You hear that? It’s the sound of 582 billion dollar bills falling down an infinitely deep hole, as narrated by your Secretary of Defense, Ash Carter. Yes, his name’s Ash. And yes, he’s going to spend a couple billion defending outer space from ISIS.
In a speech delivered and published today, Carter outlined some of the ways in which our great and war-craving nation will squander over half a trillion dollars in Fiscal Year 2017. It ain’t good:
Thanks, David. Appreciate it. And good morning, everyone. Appreciate you being here. It’s a pleasure for me to be — what I understand, David, to be the first secretary of defense to address the Economic Club of Washington.
What? What kind of polite, tippy-toe shit is this? The guy in charge of war shouldn’t be saying please and thank you so much—you’re the war man. And you’re also a war man at a time when we have to fight those scary guys in the cool black masks; this $582 billion is going to include tools to obliterate ISIS, right?
And challenge number five is our ongoing fight to defeat terrorism and especially ISIL, most immediately in its parent tumor in Iraq and Syria, and also, where it is metastasizing in Afghanistan, Africa and elsewhere.
Great—with an effectively infinite supply of money, our armed forces should be able to defeat ISIL, just like we did with Al Qaeda and the Taliban.
Carter highlighted projects inside the “Strategic Capabilities Office, or SCO for short,” a murky and extremely wasteful corner of the Pentagon where some of our dumbest, most-likely-to-fail projects are born (and often die, at great expense):
Another project uses swarming autonomous vehicles in all sorts of ways and in multiple domains. In the air, they develop micro-drones that are really fast, really resistant. They can fly through heavy winds and be kicked out the back of a fighter jet moving at Mach 0.9, like they did during an operational exercise in Alaska last year, or they can be thrown into the air by a soldier in the middle of the Iraqi desert. And for the water, they’ve developed self-driving boats which can network together to do all kinds of missions, from fleet defense to close-in surveillance, without putting sailors at risk. Each one of these leverages the wider world of technology. For example, the microdrones, I mentioned a moment ago, use a lot of commercial components and are actually 3-D printed and the boats build on some of the same artificial intelligence algorithms that long-ago and in a much more primitive form were on the Mars lander.
As Dan Froomkin of The Intercept pointed out, if this stuff sounds familiar to you, it might be because you’ve recently played Call of Duty, a game that, as far as I know, is based on the imagination of a large group of dudes, and not reality (much like the Department of Defense, you might say):
Here’s some more expensive impracticality:
And the last project I want to highlight is one that we’re calling the arsenal plane, which takes one of our oldest aircraft platform and turns it into a flying launchpad for all sorts of different conventional payloads. In practice, the arsenal plane will function as a very large airborne magazine, network to fifth generation aircraft that act as forward sensor and targeting nodes, essentially combining different systems already in our inventory to create holy new capabilities.
There’s no way to be sure what any of that really means, though I’m assuming he said “wholly new” not “holy new capabilities”— which honestly sounds pretty sweet.
At no point in this roughly 4,000 word rhapsodic free-association of war pornography and science fiction does Carter explain how drone swarms and “arsenal planes” will defeat the enemies we actually face, namely ISIS and other militant jihadist groups. Although, I did see this tweet earlier today
So maybe that justifies the nine new Virginia-class attack submarines the FY17 budget includes. ISIS has develop underwater capabilities.
And then there’s space, which, I have the displeasure of informing you, is now a war zone:
I also want to mention space because at times in the past, space was seen as a sanctuary, new and emerging threats make clear that that’s not the case anymore and we must be prepared for the possibility of a conflict that extends in space. Last year we added over $5 billion in new investments to make us better postured for that. And then in 2017 we’re doing even more, enhancing our ability to identify, attribute and negate all threatening actions in space. For so many commercial space endeavors, we want this domain to be just like the oceans and the Internet: free and safe for all.
Emphasis added. Sorry, space. Now you’re just another place where we do war. At least we now know that, although our country’s defense budget is the largest and dumbest, it ensures that we will beat the shit out of the Islamic State wherever it may seek refuge in orbit or perhaps on various lunar rock formations. The message is clear: we will meet and destroy ISIS in space, perhaps using a swarm of 3D-printed drones.
Unmentioned in Carter’s remarks was whether or not part of the $582 billion budget will go toward making sure our military is able to keep stationary blimps from floating away and causing mayhem across the eastern seaboard.
Photo: Getty/Universal History Archive