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Mission Overview

A long-simmering conflict is about to break into open war in more-or-less modern-day Earth. You are part of the staff of an air force general, who is in charge of planning a wave of strikes against major enemy targets in the opening stages of the war. Small teams of officers have been assigned to work up the force requirements for individual high-value targets as part of this planning. Your team's target is an industrial-scale wind farm much like the one pictured (Whitelee Wind Farm in Scotland).
Whitelee Wind Farm

Target Description

Your target consists of 200 wind turbines spread over 50 km2. Individual turbines are roughly 500m apart, randomly scattered over low hills. The control centers and transfer stations for the farm only contain standard, easily-replaced hardware, so hitting only them would disable the farm for a week or so at most. On the other hand, the turbines themselves were imported, and each one destroyed would take them months to replace.

Mission Parameters

Your strike will be part of a large-scale near-simultaneous assault on many high-value targets. Suppression of the enemy air defenses is being covered by other planning groups; your concern is only the wind farm itself. For purposes of this question, you can expect that your strike force will reach the target successfully. However, the enemy will likely still have interceptors that could be deployed once the mission's target is identified, so your force can only expect to get a single pass at the target, and time on target should be minimized. Due to the scale of the overall assault, you have been instructed to find the minimum force needed to destroy the target. As a secondary concern, less-expensive weapons are preferred (though aircraft costs are not a factor).

Use of nuclear weapons (including high-altitude nuclear EMP weapons) is not authorized in these strikes.

For purposes of this question, you can include any active or working-prototype weapon system or aircraft from any modern-day military. You don't need to necessarily name specific weapons ("cruise missile" vs "AGM-158", etc.) or aircraft ("strike fighter" vs "F/A-18E") unless they have a particular feature that similar weapons or aircraft don't have.

The strike will be launched from land airbases; a carrier-capable force is not required. However, aircraft that are typically used by naval forces can still be included if needed.

GPS and satellite surveillance is available at the target, but no ground forces will be within range of the target to assist.

Mission Objective

The best strike package will destroy as many of the turbines as possible in one pass, using as small a strike force as possible, as cheaply as possible.

Clarifications

Paratroopers are Army, not Air Force, and the Army is busy elsewhere. No boots on the ground.

Denying the electricity to the enemy is definitely the primary concern, but there is a substantial propaganda value to flattening the whole farm which cannot be overlooked. So while you can certainly target the control and distribution systems as part of the strike, you should also be hitting as many turbines as possible.

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    $\begingroup$ I would challenge the assertion that the control room and transformers are easily replaced, but for the sake of argument you can exclude them from the target list. $\endgroup$
    – o.m.
    Apr 24 at 10:12
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    $\begingroup$ I wonder, was the pun in the title intentional? $\endgroup$ Apr 24 at 10:47
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    $\begingroup$ @o.m. Large power grid transformers take 1-2 years to build (and that's during peacetime when everything goes well). - If an enemy targeted just a few substations they could take out the entire power grid for years: energsustainsoc.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/… $\endgroup$ Apr 24 at 17:53
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    $\begingroup$ Thought: strew a few tons of thin, high-tensile cable on helium balloons. The balloons float along dragging just the tip of the cable on the ground. Balloon meets rotor, cable tangles it, gets dragged to the spindle of the rotor where it jams the works. You have just put the whole windfarm out of commission, with zero casualties, and at a cost negligible compared to any actual military strike. $\endgroup$
    – PcMan
    Apr 25 at 21:02
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    $\begingroup$ Hello there... General Quixote. $\endgroup$
    – Studoku
    Apr 27 at 11:31

24 Answers 24

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The problem is not that complex.

The wind farm is connected to the electricity grid so... ignore the individual wind turbines, they don't matter. Attack the connecting infrastructure instead.

In order attack (1) the transformers & substations and then (2) the power pylons that connect the wind farm to the electricity grid. One or two aircraft modern fighters could easily handle the mission. (Note: other aircraft would be involved as deemed necessary by the mission planners to cover the attack or bomb replacement parts and roads/bridges as mentioned below depending on the strength of local air defenses.)

Step one would be an attack designed take out the transformers and substations. This can be done using one plane only armed with with standard high explosive bombs (anything in the GBU series deemed appropriate for the size of a specific target) and graphite bombs (US designation BLU-114/B), which are non lethal weapons specifically designed to take out electrical infrastructure.

At the same time a second aircraft could (this mission is more icing on the cake rather than essential) be deployed to take out selected power pylons linking the wind farm to the grid using something like the GBU 24 (Paveway III).

Ideally these would be selected in advance as being the most difficult/time consuming for the enemy to to replace - based on local geography etc. Or just 3 or 4 pylons in a row. Given the nature of the targets (light/strong open framed metallic towers) this mission would probably require larger precision guided munitions but taking out even a small number would significantly delay reconnecting the farm even if the enemy ships in new plant to replace that destroyed by the other attack.

Last points:

  1. If by chance there's a handy fail point (e.g say a bridge across a river, an overpass, a narrow mountain road or some other obstacle on the roads in to/out of the wind farm consider striking that as well in order to complicate any repair attempts.

  2. If intelligence happens to know where any immediately available replacement converters and transformers etc are stored and the risk assessment is low - hit the storage point/s as well.

EDIT; added the designation of suggested weapons systems as requested by author and tweaked the answer to include to include two other possible strike points.)

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    $\begingroup$ The OP specifically stated that the task was to destroy all of the wind turbines, not the other infrastructure. $\endgroup$
    – Monty Wild
    Apr 24 at 13:59
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    $\begingroup$ @MontyWild True. I believe Mon is going for a frame challenge. $\endgroup$
    – The Daleks
    Apr 24 at 19:19
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    $\begingroup$ One does not attack the head of a hydra. $\endgroup$
    – DKNguyen
    Apr 24 at 19:55
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    $\begingroup$ No, it doesn't work that way. Electricity grids are designed to maintain a a very precise operating frequency (e.g 50 hertz I think in Europe). The system is designed to constantly balance demand and supply and there's a high voltage system administrator that constantly monitors the state of the grid. If it starts to deviate from 50 hertzs say by even a tiny % it acts to stabilize it by disconnecting generators or increasing output - whichever is necessary. So while a lightning strike might do it, ramping up power in the grid suddenly would probably only cause a temporary loss of power at best $\endgroup$
    – Mon
    Apr 24 at 23:35
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    $\begingroup$ @TheDaleks A frame challange question must include why and how it challenges the frame. How does Mon solve the problem that this damage will be fixed in weeks, instead of months? Even if it's intended as an FC, it's just kind of not an answer. $\endgroup$
    – Neinstein
    Apr 26 at 6:05
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Drones

Drones are the future of warfare. Not just the multimillion dollar attack drones, but also the cheaper tiny drones that can be made en masse. The drones you want need to be more specialised, but are still effective.

