The Pentagon has officially outdone itself: even as the war in Afghanistan winds down to its unhappy denouement, the Department of Defense is deploying what the Wall Street Journal calls a “football-field-size airship laden with surveillance gear,” essentially a gigantic blimp that will float over the county like a giant alien spaceship from Independence Day. Which, come to think of it, is exactly how Afghans might view it.
No one has seen the damn thing yet, but it’s likely to take flight soon on a test run in New Jersey at the same airfield where the Hindenburg blimp exploded and burned.
The paper doesn’t say how much the gargantuan item costs, but its initial contract was for $517 million, and naturally it’s late, plagued by the usual delays and cost overruns.
Reports the Journal (and you’ll need a subscription to read the whole article):
The experimental craft, known as the Long Endurance Multi-Intelligence Vehicle, or LEMV, is designed to loiter over combat zones for weeks at a time, outfitted with high-tech sensors that can intercept phone calls, shoot full-motion video or track the movement of insurgents.
One more thing, says the Journal: the DOD is having trouble figuring out where to park it:
What’s more, the Army will have to figure out one other issue: where in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region to park the massive airship for maintenance.
This comes amidst building pressure on Capitol Hill to find a way around the sequestration cuts that supposedly will slice into the DOD budget at the end of the year. (In fact, defense firms are quietly being told that they won’t happen.) Imagine how much $517 million-plus-overruns could do if it were used to provide, say, healthcare services to Afghans—or, of course, hire teachers, cops and firemen at home.
As The Hill reports, the Republicans in Congress—led by bombs-away John McCain—are demanding that Democrats stop the measly cuts, although in fact the DOD budget could be slashed far more with little impact on national security, and the money used to create non-military-related jobs at home. Says The Hill:
In a sternly worded letter, House Armed Services Committee chief Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) accused Reid and Senate Democrats of blocking a vote on a Republican-drafted plan to avoid the budget cuts under the so-called sequestration plan.
President Barack Obama’s White House has told at least one defense contractor not to worry — sequestration isn’t really going to happen. According to House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon, Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Acting Director Jeffrey Zients told Lockheed Martin CEO Bob Stevens not to worry about the potential sequester.
And, of course, soon the flying hippopotamus will be in the skies over Afghanistan.