The Antimatter Threat

Is It Closer than the Air Force Admits?

GIVE AND TAKE FROM U.S.A.F.

In October, 2004 the San Francisco Chronicle caused a stir by publishing a story indicating that the U.S. Air Force was far advanced in the development of an antimatter weapon. Here are a few excerpts:

Air Force pursuing antimatter weapons

“Program was touted publicly, then came official gag order

“by Keay Davidson, Chronicle Science Writer

“The U.S. Air Force is quietly spending millions of dollars investigating ways to use a radical power source— antimatter, the eerie “mirror” of ordinary matter—in future weapons.

“The most powerful potential energy source presently thought to be available to humanity, antimatter is a term normally heard in science-fiction films and TV shows, whose heroes fly “antimatter-powered spaceships” and do bat­tle with “antimatter guns.”

“But antimatter itself isn’t fiction; it actually exists and has been intensively studied by physicists since the 1930s. In a sense, matter and antimatter are the yin and yang of reality: Every type of subatomic particle has its antimatter counterpart. But when matter and antimatter collide, they annihilate each other in an immense burst of energy.

“During the Cold War, the Air Force funded numerous scientific studies of the basic physics of antimatter. With the knowledge gained, some Air Force insiders are beginning to think seriously about potential military uses—for ex­ample, antimatter bombs small enough to hold in one’s hand, and antimatter engines for 24/7 surveillance aircraft…

“Following an initial inquiry from The Chronicle this summer, the Air Force forbade its employees from publicly discussing the antimatter research program. Still, details on the program appear in numerous Air Force documents distributed over the Internet prior to the ban.

“These include an outline of a March 2004 speech by an Air Force official who, in effect, spilled the beans about the Air Force’s high hopes for antimatter weapons. On March 24, Kenneth Edwards, director of the “revolutionary munitions” team at the Munitions Directorate at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, was keynote speaker at the NASA In­stitute for Advanced Concepts (NIAC) conference in Arlington, Va.

“In that talk, Edwards discussed the potential uses of a type of antimatter called positrons…

“Officials at Eglin Air Force Base initially agreed enthusiastically to try to arrange an interview with Edwards. “We’re all very excited about this technology,” spokesman Rex Swenson at Eglin’s Munitions Directorate told The Chronicle in late July. But Swenson backed out in August after he was overruled by higher officials in the Air Force and Pentagon.

“Reached by phone in late September, Edwards repeatedly declined to be interviewed. His superiors gave him “strict instructions not to give any interviews personally. I’m sorry about that—this (antimatter) project is sort of my grandchild….”

In the recent occasion of investigating a hot computer bulletin board debate regarding Nazi saucers (a subject to which most AR readers have been exposed) and photographic evidence that they were gadding about the planet as late as the 1960s, this writer made a discovery so intense that a piece with the working title “Antimatter Weapons—Does the Air Force Think We’re Stupid?” was seriously considered. Eventually we calmed down, though.

Now, if we’re to believe San Francisco Chronicle’s award-winning science writer Keay Davidson’s October 4, 2004 article “Air Force pursuing antimatter weapons: Program was pursued publicly, then came official gag order,” (see side bar) the effort to research and develop antimatter weapons is recent and highly sensitive, part of what are now being termed “revolutionary munitions” by the Air Force. There’s a major problem with the story, though, in the form of clear, unambiguous evidence that this effort has been going on for nearly two decades. Which leads to the question, just what is the Air Force attempting to sell us. Is there something to be read between the lines of their abrupt and public refusal to discuss the subject of military antimatter applications when queried by the Chronicle re­porter, this after being relatively forthcoming initially. Could this be some kind of a deception operation, aimed at convincing interested parties that the Air Force is much farther behind on its antimatter research and development than it really is?

Cover & Deception

Time for a crash course on Department of Defense program classification. The overt categories, in ascending or­der of sensitivity, are: Confidential, Secret and Top Secret.

Most people think this is as high as it goes, but these are more like baby steps in a dizzying ascent to the heights of defense secrets.

There are, for example, control markings, such as NOFORN (No Foreigners), REL (releasable to, as in REL U.K.), WNINTEL (Warning! Intelligence Sources and Methods Involved), ORCON (Originator Controlled (Originating Agen­cy Determination Required), and that’s before factoring in declassification limiters, such as OADR (Originating Agen­cy Determination Required).

Then there are the separate NATO classifications NATO Confidential (NATO Confidential’s not what it seems, re­quires U.S. Secret clearance), NATO Secret, and Cosmic Top Secret, separate Department of Energy (nuclear weapon) classifications RD (Restricted Data), FRD (Formerly Restricted Data), CNWDI (Critical Nuclear Weapon Design Infor­mation) and Q, which has a bunch of levels.