They need to run just for 10 minutes to an hour, will have explosives or thermite and are just airdropped out of a plane a few thousand at a time from a single aircraft. With thermite they might burn through the outside and parts of the dynamo with just one, but you can spent several. If you use explosives, they can target the door on top, which then can be opened/has a hole. Then another will fly in and do the damage. This can be fully automated from start to finish. With the dynamo down the whole top needs to be replaced, or at least removed and refitted, which costs a lot of time.

Alternatively they target the blades to destroy the possibility of turning and generating electricity. Again, so many explosive drones can easily be enough. The whole top might have to be replaced as the joints can be deformed, so new blades cannot be installed. Either way, big specialised equipment is required.

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    $\begingroup$ 10 minutes to an hour in the strike area is an awful lot of time when enemy aircraft could be overhead in less than 10 minutes. Enemy defences have been 'suppressed', not necessarily neutralized. $\endgroup$
    – Monty Wild
    Apr 24 at 10:47
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    $\begingroup$ @MontyWild♦ it is, but what would the enemy do about it? If you have 10.000 automated drones the size of a football or smaller zipping around, targeting your turbines, what would you do? They probably only need a two to 5 minutes at worst, but the rest is redundancy or for unexpected results like a storm or rain. Even if they would take an hour there isn't much you can do. $\endgroup$
    – Trioxidane
    Apr 24 at 10:54
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    $\begingroup$ @MontyWild I mean, wouldn't stock quadcopters from an RC shop, duct-taped HE and one sufficiently motivated programmer do it in a week of coding max? Much faster yet if they have any prior experience with the platform. It's just goto x, y, z; when at x, y, z, set A0 to high $\endgroup$ Apr 25 at 6:42
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    $\begingroup$ You don't even need to deploy the drones from an airplane. Haul a crate anywhere near the windmill, vacate the country, wait for the drones' clocks to go off. There won't be any way way to connect the drone bits to you. $\endgroup$ Apr 25 at 6:55
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    $\begingroup$ @MontyWild please read the question again as well: "or working-prototype weapon system" is explicitly allowed. And suicide drones are WAY past that point. Yes, they're special ordinance (in China), but tested and tried. Not even prototypes anymore $\endgroup$
    – Hobbamok
    Apr 26 at 9:26
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You neither want nor need an airstrike

A missile is worth more than an windmill and that's not even considering the risk you expose the planes or ships to during the attack. Additionally bombing on that scale is so 1944 and one can't even deny responsibility.

What you want is a cyber attack. Israel is doing something similar to hinder the Iranian nuclear program. The destroyed centrifuges they needed by getting into their controll software.

So you either hack the windpark remotely or, given that in cybersecurity defence often beats offence or the system is airgaped (not remotely accessible) send in a small team to raid and sabotage the facility.

This could be a acived by infiltrating the staff or by dropping in troops to take over the facility. Your hackers will study the system beforehand and will likely cause several components in the windmills to overheat. Burning windmills are really hard to extinguish and fire-supressionsystems can be disabled.

Hell, you could even strike during the night shift and make it look like a bunch of local criminals were behind the attack by stealing a bunch of stuff. As soon as all your forces are out of the country, you can set the windpark on fire.

PS: As it seems like you might be after the aesthetic of an airborne attack, I would ultimately recommend sending in paratroopers alongside a few techies for the sabotage. Sending multiple teams of different aircrafts will offer some redundancy in case the enemy air defence isn't as taken out as you assume.

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    $\begingroup$ Interesting approach. Keeps in mind that the ultimate goal is to deny the enemy use of this resource (the wind farm) Nothing spectacular needed. $\endgroup$
    – Paul TIKI
    Apr 24 at 17:32
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    $\begingroup$ well I know the kind of people who write software for wind turbines. I'm certain they are barly functioning, let alone security proof. $\endgroup$
    – Christian
    Apr 25 at 6:57
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    $\begingroup$ @Christian I there any kind of software that isn't just barely functioning? xD $\endgroup$ Apr 25 at 7:13
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    $\begingroup$ Stuxnet comes to mind. The turbines are internet connected, infect them with a virus to disable the brakes that are used under high winds, leading to catastrophic self-destruction $\endgroup$ Apr 25 at 9:23
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    $\begingroup$ What you'd probably need to do is wait for a really stormy night with very strong winds, and make sure all the turbines are "on" (brakes off, clutches engaged, breakers closed). The turbines will spin so fast the grease in the gearbox overheats and catches fire, or the blades explosively shatter (it's happened). Bonus points if you overload the substation with a surge of electricity causing that to catch fire too. Now there's 200 turbines with their nacelles ablaze or destroyed, many of which will topple over due to the heat or shock, plus hopefully a burning substation or two. $\endgroup$ Apr 25 at 9:30
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Using standard military ordnance has the advantage of a rapid deployment, minimising time between issuing the strike order and its execution.

Wind farm turbines are dispersed structures, so each must be attacked separately.

I would suggest that a flight of 40 aircraft such as the F-16 be used, each carrying 6 AGM-65 Maverick air to ground missiles, each missile costing US$17,000. A maverick missile is easily capable of destroying a wind turbine when targeted upon the upper housing, where its shaped-charge warhead could destroy any number of critical components that would lead to the turbine failing completely. This option minimises the strike package's time over the target.

As an even lower cost solution, the 40 aircraft could open fire on the wind turbines with their GAU-4 20mm cannons. An F-16 carries 511 rounds for its 20mm cannon, and approximately 100 rounds would likely do sufficient damage for an operating wind turbine to tear itself apart. At 27 dollars per round, the cost of destroying one wind turbine with guns would be approximately 2700 dollars. This option would require more time over the target.

