Weblog of Leland Rucker
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Buck Rogers and the U.S. Budget

The cutline beneath this illustration actually says: "An optimistic artist's rendering of a fully operational Maritime Laser Demonstrator." And this is what is off limits to the budget debate?

I found this “news story” from LiveScience on the MSNBC website It begins with a catchy headline and lede to draw your attention, but it’s really just a glorified press release.

Navy Raygun Disables Boat With Laser Weapon

“With their (sic) new high-energy laser weapons, the U.S. Navy has succeeded in combining buccaneers and Buck Rogers. Called the Maritime Laser Demonstrator, the ray gun quickly disabled a small boat in a recent test.”

Wow. Cool. Just like in the movies. Ray guns. Buck Rogers. Buccaneers. It even includes a video of the “Maritime Laser Demonstration.”

The story goes on to explain that the high-energy laser properly functioned as a weapon on the high seas, something “offensive lasers” have had difficulty with, and that “the lessons learned while developing the laser may prove more valuable than the laser itself.”

And here’s the clincher: “Such lasers could one day protect military vessels from the same kind of tiny boat that almost sunk the destroyer U.S.S. Cole by augmenting the small machine guns already aboard American warships.”

The U.S.S. Cole, you will remember, was attacked by al Qaeda suicide bombers from a small boat on Oct. 12, 2000, in Aden harbor, Yemen. Seventeen U.S. soldiers were killed and 39 injured in the blast, which blew open a huge hole in the destroyer. The story says “ONR developed the laser in conjunction with the defense company Northrop Grumman. The program had a ceiling value of $98 million, and took about two and a half years to complete.” Which begs two questions: a) How many other “offensive lasers” have we built before this one? b) is the U.S. spending at least $100 million and probably a lot more to make sure a small boat with suicide bombers can’t take out a destroyer in a harbor again?

And you gotta love the use of  “could one day” to remind us that this is an early test of some weapons system designed for the future. The cost doesn’t matter, though, because it’s part of the military budget, which makes up enough of a percentage of the total U.S. budget that cuts in its excesses alone could probably make up for most of the one percent our lawmakers and president spent six weeks dithering on about while network news ran countdown clocks on the government shutdown. And that those of us whose money goes toward it have no idea what the hell’s going on.

But what’s interesting is that while we just endured one of the most disgusting, embarrassing debacles in executive/legislative history over a total of one percent of the total budget – with more to come on another couple of percentage points – our government develops weapons programs that we “could” use years down the road and probably will sell to other countries for their wars. And all we ever hear about it is some MSNBC press release that today passes for news in the U.S.? Or this intriguing “infographic” explaining how laser technology can be used to create mayhem and blind people? (Apparently not the laser technology that optometrists use.)

This is just the tiny tip of the iceberg? When will we have a debate in this country over our secret military budget? When will we even be able to see the military budget? When will we ask why, in the name of “security,” we as a country are the major arms supplier in the world? When will we ask why not cut back on future weapons programs instead of arguing over Planned Parenthood?”


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