And yes, this incredible collection of stuff can be mixed together, making for impressive gobbledegook. The more classified access you have, and the higher the clearances you hold, the less freedom and privacy you have, for each such granting comes with forms to sign, secrecy oaths, being told what information may and may not be discussed, etc., referred to in the trade as briefing in, or simply, briefed.

Higher than Top Secret is Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Intelligence, abbreviated as TS/SCI, colloquially referred to as TS codeword. This is because whatever distinct information you’re allowed access to has its own com­partment, denoted by a codeword, sometimes several, each denoting a separate intelligence source or project— spies, satellites, etc. If you’d been briefed on the CIA’s Glomar Explorer based operation during the 1970s to recover a sunk­en Russian submarine, you might’ve handled a document stamped Top Secret/Jennifer. From there, it can reach sit­uations beyond absurd, such as the president’s not being able to get into Area 51 despite being the only person who can authorize access to that facility via a Presidential Clearance. Why couldn’t the president get in? He didn’t have need to know! That means you must know certain classified data in order to perform your job.

The above isn’t even close to comprehensive, but is vital to following the next part, for we’re about to discuss a parallel system of information control called Special Access Programs, or SAPs for short.

SAPs come in two flavors: Acknowledged Special Access Programs (ASAPs) and Unacknowledged Special Access Programs (USAPs). ASAPs are officially acknowledged to exist, hence the name, but USAPs not only aren’t admitted to exist, but the Pentagon is permitted to brazenly deny their existence. USAPs are commonly referred to as “black pro­grams,” for even their existence is hidden, not just from the public, but even routine classified congressional over­sight and are cloaked not merely in secrecy but layer upon layer of cover stories. These are various “plausible explana­tions” to account for what can be seen happening. One such program produced the revolutionary B-2 Spirit, the Stealth Bomber.

But we digress, it’s time to return to the antimatter weapon story. Could what happened to Keay Davidson be part of a Cover & Deception (C&D) operation for what some believe is a well established, quite possibly operational family of antimatter weapon developments? In other words, by making a big fuss about clamming up on antimatter weapon development, could the Air Force be trying to make interested observers think something is true which isn’t? Doth it protest too much?

This is where things start to get strange in a hurry. Memory says the writer stumbled across a series of citations indicating U.S. interest in military applications for antimatter dating back to at least the 1990s in Man-Made UFOs, 1944-1994, by Vesco and Childress, but the next day, after finally getting to sleep following an all-nighter, the infor­mation which quite clearly was there before, was, despite careful inspection of the book, no longer to be found. For­tunately, there was a fallback to this unfortunate Twilight Zone sojourn—the Internet. It wasn’t difficult at all to amass, if not the same evidence, more than enough to prove the point. In fact, you could say a concerned physicist did most of the work!

Dr. Marek Thee of the International Peace Research Institute, Oslo, in the Bulletin of Peace Proposals, Vol. 19, Nos. 3-4, 1988 published the astonishingly prescient “Antimatter Technology for Military Purposes: Excerpts from a Dossier and Assessments of Physicist” (sic), using, as his point of departure, a questionnaire circulated by French physicist Andre Gsponer seeking a response to the article “Antimatter Weapons” he and Jean-Pierre Hurni coau­thored. Gsponer got lots of responses and fast, quite a few of which were anonymous replies, which is interesting in and of itself. The primary article is here, in which the joint paper is also embedded (http://cui.unige.ch/isi/sscr/phys/ antim-Thee.html).

The discussion is over how quickly the military, think tanks, science and defense periodicals all jumped on the fateful night of July 17-18, 1986 when CERN trapped its first antimatter.

On 21 March 1988, Aviation Week & Space Technology published William Scott’s “USAF Predicts Antimatter Pro­pellants. Could Be In Use by Early 21st Century.” The following truncated quote is interesting: “The potential military use of antimatter technology goes far beyond rocketry propellants…may…animate research on new exotic weapons like Directed Energy Weapons…or a trigger for powerful thermonuclear weapons…”

In case that didn’t get your attention, ponder this one from the commander of the USAF Astronautics Laboratory, Colonel Ros Nunn: “The ‘giggle factor’ is over. Antimatter is real, and we know how to make it and keep it. It has promise.”

