Just Above Sunset
April 25, 2004 - Building a nifty nuclear bulldozer...
Building a nifty nuclear bulldozer – Don’t you just get shivers when you see the term ‘cognoscenti’ used in the opinion pages?
Fred Kaplan in SLATE.COM
draws attention to a release from the Natural Resources Defense Council by one Christopher Paine. Paine uses official budget documents to lay out how much money we’re spending these days on nuclear
weapons and defense against incoming intercontinental nuclear missiles. In short,
we’re spending quite a lot. (Paine’s report is here – in PDF format.) Kaplan wonders why. Many of us wonder why. Ah, in my NEWS WRAP in Just Above Sunset on February 1st you find a rant on that – which in turn points to this:
There is no nuclear arms race going on now. The world
no longer offers many suitable nuclear targets. President Bush is trying to persuade
other nations --especially "rogue regimes" -- to forgo their nuclear ambitions. Yet
he is shoveling money to U.S. nuclear weapons laboratories as if the Soviet Union
still existed and the Cold War still raged.
Ah yes, good questions.
The one aspect of this reorientation that's attracted some attention is the development of a "robust nuclear earth-penetrator" (RNEP) -- a warhead that can burrow deep into the earth before exploding, in order to destroy underground bunkers. The U.S. Air Force currently has some non-nuclear earth-penetrators, but they can't burrow deeply enough or explode powerfully enough to destroy some known bunkers. There's a legitimate debate over whether we would need to destroy such bunkers or whether it would be good enough to disable them—a feat that the conventional bunker-busters could accomplish. There's a broader question still over whether an American president really would, or should, be the first to fire nuclear weapons in wartime, no matter how tempting the tactical advantage.
And that’s still
whole lot of money to move that dirt.
Paine's report cites other startlers that have eluded all notice outside the cognoscenti. For instance, the Energy Department is building a massive $4 billion-$6 billion proton
accelerator in order to produce more tritium, the heavy hydrogen isotope that boosts the explosive yield of a nuclear weapon. (Tritium is the hydrogen that makes a hydrogen bomb.) Tritium does decay; eventually,
it will have to be refurbished to ensure that, say, a 100-kiloton bomb really explodes with 100 kilotons of force. But Paine calculates that the current U.S. stockpile doesn't
require any new tritium until at least 2012. If the stockpile is reduced to the
level required under the terms of the most recent strategic arms treaty, none is needed until 2022.
So what is all this about?
(And don’t you get shivers when you see the term “cognoscenti” used in the opinion pages?)
Well, let’s also think about how we actually do spend our money.
See - Hollow Force
Iraq stretched the U.S. military to its breaking point?
Carter sets the stage:
With a festering insurgency claiming the lives of more than 120 soldiers just this month, the Pentagon is set to request up to 30,000 more troops for the occupation. Senior Army leaders also said this week they will ask Congress for more money to make ends meet in Iraq and rebuild their drained force. Asking for these things is one thing; getting them is another; deploying them still another. Even if the order were cut right now, fresh divisions of troops would take months to get to overseas, meaning today's stretched force will have to put down the Iraqi revolt, restore security, and conduct the June 30 power handover without reinforcements. The U.S. military remains the most lethal fighting force ever fielded, but one year in Iraq has chewed it up, creating global shortages of manpower, equipment, and spare parts that are not easily relieved.
Carter explains all this explaining that military officers often say that "amateurs study tactics—professionals study logistics." Yes, planes have to be scheduled; trains have to be contracted and loaded; ships must be diverted and filled with military equipment.
… Just consider what it takes to move a single tank company from Fort Stewart to Fallujah. Soldiers have to spend days inspecting and packing their vehicles before loading them onto trains that will take them to the port at Savannah, Ga. The trains will be met by more soldiers at dockside, who will work with longshoremen and contractors to put the tanks on a ship. Then the ship has to sail across to Kuwait, where it will be met by more troops and contractors. Only then can they roll north to Iraq. Moving one tank company costs a fortune and requires hundreds of people. Now imagine you want to move an entire unit like the 3rd Infantry Division, with hundreds of tanks and thousands of other vehicles. The size and complexity of the task is staggering. It may cost as much as $1 billion to send a division to Iraq. And it can't be done quickly. Major bases in the United States have a finite "throughput" capacity, meaning that they can only squeeze so many pieces of equipment out the door on any given day.
Oh. That stuff. And Carter goes on to explain we’re kind of out of "pre-positioned" stocks ("pre-po" for short). We can’t use what’s already over there. There’s nothing there. That’s all been used up. He also points out that Army leaders told Congress that it would take years to restore the pre-po stocks.
The Army and GAO agree that it will cost $1.7 billion to reconstitute the Army's pre-po sets being used in Iraq, but only $700 million of that has been found so far. This expense was never built into any of the White House's regular or supplemental funding requests for Iraq. Rebuilding these stocks, which are critical to the Army's ability to deploy overseas in a hurry, will have to wait in line with billions of dollars in other unfunded requirements, which, according to the Washington Post, include $132 million for bolt-on vehicle armor; $879 million for combat helmets, silk-weight underwear, boots, and other clothing; $21.5 million for M249 squad automatic weapons; and $27 million for ammunition magazines, night sights, and ammo packs. Also unfunded: $956 million for repairing desert-damaged equipment and $102 million to replace equipment lost in combat.
And we’re using billions to build nuclear weapons? Yep.
There is some irony in this. Heading into the 2000 election, then-candidate George W. Bush blasted the Clinton administration's 1990s deployments to places like Bosnia and Kosovo, saying they depleted our military's readiness. "Our military is low on parts, pay and morale. If called on by the commander in chief today, two entire divisions of the Army would have to report, 'Not ready for duty, sir,' " said then-Gov. Bush, referring to the readiness of the 10th Mountain and 3rd Infantry divisions after their respective deployments to the Balkans. Today, the same criticism is being leveled at the Bush administration, except that Iraq is having a much worse effect on military readiness than the Balkans deployments ever did.
This is not good.
But we will have our nuclear arsenal – so, is seems, we are intentionally becoming much better prepared for some sort of Armageddon kind of war, not these terrorists-in-the-streets kind of wars. So why would that be? Does the Bush administration know something they’re not telling us? Oh, probably not.
This issue updated and published on...
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