With either braveness or stupidity I am kicking-off with…the punchline to this article first. It’s the tag-line to H.G. Wells’ prescient science fiction novel: War of the Worlds. “And in the end, it was the little things, which God in his infinite wisdom had created on our planet, which served as the downfall to the Martian war machines.”
The Little Things: The only problem is, we aren’t being attacked by Martians. We aren’t even being attacked by ICBMS, nuke subs, laser death rays or Mach 2+ Mig-29s. We are being attacked from within by….the little things. That is the premise as well as the conclusion of this article. Now let’s back-up and begin the story.
The Yamoto: Go back to any war you care to analyze and you will see that we, as well as our enemies, have always looked to the technology of war to provide land, sea, and air superiority. Nazi Germany was most adept at this. And little known fact: The Japanese had created not just a battleship but a super-sized battleship, named the Yamoto…which never saw any significant action. Toward the end of the war, with essentially no fuel, crew or ordinance to protect itself, it hobbled away and was promptly sunk. Nazi Germany fortunately had similar problems, biting off more than they could conquer and relying on technology to save them. It didn’t. In Vietnam, we didn’t lose because of technology. We lost simply because you couldn’t tell the good guys from the bad without sitting down with them at a bar and getting to know them. Same in Afghanistan. They whipped the USSR’s ass and they ground us down…using ancient AK-47s, Malatov cocktails and homemade bombs. What does that say about what’s going on?
The B-58 Hustler: A bit more recently (the 70s) Convair built our first supersonic jet bomber. She was a beauty, capable of sustained Mach 2 flight, and briefly had the coast-to-coast speed record. She had one fatal flaw, however: that gigantic belly tank you see in the photo wasn’t a bomb, it was filled with aviation gas. This baby could fly fast and far…..OR it could carry ordinance, just not at the same time. With amazing speed, the gorgeous B-58 glided right into “The Bone Yard” at Davis Monthan AFB (the cemetery for outdated Air Force planes) where it was never to be spoken of again. It was replaced by the FB-111, our swing-wing bomber, which was plagued with a different set of problems from the start. Too many pilots died.
The V-22 Osprey: I’m not going to inundate you with every “great idea” that the military has dreamed up that has proved disastrous. That could go on for volumes. What you should keep in mind, however, is that these are cool inventions that somebody had to pay for. Care to guess who? And so, there’s the V-22 Osprey, whose budget ballooned faster than the Osprey could gain altitude. I understand one is assigned to the POTUS only it’s not safe for him to go up in it. Also it’s a very, very expensive sitting (hovering) duck.
F-35 Lightning: One last example and please keep in mind, I’m a pilot, flew in the Air Force and love airplanes and flying. Our latest sweetheart is the ultra-high tech F-35 Lightning which costs (depending on how it’s configured) between 182 and 300 million dollars….per plane. That’s beginning to get into some serious money. The BIG question, however, is: What’s it for? WHO was it designed to fly against? We’re not going to be using it against the USSR nor against China. No point in the Middle East. Don’t need it against North Korea, we have missiles that’ll do the job very nicely. And at close to a third of a billion a pop, I, for one, would not want to see rows of these babies sitting in the Bone Yard at Davis Monthan.
Is Our Navy Doing Any Better? The Navy is just launching its new “Stealth Destroyer,” the USS Zumwalt. As a sidebar, care to guess who the commander of the Zumwalt is? Captain James Kirk. I’m not making this stuff up. The Zumwalt is a very impressive behemoth of a ship that has a computer-controlled Advanced Gun System and computer-controlled rocket-propelled warheads. And (notice I’m using one word a lot) thanks to improvements in computers and automation, it will require only a fraction of the number of actual sailors on board. Don’t really need people so much anymore. The only problem, of course, is should there be a computer glitch, or a “mole” on board, or even just a clever hacker in a Zodiac rubber boat a half-mile off the stern, the Zumwalt (and the American people) would be in very serious trouble. Think of it suddenly attacking…us.
Star Wars… Oh, one last observation. Do you remember the SDI? The Star Wars Defense Initiative? It was our solution to any attacks that might come from outer space, presumably ICBMs from the USSR or China. An automated high-tech laser could focus on the ICBM and with a bit of luck could incapacitate the missile before it streaked-down toward the United States. One of the many lethal Achilles’ Heels to the program was this: The laser systems we had, absolutely counted on the ICBMs not rotating on their axis (spinning) as they flew. The lasers just weren’t powerful enough to account for such a moving target. However, place two tiny fins on any missile and…you have rotation…spin. This was a multi-trillion dollar initiative…which you don’t hear a lot about anymore.
Getting back to that Punchline from H.G. Wells: “It was…the little things…” Only in the metaphor now, we are the Martians. We have the death rays, poisoned gas, nuclear warheads and so on ad infinitum. But the little things I am referring to are NOT what God in his infinite wisdom chose to put on the planet. They are more examples of technology, only the horrific fact is these are little things which cost essentially nothing and can be purchased or created by any country, any society, any individual to attack anyone. That is as scary as it gets.
