Debate #2: Lord Edam

March 6, 2002 (my first rebuttal, part 3/3):

Base Delta Zero

This one is much better than your shield pages. Instead of creationist-style nitpicks and escape clauses, you present a coherent theory and you attempt to back it up with numbers. Bravo! Unfortunately for you, your nuclear blast radii figures are based on invalid assumptions, and you deliberately underestimate the scope of a BDZ in order to shrink your figures further. At least you get points for effort ...

Before we begin, let's review the position you're attacking. I state that a BDZ requires roughly 2E24 J of energy at a minimum, based on an idealized scenario of a 1 metre surface melt depth and a shitload of conservative assumptions. This is about 5 times the yield of the dino-killer asteroid which struck Earth 65 million years ago, and which did not exterminate all animal life. You obviously feel that this figure is too high.

A BDZ is a multi-stage operation involving three main stages. Initial bombardment, sweeps to ensure the primary & any special goals have been achieved, and finally the over-kill at the end. Typically, a BDZ is not a simple "destroy the planet to an arbitrary level" operation - it has specific goals, normally stated to be "...destroy all population centres and resources, including industry, natural resources and cities" (Star Wars Adventure Journal) "the decimation of a world--all life, all vessels, all systems--even droids were to be captured or destroyed" (The Hutt Gambit)

I don't think you realize just how much it would take to exterminate "all life". Not "most life", or "most civilian life", but all life. This planet was hit by a 100 million megaton (4E23 J) KE bomb 65 million years ago, and the biosystem survived. Animals survived both on land and at sea. Our evolutionary ancestors survived, with no technology whatsoever to aid them (never mind armoured vehicles, bunkers, or bomb shelters to hide in).

The initial phase of a BDZ will be the mass bombardment of a planet. This event will probably happen as follows ISD exit hyperspace. If the planet is shielded the shield will be sabotaged as or immediately before the ISD exits hyperspace(SotP/VotF). ISD immediately launches all TIE wings. The very first shots from the ISD and fighters will concentrate on the communications and sensor infrastructures (including satellites) to cut off the planet (ref: Cronus' attack of Khomm in Darksaber). Tie Bombers will be sent to the major spaceports , dropping large numbers of air-burst explosives to prevent any ships on the ground taking off. Only those ships in the air or immediately capable of lift off will survive, and these will be taken out by the fighters and some of the ISD's weaponry (if they are in range)

Fair enough. First objective is to cut off communications and escape routes, although there are limits to how much 72 fighters can accomplish against the entire spacecraft complement of a planet of billions or perhaps hundreds of billions of people, a large number of which could probably afford spacecraft if they really want them (also keep in mind that spacecraft don't necessarily need to be kept at spaceports). That's probably why they need 3 ships when they need to ensure no witnesses. I don't see what this has to do with refuting the 2E24 J figure, though.

Within two minutes of the ISD leaving hyperspace the planet is unable to communicate and there will be no (or very few) ships able to escape. The ISD, if part of a larger fleet (unknown if it could do it solo) also launches a communication jamming net (Pellaeon's attack of Yavin in Darksaber) to prevent any ships still capable of transmitting getting word out. Once they are happy the planet is unable to communicate with the galaxy at large the ISD begins attacking the planet below, starting with major cities & any remaining spaceports and moving on to towns and larger industrial complexes. Tie bombers concentrate on smaller targets, such as smaller industrial complexes or deep-sea bombing if there are known fisheries or underwater facilities.

This would be completely inadequate to kill off the planet's entire animal population. You could destroy every major and minor city on Earth with nuclear bombs and there would still be survivors, both human and animal. And what's this nonsense about "deep-sea bombing" for fisheries? Fisheries aren't little fixed buildings under the water; they can sprawl across the entire ocean! The only way to exterminate all fisheries is to wipe out all edible sea life in the ocean, which requires vapourizing a substantial portion of that ocean. Once again, I remind you that the 100 million megaton "dino-killer" asteroid did not wipe out all the fisheries on Earth, yet you seem to think a few 1 megaton hits in the water will do the trick.

