Nietzsche wrote of a greatness, only realised through the will to power, to the Olympian heights of complete self-realisation. To attain this Nirvana of wholeness and worldly success the human being must become more. This is the Ubermensch, The super-man. Now will life offer nothing but candy apples and fine ales! Congratulations, Übersoldat, you’ve arrived. And boy oh boy do you look fabulous! The US Army – who else – are having endless fun testing fancy load-bearing exoskeletons for use by soldiers to lighten the strain of carrying lots of heavy gear for extended periods. It’s an awesome project, and I look forward to it being realised privately in the hiking and enthusiast communities, but is this really what we want our militaries t get into now? Do they not have enough fancy things that kill people in innovative ways?

 

 

The answer will always be ‘no’ because it’s intrinsic to human nature to find the present unsatisfying and seek a bigger, better future through action. If you’re a general or bureaucrat in the military-industrial complex of the US or UK what you want is ever more impressive, ever more precise – the degree of precision is obviously not actually that important, QED blowing up hospitals in Pakistan – and ever more expensive. Admittedly a great deal of organisational entrepreneurship has found its way into such government agencies as the military and DARPA, with the folks at the latter working diligently to create new wacky toys for the eternally penis-envying Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon.

Measured in billions of dollars government defence spending stands at… a lot. The table below shows (pdf) the defence expenditures of the 15 biggest spenders expressed in billions of dollars at nominal exchange rates covering 2013 as recorded by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

  1. USA – 640
  2. China – 188
  3. Russia – 87.8
  4. Saudi Arabia – 67
  5. France – 61.2
  6. UK – 57.9
  7. Germany – 48.8
  8. Japan – 48.6
  9. India – 47.4
  10. South Korea – 33.9
  11. Italy – 32.7
  12. Brazil – 31.5
  13. Australia – 24
  14. Turkey – 19.1
  15. UAE – 19

So, a total of $1747 billion in military spending. $1107 billion is the global total, $766.9 billion is the total of all 14 non-US entrants on the list. That makes US spending more than a third of the global total, and near half of the top 15. And yet, take a look at the countries on that list. With exceptions of China and Russia all of them are allies of Washington. Anyone not in the top 15 can never pose a military threat to Americans. So, China and Russia, with a combined military spend of 275.8 in 2013, are the big threats, then? Well, not really. Neither has made any threat to attack, let alone invade, any territories or peoples within US borders. Now, a country that safe, spending that much on defence clearly has a serious problem somewhere.

Or is this aspiration to police the globe just human action plus unaccountable government bureaucracy? Is it just power without hard limits? Two pointless and costly wars, horrid overspend on new weapons, and a domestic culture that worships the US Military beg the question; have American national defence priorities been economically and cognitively hijacked somehow? If so, by whom? Because as cool as projects like the exoskeleton above are, they seem to be an awfully costly use of resources that could better have been used elsewhere. And here we segue neatly into the F35 Joint Strike Fighter project. So far this plane has cost taxpayers in participating nations (so mainly Americans) a whopping $54-odd billion so far.

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This may beggar belief – it’s just one plane after all, and already obsolescent – but it’s just the biggest single example of a massive money pit. This military Keynesianism has its uses when you’re running or employed by the US Military itself, the Department of Defense, or Raytheon, but the downside for everybody else is obvious. Taxes, once levied, deprived the taxed of the opportunities that the taxed money previously offered, and 54 billion dollars is a lot of foregone opportunities, even spread out between all of the taxpayers.

Any market-responding defence contractors would have noticed that improvements in drone technology had by 2000 already rendered the use of human-rated fighter-bombers and surveillance craft pointlessly expensive and risky. The pilots might die, and rating a plane to accommodate a human-being is way more expensive than just not bothering and controlling a drone aircraft remotely. Almost all air defence in a free society would consist of drones able to shoot down other planes and missiles and to reconnoitre, but little else, and so would be orders of magnitude cheaper, even assuming it was as big in terms of personnel as the statist Air Force is.

And therein lies another contrast. A free market national defence force, likely a patchwork of private concerns with the same stated goal and using common protocols for seamless integration, would overwhelmingly most likely be far smaller than the government behemoths of today; maybe 300,000 Americans, 60,000 Britons or 30,000 Canadians strong. all paid for voluntarily by customers who want their property and agreements safe from meddling by those in foreign lands.

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Lockheed Martin never forget who they’re working for. Seeing as that means almost exclusively the US Government it can be reasonably surmised that Lockheed are indicative of what’s wrong with defence in the present day. The F35 developers are the biggest military contractor in the world, with UK firm BAE Systems coming 3rd. Clearly the military industrial complex is strong. But perhaps all this misses the point. Even if these firms operate in a monopsony (many sellers, one buyer; a buyer’s market) they remain powerful drivers of government policy anyway.

This is evident just by how much it suits military contractors for the military to be big and over-funded. Six of the top 10 defence contractors in 2013 were based in the US. Should we be surprised? Of course not. But perhaps perturbed. The size of the US defence industry and the size of the US defence budget are, after all, nearly synonymous. That makes the military a needlessly inflated war machine in a time in which there are no comparable enemies likely ever to appear again. It also makes every military contractor (and this means the people themselves) a war profiteer.

So, who wants superhuman strength? The HULC, the system described in the video, is pretty amazing at what it does and its designers clearly see it solving real-world problems. It’s not the device itself, but the why of it, that is disturbing. In a time of peace and reason I might be inclined to have a gander with one of these bad-boys on an extended hiking trip, but as long as Lockheed are building these and countless other gadgets to facilitate the senseless slaughter of fellow human-beings, I’ll keep a-hold of my money a little longer, at least until the government tax it to pay these same companies for the same weapons.