With a new administration coming into office, the United States' defense budget will once again be a topic of hot debate. I welcome the debate, but here's something you probably won't hear: our current spending programs aren't just wasteful—they actually make the country less safe. Here's why: there is only so much money to go around. We waste so much on non-critical projects that we don't have anything left for our most pressing needs.
Missile defense is exhibit #1 in how things can go horribly wrong. I will never forget how politicians came on TV right after 9/11 to claim that the attack proved the need for missile defense. Huh? A missile defense system is designed to stop missiles. It can't stop 747s, nor can it stop terrorists from delivering bombs in trucks or boats. And guess what: so far, this nation has not been attacked by a single ICBM. We have been attacked by terrorists using 747s, trucks, and boats.
My point is not that missile defense is a bad idea—although there are certainly political and technical problems with the program. My point is that shouldn't be a top priority. The program deals with an entirely hypothetical threat—one that may take decades to develop. Meanwhile, we are failing to address threats that are happening right now. For example, you can still get a loaded gun through airport security. And this is seven years after 9/11! Why in the world aren't we throwing more resources at that problem?
The F-22 is another example of defense spending gone bad. The cost of the F-22 program has risen to a heart-stopping $62 billion. That's $339 million per airplane! And this is for a plane that hasn't flown a single mission in Iraq or Afghanistan. US Defense Secretary Gates recently said that the plane has no role in the war on terror. And remember, we're spending all of this money while forcing our troops to buy their own body armor. Again, our priorities are all wrong.
I'll be the first to admit that I don't have all the answers to our wasteful, misguided defense spending. However, it's clear we spend too much on exciting, futuristic programs while ignoring boring but all-too-real threats. I'm a fan of using technology to keep the country safe, but we need to end our obsession with gee-whiz weaponry. Instead, let's use technology to reduce defense costs. That way we can prevent the next 9/11, keep our soldiers safe, and maybe even have money left over for non-military needs.
Stay tuned for more on this topic—next time I'll look at two examples of defense projects that put technology to good use.