Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The 1959 LEO treaty, and the evolution of the UN

If the first major consequence of the First orbital war  was speeding up long term and long range space operations by the superpowers, the second was clearly the initial LEO treaty that was negotiated as a result of the war.    

Before the war, the civilian benefits of satellite/orbital technology had been obvious, and exploitation of this potential was a major goal of both private industries and the non-aligned developing nations (Argentina, Brazil, India, South Africa).  While only a few private or Non-aligned powers had lofted satellites, the Orbit war destroyed them all by direct attack, or as a consequence of other attacks. 

Both the run up to the war and the result of the war was an almost complete degredation of orbital infrastructure: in short, no sooner was a satellite lofted than it was destroyed.   

As most space exploitation was military, anything in orbit was potentially a weapon.  Indeed, the main casus bellum for the war was the “neutralization” of a large scientific satellite that proved to be an nuclear platform (from debris analysis); that it was also manned was the stated issue, but both sides knew that the lesson of project Prometheus was that gaining nuclear high ground was decisive. Once nuclear weapons were potentially in orbit, no satellite could be trusted.  Unfortunately, as previously discussed the operations required to control LEO had exhausted both sides resources and personel and was unsustainable, and simultaneously unavoidable. 

The desire for both of the superpowers to disengage from active orbital fighting coupled with  the non-aligned powers desire to have an orbital infrastructure to create the the 1959 LEO treaty.  In its simplest form, the LEO treaty declared that non-military satellites and operations were off limits to attack, but were also completely open to inspection and verification.  Military operations were unaffected, but made responsible for collateral damage.  Secondarily, the UN was tasked to undertake enforcement, inspection and orbital cleanup, a duty vested in the UNPAX forces patrolling the Eurasian DMZ areas. 

Many historians mark the beginning of the estrangement of both the USA and the USSR from the UN, although the 1957 relocation  of the UN headquarters into the BENELUX Mandate  is also significant.  Regardless of the cause, the LEO treaty clearly showed that by unified pressure (economic and political) the non-aligned powers could dictate some terms to the superpowers; increasingly, the UN became the vehicle for such action.  A bipolar world was beginning to evolve into a tripartite world.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Orbit War One: Mercury, Vostok, and the triumph of cumulative risk.

The First Orbital war (1958),  while politically indecisive, was mainly a proof of concept for orbital conflict.  Both sides relied on single seat earth launch interceptors (Hermes/Mercury and Vostok series orbital craft); The initial USAF Hermes Orbit Interceptor relied on rail boost whereas the Vostok used direct rocket launch systems.   The USAF Mercury Interceptor, deployed mid war, was an uparmed Hermes designed for rocket boost, which had proven a more rapid, (if less reliable) deployment system for intercept missions responding to Soviet launches.

Both the Vostok and the Hermes/Mercury had minimal weapon capacity ,  limited maneuverability, endurance and apogee.  As a result mission duration was limited, as was actual engagement time and maneuverability. Craft in this period had much more capacity for evasion than controlled interception, but for both sides, actual maneuvering fuel and endurance was sharply limited, resulting in indecisive missions against manned targets.    The usual goal of an offensive mission was to knock out a particular unmanned and non-maneuvering satellites; typically, if such an attack was detected at launch, an interceptor was launched to engage the attacker.  The usual result of an engagement was for both craft being forced to maneuver to avoid attack, expending all discresionary maneuver fuel, and having to abort, leaving the target unharmed.  In several cases, either or both of the craft lost sufficient maneuver ability to successfully reenter, and if a rescue mission was impossible, were lost attempting to return, or became derelict.

While the popular press played up the image of raging space dogfights, only three actual combat kills occurred; most intercepts were resolved by one of the combatants aborting, or surrendering when unable to further maneuver without losing return capability.  This was known as a “gentleman’s kill”, and allowed the loser to return to earth after acknowledging defeat; while this procedure was officially discouraged, and then  banned by the command of both sides, it was almost universally accepted by both sides.

Despite the actions in orbit, most of the losses in both forces were the result of launch or reentry failures.  In particular the rate of launch failures increased dramatically in intercept missions due to the unwillingness to reschedule or abort a launch.

Wartime mission failures invariably resulted in a dead pilot , and ran  about 6% per launch/recovery cycle for both sides;  while this seems small, the cumulative  result was an ~50% death rate across 10 missions; the existing astro/cosmonaut corps could not sustain these losses, especially as the rate of mission launches increased in the final months to an average three day turnaround per pilot. As a result, unlike typical air combat, where loss rates are typically asymmetric, both sides faced an almost total loss of skilled pilots, and after approximately 11 months, decided on a cease fire.

The lesson learned for both sides was that ground based interceptor forces could not be relied on for long term conflict.  Accordingly, when the second orbit war broke out in 1961, both sides had larger and truly maneuverable craft (Gemini/Voskhod) operating from either long orbit missions (stretch Gemini,dual Voskhod fighter/tender) , space stations (the Soviet Almaz, USAF MOS), and the first larger fighter conveyors (The USAF Agena I and II FiCons,and the Soviet TKS tender).

