For last year’s invasion of Grenada, by any measure a quick and efficient operation, the U.S. Army last week disclosed it had awarded 8,612 medals.  What made the back-patting noteworthy was that no more than about 7,000 officers and enlisted men ever set foot on the tiny Caribbean island.

“Overdecorated,” Time, April 9, 1984, p. 27

The invasion of Grenada … raises “disturbing” questions about U.S. military tactics and performance, a study released yesterday … concludes.  …

[The study found that] the elite military units in the invasion, including Navy SEAL commandos and a Delta Force anti-terrorist squad, “failed in much of what they attempted.”  For example, the SEALs failed to knock Radio Grenada off the air because they “attacked the wrong building” after finding the station compound.  Several SEALs drowned because of “poor weather forecasting… .”  Of “approximately 100 U.S. helicopters used on Grenada, nine were destroyed and a number of others were damaged” although the Cubans lacked antiaircraft missiles.

Rick Atkinson, “Study Faults U.S. Military Tactics in Grenada Invasion,” Washington Post, April 6, 1984, p. A3

Two years ago, the problem with the Air Force’s B-2 Stealth bombers, which cost $2 billion apiece, was that their radar could not tell a rain cloud from a mountainside.  Now the problem is that the B-2 cannot go out in the rain.  The investigative arm of Congress reported this week that the B-2, the world’s most expensive aircraft, deteriorates in rain, heat and humidity.  It “must be sheltered or exposed only to the most benign environments — low humidity, no precipitation, moderate temperatures. …”

The Air Force issued a statement today saying that, for now, it will cancel plans to station the bombers overseas. …  The Northrop Grumman Corporation is building 21 of the planes at a cost of $44.7 billion. …  The report by the General Accounting Office said … [i]t is unlikely that the problem “will ever be fully resolved. …”  [T]he B-2 bombers were able to perform their missions only 26 percent of the time.

Tim Weiner, “The $2 Billion Stealth Bomber Can’t Go Out in the Rain,” New York Times, August 23, 1997, p. A5

The $500 million Aegis high-tech radar system … was designed to track and shoot down up to 200 incoming missiles at once.  … In 1988, its first time in combat after being installed on the U.S.S. Vincennes, the Aegis successfully bagged an Iranian Airbus with 290 civilians on board.  Human and mechanical error led the crew to mistake the Airbus (length: 175 feet) for an F-14 (length: 62 feet), miscalculate its altitude by 4,000 feet and report that the civilian aircraft was descending in attack position when the plane was actually climbing. …

The Maverick air-to-surface missile, used with less than 50 percent accuracy during the Gulf War, has heat-seeking infrared sensors which “lock on” target.  Unfortunately, the sensors are easily distracted.  In one test during which the Maverick was supposed to be homing in on a tank, operators discovered that the missile had locked on a distant campfire where two soldiers were cooking beans.

One of the most outrageous pieces of pork in the Pentagon’s budget is the C-17 transport plane [which they continued to purchase even after the price quadrup.led and] … [t]he original justification for the aircraft — confronting the Red Menace — has vanished.  But the Pentagon still insists that the C-17 is a “must buy.”  …

[D]uring an October 1992 “stress” test … “the wings didn’t [just] buckle, they were destroyed.  They ripped like pieces of paper.”  After [a] $100 million [redesign] … the wings began to splinter.  … two months later, the C-17’s left wing cracked in two places.  Heartened because the right wing was undamaged, the Pentagon declared this test a rousing success and said no further experiments would be required.  …

Alas, the C-17 is incapable of carrying out its assigned task of forward resupply.  The enormous aircraft needs at least 4,000 feet of runway to land, 1,000 more than the Air Force claims.  The C-17 cannot come down on a dirt airstrip because its jet engines will “ingest” earth.  A used Boeing 747 — which can be bought and modified for less than $100 million — can carry three times as much cargo twice as far as the C-17.

Alexander Cockburn and Ken Silverstein, Washington Babylon, London: Verso, 1996 (pp. 176-178)

It’s almost funny as long as you don’t think of how sad it is.

But, good news! Bush wants to spend more on missile defense. Because, you know, in the future Osama will be made of lasers.

What else could be done? This cute animation explains where the money could go and how you can help.

source: Noam Chomsky, Understanding Power, chapter 3, notes 35-37. The book argues the real reason for the large amount of defense spending is that it acts as a large subsidy for high-tech industry (allowing them to do research and development which can later be commercialized), essentially creating something of a planned economy.

See also: Where Your Income Tax Money Really Goes

posted August 23, 2004 01:20 PM (Politics) (2 comments) #


Who would bin Laden vote for?
Wolf Blitzer Distorts
Press Clipping
Why is Big Media losing viewers? Because it sucks
The Behavior Without A Name
What is the real purpose of military spending?
Press Clipping
How Control Works
Right Wing Funnies
Framing the Media
Behind the Thick Black Line


Deterrence is the function of the military.

The optimistic result is that our government spends a lot of money and takes up the time of, say, a million young people and no one attacks us.

The pessimistic result is that if you turn our country into a radioactive wasteland, our submarines, which are pretty undetectable and carry MIRV missiles, will make your country into slag. We won’t wait for you to starve or freeze to death during a nuclear winter.

A soldier cab win more than one medal during a conflict, even a short one.

The military R&D establishment can make some whopping big mistakes even after spending whopping big amounts of money.

posted by Skeeter2 at August 24, 2004 11:43 AM #

While the 747 is a good cargo carrier, it is even less well suited to forward supply than a C-17. A 747 cargo aircraft requires specialized cargo handling equipment to unload and load, limiting its use to well-equipped airfields where such equipment already exists or places where the equipment has been previously deployed.

That said, buying some 747 cargo aircraft might not be a bad idea. The U.S. military already has access to some through the Civilian Reserve Air Fleet (CRAF), but having some on hand and ready to go would probably be a good thing.

I think one reason why the military wants the C-17 (besides to save face) is because a large portion of the current air lift fleet is composed of aging C-141 Starlifters that are waring out at an alarming rate. However, instead of buying C-17s, reopening the C-5 Galaxy production line might be more cost effective (though re-opening the line would probably bring some pretty hefty costs).

posted by jk at August 25, 2004 12:50 PM #

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