A few weeks back I wrote about dumb defense spending, and promised to come back with examples of smart spending. Before I get to that, a warning: This is personal. My cousin was seriously wounded by a roadside bomb in Iraq. It didn't have to happen—smarter military spending might have saved him.
Here's how: One of my favorite military programs is the TALON robot shown below. This clever little bugger is one of the military's best tools for clearing improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in Iraq and Afganistan. By allowing troopers to disarme explosives from a safe distance, the TALON has saved countless lives and prevented untold injuries. (TALON has plenty of other talents. For example, it was used in search-and-rescue operations at the World Trade Center.)
Even if you are looking at this from a cold-hearted cost-benefit analysis, the TALON is a fantastic bargain. The robot costs about $160,000. When a soldier dies, the death benefits alone exceed $100,000. The costs for soldiers who are wounded can be even higher. In the case of brain injuries, the cost can run into the millions of dollars per soldier. And we have a lot of wounded soldiers—over 30,000 by the latest count. (I bet you didn't know the number was so high. The national media hardly ever talks about these troops. Shame on our media for not giving these brave soldiers the respect they deserve.)
Of course, the value of our soldiers' lives cannot be measured in dollars in cents. Every casualty is a profoundly life-changing event, not only for the soldier, but for their friends and families. I've witnessed this first-hand. My cousin was hit by an IED in Iraq, shattering his pelvis. He was lucky enough to keep all of his limbs, and he eventually regained the ability to walk. However, the recovery process was slow and painful, and he will never be the same again.
It's impossible to know if my cousin could have avoided injury if we'd had more TALONs on the ground, but the value of these robots is clear. If I had to spend a few tax dollars to get more of these robots rolling, I'd be happy to do it.