Thursday, August 30, 2012

Mysterious Booms Part 1: Intelligence & Funny Noises

[If you wish, you can save some time and just cut to the final post which is concise and skeptical. See]

Part 1: Background Information

The point of this series of posts is to bring to your attention some evidence that suggests that one or more very secret, American, advanced technology aircraft or air/space vehicles is/are flying. But before we can discuss this, there are a few things to say about the topic of intelligence and black, or secret, projects, that you should know in order to be able to reasonably process the evidence.

Even before working at the RAND Corporation, I found the worlds of intelligence and special projects to be fascinating. It combines advanced technology, immense resources, and incredibly challenging goals and then makes it even more interesting by adding the sense of mystery and intrigue. Since I am not in that business, I can indulge my interest in the topic without being annoyed by security issues or the pesky realities that most businesses have when you know enough about them.

Although these supposed projects are by their very nature secret, it is the case that there are things that a knowledgeable observer can know about this work, if he or she pays attention. Such open sources include: (a) analysis of the federal budget to determine where and in what quantities intelligence or special projects are funded and thus get some feel for the current scope of activities, (b) review of open access policy discussions which often discuss and argue for one approach or another in the context of strategy, (c) a knowledge of the history of past projects made public as an indicator of the type of thing they might do again in the future, (d) some understanding of the implications of things they do tell the public, (e) reports of sightings of mysterious events by qualified observers, and last but not least, (f) a realization that at the end of the day physics is still physics and we all have to live with gravity and other manifestations of physical reality.

For example, during the cold war, we read how important "verification" was to the SALT treaties. This meant that both sides needed the ability to independently verify what was built, what was flying, what infrastructure existed, and so forth as it related to nuclear weapons and their delivery. From that, and from various other discussions and activities, one could conclude that it was likely that a variety of special technology reconnaisance aircraft and satellites were being built and used with some success. There were a variety of indications that something was happening, but it was the shooting down of a Lockheed U2 with pilot Gary Powers in 1960 that first brought that particular vehicle into the public eye. In 1964, LBJ revealed the successor to the U2, the SR-71 Blackbird, probably well in advance of when it should have been revealed. It was in the 1980s that we first started hearing much of significance about the satellites that had been built, although many knew that there were operating something up there.

Some other things to keep in mind is that these projects are, generally, unbelievably expensive and that means that they can only do a few of them at a time because of budget and other kinds of resource constraints.   And that they have an incentive to let people believe that some projects exist so that opposition intelligence organizations can waste their time learning about them, so one may hear rumors about many projects only a few of which actually exist.  It is the nature of black projects that they are very expensive,  but however expensive it may be to develop and demonstrate a technology, or use it once or twice in an intelligence role, it is far more expensive and difficult to keep secret a project that is deployed in any quantity. It can be done, it has been done, but it doesn't happen very often (the F117A and the B2 are the only two recent examples I know of).

Thus, even if something cool is built, and tested, and maybe even rumored about or sighted, that does not necessarily mean that they are using that technology. They may have just tested the idea and then decided to wait or do something else.

But for a very few technologies and projects, an operational role is approved and the technologies are put into limited production and, in the case of aerospace platforms at least, generally have an operational unit of some sort that is built around them. And as these highly secret vehicles are flown on a regular or semi-regular basis, that is when it is much more likely that information will start getting around.

The best place to learn something about the recent history of aerospace related "black" projects is the Mystery Aircraft page of the Federation of American Scientists, a pro-arms control group. The page has not been updated in many years, but it is still the best resource that I know of which intelligently assembles the evidence available, and then does a little informed speculation, about these projects. I believe that all the information in these pages is well worth reading or at least glancing at as background information.  A specific conclusion of the budget analysis in the Aurora section of these pages, is that the overall size and changes in the budget support the idea that something was put into limited operational use.  

(continued in Part 2)

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