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

1953-58 : Post Bellum, Ad Astra

After the armistice, it was clear to both sides that the key to the next war was orbital superiority.  For the Western Alliance, this was underlined by the destruction of the strategic air forces in the final raids; even after enduring a nuclear strike and command decapitation, Soviet air defense was able to stop conventional bombing attacks.  The Soviet Union had a devastated capital to counter the arguments of the Air Marshals.  Both sides had made it plain that extensive use of tactical nuclear weapons had changed the face of land and sea warfare forever.  Across the board, it was accepted that expensive and extensive military assets were easily countered by much cheaper nuclear weapons, and the lions’ share of what military spending was left went to development of space assets. 

The Western alliance had advanced rail based launch systems, whereas the Soviet bloc had developed advanced rocket capacity.  Both immediately rushed to grab superiority with their homegrown systems, and to simultaneously catch up in the opponents systems.  

For the next five years the soviet rocket forces and the newly reorganized United States Aerospace force were able to loft communication and spy satellites and frantically competed to develop survivable manned vehicles; By early 1956, both sides had developed maneuverable orbital fighters and, more critically, preliminary launch platforms for nuclear weapons. Still grudgingly at peace Earthside, both were involved in discreet campaigns to destroy the unmanned orbital assets of their opponents.  By 1958, however, it was clear to both sides that unmanned assets in orbit were ineffective due to the ease of their destruction; unsurprisingly, both sides finally deployed manned platforms which were attacked and destroyed by their opponents.

Next : The first Orbital War.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

and then.....1953: Project Prometheus and Operation Fleaflicker

The war has been stalemated since the soviet thrust across the Rhine was cut off and destroyed in 1950. Vast air attacks on the UK have consistently kept it unusable as a base for long range strikes on the Soviet homeland.  Mass B-29/50 raids from south France or Iceland have been consistently unable to penetrate past Poland  or the east Baltic sea without destruction. Leningrad was damaged by Atomic weaponry at the cost of 70% of the strike aircraft in the most successful such raid. The Mig-15 has proven to be a terrifying air defense fighter against unescorted bombers, even the new B-36 - of which half were lost in the Leningrad raid. By 1952 the Soviet R-1 (the "super v-2") is deployed in a nuclear air defense variant effectively sealing off Pact airspace from large formation attacks.

On the ground, Germany and Poland have absorbed dozens, perhaps a hundred nuclear strikes from small dirty tactical strikes up thru the 50kt Nagasaki busters. East and west line up on opposite sides of the Rhine, keeping dispersed and dug in against tactical strikes.  R-1 and the new R-2 rockets occasionally bombard eastern France and Southwest UK with Diebner bombs and radiological weapons. Both sides are locked into fortress economies, currently safe from attack, surrounded by devastated allies.

Nov 7, 1953, Cold Lake USAFB, Alberta, Canada: Project Prometheus.

Seven orbital Bombers designed by Eugene Sanger from his original Silbervogel Antipodal bomber scream into the air at the end of  10,000 foot long rail tracks. Launched in three waves, the bombers carry seven Atomic bombs, three of the now all-too-common fat man design, four carrying Super Oralloy Weapons estimated at a half megaton each - an order of magnitude more the the fat man bombs.

One of the rail boosters of the second wave explodes at separation, destroying Prometheus 5 and it's launch track; the remaining two rails launch the final bombers successfully.  Two of the remaining six break up and are destroyed as they begin skipping off of the atmosphere.  All will be destroyed during final re-entry, but four will deliver their bombs first: two superbombs on Moscow and two fat man bombs on command and control sites in the heartland of Russia. The capital and command bunkers are pulverized.  Amidst the hundreds of thousands of casualties, two key ones are included: Stalin and Beria; as well as Molotov, Malenkov,  Bulganin,  most of Presidium and Stavka command including Marshal Zhukov. The Soviet military and government is effectively decapitated; even more, news of Stalin and Beria's death creates an instant power struggle among the few survivors, paralyzing the response.

Operation Fleaflicker
As the strikes in Russia are confirmed, the remaining long-range bomber and Ficon squadrons launch from the newly built Frobishers bay AFB, passing over the ruins of Thule on their way to Russia.  However, Soviet air defense is hampered but not crippled; few bombers make it to targets past suicidal fighter attacks and massed air detonations of nuclear weapons.It is the effective destruction of both the NATO's  strategic air forces, and  the soviet fighter command.  The survivors will land, ditch or bail out across northern Canada, Greenland and Scandinavia.

That night, as the bombers and their fighters are attacking  soviet airspace, NATO  commits  all remaining ground force reserves in what is to be the last, desperate offensive of WWIII. Widely dispersed NATO forces cross the Rhine; winter slows down the attacking forces and burdens supply, but gives tactical surprise and removes the specter of nuclear air attacks from the equation.

Within three weeks, NATO forces are at the Wesser, Main, and Danube and the uneasy alliance that currently rules the USSR (Nikita Kruschev, and the only surviving Marshals Ivan Konev and Vasily Sokolosky) requests a cease-fire. With logistical support failing across the blasted German battlefield,  NATO, quite literally on its last legs desperately grabs the olive branch and accepts an indefinite armistice.  Germany between the Wesser and the Elbe becomes the northern region of a DMZ that will stretch to the Adriatic. The troops remain on the lines, and will for the next thirty years; at least the wounded will be home by Christmas. how does this get us into space ?