A lost 1963 BBC interview with Arthur C. Clarke.

Clarke missed the mark badly on Mars (I think we’re still looking for that breakthrough in propulsion) but was pretty close on the timing of the Moon landing (although he picked the wrong horse).

From the Guardian.


It would appear at least some in the media start with an opinion they hold (for example, U.S. nuclear weapons are not useful at best, dangerous for certain, and evil at worst) and then attempt to build a selective reality which appears to confirm their opinions. Concurrently, there is often the mutually supporting appeal to authority (like arms controller hero Senator Sam Nunn), whereby an anecdotal story can be used for the same effect. These phenomenon are played out in an article in Foreign Policy (a part of the total Foreign Policy/Slate/Washington Post effort) called The nuclear bombs to nowhere.

Nunn has often told the story of his visit to Europe as a young senator in 1974… Nunn and his staff director, Frank Sullivan, [clandestinely] went to [a military] barracks. The sergeant [who Nunn had met earlier] and “three or four of his fellow sergeants related a horror story to me,” Nunn recalled. “A story of a demoralized military after Vietnam. A story of drug abuse. A story of alcohol abuse. A story of U.S. soldiers actually guarding the tactical nuclear weapons while they were stoned on drugs. The stories went on and on for over an hour.” Deeply worried about what he had heard, Nunn reported it to then-Defense Secretary James Schlesinger immediately on return to the United States.

I don’t doubt the veracity of the anecdote, but the modern questions from Nunn’s anecdote are profound: today, should we base our war plans (which might include tactical nuclear weapons) on a nearly 40-year old story, when the now highly-professionalized all-volunteer force was one year old, and before drug testing had been instituted?

To me, it seems wiser to make our war plans (again, to consider the possible use of nuclear weapons) based on the capabilities and intentions of the adversary than on Sam Nunn’s polyester-era observations.  

After discussing the significant draw down in both U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear weapon counts, the article’s author David Hoffman, offers this forehead slapper:

[Today,] Both the U.S. and Russia face new threats — terrorism, proliferation, economic competition, pandemics — for which these long-range or strategic nuclear weapons are of little value.

Ya got me there, big guy: nuclear weapons did not stop 9/11. However, nuclear deterrence exists to keep others from doing something we really don’t like as the costs to the attacker will exceed the benefits.

Carpenters have this rule, you see: use the right tool for the job. Strategic nuclear weapons were never intended to defeat terrorism, weapons proliferation, economic competition, nor pandemics: in fact, they’re of little value except for holding strategic targets at risk… a self-evident hypothesis without which, the whole point of the strategic arsenal is lost (as Dr. Strangelove might offer).

And of course, there are the tactical nuclear weapons.

NATO [today] has between 150 and 200 B-61 gravity bombs in Belgium, Italy, Germany, the Netherlands and Turkey… Today, Russia has an estimated 2,000 useable tactical nuclear weapons, although it is not clear precisely how many nor where they are located…

Yet by many accounts, these [NATO] nuclear bombs have no military utility. Where would they be dropped? The war plans of the Cold War are defunct. Our modern nuclear-tipped missiles are plenty accurate and sufficient for any future contingency or target.

The indirect plea, of course, is for NATO to purge itself of these (useless, dangerous, or evil) tactical nuclear weapons, which according to stories, were guarded by depressed post-Vietnam stoners and winos in 1974. What’s to account for this disparity in numbers between NATO and Russia and how is it that tactical nuclear weapons appear to have value to Russia, but are security value-subtracted for the West, that is, for the United States?

[In Russia], tactical nuclear weapons are seen as a useful complement to conventional or non-nuclear military forces, which are declining. Eugene Miasnikov of the Center for Arms Control, Energy and Environmental Studies in Moscow laid out the Russian perspective in a recent paper.

But didn’t the U.S. just "pivot" to Asia, and away from Europe, power-wise? Aren’t U.S. forces in Europe (and elsewhere) going to be greatly reduced? And isn’t the Air Force today on track to be the smallest ever, the Navy the smallest since the beginning of World War I, and the Army and Marines the smallest since the start of World War II? In other words, it would seem the same circumstances the Russians use as justification to keep their tactical nuclear weapons are already facing NATO (read the U.S.).