If both Mavericks and guns were used, 20 aircraft could take out the 200 wind turbines at an approximate ordnance cost of $9850 per target. This option involves the greatest time spent over the target for the strike package.

The possibility exists to use one GBU-39 glide bomb per tutbine at a minimum cost of 40,000 dollars per unit, or one GBU-32 JDAM per turbine at a cost of $18,000 each. From this, it can be seen that the AGM-65/20mm solution is the cheapest option in terms of ordnance expended and fewest aircraft. The 20mm solution is cheapest if there is no limit to the numbers of aircraft that may be deployed. The AGM-65 solution minimises both cost and time over the target area.

Obviously, the cost of operation of the launching platforms are not included in these figures.

As an additional bit of info, I have flown similar missions in simulation (Falcon 4.0, a very realistic F-16 simulator for PCs). Guns, dumb bombs or unguided rockets require aiming the whole aircraft at the target, which takes time during which interceptors could be approaching, and guns and rockets require holding the aircraft on-target long enough to do the job while dumb bombs require releasing the bomb at the correct moment. These weapons are much less accurate than they may seem to the general public.

Conversely, self-guided weapons such as AGM-65 Mavericks can be targeted and fired off-axis (without pointing the aircraft at the target) within a few seconds by a skilled pilot, and an entire salvo of 6 can be fired off in a single pass. Wind turbines would actually be more forgiving targets, as my experience is with shooting tanks in a column from the side of the column, while wind turbines in this scenario would be one after the other with significantly greater spacing.

Laser-guided weapons have the disadvantage that the attacking aircraft (or the designating asset) must hold the laser on-target until weapon impact. This increases the time over the target area, and increases the risk of interception.

The possibility exists to use guided surface to surface ballistic or cruise missiles, but all of these cost in excess of a million dollars per unit, and one would be required per wind turbine. The Tomahawk Land Attack Missile costs 1,537,645 dollars each, far in excess of the cost of sending in aircraft as I have described above.

Another option that I rejected was the AGM-84E Standoff Land Attack Missile. This is an air to ground missile with a range of 110 km, but its cost of 720,000 dollars each makes it too expensive in comparison to the other options despite its suitability for the role.

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    $\begingroup$ Destroying the upper parts of the windmill is one option, hitting the base of the tower would be better. If you destroy the foundation the fall will kill the nacelle and the vanes as well as making it necessary to rebuild the foundation before setting the tower and the nacelle and the vanes. BTW good job on doing the math on the cost of ordinance. $\endgroup$
    – Paul TIKI
    Apr 24 at 17:25
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    $\begingroup$ @PaulTIKI, the upper parts are where all the fragile stuff is. The tower, and especially the base, is a rather robust target. $\endgroup$
    – Mark
    Apr 25 at 0:38
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    $\begingroup$ What a great answer - awesome! $\endgroup$
    – Fattie
    Apr 25 at 14:35
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    $\begingroup$ If you're thinking cannon, why not something where the cannon has a reasonable number of rounds and where air-to-ground cannon fire is a key role? Helicopters would seem the more obvious choice, or A-10s if you really need a fixed-wing aircraft. $\endgroup$
    – Graham
    Apr 25 at 20:45
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    $\begingroup$ Don't forget cost in the air too. According to Reuters (reporting figures from the Pentagon), an F-16 costs 25k an hour to fly. The AH-64 is £3.5k per flying hour according to the UK government, which is around $5k. Even allowing for taking longer to get to the target and back, that's significant, even before you look at the greatly increased air-to-ground capabilities of the helicopter. $\endgroup$
    – Graham
    Apr 25 at 20:55
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Frame challenge: two successive hits on the control centre

As someone who worked on these kind of systems, I can tell you that the control centre is actually a significant chunk of electronics. Even if you have one spare, you certainly don't have more than a couple, especially if you hit several sites around the country, and it's not that quick to set everything up.

Conversely, you need to lose a significant proportion of the windmills to affect output. And whilst you can take them down for sure, it's so much more reliable to nail the connection to the grid.

So I'd dispute the question's premise that the way to take down the wind farm is via the windmills.

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  • $\begingroup$ Also: Setting up the replacement is NOT done in "a couple of weeks" as OP said. That's a 3 month task at least with all the expertise available. $\endgroup$
    – Hobbamok
    Apr 26 at 9:24
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A handful of AC-130s and A-10s

If you have a large number of nearby targets without significant anti-aircraft support, there's no substitute for AC-130s with help from A-10s. The AC-130 is basically a cargo plane with a cargo bay full of artillery and gunports drilled in the plane's left side. Note the gun barrels in this picture from Wikipedia.

AC-130

A small number of AC-130s could absolutely devastate the wind farm. A moment's attention from any of the AC-130's weapons would destroy a turbine. Since the location of each turbine is known in advance, mission planners would create the most efficient route for the aircraft to follow to reduce the duration of the attack.

What if there are a few turbines that are out of the way and hard to reach for the AC-130s? That's where my favorite warbird comes into play. Meet the A-10.

Flight line of A-10s

The A-10 is basically a machine gun with wings. A single round from that A-10's main gun could destroy a wind turbine. To be clear we're not talking about regular ammunition. Here's a comparison of the kind of bullet the A-10 brings to the fight and a 30-06 rifle round.

A-10 ammunition compared to 30-06

If any of the turbines are really out of the way, the A-10 could use its AGM-65 air-to-ground missiles. The combination of the AC-130 and the A-10 would reduce mission costs, destroy the target, and minimize the amount of time over the mission site.

Realism bonus

There are already a lot of great answers to this question. I humbly submit that the AC-130/A-10 teamwork is battle tested in conditions similar to OP's question. In 2015, this pairing of aircraft successfully engaged a convoy of around 100 ISIS oil tankers. If they can attack 100 moving vehicles, they could make quick work of 200 stationary wind turbines.