Responsibility: I’ve wrestled with the responsibility of setting forth scenarios (and they are numerous) as to precisely how this could be done. It makes for a good story but…what if? What if the wrong person picks up this article and acts on the concept? The bottom line is, it’s just not worth it, not even close, not even in the same universe.
Tipping Point: We are, right this minute, today, March 11, 2014 at a profound tipping point. Beware the little things. A $500 little thing can easily take out a $300 million dollar F-35, a multi-billion dollar Stealth Destroyer or any person walking on this planet. Our cool toys aren’t the right cool toys anymore. We need to instantaneously take action to cover ourselves and prepare for the little things.
One more log on the fire: Way, way back in the early 70s, it was a Friday afternoon and three of us were sitting in a little room at the 803rd Comm Squadron at DM waiting for 4:30 to roll around so we could go home. The three of us were part of the core group, handling communications for 18 Titan II Missiles buried in hardened silos surrounding Tucson. As an aside, the Titan II was and is a gargantuan missile tipped with a gargantuan atomic warhead. One of my duties was LES officer (The LE stands for Launch Enable).
MAD: That afternoon, Jim, Brad, and I sat around the room, hypothesizing. It was Jim who broached the topic. He was an old southern dude and spoke with a twang. He said, “Ya know…we spend all this time worryin’ whether we can get these babies (missiles) to their targets (18 locations in the USSR) and it don’t really matter a rat’s ass if we blow em up there…or we blow em up right here. With the combined nuclear power between the US and the USSR, the world is DOA either way.” This was approx. three years before some brilliant generals at the Pentagon finally came to the same conclusion and coined the term: Nuclear Winter. It meant no one will survive and they added a bitingly appropriate acronym. MAD. Know what it stands for? Mutually Assured Destruction. It sounds so civilized but yeah, it was MAD all right. It still is. And for decades, no one thought about it (?) Anyone care to guess what all those thousands of “babies” cost the world’s population? Many trillions of dollars…all for NOTHING except the possibility of terminating planet Earth completely.
Is there hope? Yes. Do we have time to wait around and see what happens? Not any more. We are out of time.
It is fine to point out problems. Are there any counter-measures?
1. Drones and Nanotechnology: Scroll back on this site and you will see a number of alarming articles on drones. These are truly schizophrenic creatures, capable of doing great good and monstrous harm, not just to America but the entire planet. As of right this minute the FAA is literally doing nothing to control or legislate guidelines for the huge wave of drones just now taking to our skies. We are at the beginning of a potential epidemic…guaranteed. We need to put a priority on solving this and then immediately setting up a dedicated team to learn how to take-out drones…and nano-bugs.
Fact: though an F-35 is nearly invincible doing Mach 2 at 40,000 feet, when it’s sitting in a hangar a $50 drone will take it out in the blink of an eye by some guy sitting in a parking lot. This type of vulnerability needs to be addressed first.
2. Anti-Drones: Even today’s action movies celebrate the sniper, capable of taking out a target at 1000 yards…most of the time. A $500 dedicated drone can lock on via facial identity algorithms to assassinate…anyone. Jamming systems to preclude this are also at the top of the list, as are screen systems for ALL access to the White House, Senate, House, Pentagon, etc. etc.
3. Reassess our expenditures of massive amounts of money on super fighters, super carriers, super destroyers that can be taken out with the tap of a computer key. The USS Yorktown, a Ticonderoga-class cruiser in the United States Navy from 1984 to 2004, was essentially “taken-out” and rendered vulnerable simply by the entering of a “0” at the wrong place in a computer code. This was an innocent mistake…but the point is made.
4. Hacking: We did it in Iran, setting up the Stuxnet virus, causing the centrifuges to fail so that nuclear material could not be refined…perhaps a good thing. That same sort of hacking could right now take out our very vulnerable power grid, computer-managed dams, our traffic management, as well as the very cars we are driving today…with computer assist. Is it necessary for us to wait for another 911-type wake up call? In that instance, 11 men purchased airline tickets and changed our country.
5. Down-sizing: More expensive fighters, carriers, destroyers, tanks, etc. aren’t the answer. The answer is to fight fire with fire….little things with our own little things. We are capable of doing this. We must wake-up and understand that dog-fighting, machine guns and tanks are as outdated as muskets, despite their high-tech appearance.
I have read your piece on toys for the boys. Liked it a lot, because I’ve always wondered what all that stuff is actually FOR. No identifiable enemy, for sure, so WTF? I have heard it described by cynics, yes really, as white man’s welfare … meaning that if you pulled the plug on all those tech ego trips, about half of our super-well-paid engineering/manufacturing jobs would go out the door.
I spent hours on two occasions goggling at the boneyard in Tucson and I wonder what percentage in dollar terms of what was paid for vs. actually deployed since, say, 1970. And then there are the subs built by General Dynamics in Groton CT … great provider for the local economy, and nothing else. A friend from the area suggested that the process should be: build sub, tow it out to the sound, sink it, build another one, and so on, indefinitely.
Always happy to hear the impressions of former Brit…turned Yank. Boy, I bet that rankles your shorts!
It used to be a $500 hammer. Now…it’s a two billion dollar sub…for target practice. Do you have this sort of thing in the UK?