There's that classic line of career advice to
the confused young hero of the
1967 film The Graduate: "I want to say one word to you. Just one
word… plastics." With the perspective of a few extra decades under our belts
(or beltways), that word probably should have been "arms." After all, what a
couple of weeks it's been for Washington's war industries: the Pentagon announced
the resumption of military
aid to Guatemala after 15 years (can weapons be far behind?) as well as,
after another 15-year hiatus, the
prospective sale of a first batch of F-16s – the latest version of the plane
and a lovely big-ticket item evidently capable of carrying nuclear weapons India-wards
– to the Pakistanis in appreciation for their help in the borderlands (thanks,
thanks, for the memories…). It also released a major document, the
National Defense Strategy, pledging us to war, war, war till hell freezes
over and, both in the document and elsewhere, signaling a new push for the militarization
of space, guaranteed to enable "us
to project power anywhere in the world from secure bases of operation."
(If you launch it, can the biggest ticket weapons be far behind?)
The week's cautionary note: Donald Rumsfeld's urge to create the highest-tech
military in anyone's history may have a few bugs, according to the superb Tim
Weiner in a front-page piece for the New York Times ("An
Army Program to Build a High-Tech Force Hits Costly Snags"). The vast
program, called Future Combat Systems and overseen by Boeing (which is being
paid $21 billion for the honor), is supposed to be "a seamless web of 18 different
sets of networked weapons and military robots," including tanks so stripped
down in terms of armoring that they can be flown instantly onto the battlefield.
The program, initially only meant to arm 15 brigades or about 3,000 soldiers
is, Army officials told Weiner, "a technological challenge as complicated as
putting an astronaut on the moon." And as Paul L. Francis, the acquisition and
sourcing management director for the Government Accountability Office commented,
it is "a network of 53 crucial technologies… and 52 are unproven."
Think our Star Wars missile-defense system that, endless billions of dollars
later, in test after test against mock-enemy missiles turns out to be incapable
of hitting the broad side of a barn. Already, the crucial Joint Tactical Radio
Systems, known as JTRS (or "jitters"), which is slated to link the robots and
humans of Future Combat Systems into one battlefield Megatron-like beast, doesn't
work, and production on the first set of radios has been halted.
Speaking of "jitters," congressional supporters of just about any Pentagon
weapons system that comes down the pike, are getting edgy indeed when it comes
to Future Combat Systems, which, at an estimated $145 billion or more, threatens
to burst the congressional piggy bank – something of a Bush administration specialty
in so many different areas. (Best line in the Weiner piece: "They said this
month that they did not know if they could build a tank light enough to fly."
I thought the line was "if pigs could fly," but I stand corrected.)
And, the money thing aside, here's the rub – one of them anyway: sometimes
the only effective defense against the highest-tech levels of warfare turns
out to be the lowest levels of the same. Remember the salutary tale of the wonderfully
named Marine General Paul van Riper (okay, it's not Ripper, but close), who
commanded the enemy "red army" in the military's Millennium Challenge '02 war
games in 2002? These maneuvers involved a
war in a fictitiously named Persian Gulf country that resembled Iraq. The
games were carefully scripted to prove the efficacy of a Rumsfeld-style high-tech
army. Unfortunately, Gen. van Riper stepped outside the script and, using such
simple devices – the sort now undoubtedly being employed by the Iraqi insurgency
– as "motorcycle messengers to transmit orders to Red troops, thereby eluding
Blue's super-sophisticated eavesdropping technology," he trumped the techies.
"At one point in the game, when Blue's fleet entered the Persian Gulf, he sank
some of the ships with suicide-bombers in speed boats. (At that point, the managers
stopped the game, 'refloated' the Blue fleet, and resumed play.)" He was reprimanded
and finally quit in protest. But someone – with the last couple of years in
Iraq in mind – should
have paid the man some mind.
Perhaps that's why our secretary of defense, responsible for sending those
F-16s to Pakistan, has been in a panic over the fact that Venezuelan President
Hugo Chavez's government recently bought 100,000
AK-47 assault rifles. Little Venezuela's purchase of 1940's-era-design rifles
has Rummy in a tizzy; and, for all the high-tech goodies at his command, not
without reason. The insurgency in Iraq has demonstrated that a relatively small
force of lightly armed insurgents in an area roughly the size of California
can bog down, stretch to the limit, and effectively counterbalance for two years
the might of the U.S. military, despite its trillions of dollars worth of satellites,
armor, artillery, air power, futuristic weapons, and old-fashioned bullets.
