The premise for the original Independence Day was fairly simple. Aliens in huge laser frisbees attack the largest cities on Earth, working their way down to smaller towns as they attempt to eliminate mankind. This is a simple, easy-to-understand premise for a film but it is a really fucking stupid strategy. Like any other battle, the battle for Earth would be determined by one side’s ability to outmaneuver the other. Given that, why the hell weren’t the aliens targeting communications equipment or the electrical grid?

This was apparently not a group of deep space traveling geniuses.

Clever aliens — and aliens capable of locating intelligent life in a very big universe would likely be pretty smart — wouldn’t target humanity in general. They’d focus on infrastructure. The best bet to bringing about humanity’s end destroying the large physical structures and networks necessary for ensuring the survival and safety of humans and delivering essential services. The perfect targets would be remote, vulnerable, and vitally important. Unfortunately for us humans, they would also be myriad.

Here’s what smart aliens would actually attack in America.

Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station, Arizona

PHOENIX - OCTOBER 19:  The Palo Verde Nuclear generating plant, the nation's largest nuclear power plant, is seen October 19, 2005 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Arizona Public Service Co was forced to shut down Units 2 and 3 on October 11 when the company could not prove to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission that the cooling system in the units would operate correctly in case of an emergency. Units 2 and 3 of the plant are expected to be back online and at full capacity by the end of the week. Unit 1 had previously been shut down for maintenance.  (Photo by Jeff Topping/Getty Images)
PHOENIX - OCTOBER 19: The Palo Verde Nuclear generating plant, the nation's largest nuclear power plant, is seen October 19, 2005 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Arizona Public Service Co was forced to shut down Units 2 and 3 on October 11 when the company could not prove to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission that the cooling system in the units would operate correctly in case of an emergency. Units 2 and 3 of the plant are expected to be back online and at full capacity by the end of the week. Unit 1 had previously been shut down for maintenance. (Photo by Jeff Topping/Getty Images)

This power plant sits about 45 miles west of Phoenix, Arizona close to the town of Tonopah (population of a little less than 3,000). It’s the largest power plant in the United States, capable of an average electrical power production of over 29,000 gigawatts per hour. The 4,000-acre facility produces 35 percent of the electrical power that powers much of Arizona (hey Phoenix!) and Los Angeles and San Diego (as well as other communities in Southern California). In short, a lot of people rely on this power plant to power their homes and businesses. An alien force, however, could pretty easily launch a strike and take it offline without too much trouble. It’s in the middle of the wide-open desert, after all.

And, to boot, a nuclear meltdown would be a pretty gnarly side effect, especially if winds managed to blow the nuclear fallout towards population centers.

Satellites in Geosynchronous Orbit

SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket lifts off with Thales Alenia Space's TurkmenÄlem52E/MonacoSat satellite to a geosynchronous transfer orbit
SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket lifts off with Thales Alenia Space's TurkmenÄlem52E/MonacoSat satellite to a geosynchronous transfer orbit 

In this instance, actually, it would be wiser to not strike at the surface at all but to fire up at major communication satellites. In GEO, a satellite will appear stationary at the same point in the sky at all times — at least to observers on the ground — which means it would conceivably possible to take out some hardware with a laser gun. The thing that renders objects in GEO vulnerable is also the thing that makes them work: pseudo-static positioning is optimal for commotions instruments since an antenna on the ground does not need to move in order to retain communication. Most of our critical communications equipment is tied to these satellites.

Humans currently have no way of really protecting satellites in GEO. So if I were an alien bent on eliminating our species, I would make GEO a pretty great place for orbital target practice.

Houston’s Water Supply

A view of the Houston skyline at dusk,
A view of the Houston skyline at dusk,

Water is life. And making sure our major metropolitan areas have enough water to drink and use for other day-to-day activities is vital to our society. Different communities have different sources for getting water, but some are more vulnerable than others. In the fourth biggest city in the United States, Houston, residents get their water from a mix of underground wells and surface.

Unfortunately, that water infrastructure is crumbling fast. Basic structures like pipes and mains are prone to breaking naturally. All an alien force would have to do is apply a little bit more strain to the existing technology and watch the whole thing fall apart. Before you know it, over two million people are scrambling to find fresh water in one of the hottest and driest states in the nation.

Interstate 5 Through the Central Valley, California

Vehicles drive by a 134-foot-high electronic sign displaying a temperature of 110 degrees Fahrenheit on July 23, 2014 in Baker, California.
Vehicles drive by a 134-foot-high electronic sign displaying a temperature of 110 degrees Fahrenheit on July 23, 2014 in Baker, California.

California’s Central Valley farms grow a lot of food. And I mean, a lot of foods. The state is responsible for 99 percent of artichokes, 99 percent of walnuts, 97 percent of kiwis, 97 percent of plums, 95 percent of celery, 95 percent of garlic — and so forth. And most of this farmland is, obviously, located in a sparsely populated section of the state.

If aliens wanted to decimate not just food yields for California, but for the rest of the country, they would need to look no further than the Central Valley and begin attacking and scorching the crops located in this region. The effects would devastate the United States’ food production and in all likelihood force us to resort to other means to keep populations well-fed.

Ships in the Florida Strait

A container ship moves past the United States Coast Guard Cutter William Flores.
A container ship moves past the United States Coast Guard Cutter William Flores.

Transportation by the high seas is still the most cost-effective way to ship goods back and forth between places. The Florida Strait remains one of these key locations that allows ships to pass from the Atlantic Ocean into the Gulf of Mexico and access the Caribbean and Central and South American countries.

As you can imagine, there’s a lot of oil that moves through this transportation hub. While the Florida Strait is not an isolated place, it’s certainly far and wide enough that a rag-tag group of extraterrestrials would just need to create a steady stream of attacks to significantly affect the transport of vital resources.

The Mississippi River Levee System

New Orleans is ringed by hundred of miles of levees to protect against flooding.
New Orleans is ringed by hundred of miles of levees to protect against flooding. 

Humans aren’t the best at deciding on safe places to build communities. Coastlines are a great example. It used to be essential to be next to a waterway, no matter the disadvantages when it came to flooding and storms. These days, with increased water elevations and more frequent supercell storms, being next to the coast is a liability — yet we continue to stick around and just board things up with levees and dykes, imagining they’ll last forever.

A smart alien force would know this. Just take the 3,500-mile levee system around the Mississippi River that protects 4 million people from devastation via flood. If a hostile invasion wanted to wreak havoc, all it would need to do is impact the levees at key areas during a major storm event and watch the waters do the rest.

Photos via Getty Images / Jeff Topping, Getty Images / NASA, Getty Images / Scott Halleran, Getty Images / Ethan Miller, Getty Images / Joe Raedle, Getty Images / Mario Tama

Neel is a science and tech journalist from New York City, reporting on everything from brain-eating amoebas to space lasers used to zap debris out of orbit, for places like Popular Science and WIRED. He's addicted to black coffee, old pinball machines, and terrible dive bars.

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