By David Swanson, American Herald Tribune
According to news reports, there are areas of Syria where people are literally starving to death, and where the United Nations is attempting to drop food from the air but missing its target so wildly that the food is damaged or simply cannot be found.
A U.S. Air Force expert on dropping food from great heights in high winds has given what most people will take for a technical comment but which is actually a devastating moral condemnation of U.S. and Western governments’ priorities:
“For high-altitude, high-accuracy drops, the U.S. military uses a technology known as the Joint Precision Airdrop System (JPADS), which has been deployed for only about a decade. The system includes a dropsonde, a sort of probe that’s dropped prior to the cargo to take readings of wind speed and direction, which it sends to the mission planning software. That data helps planners determine their Computed Air Release Point, or CARP. Once the payload is dropped, onboard actuators and a steerable parafoil canopy help guide the pallet to its target. That’s critical, Al says, because a pallet dropped from 20,000 feet will take five or six minutes to reach the ground, and will be subject to wind that entire time. ‘It’s always windy up high,’ Al says. JPADS systems cost about $60,000 apiece and usually must be recovered on the ground after a drop. ‘You wouldn’t use it for a purely humanitarian drop.'”
Read that last bit again. Because this technology costs $60,000, you would not use it merely to save the lives of human beings. If you were using it to take the lives of human beings, then it would of course be a drop in the bucket of cash you’d be willing to blow, as long as “you” were the U.S. Air Force.
I asked dedicated peace activist Kathy Kelly what she makes of the contrast between the Air Force’s claimed ability to blow up a particular individual with a missile from a drone, and its claimed inability to drop food within a mile of a target — at least without spending money that can’t be justified by something as trivial as saving human lives.
“Northrop Grumman spends billions to design spy blimps, drones, persistent threat detection systems and a dizzying array of high-tech surveillance equipment,” she said. “Many of these airships hover over , one of the poorest countries in the world, Afghanistan, where the UN reports that ‘food insecurity’ afflicts over one third of the people. Northrop Grumman executives profit wildly, yet a U.S. government watchdog reported in January of 2016 that ‘the Taliban controls more of the country than at any time since U.S. troops invaded in 2001.’ Why should U.S. people bamboozle themselves into thinking that funding the so-called defense industry ethically trumps efforts to feed starving people?
“The 2017 DOD budget request also will contain $71.4 billion for military research. On February 2, 2016, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter told the Economic Club of Washington that the Department of Defense budget requests ‘$7.5 billion for weapons like GPS-guided smart bombs and laser-guided rockets.’ One research initiative involves creating ‘an arsenal plane that turns one of the military’s older planes into a flying launch pad for a range of conventional payloads.’ Yes, what if deliveries of food pallets topped the list of ‘conventional payloads?’ The U.S. could become a beloved country, known for extending a generous hand of friendship and care.”
What about unmanned planes, also known as drones? Aren’t they supposed to serve some useful purpose while avoiding getting pilots shot down? But don’t they mostly buzz so high up they can’t be shot, and mostly send missiles screaming into people’s houses generating ever more hatred and blowback?
“Drone helicopters could be used to bring food,” peace activist Nick Mottern tells me, pointing in particular to the pilotless cargo helicopters from Lockheed Martin being tested in Afghanistan. This approach to saving, rather than “bugsplatting” or “pink misting,” human lives, could avoid the problems of high wind altogether by landing the drone helicopters on the ground, full of food.
“Using the drone helicopter for food delivery seems to be a very good idea,” says Mottern, “and tactics would have to be developed for situations in which the drone would be under fire. Possibly it could be flown at maximum altitude to over the drop zone and then descend rapidly through the column of air over the zone. Or the helicopter might descend to several hundred feet over the drop zone to reduce exposure to ground fire, drop a specially packaged load and then rise again. The point of maximum vulnerability to ground fire would likely be when the helicopter comes for an instant to a dead stop to drop its load, but there might be a tactic that would enable the machine to keep forward motion while flinging its payload on release. There would probably have to be some special balancing controls installed to let this happen, but it should be possible. The Marines were using the K-Max at night, which might be a good tactic for relief operations.”
This would mean risking the expense of significantly more than $60,000, as Mottern recognizes: “Of course the use of the drone helicopter would mean that the owner(s) of the helicopter would be willing to risk having it shot down. Ideally world relief organizations would have fleets of them to be able to make adequate relief drops recognizing that some drone helicopters would be lost.”
U.S. television advertisement viewers could be forgiven if they imagine the U.S. military to be a world relief organization. Sadly, the trillion dollars a year that the U.S. government puts into militarism may be famously wasteful and unaudited, but it is very tightly controlled in one particular sense: never shall too big a crumb be expended merely on saving human lives.