Frida Berrigan, How the Pentagon Stole the Future

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Just this week, the Bush administration is considering making a little futuristic news. The President might soon approve “a major step forward in the building of the country’s first new nuclear warhead in nearly two decades,” the Reliable Replacement Warhead. If only names were reality…

Critics are already claiming that the new “hybrid” design of the weapon, now planned to come on-line in 2012, will raise safety and other questions (and may someday lead to the resumption of underground nuclear testing). In other words, peering into our nuclear future, it’s possible to imagine that — to the tune of an estimated $100 billion — the crucial word is likely to be “proliferation.”

In fact, the future, as the military sees it, is simply filled to the brim with multibillion dollar American weapons systems of a sort that were once relegated to sci-fi novels for spacey boys. Now, they are the property of spacey generals, strategists, military planners, and corporate CEOs. Just a week ago, the Bush administration presented a supplemental military budget of nearly $100 billion to Congress to cover our ongoing disastrous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as to replace equipment lost or worn out in both. But evidently Air Force officials, in a “feeding frenzy,” just couldn’t resist slipping in a futuristic ringer — the funding, according to Jonathan Karp of the Wall Street Journal, for two of Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, a high-tech plane still in development.

By the way, as Richard Cummings points out in a stunning recent piece on Lockheed in Playboy, Dick Cheney’s son-in-law, Philip J. Perry, is a registered Lockheed lobbyist and his wife Lynne was on Lockheed’s board until he became Vice President. On settling into Washington, George Bush appointed Lockheed’s President and CEO Robert J. Stevens to his Commission on the Future of the United States Aerospace Industry. “Albert Smith, Lockheed’s executive vice president for integrated systems and solutions, was appointed to the Defense Science Board. Bush had appointed former Lockheed chief operating officer Peter B. Teets as undersecretary of the Air Force and director of the National Reconnaissance Office,” and that was just the beginning as the military-industrial revolving door spun wildly and the corporation made money hand over fist.

This month Tomdispatch is focusing special attention on the Pentagon, militarization, and the imperial path. Sunday, Nick Turse laid out Pentagon plans to fight crucial future battles in Baghdad 2025 and the mega-slums of other global cities. Today, Frida Berrigan of the Arms Trade Resource Center and a regular writer for this website, considers a range of weapons systems slated to come our way somewhere between tomorrow and 2040. If that’s not ownership of the future, what is? Next week, stay tuned for a Michael Klare series on the militarization of energy policy. Tom

Raptors, Robots, and Rods from God
The Nightmare Weaponry of Our Future
By Frida Berrigan

We are not winning the war on terrorism (and would not be even if we knew what victory looked like) or the war in Iraq. Our track record in Afghanistan, as well as in the allied “war” on drugs, is hardly better. Yet the Pentagon is hard at work, spending your money, planning and preparing for future conflicts of every imaginable sort. From wars in space to sci-fi battlescapes without soldiers, scenarios are being scripted and weaponry prepared, largely out of public view, which ensures not future victories, but limitless spending that Americans can ill-afford now or twenty years from now.

We are not winning the war on terrorism (and would not be even if we knew what victory looked like) or the war in Iraq. Our track record in Afghanistan, as well as in the allied “war” on drugs, is hardly better. Yet the Pentagon is hard at work, spending your money, planning and preparing for future conflicts of every imaginable sort. From wars in space to sci-fi battlescapes without soldiers, scenarios are being scripted and weaponry prepared, largely out of public view, which ensures not future victories, but limitless spending that Americans can ill-afford now or twenty years from now.

Even though today the Armed Forces can’t recruit enough soldiers or adequately equip those already in uniform, the Pentagon is committing itself to massive corporate contracts for new high-tech weapons systems slated to come on-line years, even decades, from now, guaranteed only to enrich their makers.

Future Combat Systems

The typical soldier in Iraq carries about half his or her body weight in gear and suffers the resulting back pain. Body armor, weapon(s), ammunition, water, first aid kit — it adds up in the 120 degree heat of Basra or Baghdad.

Ask soldiers in Iraq what they need most and answers may include: well-armored Humvees (many soldiers are jerry-rigging their own homemade Humvee armor); more body armor (an unofficial 2004 Army study found that one in four casualties in Iraq was the result of inadequate protective gear), or even silly string (Marcelle Shriver found out that her son was squirting the goo into a room as he and his squad searched buildings to detect trip wires around bombs).

