If You Build It, They Will Kill
U.S. Military Weaponry of the Near Future
by Nick Turse
- - Lets face it, making war is fast superceding sports as the American national pastime. Since 1980, overtly or covertly, the United States has been involved in military actions in Grenada, Libya, Nicaragua, Panama, Iraq, Afghanistan, El Salvador, Haiti, Somalia, Yugoslavia, Liberia, Sudan, the Philippines, Colombia, Haiti (again), Afghanistan (again) and Iraq (again) and that's not even the full list. It stands to reason when the voracious appetites of the military-corporate complex are in constant need of feeding.
representatives of a superpower devoted to (and enamored with)
war, it's hardly surprising that the Pentagon and allied
corporations are forever planning more effective ways to kill,
maim, and inflict pain -- or that they plan to keep it that way.
Whatever the wars of the present, elaborate weapons systems for
future wars are already on the drawing boards. Planning
for the projected fighter-bombers and laser weapons of the decades
from 2030 to 2050 is underway. Meanwhile, at the Department of
Defense's (DoD's) blue-skies research outfit, the Defense Advanced
Research Projects Agency (DARPA), even wilder projects -- from futuristic
exoskeletons to Brain/Machine
Interface initiatives -- are being explored.
projects, as flashy as they are frightening, are magnets for
reporters (and writers like yours truly), but it's important not
to lose sight of the many more mundane weapons currently being
produced that will be pressed into service in the nearer term in
Iraq, Afghanistan, or some other locale the U.S. decides to add to
the list of nations where it will turn people into casualties or
"collateral damage" in the next few years. These
projects aren't as sexy as building future robotic warriors, but
they're at least as dangerous and deadly, so lets take a quick
look at a few of the weapons our tax dollars are supporting today,
before they hurt, maim, and kill tomorrow.
Phasers on Extreme Pain
the Air Force Research Laboratory called for "research in
support of the Directed Energy Bioeffects Division of the Human
Effectiveness Directorate." The researchers were to
"conduct innovative research on the effects of directed
energy technologies" on people and animals. What types of
innovative research? One area involved identifying
"biological tissue thresholds (minimum visible lesion) and
damage mechanisms from laser and non-laser sources." In other
words, how excruciating can you make it without leaving telltale
thermal burns? And a prime area of study? "Pain
thresholds." Further, there was a call for work to:
"Determine the effects of electromagnetic and biomechanical
insults on the human-body." Sounds like something out of Star
Trek, right? Weaponry of the distant future? Think again.
an piece last spring, I mentioned a "painful
energy beam" weapon, the Active Denial System,
that was about to be field-tested by the military. Recent reports
indicate that military Humvees will be outfitted with exactly this
the end of the year.
sad to report that the Active Denial System isn't the only
futuristic weapon set to be deployed in the near-term. Pulsed
Energy Projectiles (PEPs) are also barreling down the
weaponry-testing turnpike. They are part of a whole new generation
of weapons systems that the Pentagon promotes under the label
"non-lethal." The term conveniently obscures the fact
that such weapons are meant to cause intense physical agony
without any of the normal physical signs of trauma. (This, by the
way, should make them -- or their miniaturized descendents --
excellent devices for clandestine torture).
utilize bursts of electrically charged gas (plasma) that yield an
electromagnetic pulse on impact with a solid object. Such pulses
affect nerve cells in humans (and animals) causing searing pain.
PEPs are designed to inflict "excruciating
pain from up to 2 kilometers away." No one knows
the long-term physical or psychological effects of this weapon,
which is set to roll-out in 2007 and is designed specifically to
be employed against unruly civilians. But let's remember, the
Pentagon isn't the Food and Drug Administration. No need to test
for future effects when it comes to weapons aimed at someone else.
Century Weaponry for 21st Century Killing
recently the Department of Defense's Defense Contracting
Command-Washington put out a call for various technologies capable
of "near-immediate transition to operations/production at the
completion of evaluation." In other words, make it snappy.
In addition to a plethora of high-tech devices, from laser-sights for weapons to battlefield computers, the US Special Operations Forces had a special request: 40mm rifle-launched flechette grenades. For the uninitiated, flechettes are razor-sharp deadly darts with fins at their blunt ends. During the Vietnam War, flechette weaponry was praised for its ability to shred people alive and virtually nail them to trees. The question is, where will those Special Ops forces use the grenades and which people will be torn to bits by a new generation of American flechettes. Only time will tell, but one thing is certain -- it will happen.
Special Ops troops aren't the only ones with special requests. The
Army has also put out a call to arms. While Army officials
recently hailed the M240B
7.62mm Medium Machine Gun as providing
"significantly improved reliability and more lethal medium
support fire to ground units," they just issued a contract to
Manufacturing Inc. to produce a lighter-weight, hybrid
titanium/steel variant of the weapon (known as the M240E6). And
these are just a few of the new and improved weapons systems being
readied to be rushed onto near-future American battlefields.
the military is purchasing guns and other weapons for a reason: to
injure, maim, and kill. But the extent of the killing being
planned for can only be grasped if one examines the amounts of
ammunition being purchased. Let's look at recent DoD contracts
awarded to just one firm -- Alliant Lake City Small Caliber
Ammunition Company, L.L.C., a subsidiary of weapons-industry giant
Alliant Techsystems (ATK):
Nov. 24, 2004: "a delivery order amount of $231,663,020 as
part of a $303,040,883 firm-fixed-price contract for various Cal
.22, Cal .30, 5.56mm, and 7.62mm small caliber ammunition
cartridges." Work is expected to be completed by Sept. 30,
February 7, 2005: "a delivery order amount of $20,689,101 as
part of a $363,844,808 firm-fixed-price contract for various
5.56mm and 7.62mm Small Caliber Ammunition Cartridges." Work
is expected to be completed by Sept. 30, 2006.
