Chapter 3c
The Integrated System-of-Systems


Sun Tzu said "all war is based on deception."91 Military commanders have always sought to hide their intentions, capabilities, and forces from their opponents. The most prominent modern example of deceptive techniques is stealth technology, which seeks to hide platforms from sensors by reducing the various sensor cross sections (i.e., radar, optical, infrared, acoustic, etc.). Modern advances in holographic technologies suggest another possibility: weapons that project false images to deceive the opponent.92

Holograms are produced by scattering laser light or intense bursts of white light off objects and forming three-dimensional interference patterns. The information contained in the interference pattern is stored in a distributed form within solid emulsions or crystals for later projection with a source of light similar to that used to produce the interference pattern.93


Full color holograms can only be produced with white light sources, and even the best modern white-light holograms are imperfect.94 It is certainly possible to make holograms of troop concentrations, military platforms, or other useful objects, although the larger the scene the more difficult it is to produce the proper conditions to create a convincing hologram. No credible approach has been suggested for projecting holograms over long distances under real-world conditions, although the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Media Lab believes holographic color projection may be possible within 10 years.95 Holographic and other, less high-technology forms of illusion may became a potent tool in the hands of the information warriors (see the AF 2025 information warfare white papers).96


The best countermeasure for holographic illusions is the use of multiple sensor types. The most convincing optical illusion could easily be exposed by its lack of an appropriate infrared or radar signature. The likely proliferation of sensors and sensor types on the battlefield of 2025 makes the use of merely optical illusions a temporary expedient, at best. Nevertheless, considerable confusion could be created, at least temporarily, by projecting false infrared signatures (platform exhausts) or radar signatures (missiles) or by concealing one type of platform within the illusion of another type (or of nothing at all- a form of camouflage).


Illusion weapons are and will probably continue to be too limited in the 2025 time frame. The flexibility is low, precision uncertain, survivability and reliability are low, and the selective lethality involves deception only. With the proliferation of sensor devices projected for 2025, the attempt at deception would likely be detected so quickly as to have little effect.

Projectile Weapons

Projectile weapons are most easily described by dividing them into two classes: ballistic missiles (BM) and kinetic-energy weapons (KEW). The ballistic missile is commonly used as a high-speed means of delivering a weapons payload over long distances with adequate precision to strategic targets. The kinetic-energy weapon works on the simple concept of delivering a mass at extremely high velocities to the target. The basic kill mechanism for a KEW is its kinetic energy (KE) as calculated by the simple formula KE = 0.5 x (total mass) x (velocity)2.97 In general, the more kinetic energy delivered, the more damage done to the target. This places a premium on achieving high speeds, since the kinetic energy depends on the square of the weapon's velocity.

Projectile Weapons-Ballistic Missiles

Ballistic missiles are popular with many countries today due to their capability to deliver a payload to the country next door or to a country on the other side of the world. They can even be used to deliver satellites into space (Atlas and Titan IVs are popular in the US). Their fuel can be liquid or solid and they are fairly reliable. The guidance systems can use global positioning system (GPS) receivers or inertial navigation systems and US systems are known to be very precise (measured in feet). Finally there is a wide range of possible payloads: nuclear warheads, chemical/biological devices, submunitions, solid masses, satellites, nonlethal payloads like foams or a debilitating gas, and so forth.


The modern ICBM/SLBMs are strategic weapons of deterrence. As such, they inevitably carry devastating nuclear payloads. However, this is not the only possibility. With a CEP already measured in feet, ballistic missiles (theater or intercontinental) could be configured to carry more conventional payloads.98 The simplest useful payload is a solid tip (essentially a ton of cement in the nose). Few fixed targets could resist the sheer momentum of several tons of material delivered precisely at high speed from space. A simple variation on this approach replaces the solid tip with a high explosive charge. Equipped with the proper high speed fuse and possibly a shaped charge, this weapon could be very effective against many hardened facilities, especially shallowly buried bunkers or tunnels.

