"Interceptor cannons" lie in the vicinity of San Salvacion, an ancient city on the Usean continent. They are continent-range meteorite defense interceptors constructed in accordance with the STN Program, a defense initiative championed by the FCU. We visited the 2nd Interceptor Area as operational testing was proceeding in the fall 10 months before the closest approach of Ulysses.
The Titans protecting our continent
We heard that they were big, but they're truly enormous. The massive site is already like a small city. For a facility with only one purpose, it's of an unparalleled scale.
Tens of thousands of concrete panels are laid out radially, and the sunlight is beating down on the faces of our special correspondence team. Cranes bearing materials flock like dinosaurs. The UTO aircraft guarding it tear apart my ears, and the various engineers moving about are as a colony of ants. Beyond that, a massive form reveals itself. This battery of guns which stare down the heavens is the keystone of our salvation. Arranged in a circle, they evoke images of ancient times - of Stonehenge.
According to the information given by the director of the 28th design department of the Stonehenge project executive committee, Dr. Jan Tomic, "Test firing of the first cannon concluded the other day, so I'd say we're about 80% complete" is about the current state of progress. The entire facility is divided into 8 slices like a pizza, and currently, each is undergoing individual testing. Each one has an interceptor cannon, and when finally brought under a single control system, it will be able to handle interceptions in any direction. It has a range 1200 km in radius, covering nearly the entire landmass of the Usean continent.
A space guard system like this had been advocated before, but there has never been a plan this concrete until now. Moreover, corporate entities and researchers are pouring their extraordinary expertise into both the hardware and software sides: their aim is to have complete success.
Aiming for complete reliability
The interceptor cannons are officially known as "120cm Surface to Air Magnetically and Explosively Accelerated Semi-Automatic Emplaced Cannons," and are railguns whose configuration has been augmented. It is possible to accelerate munitions up to 6 km/sec using a hybrid method whereby explosive propellants are used first, followed by magnetic power. "At first the goal was 8 km/sec (Mach 23, the speed an object needs to attain earth orbit at sea level on the equator). However, considering the time needed for research and our level of confidence, development is proceeding with currently available technology."
The reason that explosives are used first is that the Joules of heat generated by accelerating using magnetic power alone (when electrical current is passed through a conductor, heat is generated in the conductor due to electrical resistance) would cause the barrel to melt. Further, this hybrid is required for continuous firing, as a large amount of power must be stored in the capacitor.
Since the railgun uses a large amount of electricity all at once, it's necessary to store power in a capacitor. This was the biggest challenge of the meteorite interceptor project. Although the required amount of power is generated by a dedicated nuclear reactor, the size of a capacitor which could store it all would have to be tremendously gigantic. It was thought that a system which could intercept meteorites whose point of descent had been identified as critical would have to be mobile, but a railgun was not practical for that end due to the giant size of its capacitor. After all, 20% of the site would be dedicated to accumulating power.
Further, as the capacitor has to charge upon each shot, continuous fire is difficult. Even if complete accuracy and reliability could be attained, this would mean nothing if it could not deal with a large number of falling meteorites. Faced with this problem, the project team decided to solve the issue with eight railguns arranged in a circle. They would provide 360-degree coverage and could deal with multiple meteorite descents by alternating fire. Naturally, their destructive power against single large meteorites is increased as well, as several cannons can be brought to bear on a single target and fire simultaneously, thereby increasing the intercept rate. It ensures reliability through multiple redundancies. The idea was adopted due to the project's top priority, upon which the lives of many people rested.
Extreme accuracy was also sought in the control system that would make this all possible. A supercomputer cluster is beneath the facility. 8192 units arranged in parallel by a high-speed network are arranged into 8 supercomputers consisting of sets of 1024 units. A single one of these computers can do 90 million floating point operations per second, and the system as a whole can attain 100 trillion per second. Incorporating data sent from satellites in orbit and observatories around the world, it can simulate the state of the atmosphere across the entire continent, and calculate the point of descent of meteorites. The railgun will fire munitions towards their positions.
Many types of shells are provided. The aim of the most technologically tricky munition, APE (Armor Piercing Explosive Ammunition), is to impact the meteorite directly and explode within it, thereby shattering it. For small meteorites, shells which place emphasis on accuracy over power can be fired. A special munition with a very wide effective radius also exists, though the doctor did not issue a statement. It's said to be indispensable for prosecuting large numbers of fragments at once, and it is intended to be used under special legislation within a limited duration.
We feel an irrepressible sense of awe at such an absolute power. But the doctor continues. "This is essential for opening the door to mankind's future."
Protecting the interceptor cannons
The airport area located northeast of the facility is always busy with policing activity conducted at all times by 18 aircraft under UTO command. Two F-15s always roar alongside the transport planes as an escort. In that sense, these are identical to wartime conditions. These aircraft protect the keystone that is protecting the continent. The whole area is wrapped in a deadly serious mood.
"When I heard I would be involved with this project, the honor, pressure, and curiosity all came simultaneously." John Harvard of the STN Air Policing Squadron is a fiery man whose career includes fighting against coup d'état forces. After a long life as a mercenary, he returned to his old home in the UTO. During the interview, he had to briefly talk to a mechanic. The trust he places in his comrades is thick, and Dr. Jan says that he, having gotten to know much of the development staff, assists with the same daytime duties, and shares his meals with them.
"The eyes of the whole world are upon us. If this (the interceptor cannon) turns out to be useless, it's all over. Many people are beginning to realize that, as well as the potential capabilities it has. If by any chance something should happen, we would not remain silent."
When the construction site was chosen by the Aerospace Committee in the spring of two years ago, 15,000 people from San Salvacion formed a "human ring" on this ground. Although it was a result deriving from scientific grounds, the proposition of defending the continent was a burden too great for this land. There were voices calling for the need to consider historical background as well. Further, support from the UTO military is said to have aroused sentiment among some countries. Such unprecedented activities may indeed run the risk of creating new tensions in the form of pressure on the countries involved, including the UTO.
"Of course this is a plan which assumes tremendous responsibility. We're apprehensive about the future too. However, I think these problems are trifles in light of the joint global plan. The staff trusts the policing activities of the UTO, and they are going about their work with confidence. I want people to realize that first and foremost. The sentiments of everyone working here are the same on this. I speak for the feelings of people of all nations."
"We're all proud of what we're doing here. I have faith that one day everyone will come to understand our program."
They were smiling. Their voices were in unison. I think this community is the embodiment of absolute trust.
It's ten months until the fall of the meteorites. The Titan Program which required such unbelievable technology and effort has entered its final stage. Their task is one of dedication to a great destiny. After bearing witness to such sincere intensity, I am convinced that even as humanity is drawn into its greatest dilemma, it will not abandon its will to live.
- The special ammunition with a wide area of effect appears to be the type used in Ace Combat 04: Shattered Skies gameplay.
- This article was published two days after the conclusion of the Usean coup d'état, which John Harvard (also known as John Herbert) was involved in as a member of Scarface Squadron.