The same Army that can’t provide such basics of modern war is now promising the Future Combat Systems network (FCS), a “family of systems” that will enable soldiers to “perceive, comprehend, shape, and dominate the future battlefield at unprecedented levels.” The FCS network will consist of a “family” of 18 manned and unmanned ground vehicles, air vehicles, sensors, and munitions, including:

* eight new, super-armored, super-strong ground vehicles to replace current tanks, infantry carriers, and self-propelled howitzers;

* four different planes and drones that soldiers can fly by remote control;

* several “unmanned” ground vehicles.

Put together these are supposed to plunge soldiers into a video-game-like version of warfighting. The FCS will theoretically allow them to act as though they are in the midst of enemy territory — taking out “high value” targets, blowing up “insurgent safe houses,” monitoring the movements of “un-friendlies”– all the while remaining at a safe distance from the bloody action.

To grasp the futuristic ambitions (and staggering future costs) of FCS, consider this: The Government Accounting Office (GAO) notes that “an estimated 34 million lines of software code will need to be generated” for the project, “double that of the Joint Strike Fighter, which had been the largest defense undertaking in terms of software to be developed.”

In charge of this ambitious sci-fi style fantasy version of war are Boeing and SAIC (Science Applications International Corporation). They are the “Lead Systems Integrators” of this extraordinarily complex undertaking, but they are working with as many as 535 more companies across 40 states. They promise future forces the ability to break “free of the tyranny of terrain” and “an agile, networked force capable of maneuver in the third dimension” in the words last March of retired Major General Robert H. Scales in a Boeing PowerPoint presentation entitled “FCS: Its Origin and Op Concept.”

Defense Secretary Rumsfeld once famously asserted, ”You go to war with the Army you have, not the Army you might want or wish to have.” Pentagon planners seem to have taken the opposite tack. They prefer the military they, or their blue-sky dreamers, wish to have for the kinds of wars they dream about fighting. And it won’t be cheap. A March 2005 GAO report found that the total program cost of Future Combat Systems alone “is expected to be at least $107.9 billion.” In 2005, the Pentagon had already allocated $2.8 billion in research and development funds to FCS and, in fiscal year 2006, that was expected to increase to $3.4 billion. (Keep in mind, that all such complex, high-tech, weapons-oriented systems almost invariably go far over initial cost estimates by the time they come on line.)

“The Maserati of the Skies”

In 2006, the F-22 Raptor began rolling off the assembly line. The Air Force plans to buy 183 of these high-tech, radar-evading stealth planes, each at a price tag of $130 million, being manufactured in a joint venture between Lockheed Martin and Boeing. But it turns out that the $130 million per plane cost is just one-third of the total price, once development costs are factored in. The whole program is slated to cost the Pentagon 65 billion big ones. In July 2006, the Government Accountability Office asserted. “The F-22 acquisition history is a case study in increased cost and schedule inefficiencies.”

Even if it were a bargain, however, it is a classic case of future-planning run amok. The plane was originally conceived to counter Soviet fighter planes, which haven’t menaced the U.S. for more than 15 years. The plane itself is technologically awe-inspiring, reportedly having a twice-the-speed-of-sound cruising speed of Mach 2. (The Pentagon jealously guards its maximum speed as top secret.)

In 2007, the only reason the military might need such a plane is to outfight its predecessor, the F-16, which Lockheed Martin has sold to numerous countries that benefited from the corporation’s vociferous lobbying for new markets and our government’s lax enforcement of arms-export controls.

In this classic case of boomeranging weaponry, Lockheed Martin has triumphed three times: First, General Dynamics sold F-16 fighters to the Air Force beginning in 1976; second, Lockheed (which bought General Dynamics) sold the planes to Turkey, United Arab Emirates, Venezuela, and other nations from the 1980s to the present moment; and third, Lockheed Martin (having merged with Martin Marietta in 1995 and adjusted its name accordingly) now gets to produce an even higher tech plane for a U.S. Air Force that fears it might be outclassed by foreign military hardware that once was our own. The Bethesda-based company ended 2001 with a stock price of $46.67 a share — and began 2007 at a celebratory $92.07.

The Next Generation Fighter

Of course, the lesson drawn from this is to produce yet more futuristic planes. The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, built by a team led (yet again!) by Lockheed Martin, made its initial flight on December 15, 2006. The total program could surpass $275 billion, making it the most expensive weapons program in U.S. history. Prime contractor Lockheed Martin is sharing the work and profits with partners Northrop Grumman and BAE Systems (not to speak of scads of subcontractors).