A ballistic missile could also be configured to carry a variety of submunitions. A reentry vehicle could be equipped with many long, dense rods that, when properly dispensed at high speed, would be excellent bunker busters. Alternatively, the reentry vehicle could contain hundreds or thousands of metal or ceramic flechettes (darts) designed to shred area targets such as enemy bases, weapon-making facilities, or threatening troop concentrations. The conventional EMP bombs described previously could be delivered to enemy C4I, air defense, and industrial facilities, disrupting or damaging all electronics without necessarily exacting a high cost in lives. Finally, a ballistic missile could be configured to deliver some form of nonlethal payload such as hardening foam, irritating gas, or foul smelling liquid.99

As regional wars in the Middle East have recently demonstrated, it is also possible to deliver chemical and biological weapons (CBW) with ballistic missiles. These unsettling, but potentially very effective area weapons share several disadvantages with nuclear weapons. CBWs are condemned by most nations as cruel and unusual weapons. Preemptive use of these weapons certainly invites worldwide condemnation. CBW devices are also uncontrollable once released-the areas affected are denied to friend and foe. Worse yet, chemical and biological agents are spread uncontrollably by environmental and natural vectors (e.g., insects and animals). In their current form, CBW devices are decidedly not precision weapons.


Ballistic missiles, whether theater or strategic in nature, are a particularly high-value target for space-strike laser weapon systems. Ballistic missiles spend tens to hundreds of seconds in the boost phase (theater ballistic missile [TBM] versus ICBM) followed by tens of seconds to tens of minutes in the postboost phase.100 These missiles are easily detected by their plumes only during boost phase, the shortest phase of their trajectory. During this brief interval of vulnerability, a light-speed kill by a space-based or space-borne laser weapon system can settle the problem before it has the opportunity to deploy MIRVs (multiple independently targeted reentry vehicles). In general, ballistic missile countermeasures have been addressed in great detail by the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization. The solutions range from direct interception by high-speed rockets and missiles to airborne and ground based-high energy laser strikes.101

The appropriate countercountermeasures are obvious. Stealthy reentry vehicles could be built that elude ground- and space-based sensors, although the designer would be forced to address optical, infrared, and multifrequency radar problems simultaneously. Alternatively, very small, very agile reentry vehicles that greatly complicate the problem of terminal defense could be designed.


Most of these missile-delivered weapons could be built today. All of the essential technologies, including precise delivery, are already available. The flexibility of the/a ballistic missile system is moderate, precision good, survivability may be tenuous in 2025, reliability is good, and selective lethality is limited with this system. Because of these limits on selective lethality and potential survivability problems, the ballistic missile will probably not be suitable for space force application in 2025.

Projectile Weapons-Kinetic Energy

This type of projectile weapon is closely related to the solid-tipped ballistic missile. Kinetic-energy weapons come in two classes related to their velocity-the Kinetic Energy Penetrator (KEP) and the Hydrodynamic Penetrator (HP).102 The KEP has a maximum impact velocity of 3 kilofeet per second (kfps), about the maximum speed of an SR-71 Blackbird. The KEP destroys the target by shattering it with an enormous blow. Since some areas of a target are more vulnerable to shattering blows than others, precise targeting is necessary for an effective KEP.

The HP has a minimum impact velocity of 8 kfps. When a penetrator strikes a target at this extreme velocity, both target and penetrator react to the collision as if they were fluids (their behavior described by hydrodynamic equations of motion). The impact attacks the molecular composition of the target, spreading dense impact shocks at enormous speed.

A nagging problem for KEW systems is the heat and shock generated on reentry. This can affect the precise delivery of the weapon. An exciting new concept has been proposed that promises to ameliorate this problem. By concentrating a laser beam in the area immediately in front of the hypervelocity KEW, it is possible to create a laser-supported detonation wave (called an "air spike") that partially shields the KEW. The air spike transforms the normal conical bow shock into a much weaker, parabolic-shaped oblique shock.103 Researchers estimate that a properly designed air spike could decrease the effects of shock and heat on a hypervelocity object by over 75 percent (making Mach 25 seem like Mach 3).

