Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Priorities, People

There's some real creativity going on at the Naval Air Warfare Center at China Lake: tiny missiles built at a fraction of the cost of their big brothers but which are just as lethal are at the test stage, according to this article in the Los Angeles Times.

In the next month or so, researchers at the Naval Air Warfare Center at China Lake expect to test a 2-foot-long Spike missile that is about a "quarter of the size of the next smallest on the planet," said Steve Felix, the missile project's manager.

Initially intended for use by ground troops against tanks, these small guided missiles have been reconfigured to launch from unmanned airplanes to destroy small vehicles. In the test, the missile will be fired from a remote-controlled helicopter and aimed at a moving pickup truck.

If the test is successful, it will mark another milestone in the development of weapons for unmanned aircraft, a nascent field reminiscent of the early days of flight nearly a century ago when propeller-driven biplanes were jury-rigged with machine guns. ...

The Spike, which uses commercially available computer chips and components, is expected to cost about $5,000 a pop, compared with more than $100,000 for the current generation of guided missiles.


Now, I'm all for cutting costs when it comes to the Pentagon's bloated budget, and this latest development in asymmetrical warfare is certainly one of the cheapest weapons (relatively speaking) I've seen being proffered in a long time. I also appreciate that mammoth tanks aren't much use in the kind of warfare being waged in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. Unmanned air vehicles carrying a load of these mini-missiles are going to be far more effective at wiping out the target and less hazardous to American troops, none of whom will be onboard the UAV. And I must admit to being impressed at the ingenuity being displayed by the young engineers and technologists who have developed these weapons.

I just wish such efforts were being directed to some of the other issues facing the world, like towards the development and transmission of non-carbon-based energy, or towards the inexpensive delivery of cutting edge drugs for the treatment of tuberculosis, malaria, and HIV.

I guess the Pentagon has more clout when it comes the development of killer weapons than Health and Human Services does when it comes to the development of life-saving technology.

One more thing: a special shout-out to the Times editors for giving us one of the most amusing malapropisms ever: jury-rigged.

Nicely done.

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3 Comments:

Anonymous JayDenver said...

$5,000 a pop. Another interesting turn of phrase.

6:29 AM  
Blogger John said...

Jury-rigged is a term of long time usage in the US Navy. I don't think the Times gave it to us. They just used it.

8:53 AM  
Blogger Judith said...

Yes, jury-rigged is the correct term, British navy I think, 1700's maybe?

10:41 AM  

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