The Air Force already hails the F-35s “transformational sensor capability” and “low-observable characteristics” that will

“enable persistent combat air support over the future battlefield. Furthermore, [the] F-35 will help enable the negation of advanced enemy air defenses because it will possess the ability to perform unrestricted operations within heavily defended airspace.”

Somewhere in there it is implied that this plane launches missiles that kill people, but it is very deeply embedded. Nowhere does it say that its opponent in the skies could be the F-22 Raptor, once it is sold to all those nations who find their F-16s woefully out of date.

What’s Next Next Next Next?

Even with such spiraling, mind-boggling investments in advanced weapons systems, the aerospace industry is never satisfied. The quest for new justifications for ever “better” versions of already advanced weapons systems is the holy grail of the business. These justifications pile up in industry magazines like Aerospace America, the organ of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

In a typical article in that magazine, the industry makes much of a comment then-Air Force Vice Chief of Staff Gen. T. Michael Moseley made to Congress in March 2004. In charge of the U.S. air campaign over Iraq, he observed that most of the sorties originated from neighboring countries that were allies in Operation Enduring Freedom. But what if, he wondered, you wanted to go to war and there were no local allies willing to offer basing facilities. On the classic Boy Scout theory, be prepared, he promptly warned in written testimony to the House Armed Services Committee, “In the future, we will require deep-strike capabilities to penetrate and engage high-value targets during the first minutes of hostilities anywhere in the battlespace.”

And he was only making a public point of already popular Air Force doctrine. The 176-page Air Force Transformation Flight Plan was issued in all its glittering verbosity in November 2003, bristling with a dismal, hyper-militarized view of the future. In it, Air Force planners envisioned a world with the United States even more embattled and unpopular than it was at that moment, and where we lacked all powers of persuasion to entice other nations to join future “coalitions of the willing.”

The solution: new bombers that could fulfill those “deep-strike requirements” which, sadly, cannot be carried out by tomorrow’s F-22 and F-35 fighter planes. (They “may not have enough range to attack critical ground targets far inside enemy territory, repeatedly, and under all circumstances.”)

Not surprisingly, Lockheed Martin tried to knock two birds out of the sky with one stone, responding to criticism that the F-22 was irrelevant and too expensive, while rushing to meet the Air Force’s perceived need for a new long-range bomber by suggesting yet another plane: the F/B (for fighter-bomber)-22. As they described it, in a vision of a kind of high artistry of death, this wonder of modern air war would even be capable of changing color to match the sky.

A January 2005 article in the Atlanta Journal Constitution gave Lockheed Martin visionaries a chance to share their chameleon of a “high-speed, high-altitude bomber” which could also change shape, becoming “slimmer and more aerodynamic as its fuel tanks drain on long-distance flights. It would be invisible to radar, carry precision bombs and missiles, and fly fast enough to outrun most fighters.” Sounds cool, right? This might be one instance where the weapons designers and imagineers took a few steps too far into fantasy land. There has not been any progress on the idea since 2005, but don’t be surprised if the chameleon fighter-bomber changes color and shape and soars again in the race for future weapons funding.

Even without the magical fighter-bomber, over the next eight years or so the Air Force imagines fielding systems like the Common Aero Vehicle– “a rapidly responsive, highly maneuverable, hypersonic glide vehicle that would be rocket-launched into space” according to the Air Force documents. The CAV would be equipped with sensors and bristle with weapons it could launch from space against fixed and moving targets on land, and that could be delivered anywhere on earth within two hours.

As John Pike, a weapons expert and director of, told the Washington Post in March 2005, CAV programs will allow the U.S. “to crush someone anywhere in world on 30 minutes’ notice with no need for a nearby air base.”

Looking beyond 2015, the Air Force sees systems like the B-X Bomber; space-based Hypervelocity Rod Bundles (nicknamed “rods from God”), a mystical sounding system that promises “to strike ground targets anywhere in the world”; the Guardian Urban Combat Weapon, an “air-launched lurk and loiter reconnaissance, rotary winged, unmanned, combat air vehicle designed for urban warfare”; and the High Powered Microwave Airborne Electronic Attack, an “anti-electronics high powered microwave weapon against ‘soft’ electronic-containing targets” that would be operated “from an airborne platform at military significant ranges.”

The Air Force and the Army are not alone in imagining fabulously wild wars of the future and the multi-billion dollar weapons systems they can build to fight them. The Navy has its own gold-plated crystal ball. Their new KDD(X) program could end up totaling $100 billion for some 70 warships including destroyers, cruisers, and a seagoing high-tech killer called LCS (Littoral Combat Ship).