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    $\begingroup$ Perfect. We just need High explosive rounds for the A10 instead of armor breaking but those should be available, especially with the focus on asymmetric warfare that the A10 has seen in the recent years $\endgroup$
    – Hobbamok
    Apr 26 at 9:30
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    $\begingroup$ I see you too are a man of culture. For added clarity, I expect ideal force is 15 aircraft. 200 windmills arranged into a square would be 14.14 windmills to each side which would require no less than 15 passes with aircraft. Any rectangular arrangement would be easier to target assuming you approach from the shortest side. Before the assault, you'd need to plot paths for each aircraft to define their target space. Under ideal circumstances, such a force could eliminate all targets in under 2 minutes with a single fly over. A smaller force might be possible, but involve more passes. $\endgroup$
    – SirTain
    Apr 26 at 15:16
  • $\begingroup$ This is the best answer I have ever read on the internet. Actually it's just the best thing I have ever read! OMG! $\endgroup$
    – Fattie
    Apr 26 at 22:20
  • $\begingroup$ Thank you @Fattie! $\endgroup$ Apr 27 at 2:03
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    $\begingroup$ At US$136.70 per round, the 30mm cannon on the A-10 is overkill. Sure, one round could do the job, but so could one round of 20mm ammo from a regular ground-attack aircraft. On top of that, hitting with just one round expended isn't that easy... you're going to need to expend around 100 rounds to be sure of getting the right bits of equipment. In 30mm, that's almost as expensive as a Maverick, and takes longer to deliver. $\endgroup$
    – Monty Wild
    Apr 27 at 7:33
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Drop carbon wire or steel wire nets allover the field, with ballast to pull the nets down.

The nets will get tangled in the rotating blades, and once they will be loaded with the weight of the ballast because of the rotation, the wire will cut through the blade. If the cutting doesn't succeed, the unbalance in the momentum of inertia can still produce damage.

Even though some might not succeed in disabling the tower, the enemy will still need to carry visual inspection to ensure that no small crack is present, which could potentially lead to a catastrophic failure later on. And don't forget that the tangled nets need to be removed anyway to let the wind farm work.

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  • $\begingroup$ How will you use nets on targets spread over a 50km2 area in a single pass? $\endgroup$
    – Trioxidane
    Apr 24 at 10:42
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    $\begingroup$ @Trioxidane one net per mill, with tiny aerodynamic fins to aim while descending? $\endgroup$ Apr 24 at 10:46
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    $\begingroup$ This isn't standard military ordnance. Deploying the nets would be time consuming to set up, and potentially unreliable to execute, however effective it might be if it works. $\endgroup$
    – Monty Wild
    Apr 24 at 10:51
  • $\begingroup$ @JohnDvorak so at least 200 nets dropped from how many planes with apparently self guided fins to target each? From what height can you cover the 50km2? How will each net fall on the correct one and not double or more on a turbine? How will they be dropped so they can disperse? $\endgroup$
    – Trioxidane
    Apr 24 at 10:58
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    $\begingroup$ I think this is realistic. Given the budget consumed of some other answers I'm pretty certain that this method could achieve a decent success rate as well $\endgroup$
    – Hobbamok
    Apr 26 at 9:28
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Use the GBU-43 Mother Of All Bombs (MOAB)

It has an effective area of 1 square kilometer. As an air burst weapon, it will be especially effective against wind turbines. At a unit price of 170 thousand dollars per, you can have a sortie of 50 C-130 aircraft delivering these to target for 8.5 million dollars. Only a single pass is required to take out the entire farm, and even if a few bombers have to wave off, the damage would be exceptional.

Going with this approach may also take out roads and bridges, collapse tunnels, and flatten support structures. Above ground lines and towers in the entire area will likely also be demolished. It would maximize the cost of rebuilding in this location.

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    $\begingroup$ Another superb and specific answer! $\endgroup$
    – Fattie
    Apr 25 at 14:36
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    $\begingroup$ Just shy of "Nuke the site from orbit" there :P I guess it's the only way to be sure.. $\endgroup$
    – Ruadhan
    Apr 26 at 7:01
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    $\begingroup$ You might get 3 or 4 turbines maximum. That's $42k per tower at best, more likely 57 thousand dollars each. Not really all that cheap, and aiming into the centre of a triangle or square isn't that easy. $\endgroup$
    – Monty Wild
    Apr 27 at 7:38
  • $\begingroup$ Drop enough big bombs over the target area, and enough of the turbines should be quite thoroughly wrecked. $\endgroup$ Apr 27 at 14:20
  • $\begingroup$ Curious about ideas of taking out all 200 towers with HE rounds from an A-10’s 30mm cannon. The cannon fires 2,100 rounds per minute, and each HE shot costs 26 bucks (according to answers.com). Total price for taking out all 200 towers using a 15 second squeeze of HE = 2.7 million. $\endgroup$ Apr 27 at 15:33
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Two B-52s

The B-52 Bomb can hold up to 81 dumb fire bombs and 72 smart weapons. Two bombers can destroy nearly all the towers with dumb weapons, and then target the misses and remainders with smart weapons. B-52s are not small, but they get the needed fire power, and while the one pass is a bit curvy it should still be one pass.

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    $\begingroup$ A wind farm is a very dispersed target, and wind turbines are relatively small targets. Dumb bombs would likely miss entirely, to no effect. $\endgroup$
    – Monty Wild
    Apr 24 at 10:39
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    $\begingroup$ I have to agree with @MontyWild. Dumb bombs would be ineffective for this mission, although your general idea (strategic bombing with B-52s) is still very good. $\endgroup$
    – The Daleks
    Apr 24 at 19:20
  • $\begingroup$ B-52s aren't fast either, and the scenario in question has interceptors ready to scramble. Fast attack aircraft like F-16, F/A-18 or F-15E (or even more modern stealthier jets like F-35 or F-22) can outrun interceptors well enough to get home, but B-52s are likely to get caught and lost. That's probably less good, if you can spare the attack jets. $\endgroup$ Apr 25 at 3:01
  • $\begingroup$ After 9 much more upvoted answers, I'm very surprised that it is the very first answer that answers the question within the imposed limits. No boots on ground, not attacking control centers, no cyber warfare etc. $\endgroup$
    – Neinstein
    Apr 26 at 6:01
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Paratroopers.

