Many of us have criticized our politicians for years for abandoning the national interest in favor of petty or corrupt interests. I have worked in this town for decades and I have never seen the situation quite this bad where lobbyists seem to have unprecedented and open control of Congress. No greater example can be found than the move this week to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on tanks that the Army does not want and experts overwhelming say the country does not need.
Both Republicans and Democrats (the same people complaining about the cuts in budget under the sequester) joined together to order $500 million of new Abrams M-1 tanks that no one wants. Why? Because of a powerful lobby and a company who sweetened the pot by spreading the contracts around to key districts. The Army has other uses for the $436 million that would make the country safer but members want their cut of the defense pork. Then of course there are also those countless educational, scientific, and public welfare programs slashed for lack of money.
The money has changed two budget hawks into pork profiteers. Rep. Jim Jordan and Sen. Rob Portman have insisted that the Army will order the tanks which will likely add to hundreds now rusting in storage areas. They are joined by liberal Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown. Ohio will benefit most from building the tanks. The Lima plant is operated by the land systems division of General Dynamics, which spread around $11 million last year on lobbyist members of Congress.
Jordan makes no apologies for insisting that money needed for national security should be shifted to an unwanted program: “Look, (the plant) is in the 4th Congressional District and my job is to represent the 4th Congressional District, so I understand that … But the fact remains, if it was not in the best interests of the national defense for the United States of America, then you would not see me supporting it like we do.” Really? Experts have lined up to say it is not in our best interests. The military has told you it is not in our best interest. But you are not convinced?
By the way, our tank fleet, on average, is less than 3 years old.
In testimony delivered to Congress last week by Dyke D. Weatherington, who is in charge of all unmanned drone programs at the Department of Defense, it was revealed:
* All DOD components currently possess 9,670 small drones (RQ-11 RAVEN, WASP, PUMA, and RQ-10 T-HAWK), 194 US Navy SCAN EAGLE maritime surveillance drones, 626 medium-sized drones (principally RQ-7 SHADOW), and 430 large unmanned drones (235 PREDATOR/GRAY EAGLE, 44 MQ-6 HUNTER, 18 MQ-8 FIRE SCOUT, 100 MQ-9 REAPER, and 34 GLOBAL HAWK). Total: more than 10,800 drones currently in the inventory.
* Except for the 9,670 small tactical drones, DOD’s remaining 1,200 large- and medium-sized drones flew a total of 550,000 flight hours in 2012, down from almost 700,000 flight hours in 2011. Drone flight hours are expected to increase slightly in this coming fiscal year (FY 2013).
* In the FY 2014 budget submission just given to Congress, the Pentagon is asking for more than $1.4 billion for drone-related research and development, and another $1.2 billion for drone procurement. Total: $2.6 billion just in this one single category.
* Significant drone buys this coming fiscal year: 12 MQ-9 REAPERs for the USAF, 15 GRAY EAGLE for the Army (this the Army’s version of the MQ-1 PREDATOR drone flown by the USAF), and 25 RQ-7 SHADOW for the Army and Marine Corps.
Barack Obama has been accused of reneging on his disarmament pledges after it emerged the administration was planning to spend billions on upgrading nuclear bombs stored in Europe to make the weapons more reliable and accurate.
Under the plan, nearly 200 B61 gravity bombs stockpiled in Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy and Turkey would be given new tail fins that would turn them into guided weapons that could be delivered by stealth F35 fighter-bombers.
“This will be a significant upgrade of the US nuclear capability in Europe,” said Hans Kristensen, a nuclear weapons expert at the Federation of Nuclear Scientists. “It flies directly in the face of the pledges Obama made in 2010 that he would not deploy new weapons.”
In its Nuclear Posture Review in 2010, the US undertook to do reduce the role and numbers of its nuclear weapons, in part by not developing new nuclear warheads, and pledging it would not “support new military missions or provide for new military capabilities”.
