Nowhere to Hide: Military Use of Gravity Sensing to Map the Subsurface

Authors: Wayne Chambliss*, Unaffiliated
Topics: Military Geography, Remote Sensing
Keywords: surveillance, gravimetry, subterranean cartography, bunkers, tunnels, voids
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/12/2018
Start / End Time: 3:20 PM / 5:00 PM
Room: Endymion, Sheraton, 8th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Defense-intelligence organizations with access to Earth orbit desire to “see” from space into underground bunkers, tunnels, missile silos, and other hidden infrastructures of adversaries, as well as vermicular activities undermining their own borders (Graham, 2016; Kindynis, 2017). Whatever other methods might also be employed, precise measurements of gravity will likely be used to help map these subsurface voids (Malcolm, 2017), eventually by means of space-based sensors. Whereas other types of remote sensing cannot penetrate the Earth’s surface (e.g., LiDAR), or can, but only to a shallow extent (e.g., ground penetrating radar), gravity gradiometry can detect what is and is not belowground, accurately (Sandwell, 2014), and to great depths (Panet, 2014). Experiments with drone-based gradiometers are underway (Lockheed Martin, 2010), but this method has limitations (Braitenberg, 2016), especially in active battlespaces, and would be usefully complemented by a space-based gravity sensor network trained to classify negative subsurface features. Military appetite for surface imagery has motivated generations of spy satellite development. And, in response, activities by some actors have shifted underground to evade detection, precision targeting, and other unwanted attentions (Weizman, 2014). In this paper, I contend that, civilian applications notwithstanding (Rivas, 2009), the desire of militaries to peer from orbit into the subsurface (i.e., to expose and dismantle Virilio’s “survival machines” (1994)) will dictate new types (as well as typologies) of gravity-based surveillance, and, inevitably, counter tactics by those surveilled. Tactics not just of depth but disguise, of metamorphosis even (Negarestani, 2008): nonconsensual gravity assays will beget gravity spoofing, &c.

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