It is old school but it is a good use of resources for this mission and I suspect will be the minimum to achieve this end. It is analogous to Operation Shock carried out in 1968 by Israeli paratroopers against elements of Egyptian electrical infrastructure. A modern mass attack as is proposed will not have much need of individual infantrymen but the dispersed, remote and individually vulnerable elements of the windmill farm are perfect for this sort of attack. One can use an ordinary plane for the drop which frees up specialized aircraft for uses elsewhere.

Paratroopers will be dropped some kilometers from their target in advance of the mass attack. They will make their way across the countryside on foot, fanning out across the windmill installation. A windmill is a great target for a paratrooper as a single rifle shot can irrevocably disable a windmill.

https://www.wibw.com/2021/04/01/nemaha-co-sheriffs-office-searching-for-information-about-shot-wind-turbine/

After all windmills have been shot, paratroopers make their way to an extraction point / points, possibly by car or train.


In addition to being effective and efficient, the first person viewpoint of the paratrooopers is dramatic and lends itself to a work of fiction. The recounting of the paratrooper experience in linked Operation Shock is a fine example.


I must add that this would be called Operation Quixote. The South Dakotan officer pronounces it "Quicks-Oat".

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  • $\begingroup$ Or they could just shoot the transformers that connect the turbines to the power grid. $\endgroup$
    – nick012000
    Apr 26 at 1:35
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    $\begingroup$ The question (now?) directly bans boots on the ground $\endgroup$
    – Hobbamok
    Apr 26 at 9:28
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    $\begingroup$ Yet another fantastic answer! $\endgroup$
    – Fattie
    Apr 26 at 22:27
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    $\begingroup$ I was thinking special ops forces, otherwise the same tactics. $\endgroup$ Apr 27 at 14:21
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Think about incremental gains. Determine the value of certain things that are relatively easy to hit and build out to your desired goal of taking out the whole windfarm. Take one Sortie, and hit them in layers.

So the First targets should be the switching and control center and even more important, the ROADS leading to it. Yes, the hardware is easy to replace once it gets there. If you take out the roads, it will take it a lot longer to get there. Potentially exponentially longer depending on the weight of the components in question. You could probably do this with some fighter bombers.

The second layer gets more complex. You need drones and bombers carrying payloads of laser guided bombs. The drones don't have to be ordinance carrying, but they do have to carry a laser to paint the targets. I don't know too much about the particulars but if you can get a bunch of commercially available quadcopters in the air with a laser pointer in line with the camera, well... Laser guided bombs will soar in and hit the base of each windmill.

It's important that you hit the base of the windmill. The Nacelle and the vanes will get damaged as they fall and even if the enemy has replacements ready to hoist up at a moments notice, they still have to pour a sufficient foundation and that takes a ton of time. Oh, and remember how I said hit the roads leading up to the wind farm? Yeah, those have to be in good shape before the really long parts of the windmill can be transported up there.

So, wave one is hitting the road and control center. Even if the rest of the plan fails, Your enemy loses a power source for at least a few weeks, maybe longer. An incremental gain. Heck, even if you just destroy the road, you make the windfarm more vulnerable as parts are harder to get to it.

While debris is still coming down from wave one, the drones are painting targets and the laser guided bombs are being dropped. Even if laser guided bombs are not an option, there is always the option of saturation bombing. While less precise, you should be able to take out a substantial amount of windmills if you plan the pass properly. If it's even feasible, drop ordinance that can act like landmines in a last pass over the target. Anybody trying to get to a damaged windmill risks life and limb just getting there and back.

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  • $\begingroup$ What about helicopters putting down the resources and menpower when you hit the control center? Also why sidestep the whole question? $\endgroup$
    – Trioxidane
    Apr 24 at 17:00
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    $\begingroup$ @Trioxidane OP didn't seem to want boots on the ground, They want an airstrike. It's in the question title. One major pass and done. Boots on the ground would be more thorough however they got there, but they require resources to keep operating and it is possible the windfarm is deep in enemy territory. Allies bombed the heck out of strategic targets in Germany long before ground troops got there. $\endgroup$
    – Paul TIKI
    Apr 24 at 17:16
  • $\begingroup$ A road can be replaced in a day or two by one person with a bulldozer. Sure, a modern paved multilane road takes a while to build, but in a combat situation, you just need something good enough for construction equipment to use. $\endgroup$
    – Mark
    Apr 25 at 0:42
  • $\begingroup$ I meant that they could replace all required infrastructure via the air. Bombing roads and bridges won't stop most militaries moving heavy resources if they really want to invest in it. $\endgroup$
    – Trioxidane
    Apr 26 at 5:48
  • $\begingroup$ A road can be replaced in a short period of time if they need to, but would it withstand the stresses of transporting heavy and delicate stuff long enough. Also, you can't airlift an 80 foot long windmill vane. It's not just a function of mass, but the surface area of something that large is going to make it act like a sail to even the slightest breeze. a huge risk for the aircraft and crew. $\endgroup$
    – Paul TIKI
    Apr 26 at 13:34
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Frame Challenge: You would not want to destroy the windmills anyway

There is no good reason to take out the power plant permanently. If you are already doing a combined offensive in a modern context as the OP dictates, then the invasion will either be won or lost in the time it takes them to get the power back online if you just hit the control center. The whole point of a combined and coordinated offensive like this is to hit everything of importance so fast that the targeted nation loses its ability to coordinate a defense. Making sure those assets stay lost is not important since your ground forces are expected to be entering relevant theater of operations within the week anyway.

So, as a commander you need to ask yourself if it is more important to take out the powerplant permanently or with fewer assets, and I guarantee that this is a situation where using fewer assets is more important. If you can commit 1 plane to knocking out the control center or 40 planes to leveling all of the windmills, then that is 39 other targets that are not being hit during your pivotal first offensive. Even if you go with the B-52 cluster smart bomb scenario or a smaller formation of planes using autocannons, there are going be big trade-offs. While those attacks use fewer planes, it still means taking specialized planes off the board and using up a lot of specialized ordinance which could be better utilized for attacking other targets that need those specialized planes like enemy battlements and tank formations.

