Avascent Analytics prides itself on keeping our clients informed of current and future trends in the defense industry. With the Middle East drawdown and sequestration catching the attention of nearly every contractor, agency and service, we feel that the defense world is losing sight of some of the less traditional threats to national security. As part of our continued effort to stay on the bleeding edge of threat analyses, we at Avascent Analytics have prepared a white paper on what we believe to be the next hazard to international stability – zombies. A healthy portion of the paper is devoted to our assumptions and definitions, as the concept of the zombie has been severely distorted in recently public discourse. Following a lengthy explanation of our threat model, we will delve into the implications that the zombie apocalypse has for business and future profit.
The Issue of Definitions and Assumptions
Before one can appreciate the zombie threat to society, there are several definitions and assumptions that require redress. Namely, what is a zombie and how does one come into being? Hollywood “zombies” have been so skewed from their realistic threat potential as to render intellectual discussion largely impossible if based on popular culture. As it stands today, there are essentially two archetypal zombies – the traditional “undead-” type and the more recently conceived “infected-” type. The former model is entirely unsuitable for predictive analyses, despite its popularity, because it makes radical assumptions which simply do not hold up to scientific scrutiny. The “infected” zombie archetype, most effectively (though not perfectly) portrayed in the film 28 Days Later, is a much more realistic representation of the threat that Avascent Analytics predicts for future zombie engagements. Despite being called “zombies”, here the term is a colloquialism, branded in response to an organism lacking basic cognition while maintaining fundamental biological functionality. Current theory suggests that this zombie will likely be the product of a highly contagious, degenerative neurological disease spread rapidly through any number of potential vectors. The host remains alive but without the emotional and cognitive functions that separate human from animal. No longer capable of advanced thought, hosts vacillate between catatonia and primal aggression (likely due to hyper-reactive amygdalar activity as the brain degrades). Despite these differences, the “zombie” remains biologically human. It acts and reacts subject to the constraints of the human body. This is a critically important point in how to counter zombie insurgency.
Equally important to addressing our proposed threat is understanding its genesis. First and foremost, we reject the idea that zombies are dead, and we will extrapolate on the reasoning later in the paper. For our purposes, we treat zombies as living but sub-human. Our model views the onset of the zombie threat arising from a widespread infection of a rapidly transmissible, rabies-like virus that renders the frontal cortex and related brain function impotent. This infection will likely be spread by exchanges of bodily fluid and direct contact with an infected host, taking days to attack the central nervous system and subdue new hosts. This runs in stark contrast to the pop-culture notion that someone could become a zombie minutes after being bitten – this is biologically impossible. We must also define the lifespan of our infected hosts. Zombies, like full-fledged humans, require sustenance and cannot survive especially harmful environments like extreme heat or cold. Zombies can only survive as long as their bodies hold out and the environment does not place massive burdens on their weakened physiology. Just like us, zombies can freeze, burn, and starve. These are important points to consider.
Leaving aside the issue of zombie genesis, one of the largest problems with the traditional model is the acceptance that zombies are undead – that is, not-living. Traditional zombies function without fail until the brain is destroyed, irrespective of any other damage they may incur. Massive trauma, bisection, blood loss, decay: none of that has any apparent effect on the traditional zombie. It is an unstoppable, shambling automaton. It is also complete fantasy. At the most basic level, this model simply cannot work. Zombies must adhere to basic laws of biology and physics just like any other creature and thus, while inhuman by most standards, will still be susceptible to many of the same weaknesses a normal human being has. At an abstract level, accepting the undead archetype as legitimate would be akin to accepting that a car would function so long as it still had a chassis and a steering column – regardless of whether it was connected to an engine, transmission, wheels, had fuel, etc. A car needs gas to fuel an engine, an engine to provide power, and a transmission to move that power to the wheels. Similarly, in order for muscles to function they require adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which is produced with oxygen from a set of lungs, that is carried by blood pumped from a working heart. Without those obviously critical components of basic operation, you must accept magic into the equation as the driving force behind the object in question. We at Avascent Analytics do not accept magic.
Understanding that zombies are bound by the same functional restrictions as normal humans redefines the methods by which they are effectively engaged. No longer are we bound to the notion that the only way to definitively eliminate the zombie threat is a well-placed headshot. Traditional shot-placement for living targets is still valid, just with an altered approach to engagement itself – pain and fear cease to be deterrents or incentives for behavior. Without delving too far into tactical approaches to zombie confrontation (which are covered in-depth in US Army Zombie Combat Command’s FM 999-3 Counter Zombie Operations at the Fireteam Level), we bring this up because just as this redefines the methods of combat, it also redefines what could be considered appropriate counter-zombie equipment and weaponry.
Methods of Engagement
A zombie outbreak, as suggested by popular literature, is a major threat to national and international security. The United States and countries around the world would quickly face a potentially existential threat, and destabilization of most major infrastructure. Regardless of the zombie vector, if transmission occurs quickly from person to person, regular rule of law and societal organization would dissolve overnight. In such an environment, several courses of action may be plausible, and each deserves careful consideration.
The most obvious and straightforward approach is to treat the virus as any other epidemic and search for a cure. All available medical and research assets should be leveraged the Center for Disease Control and other relevant U.S. Government institutions would likely be granted full support and be allowed to carry out necessary experiments to develop a treatment or cure. If such a cure can be found using traditional medical means, the next step would be to deploy it to the areas most affected in an effort to prevent massive spread of the disease. If such a cure does not quickly become available or fails to yield results, other more drastic measures would need to take place, including quarantine and mass extermination of zombies.