It would also seem our tactical nuclear weapons have value, if nothing else, in negotiations. Russia is now locked into a tremendous advantage and since they’re already selling missiles to Syria (we must not have pushed that darn reset button hard enough), who knows what they might do with their nuclear weapons?

Maybe U.S./NATO tactical nuclear weapons could be useful in getting the Russians to draw down their stockpile, maybe not. But one thing seems obvious: expecting Russia to reduce their tactical nuclear weapons after we’ve already unilaterally gotten rid of ours is an intellectual bridge too far.

The Space Review has an offering on why India is a no-go for participation in the EU’s space Code of Conduct (CoC). Here are the six reasons, lifted quite directly from the Space Review article:

1. The non-binding nature of the CoC

2. Repetition of and intrusion into a country’s domestic space policies

3. The failure of the EU to consult Asian countries when drafting the CoC

4. The failure of the CoC to address the geopolitical realities of the Asian sphere of influence

5. Ambiguity of terms and phrases within the CoC

6. Administration of the CoC

Regarding India’s third and forth concerns, one of the initial moves the EU took on the CoC (ignoring Russia, China, and India while crafting the CoC), has come home to roost. The assumption that the Indian space community should well-regard something that they did not participate in is 1) absolutely idiotic and 2) violates both human nature and history (this, and the fact India has Pakistan on one side and China on another).

Because the Obama administration is looking for foreign policy wins (consider the Russian reset, New START, Iran’s nuclear program, and a more belligerent China as fails), especially multi-lateral wins, the U.S. was willing to lead from behind by largely supporting the CoC’s many flawed premises.

The rest of the Indian concerns are common-sensical to anyone who has been paying attention to space for any period of time (which also include the general non-usefulness of the grand daddy of them all, the Outer Space Treaty). Therefore, let us proceed down their list.

Regarding concern number one, since the CoC is non-binding, what’s to keep any space-faring entity from saying they’ll participate in the CoC, and when it comes to judgment day, choosing not to? Nothing. India has seen this obvious concern, should the U.S. government as well?

At concern number two, the EU seems to have little regard for the important concepts of intellectual property, proprietary information, and/or espionage (perhaps assuming that knowledge should be literally free to those who didn’t spend the monies to develop and acquire such knowledge).

Tell me again why the United States would want "international space authorities" (to possibly include Chinese and/or Russians, or perhaps, those sympathetic to their causes) watching proprietary satellite builds, processing, or mating, or the same for a booster? Right, I keep forgetting that they’re always honorable and would never do anything underhanded.

With concern number five, terms and definitions matter in the extreme. Agreements without clear definitions and terms are comparable to intercontinental voyages (pre-GPS) without maps, compass, or experience. Maybe in the ram-jam effort to get the Outer Space Treaty signed and ratified, we would have been better served to, for example, have an agreed definition of where outer space even starts. In this regard, the CoC is just another band-aid on top of the OST’s already in-place gauze. But space doesn’t need band-aids or gauze; it needs enforceable and understood laws that allow its development to benefit human beings here on earth.    

Finally, concern number six rolls full circle back to concern number one; that is, how (or better, why) will we administer something that isn’t even binding? Administration of the CoC would likely to be adjudicated by the wise and inherently unbiased existent "international space authorities" such as the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, so how would CoC participation benefit India (or again, anyone else)? Sounds like another jobs program/cottage industry for the arms control industry.

While the CoC purports to be a solution to make space safer for all, it really purports to address space security non-problems like the mythical "arms race in outer space" (which is simply arms control code for banning space-using missile defense).

At the end of the day, the CoC appears to be another stillborn idea from the unelected bureaucrats in Brussels. Why even the EU would participate in their own CoC is idea that is worth exploring, but in the mean time, the CoC’s wholly ambiguous framework, lack of enforcement, and sanctioned intrusions seem ill-equipped to improve India’s national security.

It seems if you work at one of the secret Iranian facilities associated with the nuclear weapons program or the ballistic missile effort, life is fraught with risk. Stuxnet, Revolutionary Guard mishaps, what’s next?

Oh, another mishap. Wonder how many are dead this time?

An explosion rocked the western Iranian city of Isfahan on Monday, the semi-official Fars news agency reported, adding that the blast was heard in several parts of the city.


The reported incident occurred about two weeks after Gen. Hasan Tehrani Moghaddam was killed together with 20 other Guard members Nov. 12 at a military site outside Bidganeh village, 40 kilometers southwest of Tehran.