The other reason you don't want to hit the windmills directly is because once you invade the country, you need to control it. Permanent damage to the enemy's infrastructure will result in being unable to re-establish a working economy once the hostile regime is taken out. If your attack destroys the economy, then those people who lost their jobs are more likely to take an active role in resisting your occupation, but if power is only down for a week, then people still have their jobs and can go back to caring about providing for their families as soon as the shooting is over. So, when you look at it from this perspective, it becomes clear that attacking the windmills directly is not only inefficient, but a worse actual end-goal given what you are trying to achieve.

As for what exact weapon system to use...

This will boil down a lot to where the windmill facility is, and if the control center has been reinforced in anticipation of an air strike. If it is in lightly protected airspace and easily accessible, something simple like an AGM-65 Maverick could get the job done for as little as \$17,000 plus the operational cost of the attack craft. If you are looking at more heavily guarded airspace and/or a hardened target, then you might need something as expensive an AGM-158C LRASM at \$3,960,000. But... without more information on the control center's level of protection, it's pretty hard to get more specific than this.

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Use several low flying aircraft moving in roughly parallel lines As the targets are dispersed, the simplest strategy is to just drop explosive or shoot them, with the approach being to the point where the minimum amount of low flying aircraft cover the maximum amount of wind turbines assuming roguly straight flight paths. When each wind turbine is passed, drop explosives at the base, or fire at the center axis? at, now on, now no longer on which the wind turbines.. turn. making the wind turbines no longer to be able to function as turbines and consuingly produce electricity as a result.

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Su-25 'Frogfoot' x 2

A Su-25 can carry 160 S-8 OFP-1 (aka "Broneboyschik") unguided missiles, each with a 9.2kg warhead (with 2.8kg of A-IX-10, that is approx. 4.4 kg TNT), so if you want to make a show out of it, look no further. Bonus propaganda points for a surgical strike instead of bashing everything in crosshairs.

If you really want to reduce time-over-target and/or want guidance, take a look at S-8Kor ("correctable") missiles, aka "Ugroza". Su-25s can paint for themselves and can stagger (ripple-fire) at least 7 missiles at a time. They are more like a cross between a dumbfire missile and a guided bomb instead of an AGM proper, but if enemy AA is already mopped up by the other planning groups, they should do. As they are the same size as regular S-8s, you still have 160 missiles.

If you are really worried about stray interceptors showing up to say "hi", you can take off two missile launcher pods and strap a pair of R-60 Vympels (NATO: AA-8 Aphid), and you're still left with 120 missiles per plane for a total of 240. Spam away.

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    $\begingroup$ YET ANOTHER amazing answer!!! $\endgroup$
    – Fattie
    Apr 26 at 22:28
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Wind turbines are... going to be hard to attack by air directly. They're often made of composite (so hard to detect by radar), are far apart (so you can't really saturation bomb the place) and you have one attempt to get in...

Bombers are the wrong tool

Now, the smartest way to do this would be infantry with lots of det cord at the bases - and if you time it right, it would be absolutely fantastically dramatic and probably even more damaging than an airstrike

That said, the fact that they're far apart and made of composite means that attack helicopters would be the right tool. You don't need to obliterate them, merely render them unusable and Cannon and unguided rockets would do quite a number on them. Since they're low level, fighter interception would be difficult.

An alternative would be ground attack aircraft - but in this situation I suspect helicopters could go in low, and use the targets as cover as needed and would be superior.

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  • $\begingroup$ As I commented elsewhere, I was thinking special ops forces, same tactics as your post. I think det cord is a very good way to take out the windmill towers. $\endgroup$ Apr 27 at 14:23
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Smart Skeets that go Boom

No but really.

Assumptions

Let's try to answer the actual question. No destruction of other infrastructure, no "what if the war is in an entirely different stage and occupation is possible", no "hack the planet", etc. Who knows, perhaps the attacker is the producer of turbines and can cheaply replace the wind turbines after occupying, but cannot cheaply/easily replace the rest of the infrastructure. Perhaps one of the reasons why the war escalated, is that the to-be-attacked country had the turbines installed by the to-be-attacker, but failed to pay, and the to-be-attacker decided time is up, but doesn't want to damage things that aren't technically owned by them (after all, third countries' opinions are important when going to war).

So we are going to attack the actual turbines, and little else. There's many turbines, and they're not that expensive, so the cost for the attacker should be low-ish. And we are going for a single pass by a small, rapid force that doesn't look like it's about to nuke the capital, or even like it poses a big risk at all.

Technology

All good tactics start by an armchair historian dumping Wikipedia links, so here goes: The BLU-108 is, "an air-delivered submunition, containing four further smart "Skeet" warheads".

The idea of weapons built around this platform is that a bomb or missile flings a whole bunch of 30kg heavy bomblets around in the area where it is deployed. Good 'ol Wikipedia lists the area covered as "15 acres (61,000 square metres) ". When the skeet's built-in sensors recognize a pre-programmed target (laser-designated or recognized by an IR-sensor, but in the light-fiction of this worldbuilding exercise, image-recognition or proximity fuses could work too), it detonates its ±1kg shaped charge warhead. It is summarized in this diagram, again taken from Wikipedia.

Cost/Benefit

While unit costs of military equipment are always difficult to accurately gauge, the CBU-97 weapons system which utilizes the BLU-108 submunition cost $360,000 (fiscal year 1990), and contains 40 'skeets'. Even if we assume only one in 10 bomblets actually happen upon a turbine, that's still a pretty good amount of damaged turbines per dollar.

Each such 40-skeet bomb weighs a measly 450kg. Delivery methods go from "fly overhead with a big bomber" to "skim the treetops with a fast jet"; anything remotely considered an "attack aircraft" can carry this category of weapons (in the worldbuilding scenarion; it might be the case that, e.g., an F-35 happens to not have the software interconnect to 'talk' to a CBU-97 currently in the real world). Use whichever delivery method best fits with the SEAD method that fits your story, but if it's a surprise attack and air defense is sparse in the area around the turbines (and why wouldn't it? It's in a sparsely inhabited area, and as the rest of the answers show: nobody considers it a likely target), it's realistic to get away with it at very low losses to the attacker's side.

