Orbital Warfare; an essay on planetary defence strategies and humanity’s ability to engage in pan-atmospheric conflict.
As part of the mandate of Project Heimdall, the following document addresses the probable effectiveness of conventional warfare strategies against an enemy force of HE’s and what weapons, tactics and locations may prove invaluable in the case of pan-atmospheric confrontations.
Note that this essay does not address humanity’s capacity to engage HE forces on the ground, but how we can address the clearest disparity we would be likely to face when fighting an enemy capable of interstellar travel; being subjected to orbital or high-atmospheric bombardment. In accordance with the parameters of Project Heimdall the assumption is being made that the HE forces would not wish to cause undue or unnecessary damage to Earth, her satellite Moon or her atmospheric composition, therefore the nature of any orbitally-deployed weapons are assumed to be tactical (precise and focused on targets of military value) rather than strategic (large-scale and indiscriminate). This is fortunate for, as I will outline later, if any HE force opts for the latter option, we would be nearly powerless to prevent the total annihilation of life on Earth.
Firstly, it should go without saying that the majority of humanity’s weapons would be completely useless against space-bound firing platforms. Even if we ignore the fact that most objects in orbit must maintain constant speeds of kilometres per second- and so are almost impossible to hit without advanced targeting computers plotting the correct firing coordinates- the largest artillery cannons humankind has ever constructed are barely capable of breaching the stratosphere. This simple fact immediately renders almost every weapon in our collective arsenal worthless.
However, it may be the case that even the weapons that are capable of reaching space would still be of little use to us.
To understand why one must know that the escape velocity of planet Earth’s gravitational field is approximately eleven (11) kilometres per second. A speed which no manned spaceflight has ever achieved and only a few dozen unmanned probes have ever managed. Every weapon mankind has ever constructed are designed for aerial, terrestrial or naval combat, and the few that ever breach Earth’s atmosphere only do so in order to gain more speed for their final approach to their terrestrial targets and impair enemy attempts at interception. Thus, unless we weaponize the few spacecraft that are capable of attaining escape velocity, any HE naval force that remained outside of Earth’s orbit would be able to bombard any target on the surface of the planet with impunity.
It only gets worse from there. To convey in a meaningful way the momentous nature of the problem we face, we must employ a hypothetical situation. Imagine that a mass-produced artillery gun- for example the US army 155mm howitzer used during WWII, whose shells weigh roughly 6.31 kilograms- fired from just inside the Earth’s gravity well- say the distance from the Earth to the Moon when it is furthest from us. When we take into account the lack of air resistance for most of the shot’s trajectory and the relatively small size of the shell creating a small amount of resistance when it enters the atmosphere, plus the massive speed the shot will gather as it plummets towards its target on Earth, then even a shot as small as 6.31 kilograms would impact on its target with a force 831 times greater than the bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima in 1945.
Since this hypothetical does not take into account the fact that any HE force that engaged Earth in this way would have weapons specifically designed to maximise this effect, it can be said with certainty that the only effective defence any resistance would have would be camouflage, concealment and mobility, as not even the heavily fortified NORAD bunker designed for the U.S. President in case of global nuclear holocaust would be proof against the hypothetical impact outlined above.
However, to shift our focus back from defence to offense, there are several delivery systems by which weapons could potentially strike at enemies in Earth’s orbit. The first and foremost of these are of course the stockpiles of InterContinental Ballistic Missiles that world superpowers have been accumulating since the Second World War. Many of the US and Russia’s long-range nuclear missiles have trajectories which involve ascending to the very limit of Earth’s atmosphere before their stage two ignition. Ordinarily stage two would involve firing additional boosters for a re-entry so fast that tracking and interception is impossible, so with some simple reprogramming these stage two rockets would be more than capable of pushing their payload clear of the atmosphere with fuel left over for course correction. However these weapons for the most part require large, immovable silos to be launched which, as outlined above, would be highly susceptible to annihilation by enemy forces.
A more viable option may be the ASAT – or anti-satellite- programs in development by dozens of first-world militaries. While some of these programs are silo based, many of the more advanced iterations can be fired from jet aircraft or even submarines and so are less susceptible to spoiling attacks. However, while these weapons are all capable of breaching Earth’s atmosphere and striking orbital targets none of them bear nuclear payloads and some even lack explosive warheads, instead relying on the simple physics of two heavy metal projectiles striking each other in orbit to destroy humankind’s fragile satellites. Thus, for the most part, we must unfortunately discard this class of weapon as impractical.
Taking all of the above variables into account, it is clear that humanity is woefully unprepared to engage an enemy force with interstellar capability. However one important variable is unaccounted for- the organisation whose capabilities far outstrip those of Earth’s global powers – The Foundation. While I accept that many SCP’s would provide powerful answers to such a conflict, this researcher would like to point out that reliance upon such objects has hurt us greatly before, and never have we truly placed our faith in an SCP during a global crisis. Thus I believe that the Foundation should prioritise research into any SCP’s with potential military application, that we might turn the unknown into the known, and variable into certainty. Until then, under the mandate of Project Heimdall, I must conclude that against a HE force with pan-atmospheric warfare capability, our only course would be surrender and negotiation.
This concludes the abridged version of this report, for the full two hundred pages, as well as sourcing, you may contact Dr. Biellann at Site 19.