If medical efforts fail, the governments will have to turn to containment and extermination of the threat. Likely measures include forced quarantines, establishment of safe zones, and direct eradication of zombie populations. In those places where zombies outnumber humans, the government will have a responsibility to stem the disease’s spread by eliminating the vectors of the infection. Meanwhile, in places where populations remain relatively unaffected, defensive perimeters must be established and those local outbreaks that pose a threat must be exterminated with extreme prejudice. Mass panic may occur, especially in urban areas, but government leaders and forces must be prepared to take necessary action to protect populations from infection. Granted, all of these considerations are based on the assumptions noted earlier in this paper. As the assumptions change (method of infection, transmission rate, location, etc) so too will the responses, but these responses are a useful jump-off point for contingency planning.
Combating the Threat
The most important consideration when choosing equipment and weaponry for an outbreak is its effect on the dispersal of the contaminant: the more resilient the contaminant, the greater the care with which weapons must be chosen as they have the potential to increase exposure to new hosts. Can the contaminant survive fire and be spread through ash or fumes? Incendiary weapons are off the table. Kinetic kills, depending on the delivery method, may also risk spreading contaminant in manner that is detrimental to the containment effort as a whole (consider the effect that using a single small arm may have on an infected host versus using a flak cannon). The ideal approach is the utilization of weapon that simultaneously stops the host threat and minimizes exposure. Unfortunately, traditional weapons that fit this requirement are few and far between.
Chemical weapons (VX, sarin, mustard, hydrofluoric acid, etc) are extremely effective, but difficult to target and contain, so they may only be useful against crowds. Energy weapons, like the army’s Active Denial System, show promise, but their power output would have to be boosted to lethal levels. Traditional platforms offering a balanced mix of protection, mobility, and offensive capability are readily available. MRAPS and similar vehicles offer troops the ability to engage hordes of unarmed targets while remaining safe from contact with potential contaminants. In the airborne virus scenario, these can easily be substituted or modified with CBRNE-capable vehicles like the TPz Fuchs. Weapon and equipment choices will define procurement trends, but there are a number of other factors to consider when preparing your business to turn a profit in the face of national collapse.
The Business Side – Offerings and Strategy
In the scenario we have laid out so far, there are essentially two areas for companies to come in and make a profit – services and support, and platforms and equipment. The former offerings will likely revolve around supporting the logistical operations involved in maintaining quarantined zones, distributing supplies (both medical and otherwise), hazardous materials clean-up, and ensuring continued basic services to the civilian and military populations. The latter category involves providing the physical capabilities to command an offensive front or establish physical defenses. Another less-accessible market is biomedical research. It will be undeniably pivotal in the face of a widespread outbreak, but the knowledge and capital requirements to properly set up a capability will likely be prohibitively high for all but the largest firms not already involved in the field. In any case, all of these markets are accessible, though future market dynamics will change when framed by a state of perpetual instability.
Companies interested in staying competitive will have to address their ability to provide their products and services in a vacuum. That is, companies cannot assume that their production and supply chains will remain intact in the face of a widespread viral outbreak. Building up a surplus of physical products and supplies, or ensuring the ownership and tight security of all production facilities is a smart first step. Retooling will likely be impossible in a crisis situation, both because of the immediate requirement to fill, and the timeline of the threat itself. There won’t be a two-year build-up time in which to change the means of production and begin filling orders – it’s immediate, or not at all. Contracts will be won and lost in a matter of days.
As previously mentioned, contracts for specific weapons and equipment will depend largely on the nature of the threat. That said, there are some trends which will be prevalent across all contingencies. Investment in large munitions, guided weaponry, and associated platforms and services will almost undoubtedly decrease. The nature of the threat – large quantities of soft targets without long-range attack capabilities – essentially negates the need for anything that advanced and expensive. Likewise with aerial and naval attack capability, though lift and logistics will still be desirable. Much like the United States’ recent decree of a restructured military, the focus will be on a lighter, more mobile and adaptable force.
So how does a company profitably address these opportunities competitively once it has secured its own means of production? Just as there will be constraints on production timelines, there will be constraints on procurement timelines. Open contracts simply won’t have a one year trial period where each interested party gets to submit its wares for testing and a subsequent decision period. The market demands a workable solution, and demands it in the immediate timeframe. The first contractor able to produce that solution will likely win the contract, so speed and efficacy are of the essence. For the contractor, there are two distinct advantages from this constraint. First, other suppliers may find themselves unable to compete due to lack of preparation, disruption in supply line, or their facilities being overrun by hordes of infected hosts. The longer your company is able to hold out and produce, the lesser the competition for the contract in question. Secondly, it will inevitably be a sellers’ market. Remember that in a free market society, there’s no such thing as price gouging. There are only prices that the market will sustain, and in the face of impending doom the market will likely be very difficult to break. Companies able to hold on long enough may find themselves suddenly at the head of a very profitable monopoly.
While we at Avascent Analytics sincerely hope that the zombie threat never materializes past poorly thought out Hollywood movies, we support contingency planning for every business looking to weather the coming decades unfazed. We understand that companies are focused on staying profitable during the uncertain times surrounding the federal budget and sequestration, but we urge strategic planning groups to keep an eye on the longer term. Working through the zombie apocalypse before its occurrence ensures profitability and operations are sustained. It also draws clear connections between the defense and healthcare communities which may not otherwise be apparent in more traditional threat scenarios. It is our hope that clients use this information to better prepare their businesses to operate without the traditional support that society affords day-to-day operations, and perhaps even to expand into new markets. Have faith – the apocalypse doesn’t have to mean layoffs and lost profit!
Concerned parties interested in our consulting services are free to contact us to discuss hardening their operations against zombies.