The ISD's bombardment consists primarily of atmospheric flak bursts at an altitude of 2000m. Treating these as a 1MT nuclear explosion at the same altitude the typical effects from each shot will be vitrification of natural material within 1km radius. Complete destruction of all life and buildings within a radius of 7km fatal blast/burn injuries to all life within 16km ignition of all combustable material within 16km, resulting in massive firestorms (figures taken from O'hanian Physics, 2nd Edition)

I like the way you take a quote from a general physics book and try to use its figures as definitive information on nuclear weapons without bothering to state the background behind those figures. See the Nuclear Weapons FAQ at MilNet. Did you know that the 7 km blast radius of a nuclear explosion is based on 5 psi atmospheric overpressure? Did you know that 5 psi is sufficient to destroy civilian structures but not military installations, armoured vehicles, or even peoples' backyard bomb shelters? And did you know that people and animals do survive within the 5 psi blast radius? They use 5 psi as a benchmark not because there is 100% fatality but because some people die of blast effects outside that radius, and 5 psi is the figure at which the number of blast-related deaths outside the radius is generally equal to the number of blast-related deaths inside the radius, given typical urban construction.

Right off the bat, your entire analysis is based on junk data. You assume that if you blanket an area with a 5 psi overpressure blast radii, you will exterminate all life in that area. However, this is simply not the case; 5 psi atmospheric overpressure will take out most civilian structures, but not armoured vehicles, hardened targets, or sealed bunkers (never mind mines, fisheries, etc). In fact, nuclear attack simulations show that even multiple 1 megaton bombs in and above a city like London, England will leave millions of survivors. You'll start fires in areas with lots of flammable material, but it takes a lot more than that to completely wipe out a biosystem (I remind you once again of the K-T extinction event).

Firing one shot from each of its guns every two seconds, after one hour this will result in (assuming earth-typical planet, 50% inhabited - 250 million square km):

216,000 square km vitrified [read: 0.04% of planet's surface sterilized]
33 million square km leveled [read: 6.5% of planet's surface hit hard enough to knock down civilian buildings]
173 million square km heavily damaged & burning [read: 34% of planet's surface will experience no significant structural damage, but fires will be lit in flammable materials]

this is just over 50% of the inhabted surface area of the planet either totally destroyed or burning

This initial bombardment will result in the almost complete destruction of all assests of production

You feel that it constitutes "almost complete destruction" to leave nearly 60% of the planet's surface completely untouched, light fires in flammables on 34% of its surface, and hit 6.5% of its surface hard enough to knock down civilian buildings? In what fantasy world did you concoct that conclusion? What about the fact that a BDZ must eliminate animal life as well, both above and below the water? What about the fact that a BDZ must take out military targets, not just civilian targets? What about the fact that a BDZ may have to be performed on a planet with complete surface coverage? A BDZ is complete extermination. What you describe is a devastating attack, but one which leaves billions of survivors and a biosystem which will suffer long-term environmental damage but ultimately survive; that is not a BDZ. It isn't even close.

News flash: a 1960's era Atlas missile silo can survive more than 200 psi overpressure. Modern nuclear attack simulations assume hardened targets must be hit with as much as 2000 psi overpressure. You can still get those 7 km blast radii of yours, but you'll need 40-400 megaton blasts if you expect them to be powerful enough to take out military targets and armoured vehicles.

agriculture and indutry will be destroyed, mines will be unusable due to the instability of the entrances following attack.

You figure that a civilization which mines stellar coronae and planets which are molten on one side is incapable of re-opening a mine after its entrance caves in? And what if the mine happens to be on the 94% of the planet's surface which wasn't even hit hard enough to knock down civilian buildings, never mind collapsing a buried mineshaft?

Following the initial attack, whilst the ISD continues with the "overkill" phase of the BDZ, stormtrooper squads are sent down to the planet to search for survivors and complete any additional goals (ref The Hutt Gambit). This "overkill" phase may also include direct surface bombardment rather than atmospheric bursts, resulting in large craters (a 1MT surface explosion will result in craters between 120 and 500m radius, and up to 80m deep - ref. The Effects of Nuclear Weapons).