Two years on, as faithful readers of Juan Cole's indispensable Informed
Comment blog can attest, Iraq's anti-occupation movement shows few signs
of slowing. Right now, it's keeping up a steady pace of 50
to 60 attacks a day, despite frequent cheery pronouncements on our evening
news and in the press about "tipping points" (known back in Vietnam days as
"progress" or "the crossover point," or the infamous "light at the end of the
Take, as USA
Today's Steven Komarow reports, the military's Abrams tank: "[D]esigned
during the Cold War to withstand the fiercest blows from the best Soviet tanks,
[it] is getting knocked out at surprising rates by the low-tech bombs and rocket-propelled
grenades of Iraqi insurgents. In the all-out battles of the 1991 Gulf War, only
18 Abrams tanks were lost and no soldiers in them killed. But since the March
2003 invasion of Iraq, with tanks in daily combat against the unexpectedly fierce
insurgency, the Army says 80 of the 69-ton behemoths have been damaged so badly
they had to be shipped back to the United States."
Nick Turse reminds us below that, however bad the times may be for American
tanks or troops, it's springtime for ever conglomerating American munitions
makers. For them, and not just for the makers of the most futuristic weaponry
either, the future beckons like a soaring Pentagon budget, like a strobe light
at the end of an ever darkening tunnel. After all, as Guy Dinsmore of the Financial
Times reported just the other day ("U.S.
Draws Up List of Unstable Countries"):
"The U.S. intelligence community is drawing up a secret watch-list of 25
countries where instability might precipitate U.S. intervention, according to
officials in charge of a new [State Department] office set up to coordinate
planning for nation-building and conflict prevention. … Conceived out of the
acknowledged failure of postwar reconstruction efforts in Iraq, the new State
Department office amounts to recognition by the Bush administration that it
needs to get better at nation-building – a concept it once scorned as social
work disguised as foreign policy."
And keep in mind that that's just what's happening in the once-scorned State
Department on a budget of virtual pennies. Don't even think about the interventionary
planning going on in a place where you can imagine producing weaponry systems
based on 52 unproven technologies. Tom
If You Build It, They Will Kill
U.S. military weaponry of the near future
by Nick Turse
Let's face it, making war is fast superseding
sports as the American national pastime. Since 1980, overtly or covertly, the
United States has been involved in military actions in Grenada, Libya, Nicaragua,
Panama, Iraq, Afghanistan, El Salvador, Haiti, Somalia, Yugoslavia, Liberia,
Sudan, the Philippines, Colombia, Haiti (again), Afghanistan (again), and Iraq
(again), and that's not even the full list. It stands to reason when the voracious
appetites of the military-corporate complex are in constant need of feeding.
As representatives of a superpower devoted to (and enamored with)
war, it's hardly surprising that the Pentagon and allied corporations are
forever planning more effective ways to kill, maim, and inflict pain – or
that they plan to keep it that way. Whatever the wars of the present, elaborate
weapons systems for future wars are already on the drawing boards. Planning
for the projected fighter-bombers and laser weapons of the decades from 2030
to 2050 is underway. Meanwhile, at the Department of Defense's (DoD's) blue-skies
research outfit, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), even
wilder projects – from futuristic
exoskeletons to Brain/Machine
Interface initiatives – are being explored.
Such projects, as flashy as they are frightening, are magnets for reporters
(and writers like yours truly), but it's important not to lose sight of the
many more mundane weapons currently being produced that will be pressed into
service in the nearer term in Iraq, Afghanistan, or some other locale the U.S.
decides to add to the list of nations where it will turn people into casualties
or "collateral damage" in the next few years. These projects aren't as sexy
as building future robotic warriors, but they're at least as dangerous and deadly,
so let's take a quick look at a few of the weapons our tax dollars are supporting
today, before they hurt, maim, and kill tomorrow.
