Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Money Well Spent

Last June, I posted something about the Army’s Long Endurance Multi-Intelligence Vehicle, or LEMV as it’s known in the business. It’s basically a blimp designed to “provide commanders with real-time intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance information, all from 20,000 feet.” The Army had awarded Northrup Grumman a five-year, $517 million contract to produce three of these awesome beauties, which are guaranteed to bring about victory in Afghanistan. But just in case the LEMV doesn’t live up to expectations, there will soon be an even larger, more ungainly blimp on the horizon, blocking out the setting sun and gobbling up what remains of our money, the Blue Devil airship:

No, wait, that’s not it. This is:

This is from the article in Wired:

Come this fall, there will be a new and extremely powerful supercomputer in Afghanistan. But it won’t be in Dave Petraeus’ headquarters in Kabul or at some three-letter agency’s operations center in Kandahar. It’ll be floating 20,000 feet above the warzone, aboard a giant spy blimp that watches and listens to everything for miles around.

That is, if an ambitious, $211 million crash program called “Blue Devil” works out as planned. As of now, the airship’s “freakishly large” hull — seven times the size of the Goodyear Blimp’s — has yet to be put together.

Provided the Air Force can get the blimp in the air, and the gadgets on the blimp. The first flight is scheduled for October 15.

It would be tempting to rant about the despicable folly of a declining superpower wasting money on blimps for a doomed war effort, particularly as growing numbers of its own people live on the edge of destitution. We’ve got a so-called ‘cat-food commission’ recommending ways to whittle down our already inadequate social safety-net. Economists talk of chronic high-employment as the ‘new normal’ like they’re discussing the latest trends in high fashion. And our president, apparently enjoying his seat at the big kid’s table, writes an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal decrying the evils of government regulation, as if a few overzealous bureaucrats and a little red tape are the only things standing between us and a new economic utopia (and he’s unleashing a plan to do something about it, damn it). Amid all of this upside down, surrealistic moral perversion comes word that we’ve got $211 million to spend on blimps for a war that our own generals privately admit is a failure.

Once again, we’re left to wonder if our leaders are evil or merely stupid. The most accurate answer, I’m afraid, is an Obamian “a little bit of both.” Sure, this project will employ lots of people for the time being. It will also occupy a few techno geeks who, indifferent to the human consequences of their work, will gush about the orgasmic wonders of the Blue Devil’s supercomputer like it’s the greatest thing since Legos. Gosh, Mr. Peabody, with the equivalent of two thousand core servers on board, we can process up to 300 terabytes per hour. Cool! (Translation: They’ll be able to spy on more people more quickly and kill them more efficiently than ever before).

In short, it will keep the military-industrial complex clanking along for a little while longer. So break out the popcorn and soda and let’s celebrate.

That’s the stupid. Now for the evil.

We’re wasting money we don’t have on things we don’t need, and our political and economic elites (redundant?) are hopelessly devoid of will and imagination. They can’t come up with a single way to employ significant numbers of people unless it involves making weapons and killing people. This is appalling and irresponsible. It is blind and stupid and ultimately suicidal. But it’s also beside the point. From our leader’s perspective, the money we’re spending on things like LEMV’s and Blue Devil surveillance blimps isn’t being wasted at all. It’s being put to a very practical use. The fact is, we’re not developing weapons designed to win wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; we’re using Iraq and Afghanistan as laboratories for perfecting weapons designed for use against us.

All of this super-duper bitchin’ technology will be hitting the streets (and skies) of America right at the time our abused and exploited population finally wakes up, realizes how ruthlessly it’s being screwed, and starts getting unruly. It’s already happening. Just recently, the Army deployed something called the Active Denial System to Afghanistan “for testing.” It’s a giant mobile taser that shoots a non-lethal heat ray that makes the victim feel like they’re being roasted alive, but, theoretically, causes no lasting damage.

(A spokesperson for something called the Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate, which is the Orwellian outfit in control of this device, insists that it doesn’t cause a burning pain, merely an “intolerable heating sensation, like opening an oven door.” Excuse me while I go bang my head against the wall.)

The Army claims they were never actually used because they were “not politically tenable” and there were some minor, unresolved technical glitches, such as a “potential for death.” But that hasn’t stopped Raytheon from devising a smaller version of the Active Denial System called the Silent Guardian which is now being used in the L.A. County Jail. The National Institute of Justice wants Raytheon to make a portable, hand-held model that can be shot like a pistol or placed under a rifle. The wheels are in motion.

So while we stand in the unemployment line, our government dispenses public money to Northrup Grumman and Raytheon, who then create weapons that can be used to batter us into submission when we finally get sick and tired of standing in the unemployment line. A perfect circle.

It’s not a waste of resources. It’s money well spent. You’ll see.

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