“What will be going back to Europe will be a guided nuclear bomb,” he said. “Especially when you combine it with F35 with stealth characteristics, that expands the targets you can hold at risk from Europe, because by placing the explosion closer to the target you can choose a lower explosive yield. That is very important as there is less radioactive fallout. For many people this is a great concern because it means making nuclear weapons more ‘usable’.” [++]
US defence secretary Chuck Hagel said on Sunday a $10bn arms deal under discussion with Washington’s Arab and Israeli allies sent a “very clear signal” to Tehran the military option remains on the table over its nuclear programme.
“The bottom line is that Iran is a threat, a real threat,” said Hagel, who arrived in Israel on Sunday on his first visit to Israel as defence secretary.
“The Iranians must be prevented from developing that capacity to build a nuclear weapon and deliver it,” he told reporters on his plane.
Because the Iranians are irrational and we, with our arsenal of 5,000+ nuclear weapons, are completely sane.
Instead, the Lockheed Martin Corp. (LMT) aircraft has been plagued by a costly redesign, bulkhead cracks, too much weight, and delays to essential software that have helped put it seven years behind schedule and 70 percent over its initial cost estimate. At almost $400 billion, it’s the most expensive weapons system in U.S. history.
It is also the defense project too big to kill. The F-35 funnels business to a global network of contractors that includes Northrop Grumman Corp. (NOC) and Kongsberg Gruppen ASA of Norway. It counts 1,300 suppliers in 45 states supporting 133,000 jobs — and more in nine other countries, according to Lockheed. The F-35 is an example of how large weapons programs can plow ahead amid questions about their strategic necessity and their failure to arrive on time and on budget.
“It’s got a lot of political protection,” said Winslow Wheeler, a director at the Project on Government Oversight’s Center for Defense Information in Washington. “In that environment, very, very few members of Congress are willing to say this is an unaffordable dog and we need to get rid of it.”
We’ve put all our eggs in the F-35 basket,” said Texas Republican Senator John Cornyn. Given that, one might think the military would have approached the aircraft’s development conservatively. In fact, the Pentagon did just the opposite. It opted to build three versions of a single plane averaging $160 million each (challenge No. 1), agreed that the planes should be able to perform multiple missions (challenge No. 2), then started rolling them off the assembly line while the blueprints were still in flux—more than a decade before critical developmental testing was finished (challenge No. 3). The military has already spent $373 million to fix planes already bought; the ultimate repair bill for imperfect planes has been estimated at close to $8 billion.
a great breakdown of the central problems with the F-35 from Time magazine’s new story The Most Expensive Weapon Ever Built. (via govtoversight)
Two things happened earlier this week that have very little to do with each other in reality but are nevertheless being tied together in the media and official commentary. First, on Monday the New York Times reported that the Obama administration was likely to press for a cut in the size of the U.S. nuclear arsenal to “just above 1,000” deployed strategic nuclear warheads. This would represent a reduction of about a third from the limit of 1,550 set by the New START agreement.
Second, the following day North Korea conducted its third nuclear test. It didn’t take long for opponents of the rumored nuclear reductions to seize on the news as a reason to argue against them. As Senator John Hoeven said in a statement:
North Korea’s nuclear test today poses a threat to the United States and our allies, and underscores the need for the United States to maintain its strong deterrent capabilities. Yet now, even before implementing the reductions required under the New START Treaty of 2010, the Obama administration has signaled that it may be willing to reduce unilaterally the U.S. nuclear capability even further. In light of North Korea’s actions today, this is clearly not the time to diminish these critical strategic forces.
Leave aside the fact that it’s far from clear that Obama wants to undertake these cuts “unilaterally,” as Hoeven says. (The Times article reports that the administration’s preferred option would be to make them through an “informal agreement” with Russia “within the framework” of New START.) Even if the reductions were to be made unilaterally, there is no conceivable military mission that the United States could have vis-à-vis North Korea that could not be completed with 1,000 deployed strategic nuclear weapons. To the extent that the U.S. nuclear arsenal needs to be sized against another nation, that country is Russia, not North Korea. Washington and Moscow both maintain stockpiles of thousands of nuclear weapons, which are far greater than those of any other nation. In contrast, North Korea, according to estimates, has less than ten. Tuesday’s test does not change that basic calculus. To argue that it does, and that North Korea’s test should forestall any U.S. nuclear reductions, is the geopolitical equivalent of giving Pyongyang a “heckler’s veto” over our security policies.