The Revolutionary Guard said the accidental explosion occurred while military personnel were transporting munitions.

Who to blame? Should Iran finger Stuxnet, Part Deux? The Russians or North Koreans (with their traditional quality control “challenges”)? The rocket scientists associated with the Revolutionary Guard? The Protocols of the Zionistic Sons of Katie Elder? All the above?

If it was Israel, look out: Ming150,000 rockets are headed their way, under the command of the winner of the Ming the Merciless look-alike contest.



SPAC_Falcon_Family_lgThe media is enamored with Elon Musk. Why not? He’s building rockets and rockets are cool; he doesn’t discourage the many ‘genius’ tags thrown his way (maybe because there aren’t too many physics majors in journalism); he’s already made a fortune (PayPal) in the real world (and cashed out), and he’s a reliable political and social liberal.

But that won’t make a rocket fly, nor will it make SpaceX succeed, even if they are unencumbered by the cost-adding layers of bureaucracy the military, NRO, and NASA all create. Less ‘oversight’ equals less cost, after all, but can a new start reliably reduce the cost to orbit by something approaching a half-order of magnitude? I don’t think so.

And at some point, the SpaceX ‘get real’ flag has to be thrown. For example:

Even if an engine [on the nine engine Falcon 9] explodes, says [SpaceX propulsion chief Tom] Mueller, the others will not be affected.

I’m not too sure about that; engine failures tend to be catastrophic and don’t much seem to gracefully degrade. And then there’s this:

Talking about a [8000 person] city on Mars by the middle of this century—even as SpaceX has yet to fly its first cargo mission to Earth orbit—is one of the reasons space professionals are skeptical about Musk’s claims.

SpaceX is for real and they are showing it with substantive and unprecedented accomplishments, but they are like everyone else in the space industry in one important way: they can only make money by selling the government a service. The competition is useful to the customer (that is, the government), but at some point this thing called reverting to the mean comes into play and space launch falls prey to regulatory capture, rent-seeking, and/or crony capitalism.

Will reverting to the mean affect SpaceX’s performance, cost, or schedule? History suggests it is most likely to revert on cost and schedule, especially as the customer demands ever-increasing insight.

A wise man once said the government wants to pay a fair price and have the contractor make a fair profit. If we could only agree what we mean by fair.

It seems there’s new evidence regarding the secret training school associated with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s missile program. Wikileaks got nuthin’ on Songs of Space and Nuclear War (and you still can’t spell Assange without a-s-s).

Iranian School For The Gifted

Iranian Missile WorksIt appears Iran killed at least 20 of its own in a secret missile test, including Revolutionary Guard Gen. Hasan Moghaddam. Details surrounding the disaster are not well known.

Given the observed outcome, all I can advise is this: keep working boys, keep working. You’ll know you’re fully successful when you’re all dead.

Of course, over time, practice makes perfect, especially when Iran is likely to be getting a fair amount of outside help.

In other news related to the foreign policy success of the so-called Russian Reset comes this from NTI:

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Wednesday said his nation would target U.S. antimissile installations if the two nations cannot come to accord on the Obama administration’s missile defense plans, the Associated Press reported (see GSN, Nov. 22).

The United States and NATO for the last year have sought to reach agreement with Moscow for collaboration on a developing Europe-based missile shield. Several rounds of negotiations have failed to produce a deal, with the sides remaining at odds over the set-up of a cooperative defense system.

The Kremlin has also demanded a legally binding pledge that the NATO defenses would not be aimed at Russian nuclear forces. The alliance has rebuffed the request but says the missile shield is intended to counter ballistic missile strikes from the Middle East, notably Iran.

Medvedev said that should the dispute continue Russia was prepared to deploy Iskander missiles in the far-western Kaliningrad region that could be fired at U.S. missile defense facilities in Europe. Additional missiles could be placed in the west and south of Russia, he added.

New long-range nuclear missiles would be equipped with technology enabling them to defeat antimissile systems, Medvedev said.

There is a potential upside to U.S. national security embedded within Medvedev’s threats:

The president also said that Russia could suspend participation in the New START nuclear arms control treaty with the United States and curb additional arms control discussions with Washington.

"The United States and its NATO partners as of now aren’t going to take our concerns about the European missile defense into account," according to Medvedev.

With security partners like Russia, who needs non-partners?