Researchers have also experimented with enhancers for the two basic classes of KEW. Pyrophoric compounds might be added to increase lethality by generating intense heat. Provided extremely high-speed fuses could be developed, explosive charges might be added to increase the weapon's ability to penetrate the target's outer shell. The dense rods or flechettes mentioned above as submunitions for ballistic missiles might also be used by a KEW to increase its area of effect, provided the submunitions could be dispersed properly at these enormous velocities. It has been suggested that low-speed submunitions or dispersed EMP bombs might be used to help the KEW penetrator overcome defensive systems and reach the target.104

The high velocities needed by KEW systems can be generated chemically (by rockets) or electromagnetically (by the "rail-gun"). The rail-gun consists of a long, usually evacuated, tube containing electrically conducting rails and surrounded by high-power electromagnets.105 The projectile is the only moving part. The projectile is placed on the rail and a large current is generated within the rail and the projectile. Simultaneously, time-varying magnetic fields are induced in the magnets with powerful pulsed power supplies. The resulting electromagnetic force rapidly accelerates the projectile to extreme velocities. Rail-guns are being actively studied by the US military, although to date researchers have only been able to accelerate small masses to hypervelocity. Velocities achieved 20 years ago have not been exceeded to this day. Navy technologists report that their main problem lies in developing small, high-power, stress-resistant power supplies.106

Finally, an interesting variation on the HP concept involves the use of meteorites as a weapon.107 Naturally occurring meteorites at least the size of large houses (necessary to survive drag-induced heating in the atmosphere) could be intercepted in space and redirected to a terrestrial target. If done with sufficient stealth and subtlety, the impact could even be "plausibly denied" as a natural occurrence. Meteorites 30 feet in diameter could be counted on to generate nuclear weapon-size explosions (20 kilotons), but without the lingering radiation.108


The capabilities of a kinetic-energy projectile would be similar to the better known precision guided missiles (PGMs). The kinetic-energy projectile would most likely be a PGM without explosives, but which travels so fast it can take out surfaces as well as targets buried hundreds of feet underground. Moreover, the kinetic-energy projectile can take out single targets or area targets (using hundreds of flechettes or rods). Besides precision, perhaps its most attractive capability is that it is an all-weather weapon. Finally, KEW are versatile in that they could be safely launched from the US and find their targets anywhere in the world within 30 minutes or they could reside in relatively small satellites (storage containers) in LEO waiting to be dispensed and reach their target within a few minutes. These rather simplistic satellites could easily be integrated with the global information network (GIN), the "utilities," and a command and control system.

Meteors can be hundreds of magnitudes more deadly than KEW. However, there are several significant shortfalls to meteorites as weapons. They are hardly a timely weapon- the war fighter must patiently wait for nature to deliver his "ammunition." The uneven shape and heterogeneous composition of meteorites makes it highly unlikely they can be guided precisely to a target. Since it is also impossible to predict how much of the meteorite will survive the fall from space, meteors are best classified as area weapons with a very uncertain radius of effect.


The countermeasures against KEWs are basically the same as for ballistics missiles, except that the KEWs are envisioned to be considerably smaller. Thus, they would be more difficult, if not impossible, to attack once they begin their descent from space. The countermeasure would best be applied against the KEW delivery platform be it a small satellite, a TAV, or some sort of pod.

If the KEW uses GPS for terminal guidance, it may be possible to jam the GPS signal. This may be especially effective for protecting mobile targets (the KEW GPS receiver would require real-time updates to hit these mobile targets). However, this would do nothing to prevent the use of KEWs that work strictly on trajectory or an internal guidance and targeting system against static targets.


Meteors, as a weapon, are impractical, even in 2025. Of course, since KEW technology is available today, it will certainly be even more precise and deadly in 2025. A few hundred KEW "storage containers" placed in a LEO would make the timeliness and responsiveness very high (within a few minutes). Precision and reliability would also be high. However, the flexibility and selective lethality would be low-total destruction would be the only choice, unless used as a demonstration of power. Thus, the KEW would not be the ideal weapon of 2025. Due to its all-weather capability, however, it would be a good complement to some other weapon capability.

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Contact: Air Force 2025
Last updated: 11 December 1996

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