… The Air Force and the Navy are particularly enthusiastic about Air-Sea Battle; after a decade of budget emphasis on the Army and Marine Corps in the mostly-land conflicts in the Persian Gulf and Southwest Asia, ASB is so much all about the Navy and Air Force that, according to Jaffe’s article, they have “come up with more than 200 initiatives they say they need to realize Air-Sea Battle” and it “provides a framework for preserving [and expanding] some of the Pentagon’s most sophisticated weapons programs.”
… In a scorching piece at Time magazine’s Battleland … a widely-read military affairs author, Thomas P. M. Barnett, treated Marshall and his ideas with open contempt: “The most egregiously implausible efforts ever made to justify arms build-ups… Purposefully zeroing out all outside existing reality… Strategic thinking has been completely eliminated in the quest for program-preserving rationales.” [++]
The commission doesn’t explicitly endorse any particular form of non-lethal defense of diplomatic installations. But the obvious options would be a laser flash that ‘dazzles’ oncoming attackers, an ear-splitting sonic blaster … and a microwave-like pain ray that make targets feel like they’re being hit with the exhaust of a giant oven. The first two weapons have been used by U.S. military forces overseas in recent years. The third one was pulled from Afghanistan because it was considered too controversial. … Another non-lethal option: sonic blasters like the Long-Range Acoustic Device or the Inferno, which cause, in the words of Danger Room co-founder Sharon Weinberger, ‘the most unbearable, gut-wrenching noise I’ve ever heard in my life.’ The Long-Range Acoustic Device, for instance, fires sound waves at a 300-meter distance, and has been used against pirates; a related Israeli weapon, called the Scream, was put to work in 2009 to literally nauseate protesters.
The position of defense secretary is one of the most high-profile jobs a president can bestow, but it can come at a high personal cost — literally.
To avoid conflicts of interest, nominees are asked to sell off their financial holdings in companies that do business with the Pentagon.
That doesn’t just mean big defense contractors like Lockheed Martin or BAE Systems. Thousands upon thousands of companies today serve as vendors to the Defense Department, which buys everything from soda to tanks for its troops and employees around the world.
This makes the department unique among other government agencies, but it also means that taking charge of it can be a costly proposition — more costly than, say, running the State Department.
For someone like Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), reportedly under consideration to be nominated for either defense secretary or secretary of state, the position he winds up with would have a big impact on his and his family’s personal wealth.
In 2011, Kerry was ranked the wealthiest member of the Senate, according to his financial disclosure forms, with a reported net worth of around $193 million.
His most recent disclosure form shows a wide array of publicly traded stocks and financial holdings — some in companies that do business with DoD.
A 2008 report by the Center for Responsive Politics estimated Kerry had between $29 million and $38 million invested in companies that received defense contracts between 2004 and 2006, putting him at the top of the list of lawmakers with investments in companies with DoD contracts. [++]
(Washington, DC) – Governments should pre-emptively ban fully autonomous weapons because of the danger they pose to civilians in armed conflict, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. These future weapons, sometimes called “killer robots,” would be able to choose and fire on targets without human intervention.
The 50-page report, “Losing Humanity: The Case Against Killer Robots,” outlines concerns about these fully autonomous weapons, which would inherently lack human qualities that provide legal and non-legal checks on the killing of civilians. In addition, the obstacles to holding anyone accountable for harm caused by the weapons would weaken the law’s power to deter future violations.
“Giving machines the power to decide who lives and dies on the battlefield would take technology too far,” said Steve Goose, Arms Division director at Human Rights Watch. “Human control of robotic warfare is essential to minimizing civilian deaths and injuries.”
“Losing Humanity” is the first major publication about fully autonomous weapons by a nongovernmental organization and is based on extensive research into the law, technology, and ethics of these proposed weapons. It is jointly published by Human Rights Watch and the Harvard Law School International Human Rights Clinic.
Human Rights Watch and the International Human Rights Clinic called for an international treaty that would absolutely prohibit the development, production, and use of fully autonomous weapons. They also called on individual nations to pass laws and adopt policies as important measures to prevent development, production, and use of such weapons at the domestic level. [++]