Tuesday, March 28, 2006

in defense of DefenseTech

I'm a fairly pacifistic person in philosophy, if only because it tends to lead to a longer lifespan in greater harmony with your surroundings. Of the few violent acts I've consciously done, I can think of very few positive consequences. Which is not to say I believe violence is never justified, just rarely. I'm caught therefore by the fact that I enjoy the technical side of violence, such as with my fascination with the articles on DefenseTech.org. I guess I could make the rationalization that security itself is what is so fascinating, both in its ability to cloud your mind with fear and its apposite reaction of safety, both mediated by powerful chemicals like adrenaline and oxytocin. And, of course, there's the connection of security to politics which has become cemented post-9/11.

One of my earliest childhood memories is of my father coming home from his job as a security guard. I remember him installing an security system in the house in the early 80's, all the wires tucked behind the walls and threaded through cabinets and closets. My family were early emigres from the 'safest city in the US', (Newton, MA) to what would now be called exurbia.

Admittedly my best perception of what the center of America is like is based on some of the more rural aspects of this undervisited but not inaccesible area. My parents never really wondered how locking the door might make you insecure, since they could reach out and touch their respective neighbor's houses from their bedroom window.

So I guess since people in general, in the abstract can be more and more threatening. Still I appreciate defensetech not only for the cool gadget effect of reporting on DARPA projects* like the 100 ton superblimp codenamed 'Walrus', but also for trenchant and non-partisan analysis of strategy:
TR: In short, smart, precision-targeted weapons like cruise missiles are going to become increasingly cheap and available to any government or group that can afford them. The Falklands War between Britain and Argentina gave early indications of the vulnerability of big platforms, didn't it?

JA: I think so. The lessons there include: how many British submarines did it take to pen up the entire Argentine navy? Two. Simultaneously, the Exocet missile proved the slow-moving capital ship's vulnerability. Today, the Chinese aren't developing aircraft carrier battle groups, but brilliant sea-going mines that know how to maneuver, supersonic anti-ship missiles -- which means the Falklands War on steroids -- and super-cavitation torpedoes, which create a bubble of air in front of the torpedo, letting them move at hundreds of knots per hour. The Chinese have an explicit "swarming" doctrine that can best be characterized as sea power without a navy. In this new naval antagonism that's emerging, our potential enemies are not trying to emulate what we're doing. Instead, they're innovating in very thoughtful, effective ways…

Since we're spending so much on military affairs, maybe some of that should be directed towards technologies that will break our opponents' communications. In World War II, there was an investment in creating the first high-performance computers, for that very purpose. Today, it may be an investment in creating the most effective quantum computing or figuring out how to structure the vast ocean of data that masks the movements of al-Qaeda on the Net and the Web. We need a new Bletchley Park [the country house where the German WWII codes were broken], if we're going to win this war.
Whatever your opinion of the WOT, where else can you find the address for a UAV user's manual? There's the morbid curiosity factor: apart from some of the death-dealing gadgets dreamed up being 'cool', its hard to find mention of the new ways in which someone might try to kill you anywhere else. A recent article focused on weapons made from synthetic weapons, like diamond-hard credit-card-sized slivers of plastic or penknives. Then after duly noting John Malkovich's non-metallic gun from In the Line of Fire, the article mentions that the CIA has had for years a ceramic gun firing caseless ammo.

From Str8 Dope:

The article implied that the CIA made several prototype nonmetallic guns using "a super-hard ceramic material" originally developed for the exhaust valves in General Motors auto engines. The stuff "literally has the strength of steel," the article said. "The agency considered the material so important to national security that it reportedly had its formula classified, thereby preventing GM from marketing it."

The gun depicted was a small automatic pistol. A magazine of bullets loaded into the handle. When you pulled the trigger, a plastic spring drove the bolt/slide mechanism forward, pushing a bullet from the magazine into the chamber and firing it. The bullet had no case and apparently was the equivalent of a cannonball with a powder charge behind it. The propellant ignited in two stages to keep the chamber pressure low enough that the gun didn't blow up in your hand. The bullet itself could be ceramic or aluminum.

"The Glass Gun's asset--its innovative material--also created legal problems for the CIA," the article said. "The Geneva Accords forbid the use by a nation's armed forces of anything but full metal jacket ammunition, and except for the aluminum bullets, no part of the gun or its ammunition was metallic. To save the Glass Gun project, Agency advocates argued to a Pentagon oversight committee that the Agency was civilian, not military, and the gun would be used by civilians."

At the same time, I'm a bit wary of the argument for developing more concealable weapons for government agents, the hopelessly dated War on Drugs.

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