March 4, 2005: "a delivery order amount of $8,236,906 as part
of a $372,586,618 firm-fixed-price contract for 5.56mm, 7.62mm,
and .50 caliber ammunition cartridges." Work is expected to
be completed by Sept. 30, 2006.
and I can buy 400 rounds of 7.62mm rifle ammunition for less than $40.
Imagine, then, what federal purchasing power and hundreds of
millions of dollars can buy!
Ammunition and Powder Co. is also making certain that, as the
years go by, ammo-capacity won't be lacking. In February 2005,
Alliant was awarded "a delivery order amount of $19,400,000
as part of a $69,733,068 firm-fixed-price contract for Services to
Modernize Equipment at the Lake City Army Ammunition Plant"
-- a government-owned facility operated by ATK. Alliant notes that
this year it is churning out 1.2 billion rounds of small-caliber
ammunition at its Lake City plant alone. But that, it seems, isn't
enough when future war planning is taken into account. As it
happens, ATK and the Army are aiming to increase the plant's "annual
capacity to support the anticipated Department of
Defense demand of between 1.5 billion and 1.8 billion rounds by
2006." Think about it. In this year, alone, one single ATK
plant will produce enough ammunition, at one bullet each, to
execute every man, woman, and child in the world's most populous nation
-- and next year they're upping the ante.
Military-Corporate Complex's Merchants of Death
upon a time, a company like ATK would have been classified as one
of the world's "Merchants of Death." Then again, once
upon a time -- we're talking about the 1930s here-- the Senate was
a place where America's representatives were willing to launch
probing inquiries into the ways in which arms manufacturers and
their huge profits as well as their influences on international
conflicts were linked to the dead of various lands. Back then,
simple partisanship was set aside as the Senate's Democratic
majority appointed North Dakota's Republican Senator Gerald
P. Nye to head the "Senate Munitions
today's fawning House members can barely get aging
baseball heroes to talk to them, the 1930s inquiry
hauled some of the most powerful men in the world like J.P.
Morgan, Jr. and Pierre du Pont before the committee. Even back in
the 1930s, however, the nascent military-industrial complex was
just too powerful and so the Senate Munitions Committee was
eventually thwarted in its investigations. As a result, the
committee's goal of nationalizing the American arms industry went
down in flames.
the very idea of such a committee even attempting such an
investigation is simply beyond the pale. The planning for
futuristic war of various horrific sorts, not to speak of the
production and purchase of weapons and ammunition by the
military-corporate complex, is now beyond reproach, accepted
without question as necessary for national (now homeland) security
-- a concept which long ago trumped the notion of national
Future Is Now
the military-academic complex and DARPA scientists are hard at
work creating the sort of killing machines that a generation back
were the stuff of unbelievable sci-fi novels, old-fashioned
firearms and even new energy weapons are being readied for use by
the American imperial army tomorrow or just a few short years in
the future. In February 2005, Day
& Zimmerman Inc., a mega-company with its corporate
fingers dipped in everything from nuclear security and munitions
production to cryogenics and travel services, inked a deal to
deliver 445,288 M67 fragmentation hand grenades (which produce
casualties within an effective range of 15 meters) to the Army in
2006. In which country will a civilian lose an eye, a leg, or a
life as a result? Weapons made to kill are made to be used. This
year ATK's Lake City Army Ammunition Plant will produce 1.2
billion rounds of ammunition at the DoD's behest and the company
proudly proclaims, "Approximately
75% of the ammunition produced annually is
all those exotic pain rays, flechettes, super-efficient machine
guns, and rounds and rounds of ammunition readied for action --
and they represent only a small part of the spectrum of weaponry
and munitions being produced for war, American-style -- more
people are sure to die, while others assumedly will experience
"intense pain" from PEPs weapons and the like. Back in
October of last year, a team of researchers from Johns Hopkins
University, Columbia University, and Al-Mustansiriya University in
Baghdad, knocking on thousands of doors throughout Iraq, demonstrated
that an estimated 100,000 civilians had already died violently as
the direct or indirect consequence of the U.S.-led invasion of
Iraq. The main cause of these deaths: attacks by coalition (read
as "U.S.") forces. The future promises more of the same.
one should be surprised by these figures -- though many were (and
many also continue to deny the validity of these numbers). It's
obvious that, if you build them; they will kill. And you thought
that we were supposed to "err on the side of life"?
Turse is a doctoral candidate at the Center for the History &
Ethics of Public Health in the Mailman School of Public Health at
Columbia University. He writes for the Los Angeles Times,
the Village Voice and regularly for Tomdispatch on the
military-corporate complex and the homeland security state.
2005 Nick Turse
article first appeared on Tomdispatch.com,
a weblog of the Nation Institute, which offers a steady flow of
alternate sources, news, and opinion from Tom Engelhardt, long
time editor in publishing and author of The End of Victory Culture and The Last Days of Publishing.]
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