Set Phasers on Extreme Pain
Recently, the Air Force Research Laboratory called for "research
in support of the Directed Energy Bioeffects Division of the Human Effectiveness
Directorate." The researchers were to "conduct innovative research on the
effects of directed energy technologies" on people and animals. What types
of innovative research? One area involved identifying "biological tissue thresholds
(minimum visible lesion) and damage mechanisms from laser and non-laser sources."
In other words, how excruciating can you make it without leaving telltale
thermal burns? And a prime area of study? "Pain thresholds." Further, there
was a call for work to: "Determine the effects of electromagnetic and biomechanical
insults on the human-body." Sounds like something out of Star Trek,
right? Weaponry of the distant future? Think again.
In a TomDispatch piece last spring, I mentioned a "painful
energy beam" weapon, the Active Denial System, that was about to be field-tested
by the military. Recent reports indicate that military Humvees will be outfitted
with exactly this weapon by
the end of the year.
I'm sad to report that the Active Denial System isn't the only futuristic weapon
set to be deployed in the near-term. Pulsed Energy Projectiles (PEPs) are also
barreling down the weaponry-testing turnpike. They are part of a whole new generation
of weapons systems that the Pentagon promotes under the label "non-lethal."
The term conveniently obscures the fact that such weapons are meant to cause
intense physical agony without any of the normal physical signs of trauma. (This,
by the way, should make them – or their miniaturized descendants – excellent
devices for clandestine torture.)
Peps utilize bursts of electrically charged gas (plasma) that yield an electromagnetic
pulse on impact with a solid object. Such pulses affect nerve cells in humans
(and animals) causing searing pain. Peps are designed to inflict "excruciating
pain from up to 2 kilometers away." No one knows the long-term physical
or psychological effects of this weapon, which is set to roll out in 2007 and
is designed specifically to be employed against unruly civilians. But let's
remember, the Pentagon isn't the Food and Drug Administration. No need to test
for future effects when it comes to weapons aimed at someone else.
20th Century Weaponry for 21st Century Killing
Just recently, the Department of Defense's Defense Contracting Command-Washington
put out a call for various technologies capable of "near-immediate transition
to operations/production at the completion of evaluation." In other words, make
In addition to a plethora of high-tech devices, from laser-sights for weapons
to battlefield computers, the U.S. Special Operations Forces had a special request:
40mm rifle-launched flechette grenades. For the uninitiated, flechettes are
razor-sharp deadly darts with fins at their blunt ends. During the Vietnam War,
flechette weaponry was praised for its ability to shred people alive and virtually
nail them to trees. The question is, where will those Special Ops forces use
the grenades and which people will be torn to bits by a new generation of American
flechettes? Only time will tell, but one thing is certain – it will happen.
The Special Ops troops aren't the only ones with special requests. The Army
has also put out a call to arms. While Army officials recently hailed the M240B
7.62mm Medium Machine Gun as providing "significantly improved reliability
and more lethal medium-support fire to ground units," they just issued a contract
to FN Manufacturing
Inc. produce a lighter-weight, hybrid titanium/steel variant of the weapon
(known as the M240E6). And these are just a few of the new and improved weapons
systems being readied to be rushed onto near-future American battlefields.
Obviously, the military is purchasing guns and other weapons for
a reason: to injure, maim, and kill. But the extent of the killing being planned
for can only be grasped if one examines the amounts of ammunition being purchased.
Let's look at recent DoD contracts awarded to just one firm – Alliant Lake
City Small Caliber Ammunition Company, L.L.C., a subsidiary of weapons-industry
giant Alliant Techsystems (ATK):
Awarded Nov. 24, 2004: "a delivery order amount of $231,663,020
as part of a $303,040,883 firm-fixed-price contract for various Cal .22, Cal
.30, 5.56mm, and 7.62mm small caliber ammunition cartridges." Work is expected
to be completed by Sept. 30, 2006.
Awarded February 7, 2005: "a delivery order amount of $20,689,101
as part of a $363,844,808 firm-fixed-price contract for various 5.56mm and
7.62mm Small Caliber Ammunition Cartridges." Work is expected to be completed
by Sept. 30, 2006.
Awarded March 4, 2005: "a delivery order amount of $8,236,906 as
part of a $372,586,618 firm-fixed-price contract for 5.56mm, 7.62mm, and .50
caliber ammunition cartridges." Work is expected to be completed by Sept.