Summary/Why I think this Answer is Valid

Taken together, this method is

  • single-pass as far as the delivering aircraft are concerned,
  • fast and autonomous enough that there's not much the defender can do once the attack is sprung,
  • cheap enough that the attacker can afford it (and can afford to do it again),
  • using light ammunition providing a lot of flexibility in the delivery method,
  • using powerful enough warheads for substantially damaging turbines, which aren't that hard of a target, but don't offer that big of a target area either (e.g. buckshot at a rotor wouldn't necessarily disable the turbine, and wind turbines' low-drag profile makes them less vulnerable to distant blast effects than some other answers seem to expect),
  • targets the requested targets.
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I'm not sure if this will work, but how about drop tanks?

Come barreling through the field on carefully planned supersonic trajectories. Wind turbines don't like excessive wind, especially when they are spinning. I don't think they're going to like a very close range sonic boom one bit. Just bring extra fuel for your time on afterburner.

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  • $\begingroup$ What a great idea! $\endgroup$
    – Fattie
    Apr 26 at 22:27
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Zero planes. One missile. The bomb.

I'm talking about a nuclear strike.

Realistically, no matter how much General Don Quixote insists on it, destroying windmills turbines conventionally is a waste of resources. A single fighter with a missile can take out a substation and drop everything remaining on access roads for good measure. Hell, you could do it with a drone strike for an even more impersonnal experience.

You say

there is a substantial propaganda value to flattening the whole farm which cannot be overlooked

You really want to destroy the wind farm and leave a lasting impression? I can't think of another method that wouldn't require a ludicrous amount of planes and ordinance striking with perfect coordination while also making that point.

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Consider the parameters- you have targets that are

  1. Quite spread out
  2. Not defended
  3. Not hardened
  4. Fragile
  5. Quite a few of them

As such, nearly any weapon will do the job. Something like an A-10 or AC-130 could neutralize these targets quite efficiently- if a bullet can kill a tank, it can kill a windmill. There are downsides though. An A-10 in particular is not a long range aircraft. With refueling and a light loadout, it can be made to be- but you don't mention the range from the closest air base. Unless you have a fixed wing base within a couple hundred miles of your target, I would rule out any fighter type aircraft. An AC-130 has much greater range, but still not exactly transatlantic. Even without range, it'll take a lot of ammunition for a mission profile like this. You would probably have to plan for one A10 for every 3 or 4 windmills, or an AC-130 for every 6-8. And if they get intercepted, they are going to get shot down. (Attack helicopters are usually Army- in this case they'd be even better for the mission, but have even lower range and vulnerability)

There are a great many bombers that ARE designed for long range strikes. B-2 for example, the enemy would never even see them coming. During the recent wars, even B-1s routinely made strike runs to the middle east from bases across an ocean. The B-52 is also capable of this task, and as this is a low threat mission, this may be the best use for them. When considering bombers, you have to think of the ordinance. I would propose that this is the perfect target for something like the GBU-39 ... a small GPS guided bomb. The targets locations are known precisely, they are unhardened, and the only limitation is that there are a lot of them. A single B1 can carry 144 of these, preprogrammed with the coordinates of each windmill. I didn't look up the loadout of the other bombers mentioned, but carrying a bunch of them is their whole point.

There is a third possibility- unmanned aircraft. Without carrying a pilot, these tend to have extreme range/durability (often over 24 hours on target). It looks like an MQ-9 could carry up to 4 JDAM gps guided weapons- so you would need a lot more of these than bombers- but no people at risk. The end result would be that the best choice would depend on what OTHER targets you have. A b-1 is going to be much more survivable than an MQ-9, and a B2 even more so- but if they get intercepted by fighters, you don't mind losing ten drones as much as a single B2.

You ruled out other services, but you should also consider for the rest of your scenario-

  • Naval gunfire- if its within 30 miles of the sea, this would be highly effective.
  • Cruise missiles - the most expensive option, but extraordinarily low risk, and would be the biggest "factor of suprise" possibility
  • Ballistic missiles - I was wrong, these are even more expensive, but who knows you did say "earth like" haha
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Two SSGNs

Sorry Air Force, this is a poor use of your talents. Enter the Navy.

Assuming anti-air / anti-missile weapons are suppressed, the easy answer is to use cruise missiles. Even if the defenders are able to get a few luckey shots off, all they have done is waste a missile, instead of killing an expensive airframe and crew.

The targets are stationary, and relatively fragile - so precision guided munitions like TLAMs are perfect.

Obviously you can launch cruise missiles from land based assets, but for an offensive, particularly a surprise offensive, few things are going to out-perform an SSGN. They are stealthy, mobile, and have a huge magazine.

Existing US SSGNs can carry well over 100 TLAMs, so two of them could reduce a large wind farm to rubble in a couple of minutes, from over the horizon, without subjecting any aircraft to combat risk.

Bonus points: SSGNs can carry Special Ops frogmen, so once they empty their magazines, they can deliver a different kind of payload.

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  • $\begingroup$ Wow! So the actual flying weapon here is a TLAM ? Is the idea that 1x Tomahawk would destroy 1x windmill? I may have confusion ... $\endgroup$
    – Fattie
    Apr 27 at 16:16
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    $\begingroup$ @Fattie - you got it. Each windmill gets one TLAM. The SSGNs have large enough magazines that you could do a second round of "clean up" shots if a few miss or get intercepted, but the plan is one for one. $\endgroup$
    – codeMonkey
    Apr 27 at 16:38
  • $\begingroup$ This is the best QA ever on the internet. i wonder if you could add a sense of (A) how precise are these missiles? I guess you would aim at the base of windmill X (or .. maybe I'm wrong? or are they even more precise than that?) and (B) I guess from the internet a TLAM has about 1000 lb of explosive. (Maybe there are other options.) (Other than the nuclear one :) ) What would that do to windmill X ? I could read a book on this answer. It would seem to me the correct solution of those posted so far. $\endgroup$
    – Fattie
    Apr 27 at 16:42
  • $\begingroup$ I think the logic of this answer can't be beat. The @MontyWild answer seems to be the correct and precise answer if you have to use aircraft. This answer would seem to be the actual military choice. (For the example picture, just sneak in via scapa flow.) TLAM Bounty'd $\endgroup$
    – Fattie
    May 3 at 12:10
  • $\begingroup$ @Fattie, actually I considered this... and rejected the idea due to cost. Pretty much every long-range guided missile costs > US$ 1,000,000 each, and the TLAM costs 1,537,645 dollars per unit. A million here and a million there, and pretty soon you're talking about a lot of money. It's far cheaper to send in ground-attack fighter jets. $\endgroup$
    – Monty Wild
    May 7 at 13:59
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Plant explosives the night before the attack.

