between states with nukes, not direct engagements.

    Its very hard to look at that history and think its purely by chance that world war three is always averted. I know back in the 50′s it didn’t feel that way, but with three-quarters of a century of nuclear weapons history, I think one can see some patterns.

  7. I wonder what effect all that energy bouncing around/off the targeted weapons and their shields might have on the surrounding neighborhoods.

  8. The piece above never actually mentions that the series takes place in 2110, so technology has advanced, to put it mildly.

  9. Well, I was put right off by that trailer, which I found appallingly bad, unfortunately. Other than that, I think Greg above got things pretty well right. But to pile on a bit, there’s never going to be significant bombardment from space unless one side RULES space completely. That’s because defense is so much cheaper than offense in orbit, and is likely to stay that way for a very long time. Launch a few tin cans full of ball bearings in retrograde orbits (possible because they don’t mass much) and you’ve got weapons to knock down everyone else’s, for starters. And then space is irrelevant for everyone, as was mentioned in the thread. While lasers from LEO are possible, the above makes them unlikely unless one side completely and utterly controls those orbits. (a molten ball bearing approaching at a delta v of 16 km/s is just as good as a solid one) Lasers in the atmosphere are dangerous (and will probably be operational inside 5 or 10 years) but over max ranges of 200 km or so (and how do you get off enough shots fast enough and long enough to defend against hundreds of relatively cheap missiles?). The now cancelled Airborne Laser was going to be sorta effective against one foe only, North Korea. L4 and L5 are too far away and the moon is worse. the bad guys can always park things next to you so once the shooting starts, you’re back to even. In Red Storm Rising, Tom Clancy got things right, as dreadful as I find his politics (and the fact he no longer allows himself to be edited). None of this means there can’t be nasty high tech wars in the future, but not THIS kind of nasty (I worry much more about bio-war, perhaps one answer to the Fermi paradox arrives when every crazy can kill millions after a few hours work in the home lab).
    And I guess I don’t agree that war really has changed ALL that much in the last 70 years. I think we’re mainly just better at it: high precision and much better intel (from space and UAVs as well as good signal intelligence) means we don’t HAVE to indiscrimanately kill hundreds of thousands of civilians unless we WANT to. For a ground pounder in a firefight (where the very BEST is maybe two or three times as good as an illiterate 16 year old peasant with an AK-47 and his cousin with an rpg) I suspect war hasn’t really changed all that much (though he does have a better chance of ONLY being maimed due to body armor that actually helps and much faster and better medical care). If you’re not willing to kill everybody, it seems that war still comes back to that firefight.
    And a resolution: no more negative comments about a Big Idea until I’ve written a positive one (just in case this is getting annoying, as I can’t really disagree much).

  10. #6 Greg has nailed it best with sound facts of the near earth space future.

    At present we have the X-37b orbiting now which could carry dozens on micro ASAT robots that would always defeat a fixed orbit functioning Sat.

    I think a Meme War is more likely that a Near Space War.

  11. Found this this morning over at fictionwise:

    The Machinery of Light listed as:

    Regular Club
    List Price: $19.00 $16.15
    You Pay: $16.15 $13.73
    Micropay Rebate: $6.46 $5.49
    Cost After Rebate: $9.69 $8.24
    You Save: 49% 56.63%

    which has dropped it into my “OK to buy” price range. The first two books are also available there with similar rebates(disclaimer: I’ve been a buywise club member for ten years) so I’ve gotten the set.

    Thank you, John and David, for letting me know about this set.

  12. I always get moderately annoyed with the “strategic bombing from space!” thing because if you have the capacity to launch an attack on the surface from orbit in militarily effective manner, then that means that you’ve got such technological superiority over your opponent that you don’t need to launch things from orbit: you can use existing hardware based on the ground that’s several magnitudes cheaper and more flexible in use and deployment.

  13. @Greg: an admirable description of the state of affairs today.

    But the question I’m looking at is what’s the state of affairs tomorrow — more precisely, about a century out. Every phase of warfare has always been succeeded by a new one, and I see no reason why the present state of affairs should be any different. Nuclear warheads may travel at several kilometers a second, but compared to speed-of-light weaponry, they’re just crawling. This has implications.

    And re Coolstar’s point: looking at the technical specs of Boeing’s airborne laser and saying this is unlikely to change the face of warfare is like a medieval archer scoffing at one of the early arquebus firearms. I.e., we can expect this technology to evolve.

