So, okay, suppose the bad guys start using these. What do we do about it?
To explain a bit further — if I were a Bad Guy™, here’s how I’d do it: develop a design optimized for range, payload, and accuracy, deprioritizing things like speed and small size; conduct a few test flights of > 5000 km; set up numerous (10+) manufacturing facilities in northern South America, each of which included only one person who added the payloads to the finished airplanes; set up many more (100+) launch sites in the same general area; begin launching the airplanes around the clock, but concentrated to arrive at their targets (mostly bridges and busy stretches of urban highways) near the morning and evening rush hours. Ramp the launch rate up to 100 per day or more. If possible, add terminal guidance systems to the airplanes just good enough to pick out the largest vehicle on the bridge or highway they’re flying over and aim for it.
Each plane carries a kilo of explosive, sufficient to demolish any non-armored vehicle and, in heavy traffic, cause a massive pileup. Some of the trucks are bound to have hazardous cargoes (typo in article — it’s I-29, not “I-20”), resulting in high death tolls. Imagine ten of those every day for a month, in cities all over the country. Highways closed — sealed off — for half a day at a time. For every incident, tens of thousands of people unable to get to work — unable to get home — unable to get to day care, hospitals, you name it. Imagine the downward economic spiral, the public panic, the hysteria and scapegoating, the growing despair.
This does not happen now only because massive nuisance attacks and (relatively) low body counts do not give the Bad Guys™ enough thrills. But suppose they become about 5% more rational and start working on ways to really hurt us. Then what?
My stock answer is that we get nanotech and build an active shield defense. And we will, but we’re not there yet. Besides, that’s a little bit like saying we’ll just scale up a bottle rocket to get a moon rocket. Some steps are missing.
I’d be delusional if I said I know what the missing steps are. But I’ve got a couple of ideas, and what’s blogging for if not to share half-formed ideas with total strangers?
- So, OK, I’m lazing around the in-laws’ house over T-day weekend and watching The Life of Mammals, and Attenborough is talking about bats, specifically vast colonies of them that live in caves in Texas (not to mention the Congress Avenue Bridge crowd, which has to be seen to be believed). Since said in-laws’ house is in central Texas, I perked up a bit at the local-chiroptera-makes-good angle.
These critters show up on radar:
In the spring of 1995, “bats aloft” came to full boil when the U.S. Weather Service’s new Doppler radar was turned on at New Braunfels, Texas, only a few miles from Bracken Cave. Every night the Doppler radar detects the huge numbers of free-tailed bats that come out of Bracken Cave and other major roosts. It documents their dispersal over the Texas landscape, and it plots the altitudes and directions from which they return every morning.
The McCracken study also mentions another method of detection:
This summer, working with John Westbrook and his colleagues from the USDA, we placed radio microphones on weather balloons that floated freely with the moths. The radio microphones recorded bat orientation calls as high as 3,900 feet (1,200 m) and feeding buzzes at 2,400 feet (750 m), proving that free-tailed bats are indeed flying and feeding at the same altitudes and locations as the moth migrations.
But the analogy I’m drawing here isn’t between the bats and the Model Airplanes From Hell. It’s between their prey — on the order of a million kilograms of corn earworm moths, “the number-one agricultural pest in America,” every night — and the MAFH.
We need the mechanical equivalent of Mexican free-tailed bats. And it doesn’t need to be nearly as capable as the MAFH. The historical analogy would be to the galleons of the Spanish Armada, which had to be general-purpose assault vessels, versus Drake’s galleons, which only had to be able to stop the Spanish ones. The mechanical Mexican free-tailed bats (MMFTBs) wouldn’t have to carry any armament at all; they would be purely kinetic-kill weapons, destroying their opponents by ramming them in midair.
- Not only that, the MMFTBs could get their target area assignments from a decentralized network of amateurs. The Feds could just dump the raw Doppler radar (or weather-balloon microphone) data out there and let anybody use it. Via Virginia, I wandered into the MIT Technology Review weblog and found this post, which in turn points to this Fast Company article, from which I excerpt:
Rob McEwen, chairman and CEO of Goldcorp Inc., based in Toronto … triggered [a] gold rush by issuing an extraordinary challenge to the world’s geologists: We’ll show you all of our data on the Red Lake [Ontario] mine online if you tell us where we’re likely to find the next 6 million ounces of gold. The prize: a total of $575,000, with a top award of $105,000.
From concentrations of MAFH, the amateur network could begin tracking them back to their points of origin — though of course the final identification of launch areas would, in my scenario, require operations overseas, in other nations, with all the complications that implies. But at least we’d be able to make the things crash in the middle of nowhere without killing anybody.
“A pack, not a herd.”