Since Star Wars day just passed (May the Fourth Be With You!), I guess it’s time for a “Death Star” story — this one comes from an ad for The Wealth Warrior ($99/yr), which is Jason Simpkins’ security and defense-focused intro-level newsletter from the Outsider Club.
And the headline, of course, sounds terrifying:
“Beijing’s Death Star
“Top General: ‘Our Entire Integrated Defense Can Be Dismantled’
“One Company Can Save Us
“Its Shareholders Will Retire Early”
We know, of course, that any such “one company will save us” teaser pitch is going to be an exaggeration… whether a wild or a mild one depends on the situation. But that’s the nature of these teaser “story” pitches — they start with a huge threat or opportunity, then craft a narrative around it that points directly at one beneficiary, shrugging off the complexity of the world. It’s both comforting and intoxicating.
So who’s the “one company” that can save us this time out? First let’s figure out what he means by this “Death Star” business… apparently it’s some kind of laser weapon, and while of course we’re not talking about something that can destroy a distant planet, apparently it’s got the potential to destroy satellites, ground targets or even submarines. Here’s more from the ad:
“China fully intends to push the United States out of the Pacific and retake Taiwan.
“That’s the plan. Period.
“And to do that, it’ll have to overcome the world’s most powerful military machine — the last remaining superpower….
“China is going to need every single technological edge it can get.
“One such edge is a new material uncovered by Chinese scientists…
“It’s called caesium bismuth germanate (CBGO). CBGOs are non-linear crystals — a chemical compound that converts low-energy beams into high-energy beams with ‘unparalleled efficiency.'”
I know, when we get into the science-y bits a lot of us tend to nod off… but apparently these CBGOs are “magic crystals” that “increase the power, intensity, and frequency of lasers,” and China has weaponized them…
“Beijing immediately put these magic crystals to work in a secret military program called “Project Guanlan” — a codename that translates to “Watching the Big Wave.”
“With this high-power laser, China can already shoot down into more than 500 meters (1,640 feet) of water.
“This gives it the capability to detect and potentially sink our submarines…
“Beijing’s Death Star can reach 22,236 miles into space to shoot down our satellites….
“Here’s a direct quote from the head of the Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC), Brigadier General William Whittenberger: ‘Radar [can be] overloaded, computers and terminals overheated, rendering command and control centers ineffective, guidance capability on missiles blinded or burned, satellites overloaded, cell phone towers destroyed, all by directed-energy systems.'”
So that’s the basic “threat” pitch — and this is not brand new stuff, though perhaps things have changed more recently, that quote from General Whittenberger is from a talk he gave at the Directed Energy Summit two years ago.
Then it’s back to that “one company”…
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“Luckily for us…
“One company can stop it.
“It won’t be easy. There’s a lot at stake and a very small window to act.
“But the small, virtually-unknown company I’ve found makes a crucial component for laser weapons…
The Crystal Diode.”
OK, so I guess we’re talking about an arms race here, where China is already far along with its “Death Star” laser, and the US is trying to develop competing weapons for deterrence or defense. Arms races are good for defense companies, for sure, but what else do we learn about this secret one?
“ONE company makes the kind of crystal diodes strong enough to power laser weapons like the one China is building.
“This one, small supplier of crystal diodes is the go-to vendor for our country’s top defense contractors — companies like Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman, to name a few.
“That’s why this company and its shareholders are about to be handsomely rewarded.”
We also hear that there’s a ton of money flowing into this fight:
“America’s top generals have asked for an unprecedented amount of money to meet this threat head on.
“And the money is on the way.
“We’re Talking About $317 Million, and That’s Just for Starters…”
That was in the original 2019 appropriations bill, though the “directed energy” categories of defense spending are not necessarily discrete or consistently described — when you include stuff like microwaves and space laser research run through all the different agencies and armed forces it’s well over a billion dollars and rising. Interestingly enough, some of the talk from government officials indicates that the advantage China or other actors might have is not in any technology edge, but in a willingness to quickly deploy technologies that the US wouldn’t consider viable. Here’s a quote from Kelly Hammett, who hears the Directed Energy Directorate at the Air Force Research Laboratory, in an Air Force Magazine article from last October that I found interesting:
“‘One of the reasons [for the] significant increase in funding … is that our near-peer adversaries are acting,’ he said. ‘They are moving forward in a whole bunch of technology areas, [including] directed energy, that are alarming.’