    As to the notion that debris-proliferation will render space war impossible. . . what makes me skeptical here is that we *always* hear this kind of thing as a new paradigm in warfare emerges– i.e., “this is going to make warfare so horrific/damaging it will be impossible to wage war in this way/on this front, etc. etc..” It certainly raises interesting questions though – -what I find most intriguing is that all-out debris proliferation would probably only be employed as a desperation tactic — i.e., the side that employs it will have given up on victory, and be content with stalemate. Meaning that they could very well miss their window here, as they may lose all their assets before they can act. And even then it’s unlikely to be a clean sweep, as any satellite with maneuverability will have the chance (though by no means the guarantee) to get out of the way of unleashed debris by shifting orbits.

    Keep in mind, too, that while the low-earth orbits ensure the proximity of one’s hardware to that of one’s adversary — thereby rendering them vulnerable to debris tactics — the libration points/the Moon/the geo orbits may very well be governed by the opposite dynamic — i.e., claimed by individual nations well in advance of all-out combat. There are complexities here that your blanket dismissal isn’t taking into account.

    And @Keith, at the risk of annoying you still further, you’re missing the point. What happens if more than one side has the capability to bomb from orbit? Victory will almost certainly go to the side that can neutralize the other’s space-based hardware, thereby (a) rendering anything on the ground blind through elimination of its GPS assets and (b) gaining the ability to rain munitions unchecked down upon the opponent’s homeland. Any hardware on the ground will thus be highly vulnerable to assets further up the gravity well.

  14. In the real world, Mr. Williams, the Chinese did a ASAT missile test in January 2007.

    http://celestrak.com/events/asat.asp

    The above link is worth looking at merely for its pretty graphics representing the impressive orbital debris field the Chinese created. Additionally, you seemingly haven’t grasped the rather simple implications of the Chinese ASAT demonstration and so I suggest you go look at the data.

    You write:
    “Victory will almost certainly go to the side that can neutralize the other’s space-based hardware, thereby (a) rendering anything on the ground blind through elimination of its GPS assets.”

    Yes. The above part of your statement is absolutely true. And the Chinese demonstrated that it applies to any U.S. space-based assets, including its GPS satellites.

    “… and (b) gaining the ability to rain munitions unchecked down upon the opponent’s homeland.”

    No. Your point (b) absolutely does _not_ follow from your (a).

    Yes, we are developing nano-satellites to repair our rather extensive orbital assets. But the Chinese sent us a message: it’s a lot easier for them to take out our orbital systems than for us to put them up, and they are not going to allow us to rein down our munitions unchecked.

    The Russians and we ourselves carried out similar tests in past decades. It’s thus presumable that, as with nuclear weapons, at some point in the not-too-distant future this deterrent technology will come within the reach of lesser military powers.

  15. @Greg: an admirable description of the state of affairs today.

    Thanks.

    But the question I’m looking at is what’s the state of affairs tomorrow — more precisely, about a century out.

    Time isn’t the game changer. Technological change is. What you would need is some kind of fuel that makes going into space about as cheap as flying from OHare to New York.

    There are massive, massive, massive, tonnage ships lumbering on the ocean because it is cheap to get on teh ocean and move about the ocean. There are not massive, massive, massive lumbering dirigibles in the air for a reason. That reason is several orders of magnitude greater for space.

    Every phase of warfare has always been succeeded by a new one, and I see no reason why the present state of affairs should be any different.

    sure.

    Nuclear warheads may travel at several kilometers a second, but compared to speed-of-light weaponry, they’re just crawling. This has implications.

    This is the mythological promise of Reagan’s “Star Wars” defense. But all that hardware doesn’t stop a suitcase nuke.

    And all it takes is one nuke.

    And because all it takes is one, state-to-state war with nukes, where both sides have nukes, is a lose-lose proposition.

    There is no way technology will guarantee you can track all the nukes down. Unless you have Star Trek level sensor equipment to find every last bit of fissionable material and Star Trek level teleportation equipment to teleport all of the enemies nukes into the sun in a split second.

    In which case, once you’ve disarmed your opponent to the point that they’re defenseless, exactly how do you justify a premptive nuclear strike? at a state-to-state level?

    The only way to take on a state with nukes right now is to not be a stationary target, to not have a known home address, to not have a known population center that can be wiped out in retaliation. Right now that means insurgencies. People hidden within occupied populations, where the population is, according to Geneva, off limits as a target. Or it means terrorists, people who don’t hide within an occupied population, and don’t really have any particualar identification with any particular state. But have a particular state as a target in mind.