Just walk up to the turbines and plant explosives, and the next morning detonate them all. These windmills are located in a farm-land country, so there's plenty of farmland and crops to walk through undetected.

You can also hire a few drone pilots to pick up the explosives cough, I mean the mail delivery packages, from a mail delivery truck or boat, and fly them over to each turbine.

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  • $\begingroup$ The question wants "no boots on the ground", but drones would count. You would have to assume it's guarded up until the diversion, though. $\endgroup$ Apr 27 at 17:12
  • $\begingroup$ "no boots on the ground" refers to the army, not literal boots. mail deliveries and undercover espionage are entirely different $\endgroup$ Apr 27 at 17:29
  • $\begingroup$ True, after the question is edited I'll remove the downvote. It doesn't mention mail services but it seems to be primarily concerned with the air force but I get what you're coming from. $\endgroup$ Apr 27 at 17:30
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Precision aerial minelaying

From https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joint_Direct_Attack_Munition#Precision_aerial_minelaying

On 23 September 2014, the U.S. Air Force performed the first-ever drop of a precision-guided aerial mine, consisting of a Quickstrike mine equipped with a JDAM kit. The Quickstrike is a Mark 80-series general-purpose bomb with the fuze replaced with a target detection device (TDD) to detonate it when a ship passes within lethal range, a safe/arm device in the nose, and a parachute-retarder tailkit in the back.

It seems to me that the technology is all there, you'd just need to tune the sensitivity on the target detection device (TDD) to pick-up "ships" that are the size of windmills.

The idea is you use the GPS coordinates (basic JDAM functionality) to get a proper number of bombs distributed to within a few meters of each target, then rely on the TDD to ensure detonation occurs near the main housing and not wasted on the grounds.

The tech is designed to hit moving targets (ships) from 35,000 feet. The windmills are sitting ducks.

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    $\begingroup$ These aren't "air mines", they're naval mines that are placed from the air, gliding in from over 40 nm when dropped from high altitude. Sea mines wait for ships to pass nearby. The linked wiki article seems to be describing laying a minefield in a narrow point like a harbour mouth or river, not a narrow point like hitting a ship that's already there. For that, you want a torpedo or guided bomb (which exist, like the extended-range JDAM just above that on the same page, to glide in from 40 nm away). $\endgroup$ Apr 25 at 3:11
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for clarifying. That's totally different from how I imagined it. $\endgroup$
    – Alex R
    Apr 26 at 3:18
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All of the other answers give direct answers. Here is an option that I believe none have considered: sabotage.

Option 1 (boots on the ground)

  1. Infiltrate the maintenance teams (might include, kill maintenance teams and send in sabotage teams).
  2. Destroy the breaking systems on the blades.

Option 2 (software)

  1. Infiltrate the software that controls the individual windmills. This could apply brakes to reduce generation, remove brakes to allow out-of-control spin, or just reorient the blades out of the wind.
  2. Remote active the software a day or so before the attack.

The above will allow the windmills to spin out of control and destroy the generators.

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Frame challenge

Wind farms do not produce electricity, they produce subsidies. They're actually a handicap, so you want the enemy to have them.

If your leaders are competent, like Chinese leaders are, your country manufactured the power and communications infrastructure of the enemy, which means it has a backdoor and you can turn it off at will. But your leaders ordered you to bomb a wind farm, which means they are not competent, so I guess this option is out.

Another option would be to have some competent businessmen who manage to sell Nest connected thermostats to everyone. Just send an order over the internet to all the thermostats to switch the heating to full power in every home in the country at the same time. Power grid goes down, problem solved. It would take three weeks to fix, and that's when no one is bombing the people trying to fix it.

If you want the enemy to no longer have electricity the old fashioned way, without any of this cyber bullshit, then you should disable something that actually produces it. So, obviously not a wind farm. You could disable a nuclear, thermal or hydroelectric powerplant instead. It's much easier, and the safest option would probably be the nuclear one.

If your leaders are competent, you already did that, by funding some tree hugger anti-nuke commies in the enemy country, so they turn off their NPPs themselves. Failing that, you can always "bomb" it by spraying a few tons of sand contaminated with alpha-radioactive chemicals from a plane. It should be pretty harmless to humans, since alpha is dangerous only if you eat it or breathe it, but the guys at the nuclear powerplant will shut it down themselves when they think they have a radioactive leak because all their radiation detectors go crazy at the same time.

Or you could throw a cruise missile at some part of the nuclear powerplant that won't make it go Chernobyl, but regulations say it can't operate if it's disabled, so it will have to shut down. If your enemies have lots of useless things like wind farms, then they probably also have lots of red tape, so you'll have no trouble finding a way.

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    $\begingroup$ This is actually by far the best answer - naturally voted down. $\endgroup$
    – Fattie
    Apr 25 at 14:37
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    $\begingroup$ Since "wind farms" only work occasionally and badly, the funny thing is whenever anyone builds a "wind farm" producing "X" units - they also built an actual normal power plant producing "X" units. In terms of this question, the thing to do would be simply destroy the actual "supporting" conventional power plant, and that would be the end of it. If the enemy is now actually relying on wind power - just sit back and laugh at them. $\endgroup$
    – Fattie
    Apr 25 at 15:06
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    $\begingroup$ Yeah, pretty much. It is quite obvious. $\endgroup$
    – bobflux
    Apr 25 at 15:08
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    $\begingroup$ This is actually by far the worst opinion - naturally voted down. $\endgroup$
    – Trioxidane
    Apr 26 at 5:44
  • $\begingroup$ @Fattie I was, unfortunately, unable to find any references to your claims; are you able to point me in the right direction? I had always assumed that the way around sporadic generation would be to use battery or capacitor system, and/or a large distributed grid to average the load. $\endgroup$ May 1 at 0:12

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