3 April 2006

We Come In Peace - NOT!

By Rusty Rockets

If you think that the threat of terrorism is alarming, you're probably not ready to contemplate a much bigger problem. How much bigger? Think fear in the streets, think global panic, think nowhere to run... think alien invasion! Further explanation about the consequences of such an invasion are unnecessary; you all saw what happened in War of the Worlds didn't you? And Independence Day? Yes, we won in the end, but it was a mighty close call! Anyway, if the authors of a new book entitled An Introduction to Planetary Defense: A Study of Modern Warfare Applied to Extra-Terrestrial Invasion are correct, then these Hollywood blockbusters represent nothing more than unwarranted Earthling optimism; propaganda designed to bolster human morale before our obliteration.

An Introduction to Planetary Defense, claim its authors, is a serious attempt at discussing defense contingencies in preparation for an alien invasion. All four authors have extensive scientific backgrounds in various fields including nuclear and spacecraft engineering, astrophysics and high level defense intelligence communications. "We [wrote the book] because we felt that the general public and the military strategy community needed to hear this topic discussed from a serious perspective from real scientists and engineers," said one of the authors, Travis S. Taylor. While Taylor admits that predicting alien offensive capabilities can be a little difficult, the book covers the strategies, tactics and contemporary weaponry that humankind could employ if an alien invasion did occur.

Taylor has an impressive list of gongs: a Doctorate in Optical Science and Engineering, a Master's degree in Physics, a Master's degree in Aerospace Engineering, a Master's degree in Astronomy, and a Bachelor's degree in Electrical Engineering. He's worked on an assortment of programs for the Department of Defense and NASA over the last sixteen years, including several advanced propulsion concepts, very large space telescopes, space-based beamed energy systems, future combat technologies and next generation space launch concepts. In addition to the current defense systems that we Earthlings may use against an alien aggressor, An Introduction to Planetary Defense also touches on some of the possible future weaponry that could be used to fry the invading alien hordes.

As Taylor has rubbed shoulders with US government big-wigs for the past sixteen years, it seems that the most obvious question to ask is what does he know that we don't? Are aliens the real deal? Have they visited Earth (a la Roswell and Area 51) already? Taylor is strictly "no comment" on that subject and I didn't want to risk memory erasure by pursuing that question any further. Luckily, Taylor was happier to talk about the probability of an alien invasion occurring. "That is the hardest question that we tried to deal with in the book. The key here is that there is a finite likelihood that we will get invaded. It's kind of like the likelihood of being in a tornado. It's not really likely, but there is a finite probability. The ones that survive the tornados are usually the ones that are prepared for them. Either that, or they are just danged lucky," he said.

So if aliens are positioned just a few light years away, with fingers (tendrils, suction cups, whatever) poised over the hyper-drive button that will instantly thrust them to within striking distance of a vulnerable Earth, what can we do? "To be prepared for it in advance. That's the best strategy," recommends Taylor. He adds that the best tactic once they arrive would be to adopt guerrilla warfare methods, much like various resistance groups have done in the past. "We should use tactics like the asymmetric situations in the past. Guerrilla warfare and terrorist tactics make the most sense. We should try to be such a nuisance to the invaders that they just lose interest in spending more time, money and lives. Kind of like the Mujahideen did in the Afghan Soviet war."

Taylor goes on to add some tactical suggestions that sound eerily similar to those being employed in Iraq. "The best weapons would be WMD (Weapons of Mass Destruction) and IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices); wolves in sheep's clothing. Trojan horses, that sort of thing. The intelligence of the day will decide the particulars," he suggests.

But should our weapons and guerilla tactics fail, it seems that we're done for. We won't be able to rely on the aliens catching a dose of flu warns Taylor, as the War of the Worlds climax merely highlights the chasm between sci-fi and reality. "With all due respect to H.G. Wells, alien physiology will have evolved in such a different way that [Earthly] biology will be of no impact to them. The bacteria and viruses here have evolved to attack us, not a different alien biology." And it's not just alien physiology that would be profoundly different; we might not even comprehend why aliens would attack in the first place. "Sci-fi tends to personify the aliens with humanlike qualities, but aliens are alien. Their motivations are likely be just that; alien," says Taylor.

However, an alien attack may have a silver lining, given that there's nothing like a common enemy to forge alliances between previously belligerent nations. Ronald Reagan thought that the idea of an alien enemy would foster strong bonds between the squabbling nations of Earth. "He often discussed this with his staff and even presented the idea at a couple of different speeches - the most famous one was to the UN," said Taylor. "Perhaps we need some outside, universal threat to make us recognize [our] common bond. I occasionally think how quickly our differences worldwide would vanish if we were facing an alien threat from outside this world," Reagan was quoted as saying. 

An Introduction to Planetary Defense is a fascinating interpretation of military technologies and logistics and is a good read for budding heroes looking to save the planet; or for those just content to read some interesting science, conceptualized within an imagined alien invasion. There is also more than enough material here for those who enjoy reading between the lines and joining the dots.