Monday, April 10, 2006

What are we going to do with it?

Popular Mechanics cover story is "The Great Weapons Debate."
The attack would come quickly, and it would be awful. Cruising far offshore, the U.S. Navy's DD(X) destroyer launches 20 artillery shells in less than a minute. As the satellite-guided weapons fall back to Earth at 830 mph, computer algorithms alter their flight paths so that the 250-pound projectiles all strike the same patch of ground at the same time, reducing everything in the vicinity to rubble and dust. If more firepower is needed, the destroyer can unleash another 580 artillery rounds, as well as 80 Tomahawk missiles. And when the attack is over, the ship simply vanishes. On a radar screen, the DD(X)'s stealthy hull makes the 14,000-ton vessel look like just another fishing boat, casting its nets into the sea. Just one thing is missing from this scenario: an enemy to fight. Targeting terrorists with the DD(X) is like smushing ants with an 18-wheeler, critics say. Attacking an Iranian nuclear facility is something American bombers can do today. "The DD(X) is the most revolutionary surface warship in decades," says John Pike, director of defense think tank GlobalSecurity.org. "But I have yet to have anybody explain to me--point to a place on the map-and say what they propose to do with it." On the surface, the country's main military goal is clear. "Our nation is engaged in a global war on terror that affects the safety and security of every American," President George W. Bush told an audience of Idaho National Guardsmen last August. "We're using all elements of our national power to achieve our objectives." So you would think the Pentagon's $70 billion annual weapons systems budget would focus on winning the war on terror. But a look at the arsenal the Pentagon is building tells a different story. Inside the defense establishment, the war on terror has competition. In many minds, the real threat is a rising China. But containing China requires different weapons than breaking up Al Qaeda--weapons that were designed for Cold War-style fights. Out of a $70 billion budget, nearly $10 billion a year goes to ballistic missile interceptors originally designed to stop Soviet missiles; $9 billion to next-generation fighter jets meant to take on MiGs; $3.3 billion to new tanks and fighting vehicles; $1 billion for the Trident II nuclear missile upgrade; and $2 billion for a new strategic bomber. Eventually, the Navy is projected to spend $4.7 billion each for seven DD(X)s.

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