You're already jumping to the "overkill" phase? You're getting way ahead of yourself now. The BDZ is a complete extermination operation, remember? It's nowhere near enough to light fires in flammables on just over 34% of the planet's surface, or to hit 6% of its surface hard enough to knock down civilian buildings! With many billions of survivors after your initial attack, you expect to start mopping them up? Mop-up operations imply that there only a few survivors, not billions.

Any why do you keep using "The Hutt Gambit" as an example of a BDZ? Unless my memory fails me, they had no ISDs so they were stuck with light vessels trying to do a large warship's job, and they were obviously trying to take advantage of the unusual nature of the target (a city-world) in order to get a poor man's BDZ by knocking the buildings down (you can achieve 100% fatalities in a skyscraper if you can make it fall down before its inhabitants get out). Unless you've got some quote to the contrary, I don't see how this should be regarded as a full-fledged BDZ operation rather than a poor man's substitute.

Once the operation is complete there will be large amounts of dust kicked up into the atmosphere causing a sudden short term cooling by blocking out much of the sunlight, and the high number of energetic atmospheric explosions will result in widescale destruction of the ozone layer as a result of the NO2 created by the fireballs. Anything capable of surviving the initial attack will be faced with a short period with very little heat or light, followed by a prolonged period of intense UV pollution which will last for over 20 years (ref: The Effects of Nuclear Weapons). The planet will be entirely uninhabitable without very major terraforming & reconstruction.

Irrelevant. These are long-term effects, and a BDZ reduces a planet to a dead husk in less than a day, with no survivors whatsoever. Moreover, there would be billions of survivors and the biosystem would be damaged but still alive, which is not what the BDZ operation is all about. Even the 100 million megaton K-T KE bomb couldn't wipe out all the animals, and you're proposing you can get the job done with less than ¼-million megatons? You're stretching yourself pretty thin, Edam.

This interpretation of a BDZ uses a minor increase on existing firepower estimates for an ISD.

Actually, it requires many orders of magnitude decrease from existing firepower estimates drawn from other incidents, not to mention simple scaling of the Death Star's superlaser, which is merely a gigantic compound turbolaser, thus using the same basic mechanisms and principles.

This interpretation of a BDZ fits the Nar Shadda (The Hutt Gambit) & Star Wars Adventure Journal direct definitions of a BDZ

The "Hutt Gambit" described an attack upon a city-world. Do you seriously propose that your calculations, in which 60% of a planet's surface would be completely untouched, would constitute a BDZ for Nar Shadda? Moreover, your assumption that SW buildings are identical to modern buildings is ridiculous and indefensible; we could not possibly build the multi-kilometre tall buildings of Star Wars with modern construction techniques. Furthermore, you consider a region of planetary surface destroyed if fires are lit in flammable material. Is that your idea of a joke? The skyscrapers of a Star Wars city-planet are not flammable! What do you think they're made of? Wood? Did the World Trade Centre burst into flames when it was hit by those planes? It was on fire, but that was the jet fuel burning. Steel and concrete don't burn very well.

This interpretation of a BDZ fits the Star Wars Technical Journal description of ISD firepower (a single ISD can reduce a planet's surface to smoking rubble in a matter of hours)

Tell me, when you see the phrase "reduce a planet's surface to smoking rubble", do you interpret that as "94% without structural damage, 60% completely untouched, hardened targets and armoured vehicles undamaged, mines undamaged, fisheries undamaged, billions of survivors, biosystem largely undamaged save for long-term environmental effects?"

