There's been a lot of space news recently, from studies increasingly questioning whether or not so-called dark matter actually exists, to a quiet debate on whether or not the U.S.A. should disclose at least some of its hidden technology. That debate may have been more or less recently settled as a retired United States Air Force Lieutenant General, Steven Kwast, has recently given a speech, and authored an opinion piece, which has had some circles of the internet buzzing with speculation. And since speculation is what we do here, and since these two articles were sent to me by all sorts of people, this story became one of this week's "must blog" topics. The article was written earlier this year in March, and more recently, General Kwast spoke to Hillsdale College.
Here's the two stories, and thanks to all who sent these along:
What has many on the internet buzzing are two comments being made in these two articles. From the first article:
To avoid this, the United States needs a more robust national focus on space and a strategy that enables the diplomatic use of space as a whole-of-society approach. What if, in addition to GPS, the United States and its allies provided 5G global broadband access with assured freedom of access anywhere in the world for pennies? What if the United States brought life-giving payloads and personnel to bear to within a half-meter anywhere in the world within about 30 minutes of launch? What if the United States underwrote the security of allied spacecraft and managed collection of global space debris? All of this is within easy technological reach today. Enabling technologies such as fully-reusable launch vehicles will increasingly expand this capability as costs begin, in time, to approach those of aviation. (Emphasis added)
What raises the eyebrows here is the claim to be able to deliver "life-giving payloads and personnel" to "within a half-meter anywhere in the world within about 30 minutes of launch". Of course, that capability has existed, in one form, since the late 1950s and 1960s, and it's called the Inter-Continental Ballistic Missile. And certain Kwast has framed his remarks in such a fashion as to suggest that something similar is in mind when he refers to "fully-reusable launch vehicles." In other words, we're to think in terms of sophisticated rockets, perhaps with a launch-and-land capability.
But then there's this remark from his address to Hillsdale College:
Kwast ultimately makes the case that the United States must be able to bring kinetic power, non-kinetic power, and informational power to the battlefield cheaper and faster than its adversaries in order to ensure strategic advantage in space.
Around the 12:00 mark in the speech, Kwast makes the somewhat bizarre claim that the U.S. currently possesses revolutionary technologies that could render current aerospace capabilities obsolete:
"The technology is on the engineering benches today. But most Americans and most members of Congress have not had time to really look deeply at what is going on here. But I’ve had the benefit of 33 years of studying and becoming friends with these scientists. This technology can be built today with technology that is not developmental to deliver any human being from any place on planet Earth to any other place in less than an hour."(Emphasis added)
One must assume that General Kwast would not be talking about such things publicly without having cleared it first with higher-ups. Indeed, given the recent discussion on whether or not the USA should publicly reveal some of the technologies it has secretly developed, it could be argued that Kwast's remarks are an indicator that the decision has been taken to do so. His comments about space diplomacy could therefore be interpreted that the revelation of these capabilities is a component of a wider diplomatic policy beginning to emerge.
What interests me, however, are the technological implications of his remarks. In the above remarks, for example, General Kwast appears to confirm the existence of kinetic weapons with his reference to "kinetic power." Many have long suspected that the USA may have weaponized space already with so-called "rod of God" kinetic weapons, able to generate enormous explosive energies simply through the sheer velocity of high masses impacting the surface of the Earth. Some, for example, speculated that the explosion at the Chinese chemical plant at Tianjin may have been a demonstration of such a weapon, and I was one of those considering it. More recently, during one of the North Korea kerfuffles, an American general stated that "all options" were on the table. A reported was overheard to ask if that included "kinetic weapons," and the general's simple response was, "Yes." President Trump himself may have got in on the act with his own comments about highly destructive weapons that were not nuclear in nature.
What intrigues me even more, however, are the implications of his remarks at the end of the above quotation: "This technology can be built today with technology that is not developmental to deliver any human being from any place on planet Earth to any other place in less than an hour." What intrigues me here, though I readily admit that it is more than possible I am parsing his words too closely, is that the mention of reusable launch vehicles is entirely missing from the context, as is the mention of "life-giving payloads." Nor is it entirely clear from his remarks that the delivery to "any other place in less than an hour" means necessarily a delivery to a place on the planet Earth. Indeed, he seems to go somewhat out of his way to mention "planet Earth" as the point of sortie, but does not repeat the phrase in the target phase of his remarks: "to any other place" is what he says, not "to any other place on planet Earth."
Generals don't mangle words; orders have to be carefully written so as to be entirely clear to the subordinates receiving them. Many months ago I blogged about the case of another American general who gave a speech to young officers about the future need for soldiers to be ready to combat "little green men." Those words, in the context of all the talk then occurring about space and the need for an American space force and space command, carried a certain weight and implication, notwithstanding the attempt of some to spin them as well-known US Army code and slang for Russians dressed in their green camo fatigues. If the general was referring to that, then he was making his words do double duty, for he would also fully know how his words would have been understood in the wider culture. I suspect we're dealing with a similar phenomenon here: General Kwast has carefully constructed his words, to allow for a full range of interpretative possibilities, both terrestrial and off-planet. Much more importantly, the omission of any reference to "reusable launch vehicles" from his second set of remarks may indicate that other even more exotic technologies are also in play...
See you on the flip side...