From Portside <[email protected]>
Subject In a Pandemic, Military Spending is an Extravagant Waste
Date May 22, 2020 2:36 AM
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[ In the very near future, countries are going to have to choose
whether they make guns or vaccines.] [[link removed]]

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Conn Hallinan
May 13, 2020
Foreign Policy in Focus
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_ In the very near future, countries are going to have to choose
whether they make guns or vaccines. _

Military Spending and Corona, Paresh Nath is the chief cartoonist for
India's National Herald.


_“There have been as many plagues as wars in history, yet plagues
and wars take people equally by surprise.”_

— Albert Camus, “The Plague”

Camus’ novel of a lethal contagion in the North African city of Oran
is filled with characters all too recognizable today: indifferent or
incompetent officials, short sighted and selfish citizens, and lots of
great courage. What not even Camus could imagine, however, is a
society in the midst of a deadly epidemic pouring vast amounts of
wealth into instruments of death.

Welcome to the world of the hypersonic weapons, devices that are not
only superfluous, but which will almost certainly not work. They will,
however, cost enormous amounts of money. At a time when countries
across the globe are facing economic chaos, financial deficits, and
unemployment at Great Depression levels, arms manufacturers are set to
cash in big.


Hypersonic weapons are missiles that go five times faster than sound
— 3,800 mph — although some reportedly can reach speeds of Mach
20, 15,000 mph. They come in two basic varieties. One is powered by a
high-speed scramjet. The other, launched from a plane or missile,
glides to its target. The idea behind the weapons is that their speed
and maneuverability will make them virtually invulnerable to
anti-missile systems.

Currently there is a hypersonic arms race
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on among China, Russia, and the U.S., and, according to the Pentagon,
the Americans are desperately trying to catch up with its two

Truth is the first casualty in an arms race.

In the 1950s, it was the “bomber gap” between the Americans and
the Soviets. In the 1960s, it was the “missile gap” between the
two powers. Neither gap existed, but vast amounts of national treasure
were nonetheless poured into long-range aircraft and thousands of
intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). The enormous expenditures
on those weapons, in turn, heightened tensions between the major
powers and on at least three occasions came very close to touching off
a nuclear war.

In the current hypersonic arms race, “hype” is the operational
word. “The development of hypersonic weapons in the United
States,” says physicist James Acton
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the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, “has been largely
motivated by technology, not by strategy. In other words,
technologists have decided to try and develop hypersonic weapons
because it seems like they should be useful for something, not because
there is a clearly defined mission need for them to fulfill.”

They have certainly been “useful” to Lockheed Martin
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the largest arms manufacturer in the world. The company has already
received $3.5 billion to develop the Advanced Hypersonic Weapon
(Arrow) glide missile, and the scramjet-driven Falcon Hypersonic
Technology Vehicle (Hacksaw) missile.

The Russians also have several hypersonic missiles, including the
Avangard glide vehicle, a missile said to be capable of Mach
20. China
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developing several hypersonic missiles, including the DF-ZF,
supposedly capable of taking out aircraft carriers.


In theory hypersonic missiles are unstoppable. In real life, not so

The first problem is basic physics: speed in the atmosphere produces
heat. High speed generates lots of it. ICBMs avoid this problem with a
blunt nose cone that deflects the enormous heat of re-entering the
atmosphere as the missile approaches its target. But it only has to
endure heat for a short time because much of its flight is in
frictionless low earth orbit.

Hypersonic missiles, however, stay in the atmosphere their entire
flight. That is the whole idea. An ICBM follows a predictable
ballistic curve, much like an inverted U and, in theory, can be
intercepted. A missile traveling as fast as an ICBM but at low
altitude, however, is much more difficult to spot or engage.

But that’s when physics shows up and does a Las Vegas: what happens
on the drawing board stays on the drawing board.

Without a heat deflecting nose cone, high-speed missiles are built
like big needles, since they need to decrease the area exposed to the
atmosphere. Even so, they are going to run very hot. And if they try
to maneuver, that heat will increase. Since they can’t carry a large
payload, they will have to be very accurate — but as a study by the
Union of Concerned Scientists points out, that is “problematic.”
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According to the Union, an object traveling Mach 5 for a period of
time “slowly tears itself apart during the flight.” The heat is so
great it creates a “plasma” around the craft that makes it
difficult “to reference GPS or receive outside course correction

If the target is moving, as with an aircraft carrier or a mobile
missile, it will be almost impossible to alter the weapon’s flight
path to intercept it. And any external radar array would never survive
the heat or else be so small that it would have very limited range. In
short, you can’t get from here to there.

Lockheed Martin says the tests
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just fine, but then Lockheed Martin is the company that builds the
F-35, a fifth generation stealth fighter that simply doesn’t work.
It does, however, cost $1.5 trillion, the most expensive weapons
system in U.S. history. The company has apparently dropped the
scramjet engine because it tears itself apart, hardly a surprise.

The Russians and Chinese claim success with their hypersonic weapons
and have even begun deploying them. But Pierre Sprey, a Pentagon
designer associated with the two very successful aircraft — the F-16
and the A-10 — told defense analyst Andrew Cockburn
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he is suspicious of the tests.

“I very much doubt those test birds would have reached the
advertised range had they maneuvered unpredictably,” he told
Cockburn. “More likely they were forced to fly a straight,
predictable path. In which case hypersonics offer no advantage
whatsoever over traditional ballistic missiles.”


While Russia, China, and the U.S. lead the field in the development of
hypersonics, Britain, France, India, and Japan have joined the race
[[link removed]] too.

Why is everyone building them?

At least the Russians and the Chinese have a rationale. The Russians
fear the U.S. anti-missile system might cancel out their ICBMs, so
they want a missile that can maneuver. The Chinese would like to keep
U.S. aircraft carriers away from their shores.

But anti-missile systems can be easily fooled by the use of cheap
decoys, and the carriers are vulnerable to much more cost effective
conventional weapons. In any case hypersonic missiles can’t do what
they are advertised to do.

For the Americans, hypersonics are little more than a very expensive
subsidy for the arms corporations. Making and deploying weapons that
don’t work is nothing new. The F-35 is a case in point, but
nevertheless, there have been many systems produced over the years
that were deeply flawed.

The U.S. has spent over $200 billion on anti-missile systems, and once
they come off the drawing boards, none of them work very well, if at

Probably the one that takes the prize is the Mark-28 tactical nuke,
nicknamed the “Davy Crockett,”
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its M-388 warhead. Because the M-388 was too delicate to be used in
conventional artillery, it was fired from a recoil-less rife with a
range of 2.5 miles. Problem: if the wind was blowing in the wrong
direction, the Crockett cooked its three-man crew. It was only tested
once and found to be “totally inaccurate.”

So, end of story? Not exactly. A total of 2,100 were produced and
deployed, mostly in Europe.

While the official military budget is $738 billion, if one pulls all
U.S. defense related spending together, the actual cost for taxpayers
is $1.25 trillion a year, according to William Hartung
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the Center for International Policy. Half that amount would go a long
way toward providing not only adequate medical support during the
Covid-19 crisis —  it would also pay jobless Americans a salary.

Given that there are more than 31 million Americans now unemployed and
the possibility that numerous small businesses — restaurants in
particular — will never reopen, building and deploying a new
generation of weapons is a luxury the U.S. and other countries cannot

In the very near future, countries are going to have to choose whether
they make guns or vaccines.

_[FPIF columnist Conn Hallinan can be read
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_Thanks to the author for sending this to xxxxxx._

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