There have been no specific BDZ examples which require slagging a surface of a planet (contrary to your claims on the Star Wars beam weapons page, the Star Wars Technical journal makes no specific reference to BDZ)

Nice nitpick there, Edam. The SWTJ says an ISD can slag a planet but it doesn't explicitly say that it's called a BDZ operation, so you've got your escape clause, eh? The fact that it would satisfy the mission requirements of a BDZ (while the attack on Nar Shadda was not carried out by an ISD and did not leave it an uninhabitable wasteland as per BDZ mission requirements) is inconvenient for you, but you've got that loophole and you're going to use it, right? But before you break your arm patting yourself on the back, perhaps you could try to remember that it doesn't actually matter whether the planet's surface is literally slagged, as long as the slagging energy estimate is reasonable, given the mission requirements. The idealized melt scenario is merely a means to an end, after all, and it is the 2.2E24 J figure which is in dispute. There are ways to derive that figure besides the melt depth (see my BDZ page), and Dankayo was stripped of its atmosphere and reduced to a cratered wasteland, which might not be literally regarded as "slag", but it's certainly energetic enough to show that my BDZ firepower figures are actually quite conservative.

Based on my interpretation of a BDZ assault the other examples of ISD firepower - the common "turn a world to molten slag" refer either to the thin layer of slag that results from all nuclear explosions ...

Only in close proximity to ground-bursts. The air-bursts you use in your calculations would not turn steel and rock on the surface into slag.

... or is based on larger groupings of ISDs, possibly as part of the "Bombardment fleets" - collections of over 400 ships typically used in large scale planetary bombardments.

Enough with the red herrings already. Obviously, such a large force is required if you want to be able to take down a planetary shield first, or if you're short on resources and you're trying to get the job done with small ships rather than ISDs. But if you just want to perform a BDZ on an unshielded planet (or a planet where you can sabotage the shield beforehand), you can do it with just one ISD, or three (from VOTF) if you want to eliminate all witnesses.

Basically, what it comes down to is this - there is no justification for the "1 ISD, 1 m, 1 hour" classical BDZ. No description of BDZ requires melting of the surface to an arbitrary depth, and several examples directly contradict this by having mop-up crews sent down as one phase of the operation. The example above uses known firepower to arrive at a perfectly suitable conclusion for BDZ, actual examples of which (the Hutt Gambit, Spectre of the Past / Visions of the Future) consist of three or more ISDs or larger numbers of lesser ships.

The only possible reason to believe the "1 ISD, 1 m, 1 hour" figure is the WEG:ISB & SWTJ claims "an ISD can turn a planet into molten slag" - yes, it can slag a planet, but the actual method and extent to which a single ISD can slag a planet is unknown & unknowable.

Who cares about the 1 ISD, 1 metre, 1 hour figure? That's just an idealized scenario, ie- a means to an end, and you know it. It's the 2E24 J energy figure I'm interested in, since that's what I use for determining firepower. The idealized scenario is simply a quick and dirty "back of envelope" way of getting a rough conservative number; did it ever occur to you that when someone proposes an idealized scenario for the purposes of generating a rough estimate, he is not saying that the idealized scenario literally happens precisely as described? Physics and engineering calculations are full of idealized scenarios and approximations; if you were half as familiar with science as you claimed to be, you would already know that. Just because we define a point mass in a physics calculation does not mean that we think it's actually a dimensionless point! The realistic requirement of a BDZ is far larger than the energy requirement of the idealized scenario, given that substantial portions of the ocean must be vapourized, hardened targets must be destroyed, and complete extermination of all animal and plant life must be achieved. Remember that the 2E24 J figure is only 5 times larger than the K-T extinction event which did not reduce the Earth to a dead world. Can you seriously claim that one can achieve the BDZ's objectives of eliminating "all life", including fish and animals and plants worldwide, with a miniscule fraction of that?

PS. I like the way you chose to list references which sound cool (one of them is from the DOD, and you couldn't help but repeatedly mention that you were using a DOD source when I first mentioned this challenge last Christmas), but which were nowhere near as easy to get your hands on as the Nuclear Weapons FAQ, which has been quoted all over the newsgroups for years. This kind of exclusivity and name-dropping achieves nothing, Edam. You clipped a handful of figures from those two sources but you immediately mis-used them! The next time you want to list impressive-sounding sources, make sure you read them first, instead of just hunting for numbers to take out of context.


Continue to Edam's second post


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