Generously, the Pentagon decided to give the project to two different ship building companies — Northrop-Grumman Ship Systems (Ingalls, Mississippi) and General Dynamics (Bath Iron Works, Maine). According to the Pentagon’s “Program Acquisition Cost by Weapons System,” the DD(X) will include “full-spectrum signature reduction, active and passive self-defense systems and cutting-edge survivability features.” At $3.3 billion for two ships in 2007, it better.

Building one ship in each location with each contractor raised the cost by $300 million per ship, according to GlobalSecurity.Org, but to members of Congress representing each district that is a small price to pay for maintaining “flexibility.” In this business, one becomes accustomed to flexibility’s magical spending properties. In its 2006 report, the White House’s Office of Budget and Management commented that the Littoral Combat Ship and other systems mentioned above have a “high potential to meet current and future threats.” Congress, where so much of the game is bringing the bacon (i.e. shipbuilding contracts) back to the Baths of the nation, wholeheartedly concurred. That was just about the sum total of the debate about these multi-billion-dollar ship systems, multi-million-dollar boons for a few companies, and the dark specter of the future threats these ships will theoretically protect us against.

Missile Defense: The Great Misnomer in the Sky

While many of the systems described so far are, at least, futures that, in some heated imagination, exist, the misnamed Ballistic Missile Defense System is moving full steam ahead despite being irrelevant, unworkable, and obscenely expensive in our less-than-futuristic present moment. The BMD program got another boost recently when incoming Defense Secretary Robert Gates gave it his full support, telling the Senate Armed Services Committee: “I know we’ve spent a lot of money on developing missile defense, but I have believed since the Reagan administration that if we can develop that kind of capability, it would be a mistake for us not to.”

The mistake is wasting one more dime on decades-worth of failure and bombast that have cost an estimated $200 billion so far without producing a single workable system to shoot down an enemy missile or even the sitting-duck targets that have taken the place of such missiles in half-baked tests of the woeful project.

Missile defense funding is set to soak up another $9.4 billion in fiscal 2007 — part of the Pentagon’s ongoing corporate welfare system — and the Defense Department’s Future Years Defense Program report proposes that funding averaging $10 billion annually be continued for research and development of the system through (this is not a misprint) 2024. (The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office projects that annual missile-defense costs will, in fact, increase to $15 billion by 2016.)

Nuclear Projections

And it is not just in the Pentagon where such blue-sky spending for an overarmed world is underway. Hidden in the innocuous sounding Department of Energy is the National Nuclear Security Administration, which has big plans laid through 2030. Their Complex 2030 vision, released in April 2006, sees a “responsive nuclear infrastructure” that can continuously dismantle and rebuild nuclear weapons, reducing their numbers and increasing their potency, while ensuring that, at any moment an American leader might want to destroy the planet many times over, nuclear production rates can be rapidly increased. The Department of Energy estimates that Complex 2030 will require a mere capital investment of $150 billion, but the Government Accountability Office suggests that, as with so many initial estimates for future weapons systems, that number was far too low. Even if the program cost only a dollar, it is but another typically dangerous and provocative step by the military-industrial complex that threatens, in this case, to encourage yet more global nuclear proliferation. Complex 2030 would, in fact, plunge us back into a Cold War atmosphere, but with far more nuclear-armed adversaries. It even promises a return to the underground testing of nuclear weapons and could require upping the production of new plutonium pits (the fissile heart of nuclear weapons).

What Do We Dream?

As engineers and physicists at Lockheed Martin and the Air Force dream up new weapons — shaping bombers out of polymer and pixels — politicians and Pentagoneers imagine the threats those super-bombers of the future will blast to bits.

Only the money — billions and billions of dollars — is real

But as those billions are sucked away, what happens to our dreams of clear skies, cures for pandemics, solutions to global warming and energy depletion? To make more human dreams our future reality, we have to stop feeding the military’s nightmare monsters.

Frida Berrigan ([email protected]) is a Senior Research Associate at the World Policy Institute’s Arms Trade Resource Center. Her primary research areas with the project include nuclear-weapons policy, war profiteering and corporate crimes, weapons sales to areas of conflict, and military-training programs. She is the author of a number of Institute reports, including Weapons at War 2005: Promoting Freedom or Fueling Conflict.

[Note to Tomdispatch readers: Next week, as part of an ongoing series of pieces on the Pentagonization of our world, look for a Michael Klare two-parter on the militarization of energy policy.]

Copyright 2007 Frida Berrigan