"There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest." — Elie Wiesel

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The $60 Million Terrorist

Dear Friends,

"The U.S. Navy in August plans to conduct a flight test of Trident submarine-launched ballistic missile technologies modified for conventional strike operations..." Does this news ring any bells? Back in the bad old days of the Bush administration, someone came up with the wacky idea to outfit Trident D-5 missiles with conventional warheads in order to quickly take out long distance targets virtually anywhere in the world on short notice. Just what is a "long distance target", and what are these folks up to???

It's your Global War on Terror combined with Prompt Global Strike. Here is the one minute tutorial. Good guys patrol the seas in Trident nuclear subs loaded with Trident D-5 missiles, at least some (or all) of them armed with conventional (rather than nuclear) warheads. Intelligence report shows leader of bad guys in ultra-remote camp deep in the Hindu-Kush Mountains (Afghanistan). With not a moment to lose, coordinates sent to Trident sub commander with instructions to take out target. Conventionally armed Trident missile (or missiles) fired, and within minutes, hits target. Oops! Missed the bad guy's leader; he went out to lunch. That's okay; Lockheed Martin will gladly build replacements.
Good Trident test launch

This scenario is essentially what the Pentagon would like to be able to do with our Trident submarines. After all, they are out on patrol for months at a time, and never get to do just what these submarines were designed for - launching missiles! Besides breaking the boredom of long patrols, this is a missile maker's (Lockheed Martin's) dream almost come true! It's the ultimate expendable item. Just think; it's the $60 million terrorist! That's the cost of one Trident D-5 missile, and that's not counting all the other costs of operating a Trident submarine. This prospect must have the execs. at Lockheed Martin absolutely salivating.

But let's back up a minute. Why is the U.S. Navy planning to conduct tests of conventionally armed Tridents when the Congress explicitly warned the Defense Department in 2008 not to develop such weapons, and even cancelled proposed funding for this project in the 2009 budget. Why did Congress go ballistic over conventionally armed Tridents? They had the good sense to realize that any Trident missile launched from a submarine (even with conventional warheads) could be mistaken (by Moscow) for a nuclear armed missile, launching a nuclear war.

Not-so-good Trident test launch

No worries; the pentagon had it covered. They would notify the Russians, Chinese, and anyone else (ahead of time) who might get a bit jumpy about Tridents popping out of the water. Of course, the whole idea is to launch as soon as intelligence is confirmed. What if they got a busy signal? Then there is a historical precedent. In 2005 a rocket launch from Norway almost caused World War III. It seems that although someone in Russia was notified about the launch ahead of time, that person didn't pass the message along to the people who needed to know (sounds like the situation at my house), creating a few tense minutes until someone figured out that it was not a nuclear attack.

As for the Navy planning the August test despite Congress' explicit opposition, it seems that they never stopped working on this project, and have used every loophole and interpretation in the book to keep this idea alive. As for the Defense Department culture that perpetuates such stealth planning, U.S. Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition John Young summed things up back in 2008 when he expressed concerns about Bush administration plans for "prompt global strike" weapons.

Though Congress has attempted to kill the so-called Conventional Trident Modification program, Young said he would never consider any initiative truly "dead" because industry or service advocates would continue to push for them. "My experience in the Pentagon is ideas never die, they just get new labels or different things like that," he said. "To the extent that there's an advocacy that has a voice, that voice will find its way as far as it can. So I wouldn't tell you it's dead." (Global Security Newswire, Nov. 26, 2008)

What Young was describing is the extraordinary power of the Military Industrial Complex. This story is a perfect example of the Pentagon thumbing its nose at the Congress; this is just one of countless examples of ideas that the Pentagon will not let die. Beyond the phenomenal waste of taxpayer dollars that such a program would squander, one must wonder how people who are supposedly well versed in military strategy would consider an idea whose risk so greatly outweighs any possible benefits. Could they think of a more expensive (or risky) way to kill a suspected terrorist??? We simply cannot trust these people.

Consider dropping a line (via email) to everyone in your Congressional delegation and ask them what they think of the Pentagon's behavior, and what they plan to do about it.

Here's to the Pentagon's (and Lockheed Martin's) $60 Million Terrorist!



References and Further Reading:
U.S. Navy Plans August Test for Conventional Trident-Related Technology, Global Security Newswire, May 21, 2009.
Senior U.S. Official Doubts Conventional Global Strike Value, Global Security Newswire, Nov. 26, 2008.
Navy Eyes New Weapon for Global Strike, Missile Defense, Global Security Newswire, July 17, 2008.
Conventional TRIDENT Modification, GlobalSecurity.org

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