    If I were to predict the next hundred years of warfare and point to any particular change I see, it woudl be this:

    States will respond to non-state-combatants as “police” rather than military. Military, at least as we know it, targets another state and its military. The police target individual actors. This will require development of investigative tools and intel gathering, spying, etc. ANd the technological angle isn’t going to be anything sexy like space-based lasers, but more likely going to be semi-intelligent predator-like drones that can patrol places like Afghanistan and massive computers taht can take googlebytes worth of rudimentary data and figure out where (Bin Laden’s equivalent a hundred years from now) is hiding.

    The only thing I see in the next hundred years changing about war is the US Air Force will eventually adopt fighters, bombers, and transport aircraft that can take off from a runway in South Dakota, get into what is legally defined as “space” so it can go anywhere it wants without violating someones airspace, drop equipment or bombs on the other side of the planet, and be home in a few hours total time.

    Aircraft carriers will become redundant as power projection.

    And while the first Iraq war was three months of buildup followed by a week of war, a hundred years from now, buildup won’t be needed.

    The thing is we’ll likely use this kind of technology against either (1) states that don’t have the bomb or (2) non-state actors in a state unable to police them.

    Once a country has the bomb, and puts a bunch of them under the ocean in essentially silent, invisible, nuclear submarines, no preemptive strike can guarantee you’ll wipe them all out. At which point, a preemptive strike will bring down on you and your people whatever nukes you failed to take out.

    And it could be as simple as a “fishing vessel” with a suitcase nuke on it, and it cruises into one of your ports a year after you attacked your State-level enemy.

  16. looking at the technical specs of Boeing’s airborne laser and saying this is unlikely to change the face of warfare is like a medieval archer scoffing at one of the early arquebus firearms. I.e., we can expect this technology to evolve

    It may change the face of war as we know it, but it won’t change us from fourth generation war back to third generation. It doesn’t alter the strategic implications of having the bomb.

    what makes me skeptical here is that we *always* hear this kind of thing as a new paradigm in warfare emerges– i.e., “this is going to make warfare so horrific/damaging it will be impossible to wage war in this way/on this front, etc. etc..”

    Except that is an accurate and valid description of nuclear war. The Bradley Fighting Vehicle, probably not. But nukes, definitely.

    what I find most intriguing is that all-out debris proliferation would probably only be employed as a desperation tactic — i.e., the side that employs it will have given up on victory, and be content with stalemate.

    Or… it could be a purely economic decision. It’s cheaper to throw junk up in space than to build spacecraft that can carry people there and back safely, and then fight while they’re there.

    War isn’t about what is who has the sexiest toys, it’s simply about who wins, however they win.

    What happens if more than one side has the capability to bomb from orbit? Victory will almost certainly go to the side that can neutralize the other’s space-based hardware,

    That’s you saying “this is going to make warfare so horrific/damaging it will be impossible to wage war in this way/on this front, etc. etc..”

    thereby (a) rendering anything on the ground blind through elimination of its GPS assets and (b) gaining the ability to rain munitions unchecked down upon the opponent’s homeland.

    Dude, seriously, al queda doesn’t need GPS to wage its form of war. It needs a truck full of LNG, a tunnel, a roadblock, and a molotov cocktail. And al queda doesn’t have a homeland for you to bomb. That’s the whole point of being a non-state actor.

    The thing that caused the world to shift from one generation of war, was that some technology made it impossible to win a war by using previous generation methods.

    1st gen war (line and column movements between states) became suicidal with machine guns and good artillery.

    2nd gen war (trench war with machine guns and artillery between states) became suicidal when tanks and fighter/bombers could steamroll your trenches.

    3rd gen war (ww2-style blitzkrieg between states) became suicidal when nuclear weapons would level the battlefield to rubble.

    4th gen war (non-state actors fighting states) will only end when you can figure out a way to make it impossible for terrorists to “win”. And that would have to satisfy their definition of win.

    Note that 3rd gen war is NOT SUICIDAL if one side doesn’t have the bomb. Which explains why we went into Korea, Vietnam, small eastern european countries, an island in the caribean, some country in central america, Somalia, Iraq, and Afghanistan, to name a few, and then attempted to wage third gen, state-to-state war.

