Space, weather, and other novel battlegrounds

21.12, Tuesday 30 Jun 2020

I learnt about the concept of spacepower today after hearing about this new book: War in Space: Strategy, Spacepower, Geopolitics.

The publisher description has more detail, and this isn’t a speculative topic: As satellites have become essential for modern warfare, strategists are asking whether the next major war will begin or be decided in outer space.

But it’s this perspective shift that really sniped me:

Bleddyn E. Bowen applies the wisdom of military strategy to outer space and presents a compelling new vision of Earth’s orbit as a coastline, rather than an open ocean or an extension of airspace as many have assumed.

Then there’s the weather.

Bernard Vonnegut (Kurt Vonnegut’s brother) was a chemist who discovered in 1946 the effectiveness of silver iodide as ice-forming nuclei that has been widely used to seed clouds in efforts to augment rainfall.

And the success of cloud seeding and the nuclear arms race led to the UN Weather Weapon Treaty (1976) which banned environmental modification techniques for military purposes. AS PREVIOUSLY DISCUSSED ON THIS BLOG:

Imagine attacking New York with an artificial earthquake. Or a hyper-thunderstorm. … Tabletop volcanos! Genetically modified tomatoes that create their own microclimate! Pocket clouds!


I recently across this paper called Weather as a Force Multiplier: Owning the Weather in 2025 (pdf) by Col whatnot and Lt Col someone or other and Maj you get the idea. Opening lines: 2025 is a study designed to comply with a directive from the chief of staff of the Air Force to examine the concepts, capabilities, and technologies the United States will require to remain the dominant air and space force in the future.

It starts off pretty rationally:

The application of weather-modification technology to clear a hole over the targets long enough for F-117s to attack and place bombs on target or clear the fog from the runway at Tuzla would have been a very effective force multiplier.

This paper was written in 1996 – or… maybe? I honestly can’t figure out the provenance of this document. It pops up a lot on geoengineering conspiracy theory websites.

There’s a decent science-fiction-y section. Lethal drone clouds!

Nanotechnology also offers possibilities for creating simulated weather. A cloud, or several clouds, of microscopic computer particles, all communicating with each other and with a larger control system could provide tremendous capability. Interconnected, atmospherically buoyant, and having navigation capability in three dimensions, such clouds could be designed to have a wide-range of properties. They might exclusively block optical sensors or could adjust to become impermeable to other surveillance methods. They could also provide an atmospheric electrical potential difference, which otherwise might not exist, to achieve precisely aimed and timed lightning strikes

Then there are codices tacked on the end that veer into artificial earthquakes produced by lost technology invented by Nikola Tesla. So, make of it what you will.

I can’t remember the first time I heard of cyberwar but I do recall that it sounded fantastical.

Then came Stuxnet, a malicious computer worm, first uncovered in 2010, thought to have been in development since at least 2005.

Stuxnet silently spread between computers and USB flash drives until it reached the logic controllers for gas centrifuges in Iran – used to refine nuclear material. At which point it activated, and Stuxnet reportedly ruined almost one-fifth of Iran’s nuclear centrifuges.

Probably a state-created cyberweapon, nobody has taken responsibility for it.

I guess what I’m just realising is that, at some point, someone had to realise that “cyberwar” could be a thing.

And what was that process like, exactly? Did some bright kid write a memo that got the attention of the boss and the boss’ boss? Did the FBI arrest a hacker, WarGames-style, then bring them in and ask them what they’d do? Is there a “warfare innovation” team that churns out 100 ideas a year, and they get a bonus if one of them catches the eye of management?

Are there “new battleground” conferences that generals go to, populated with the familiar indsutry conference staples of tedious panel discussions and rubbish wi-fi and bad coffee?

And now of course we’ve got 77th Brigade: They are the troops fighting Britain’s information wars.

I know this is a bleak thought, but - prompted by the idea that there are people who, professionally, gaze up at the clouds in the sky and think “oh, we could fight whole countries with that” - I wonder what else they’ve come up with?

And one other thought: I wonder how much of this has already happened?

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