This was after Robert Walgate’s “Defense lobby eyes antimatter,” Nature, Vol. 322 (21 August 1986) 678, and An­dre Gsponer’s and Jean-Pierre Hurni’s “Antimatter Underestimated,” Nature, Vol. 325 (26 February 1987) 754, as well as their previously mentioned “Antimatter Weapons,” first published in French in La Recherche/17/(Paris,1986) 1440-1443.

But what really kills the “We’re just starting to seriously investigate antimatter’s military applications” metamessage currently being peddled by the Air Force is that its first think tank, a now privately owned brain trust called the RAND, for R and D, research and development, Corporation had already done the core thinking about the potential uses for antimatter and published them way back in 1985, except that it called antimatter “annihilation energy” in­stead. (Read: “Concepts, problems, and opportunities for use of annihilation energy: an annotated briefing on near-term RDT&E to assess feasibility,” by B. W. Augenstein [RAND Note N-2302-AF/RC, June(1985) 61 pp., prepared for the United States Air Force]).

In case there’s still uncertainty about how seriously the Air Force was already considering antimatter, please care­fully note the acronym RDT&E. It stands for Research, Development, Test & Evaluation. Observe too the pregnant phrase “near-term.” Clearly, what’s being contemplated is applied, not theoretical; it’s apparently also engineerable and testable. Nothing “pure science” about this investigation! Since near-term doesn’t equate to decades but rather years, the only reasonable conclusion is that some sort of device or hardware is believed to be doable and soon. That was 21.5 years ago!

The atom bomb, you will recall, went from concept, Einstein’s August 2, 1939 letter to President Roosevelt, to de­livery on Hiroshima August 6, 1945—just five years later. The Manhattan Project was America’s first known black program and cost about two billion then-year dollars. By 1990, Tim Weiner’s Blank Check: The Pentagon’s Black Budget estimated the black program budget was forty billion 1990 dollars a year. One product was the amazing B-2, at an initial cost per plane of more than a Nimitz class carrier, sans aircraft! With all the latest tweaks, they’re now two billion apiece.

If the Air Force managed to solve the technical problems associated with generating and storing antimatter, it has had over four times as long as it took to conceptualize, develop, test and operationally deliver the atomic bomb availa­ble to it in which it could well have engineered, tested, and fielded all sorts of exotic nastiness.

Antimatter “traps” fit on a handcart, thus are small enough for numerous applications, including spaceborne ones. The power we’re talking about is simply stupendous, whether for propulsion, beam weapons, electromagnetic pulse (EMP) bombs or a number of other uses. Per the Davidson article, 1 gram of antimatter (1/25th of an ounce) is the energy equivalent of 23 Space Shuttle fuel loads. In explosive terms, 50 millionths of a gram would be the equiva­lent of 2 tons of TNT—a compact energy source, to say the least, and that is music to the ears of weapon designers.

Let’s say you wish to make an EMP bomb to fry electronics. If it’s going to fit a standard bomb rack, then you’re automatically size-limited, meaning you’re also volume limited. That in turn limits how much explosive you can use to charge the firing circuit that makes the EMP, an amount further reduced by the space and cube taken up by the EMP generator equipment itself. This leaves you with a relatively small amount of explosive to power your bomb, considerably reducing its effective radius. What happens, though, when in the same form factor that before had a few hundred pounds of explosive, you can now insert the equivalent of, say, a kiloton (1000 tons) of TNT? Might a weap­on which could fry electronics on a block now do the same in an entire city? Begin to see the potential? For the crash course on EMP bombs go to http://www.airpower.maxwell.af.mil/airchronicles/kopp/apjemp.html.

For a powerful laser, you need either lots of power or lots of fuel. The AirBorne Laser (ABL), for example, planned for downing SCUD missiles and the like, has the COIL (Chemical, Oxygen, Iodine Laser), so big and heavy it and its tons of expendables fill the interior of a converted 747 (http://www.space.com/businesstechnology/ airborne_laser_techwed_041117.html).

Without those tons of bulky expendables aboard, though, the entire system could be shrunk dramatically, while reducing the amount of time required to destroy a target, increasing the range, and no longer being shot-limited the way the ABL will be. Great news for aircraft designers, but absolutely phenomenal news for a nation trying to field strategic space-based lasers en masse. That would be the U.S.! The Pentagon aims to control everything from space— space, the sky, the ground, the sea—and antimatter technology is the perfect enabling technology for owning what it unflinchingly calls “the new high ground” (http://www.space.com/businesstechnology/technology/higher_ground_030402.html).

Clearly, the Air Force’s metamessage is demonstrably untrue. Is the antimatter superweapon technology still con­tainable, or is it already too late?

BY JOHN KETTLER

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