    Except that in a couple of cases, the other side then realized that state-to-state war between their puny rebel band and the american military empire was suicidal for them, at which point, they understood that their only chance for survival and some semblance of victory was to switch to 4th gen war. let the US invade and occupy and fight the US as insurgents hidden among the population.

    Any new gadget you add to the american military arsenal doesn’t change that equation for them. They’re only chance for victory is still to fight while remaining hidden among the population.

    The only way you’re going to get the world to whatever 5th generation war looks like is if you figure out a way to make 4th generation war completely ineffective for the terrorists, and suicidal for them and anyone who supports them to even try it.

    And

    Do it in a way such that you don’t generate new 4th generation enemies to replace the ones you just took out.

    Which would pretty much mean you have a state with complete omniscient intelligence gathering capability with the computing power to sort it into something accurate and actionable. And, have the wisdom not to abuse that unbelievable amount of power.

    Any hardware on the ground will thus be highly vulnerable to assets further up the gravity well.

    4th gen fighters realize this and solve the problem by not having assets. They fight with whatever tools and weapons they can find and/or build. They take day to day things that everyone uses and repurposes them as weapons. You can’t target that. You can’t target all teh gasoline on the ground because everyone needs gasoline for their cars. Which means terrrorists always have molotov cocktails as a potential weapon.

    and lastly, from the original post: In particular—and particularly scary—it will almost certainly be necessary to take humans out of the firing loop.

    This too, will eventually be repurposed by terrorists. Right now, most smart phones have GPS, inertia sensors, camera, memory, and a decent processor. All the makings for a UAV. Or a cheap predator drone. Or a hellfire-type missile that targets a GPS coordinate. Or a bomb that you plant on a train or plane or ship or semi trailer and detonates not after a fixed time, but when the bomb reaches a particular GPS coordinate.

    4th gen war isn’t going anywhere for a long time.

  17. @ Mark – thanks very much, I’m familiar with the Chinese ASAT demonstration. And like Greg, I think you’re accurately describing the current state of affairs. But again, we’re talking about the present moment (i.e, the “real world”) vs. where all this could go across the next few centuries. Right now, a ground-to-space KE weapon is all the Chinese have to bring to bear — i.e., lacking other options, they have no choice but to threaten a tactic that could poison the well for both/all sides. But we will eventually reach a point where directed energy platforms in space will have minimal trouble taking out KE objects launched from the earth (like the Chinese ASAT device was).

    Of course, the question will then become which satellites already in orbit are really debris-mines, and then you get a very interesting dynamic — how badly does a side have to be losing before it uses those mines, will the winning side be able to figure out which are the mines and which aren’t, will the losing side be able to use its devices in time, will the winning side be able to hack them beforehand, just how much impact will the debris have, what kind of cleanup might be possible, how armored will one’s assets be, etc., etc. The Kessler syndrome is merely one possibility among several, and by no means an inevitability.

    @ Greg- I don’t see the current cost to orbit as being the absolute threshold. It’s not a law of physics, it’s an engineering issue. I’ve got space elevators and other next-generation launch architecture in the books (which, yes, would get taken out when the shooting starts) . . though I note that you cited the cost-to-orbit issue specifically vis-à-vis the lack of likelihood at putting armor into orbit; but if you postulate a robust off-earth economy, the armor would be mined/configured up there, not down here. The question at the end of the day isn’t one of cost per se. It’s one of ROI.

    Re the “nuclear suitcase”, this is a separate issue from the potential for a directed energy missile shield, and not something that those missile shields could do a damn thing about, as you correctly note. At the same time, such suitcases/portable WMD won’t be a reason *not* to invest in DE missile defense capability. I’d encourage you to look at the paper I presented to the LC (www.autumnrain2110.com/futureofwar), which argues that those societies that don’t collapse into 4G chaos will only survive by adopting ubiquitous surveillance and linking that to a rigorous ID system – i.e., they will become police states. I can’t claim to be thrilled with this conclusion, but it’s tough for me to envision the American republic surviving a nuclear explosion in a major city. People will trade liberty for security pretty quickly—and as to your point about how we’d have to hope a state has the “wisdom not to abuse this power” . . .since when does a state know anything about this kind of wisdom? But the fact that it’s almost certain to be abused doesn’t mean it’s not going to happen.

    Bottom line, I don’t disagree with anything you’re saying about 4G warfare; it’s just that I happen to believe there’s something potentially even nastier lurking beyond it. If you assume (as so many 4G theorists seem to) that the current paradigm of warfare represents the culmination of all war, well, you’re not the first in history to say that.

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