You and I can buy 400 rounds of 7.62mm rifle ammunition for less
Imagine, then, what federal purchasing power and hundreds of millions of dollars
Alliant Ammunition and Powder Co. is also making certain that, as
the years go by, ammo-capacity won't be lacking. In February 2005, Alliant
was awarded "a delivery order amount of $19,400,000 as part of a $69,733,068
firm-fixed-price contract for Services to Modernize Equipment at the Lake
City Army Ammunition Plant" – a government-owned facility operated by ATK.
Alliant notes that this year it is churning out 1.2 billion rounds of small-caliber
ammunition at its Lake City plant alone. But that, it seems, isn't enough
when future war planning is taken into account. As it happens, ATK and the
Army are aiming to increase the plant's "annual
capacity to support the anticipated Department of Defense demand of between
1.5 billion and 1.8 billion rounds by 2006." Think about it. In this year,
alone, one single ATK plant will produce enough ammunition, at one bullet
each, to execute every man, woman, and child in the world's most populous
– and next year they're upping the ante.
The Military-Corporate Complex's Merchants of Death
Once upon a time, a company like ATK would have been classified
as one of the world's "Merchants of Death." Then again, once upon a time –
we're talking about the 1930s here– the Senate was a place where America's
representatives were willing to launch probing inquiries into the ways in
which arms manufacturers and their huge profits as well as their influences
on international conflicts were linked to the dead of various lands. Back
then, simple partisanship was set aside as the Senate's Democratic majority
appointed North Dakota's Republican Senator Gerald
P. Nye to head the "Senate Munitions Committee."
While today's fawning House members can barely get aging
baseball heroes to talk to them, the 1930s inquiry hauled some of the
most powerful men in the world like J.P. Morgan, Jr. and Pierre du Pont before
the committee. Even back in the 1930s, however, the nascent military-industrial
complex was just too powerful and so the Senate Munitions Committee was eventually
thwarted in its investigations. As a result, the committee's goal of nationalizing
the American arms industry went down in flames.
Today, the very idea of such a committee even attempting such an investigation
is simply beyond the pale. The planning for futuristic war of various horrific
sorts, not to speak of the production and purchase of weapons and ammunition
by the military-corporate complex, is now beyond reproach, accepted without
question as necessary for national (now homeland) security – a concept that
long ago trumped the notion of national defense.
The Future Is Now
While the military-academic complex and DARPA scientists are hard at work creating
the sort of killing machines that a generation back were the stuff of unbelievable
sci-fi novels, old-fashioned firearms and even new energy weapons are being
readied for use by the American imperial army tomorrow or just a few short years
in the future. In February 2005, Day
& Zimmerman Inc., a mega-company with its corporate fingers dipped in
everything from nuclear security and munitions production to cryogenics and
travel services, inked a deal to deliver 445,288 M67 fragmentation hand grenades
(which produce casualties within an effective range of 15 meters) to the Army
in 2006. In which country will a civilian will lose an eye, a leg, or a life
as a result? Weapons made to kill are made to be used. This year ATK's Lake
City Army Ammunition Plant will produce 1.2 billion rounds of ammunition at
the DoD's behest and the company proudly proclaims, "Approximately
75% of the ammunition produced annually is consumed."
With all those exotic pain rays, flechettes, super-efficient machine
guns, and rounds and rounds of ammunition readied for action – and they represent
only a small part of the spectrum of weaponry and munitions being produced
for war, American-style – more people are sure to die, while others assumedly
will experience "intense pain" from Peps weapons and the like. Back in October
of last year, a team of researchers from Johns Hopkins University, Columbia
University, and al-Mustansiriya University in Baghdad, knocking on thousands
of doors throughout Iraq, demonstrated
that an estimated 100,000 civilians had already died violently as the direct
or indirect consequence of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. The main cause of
these deaths: attacks by coalition (read as "U.S.") forces. The future promises
more of the same.
No one should be surprised by these figures – though many were (and
many also continue to deny the validity of these numbers). It's obvious that,
if you build them; they will kill. And you thought that we were supposed to
"err on the side of life"?
Nick Turse is a doctoral candidate at the Center for the History & Ethics
of Public Health in the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University.
He writes for the Los Angeles Times, the Village Voice and regularly
for TomDispatch on the military-corporate complex and the homeland security