Shape Of Things to Come?
Top NASA Scientist Discusses The Future of Undersea Warfare
by Dennis M. Bushnell
Since the 1950s, when more than 50 percent of the nation's work force became engaged in some type of "information-intensive," activity, the United States (and the world) have been in the midst of an unprecedented Technological Revolution, currently centered around Information, Biological, and Nanoscale technologies. These technologies are all pushing the frontiers of the miniscule in a synergistic "feeding frenzy" among each other, and are causing tremendous changes in all areas of human endeavor. One of these areas is warfare. The character of these new technologies is altering both the context of potential conflicts and the diversity, effectiveness, survivability, and affordability of the techniques and material applicable to waging war.
In today's environment, some 70 percent of all
research is now conducted within a "commercial" framework
outside the United States and is thus readily available to likely
adversaries. In terms of sheer size, several economies (Japan, China, and
the European Union, for example) are approaching the magnitude of ours,
and may even exceed it. Moreover, inexpensive, highly-motivational,
web-based distance learning on demand promises to greatly accelerate these
trends. With respect to techniques and materiel, the Info/Bio/Nano-technology
revolution(s) are providing:
Current estimates indicate that over the next 25 years, computing will increase in speed by some six orders of magnitude, and communication speeds will increase by four orders of magnitude as optical systems replace microwaves. Further, the use of large active-volume or broad-area techniques and advanced energetic materials in weaponry will increase their destructive power by up to four orders of magnitude.
The overall impacts of these largely-commercial and globally-available capabilities on the outlook for military operations are far-reaching. In particular, these technologies will enable much more effective "warfare on the cheap," in which "peer competitors" are no longer defined by their possession of megatons of Industrial Age artifacts in steel and aluminum. They create dangerous implications for any attempt to carry late-20th century U.S. power-projection concepts into the 21st century. Numerous systems are emerging that could be used in tandem to wreak havoc on U.S. air and sea-surface logistic and strike platforms, both en route and in the operational theater. Non-stealth and undefended logistics platforms are particularly at risk. What will be "new" in this future threat environment are the omnipresent, omniscient sensor suites mentioned previously and the sheer number and variety of long-range and pre-positioned precision munitions that can be brought to bear. Unless platforms and weapons enjoy the sanctuary of the deep ocean, being targeted will be a "given" in the out-years. New age weapons and munitions will include:
Just consider the last. The Blast-wave
Accelerator was analyzed at the University of Texas/Austin by Professor
Dennis Wilson and is under study by both the Army and NASA for inexpensive
access to space. The concept involves sequential detonation of charges
behind a projectile (without a barrel) yielding ICBM or IRBM speeds after
only 100 to 200 feet of acceleration. Essentially this is a
"rocket" in which the external structure and propellant never
leave the launcher - only the warhead. The latter could be proected in
flight by a technique test-flown by NASA in the 1960s at 18,000 to 25,000
feet per second - injection from the nose of a thin stream of liquid
water, which can be thrust-vectored. The 1,000-pound projectile would
operate in a boost-glide, vice ballistic, trajectory and offer not only
stealthy launch - no plume - but also exceptional flexibility,
affordability, and survivability, while retaining the ability to be
recalled. The Slingatron, also being studied for inexpensive space access,
would use an oscillating horizontal tube - much like a
"hula-hoop" - to accelerate projectiles in a spiral path until
launch velocity is reached. Such an arrangement appears capable of lofting
hundreds to thousands per minute of ten-kilogram projectiles over even
One way for the
"Enemy-After-Next" to defeat or deter U.S. power projection with
relatively little expenditure is to ensure that our forces do not
"arrive at the party." The notional weapons described above -
and others - are all based on enabling technologies already "in the
pipeline," and they will make crossing the ocean in the air or on the
surface like running the gauntlet. Attrition by enemy action could well
begin within the continental United States (CONUS) itself and then over
the continental shelf, since we typically deploy from a relatively small
number of ports and airfields, thus simplifying the pre-positioning of
smart, "pre-need," anti-air and anti-surface missiles and a
variety of mines. As we will discuss below, "kill" mechanisms
will probably not be restricted to high explosives.
Deep-water arsenal submarines would obviously need tremendous capabilities for loading out munitions. Thus, as almost a reductio ad absurdum approach in designing such platforms, "almost-spherical" configurations should certainly be investigated.
Admittedly, this concept submarine would be
very different from what might result from continuing with our current and
evolving design practice. However, along with affordability and
survivability, volumetric loadout is the major issue for power projection
from submerged platforms. An "almost-spherical," deep-water,
arsenal submarine would have sufficient volume for many of the design
options listed above; space for adjunct sensors, such as mini UAVs; and
large capacity for storing munitions.
Dennis M. Bushnell is the Chief Scientist of NASA's Langley Research Center, Hampton, Virginia. He hails originally from Westbrook, Connecticut, the hometown of David Bushnell of Revolutionary War "Turtle" fame, and they share a common ancestor in William Bushnell (1680-1733) of Saybrook, Connecticut. He is a member of the National Academy of Engineering, a Fellow of the AIAA, ASME, and the Royal Aeronautical Society and is the recipient of the NASA medals for Outstanding Leadership and Exceptional Scientific Achievement.
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