Cost Plus

Though it probably won’t, the conflict in Ukraine and the demonstration of Russian advanced weaponry should raise serious question about US weapons procurement.

The hasty, indecent withdrawal of the United States from Afghanistan last August capped a series of disastrous military adventures by the US in Iraq, Syria and Libya over the course of the past two decades that left millions of civilians dead and these given unfortunate countries in ruins economically and politically.

However, during all of these conflicts the Pentagon, by targeting Third World countries with sub-par militaries, was able to depict US weapons systems as high-tech wonders of lethality and sophistication. If it helps, “Shock and Awe” represented a sales pitch by Raytheon and Lockheed Martin to foreign militaries, demonstrating their wares.

Russia’s special military campaign in Ukraine has seriously fucked-up the military-industrial complex’s marketing campaign. It’s no wonder they’re so pissed.

Despite spending orders of magnitude less on their weapons systems, Russian ones work while the US’s have proven to be expensive junk. The US, and by extension, NATO simply has nothing to defend against previous generation of Russia’s stand off weapons, especially of such variety as Iskander of P-800 capable to strike to operational depth (500-700 kilometers) and it will not have anything for many years to deal with hyper-sonic weapons like the 2000-kilometer range Kinzal. For instance, a Russian MiG–31K, flying over the Black Sea, can launch a Kinzal that can target London in minutes.

A little different than establishing a no-fly zone over Libya, just saying.

The F-35 is the poster-child for our dysfunctional military procurement. The MIC, uses programs like the F-35 as opportunities for price gouging and extra profits. By choosing the most complex, and expensive weapons systems, instead of simple, rugged, inexpensive ones, the MIC ensures that they will make exorbitant amounts of money far into the future. If they have to fix a bunch of problems on these expensive weapons systems, oh well. It’s cost plus, after all, so they get paid for that work too.

Pretty sweet, huh?

The Russians, unlike their American counterparts, have to focus on real defense rather than immense profits from a “cost plus”arrangement. Here’s Vice-Premier Yuri Borisov explaining Russian military procurement. “From as early as 2011, all our defense procurement programs have focused on the production and deployment of high-precision weapons. All this time, we have also been building up our manufacturing capacities. As a result, today, we can fully meet the demand of Russia’s armed forces for precision weapons.

Ukraine provided the first impressions of the performance of Russia’s air defense and stand-off weaponry and I’ll bet money that it produced shock and awe among western military experts. Suddenly bunkers in London, Brussels or D.C. do not feel so safe. It is really an old truism, when your sparring partners are 7-year old kids from the sand-box you are bound to lose qualifications and skills

Despite these setbacks, the US weapons industry is already salivating, and for good reason. Last Wednesday the Pentagon brought together representatives of America’s top eight weapons manufacturers to plan massive increases in US military spending—and in military-industrial complex profits—in the likely case that the US-provoked Ukraine war goes on for years. As Reuters reported: “The Pentagon’s office of Acquisition and Sustainment, the weapons buyer for the U.S. Department of Defense, will host the 90 minute meeting and Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks was expected to attend, one of the people said.”

Even before hostilities broke out, the CEOs of major weapons firms were talking about how tensions in Europe could pad their profits. In a January 2022 call with his company’s investors, Raytheon Technologies CEO Greg Hayes typically bragged that the prospect of conflict in Eastern Europe and other global hot spots would be good for business, adding that “we are seeing, I would say, opportunities for international sales… [T]he tensions in Eastern Europe, the tensions in the South China Sea, all of those things are putting pressure on some of the defense spending over there. So I fully expect we’re going to see some benefit from it.”

As the kids say: Ka-ching!

In late March, in an interview with the Harvard Business Review after the war in Ukraine had begun, Hayes defended the way his company would profit from that conflict: “So I make no apology for that. I think again recognizing we are there to defend democracy and the fact is eventually we will see some benefit in the business over time. Everything that’s being shipped into Ukraine today, of course, is coming out of stockpiles, either at DoD [the Department of Defense] or from our NATO allies, and that’s all great news. Eventually we’ll have to replenish it and we will see a benefit to the business over the next coming years.”

Maybe that’s the point of all of this.

In fact, the gusher of cash helps explain why the neocons, no matter how disastrous their schemes turn out be, keep landing on their feet as they migrate from the Democrats to the Republicans back to the Democrats, remorselessly piloting the US empire’s foreign policies. War is the health of the state, after all, and helps explain why after the first Cold War ended there was no “peace dividend”.

We should be outraged at the fact that we just let billionaire corporations not only profit from war but actively lobby for more war via think tanks, campaign funding and other influence ops. What’s more outrageous is that we, as a society, have chosen to expend trillions on war and weapons rather than Medicare for All or a Green New Deal or myriad other programs that are desperately required as we face an uncertain future.

Of course, none of these changes can occur without challenging the power and influence of the military-industrial-congressional complex, a task as urgent as it is difficult in this moment of carnage in Europe. One thing is guaranteed: a new gold rush of “defense” spending is a disaster in the making for all of us not in that complex.

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