Every year Dispatches From The edge gives awards to news stories and newsmakers that fall under the category of "Are you serious?" Here are the awards for 2012.
Dr. Strangelove Award to Lord John Gilbert, former UK defense minister in Tony Blair's government, for a "solution" to stopping terrorist infiltration from Pakistan to Afghanistan: Nuke 'em. Baron Gilbert proposes using Enhanced Radiation Reduced Blasts -- informally known as "neutron bombs" -- to seal off the border. According to Gilbert, "If we told them [terrorists] that some ERRB warheads were going to be dropped there and that it would be a very unpleasant place to go, they would not go there."
The border between the two countries is a little over 1,600 miles of some of the most daunting terrain on the planet. And since the British arbitrarily imposed it on Afghanistan in 1896, most the people who live adjacent to it, including the Kabul government, don't recognize it.
Baron Gilbert went on to gild the lily: "I am absolutely delighted that nuclear weapons were invented when they were and I am delighted that, with our help, it was the Americans who invented them." The residents of Nagasaki and Hiroshima were decidedly less enthusiastic.
Runner up in this category is the Sandia National Laboratories and Northrop Grumman for researching the use of nuclear powered drones that would allow un-piloted aircraft to stay aloft for months at a time. Nuclear-powered drones, like the Reaper and the Predator, would not only be able to fly longer and further, the aircrafts could carry a greater number of weapons.
This comes at a time when the Obama administration has approved the use of drones in the U.S. by states and private companies. "It's a pretty terrifying prospect," Chris Coles of Drone Wars UK told The Guardian. "Drones are much less safe than other aircraft and tend to crash a lot." Iran recently claimed to have brought down a U.S. Scan Eagle drone and to have fired on a Predator. Last year Iran successfully captured a CIA-operated Sentinel drone.
Pandora's Box Award goes to the U.S. and Israel for unleashing cyber war on the world by attacking Iran's nuclear industry. The Stuxnet virus -- designed by both countries -- successfully damaged Iran's uranium enrichment facility at Natanz, and the newly discovered Flame virus has apparently been siphoning data from Iranian computers for years.
But the "malware" got out of Iran -- what do these people not understand about the word "virus"? -- and, in the case of Stuxnet, infected 50,000 computers around the world. Two other related malware are called Mini-Flame and Gauss.
Iran retaliated this past summer, unleashing a virus called "Shamoon" to crash 30,000 computers in Saudi Arabia's oil industry. Saudi Arabia provides 10 percent of the world's oil needs.
A Russian anti-virus specialist recently told computer expert Misha Glenny that cyber weapons "are a very bad idea," and his message was: "Stop doing this before it is too late."
The Golden Lemon Award has three winners this year, the F-35 "Lightning" fighter, the F-22 "Raptor" fighter, and the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS). The F-35 and F-22 are repeat winners from last year's awards (it is not easy to cost a lot of money and not work, year after year, so special kudos to the aircraft's manufacturers Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and Northrop Grumman).
At $395.7 billion, the F-35 is now the most expensive weapons system in U.S. history, and the costs are still rising. It has constant problems with its engine, "unexplained" hot spots on the fuselage, and software that doesn't function properly. Because the cost of the plane has risen 70 percent since 2001, some of our allies are beginning to back away from previous commitments to purchase the aircraft. Canadians had some sticker shock when it turned out that the price tag for buying and operating the F-35 would be $45.8 billion. Steep price rises (and mechanical problems) have forced Britain, Italy, the Netherlands and Australia to re-think buying the plane as well. If that happens, the price of the F-35 will rise even higher, since Lockheed Martin was counting on U.S. allies to buy at least 700 F-35s as a way to lower per-unit costs. The U.S. is scheduled to purchase 2,457 F-35s at $107 million apiece (not counting weapons). The plane costs $35,200 per hour to fly.
The F-22 -- at $143 million a pop -- has a major problem: the pilots can't breathe. When you're traveling 1,500 MPH at 50,000-plus feet, that's a problem, as Capt. Jeff Haney found out in November 2010 over the Alaskan tundra. The Air Force had to wait until the spring thaw to recover his body. Since then scores of pilots have reported suffering from hypoxia and two of them recently refused to fly the aircraft. The breathing problems did not stop U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta from deploying two-dozen F-22s to Japan, although the planes are restricted to lower altitudes and have to stay no more than an hour and a half from land. That will require the pilots to fly to Alaska, and then hop across the Pacific via the Aleutian Islands to get to Kadena Air Base on Okinawa.
The cost of operating an F-22 is $128,389 a flying hour. In comparison, the average income for a minimum wage worker in the U.S. is $15,080 a year, the medium yearly wage is $26,364, and average yearly household income is $46,326. Dispatches suggests paddling the planes to Japan and raising the minimum wage.
The LCS is a very fancy, shallow water warship with lots of bells and whistles (at $700 million apiece it ought to have a few of those) with one little problem: "It is not expected to be survivable in a hostile combat environment," according to one Pentagon weapon's tester. Since combat is generally "hostile" that does restrict what the ship can do. And given that cracks and leaks in the hulls are showing up, it might not be prudent to put them in the water. So while it may not work as a traditional ship -- floating, that is -- according to the LCS's major booster in the Congress, U.S. Rep. Jo Bonner (R-Ala) "It's going to scare hell out of folks."