I’ve read many online discussions that outline how militarized wars that utilize foot-soldiers and advanced weapons are no where near as effective as destroying a country’s economy. You can easily see this while playing online strategy games such as Starcraft or Command and Conquer. The first thing you learn in these games is that you live and die by your economy. The faster you build your economy the higher your chances of survival. The more money you can produce, the more research and material production plus personnel training that you can complete. The best way to kill your enemy is by either destroying his ability to produce more money, or by sheer overkill in number of troops, weapons, and productivity. So, either you somehow put your economy into overdrive, or slow down if not kill your opponent’s economy.
While reading an excellent essay (“Slowing Moore’s Law“) by Gwern Branwen, I found myself thinking about how vulnerable our technology sectors truly are. Gwern did a great job correlating how fragile the process is in just creating a single processor (aka CPU). He further goes into how financially difficult it is to build a fabrication plant (above and below ground). While building a fab plant below ground would provide a significant increase in protection from various threats, it does not ensure that the raw materials and energy will be kept safe. Direct attacks may not be practical for several reasons.
Very few power generating plants are below ground. It’s worth noting that even fewer power plants are heavily protected. However, a strategic attack on both the supply chain of materials and the power plants would effectively shutdown the production. This would have a direct influence to the company’s bottom line. Often, the large chip manufacturers account for a large percentage of their country’s GDP. Shutdown a plant’s power supply for 2 minutes and watch the chip manufacturer take upto 2 years to recover! Imagine the economic damage if the power plant is utterly destroyed? This can prove devastating for both the manufacturer and the parent country. Technology is not only the means to further a country’s ability to position itself for the future, but also a means to solidify its economic standing.
Gwern mentions that the location of all existing fab plants are remote and spread out and that there is no gain for a terrorist organization. While I agree on his point that virtually no terrorist group has the technical ability and the organizational prowess to conduct such an attack against a fab plant. It’s far easier to shutdown or disrupt the power plant(s) feeding the targeted fab plant. In many cases, you would not need to completely destroy the power plant as you would only need to lower the amount of power feeding into the plant. These plants easily consume 60 megawatts (and more) of power. Just reducing this to two-thirds or one-half would be sufficient to shut it down.
As mentioned before, it’s not practical to directly attack a fab plant. Intel, for example, has all of its plants within reach of short-range US Air Force bases. If a country or large organization were to capture territory where a fab plant existed, they would benefit greatly if they kept it intact. Just disable it long enough to gain control. Afterwards, repair and restore. This would then be an excellent economic booster.
Remember, a country lives and dies by its economy. If you want to kick a country in the proverbial “nuts” then all you would need to do is a strategic strike against a number of power plants feeding several different chip plants.