That’s entertainment

Many critics of government defence spending often fail to realise that systems developed with such monies can be put to other commercial uses. Dave Wilson tells all.

<b>I got the surprise, the surprise of my life. I had to stop and stare. I saw a man dancing with his own wife. And you will never guess where – Fred Fisher. </b>

Some people here in the UK often criticise our Government for the enormous amount of money that it spends funding the development of defence systems. But it’s absolutely nothing compared to what they shell out over in the US.

Not a day goes by, in fact, without a gazillion-dollar US Government contract being awarded to one lucky contractor or another who can develop and deploy some sort of fun toy to protect ‘The Homeland’.

Just yesterday, for example, McHugh, one of Chicago’s oldest construction firms, won an $82 million contract to create a 500-foot-long reduced scale replica of a portion of a ship, floating in water, within a 171,000-square-foot building. Once built, loads of technical wizardry will be added, creating an extremely realistic battle experience. To complete the project, McHugh will work with firms that have engineered theme park simulations and movie special effects!

And then, when it’s all done – in 2007 – Navy recruits will conduct a 12-hour mission on the system. After successfully completing it, recruits will earn the title of ‘Sailor’.

But wait a minute. It occurs to me that for $82 million dollars, it’s a terrible shame that only US Navy recruits get to have a ride on this thing.

Worse than that, it’s a missed opportunity for the US DoD, isn’t it? This could be the perfect chance for the US Government to assuage those critics of its enormous defence budget by demonstrating how such excessive spending can actually provide some benefit for Joe Public.

So why not revisit the existing $82 million deal and make the efforts really worthwhile by investing yet more money – perhaps $1 billion – to building several of these simulators quite close to one another in a Chicago defence ‘theme park’.

When completed, the park might offer all sorts of thrilling DoD related rides that the general public could enjoy. Just imagine. In ‘The Desert Storm Experience’, you get to rescue your comrades from a downed Black Hawk helicopter. In the ‘Heart of Darkness’ ride, you get to paddle upriver in a Cambodian canoe to meet an insane animatronic Colonel Kurtz. In the ‘Saving Ryan’s Privates’ simulator, you could land on the beaches of Normandy while German machine guns rain down all sorts of hell upon your wife and kids. The possibilities are endless. (But that’s enough for now – Ed.)

So how about it Mr. Rumsfeld? Why not put an end to all these folks from overseas just coming to the US to visit Florida and California for their Mickey Mouse theme park fun? The DoD could help put Chicago on the map and earn itself some good PR at the same time by providing a real dual use alternative to its defence technology.

<b>Reader replies</b>

Sir:

You commentary shows how ill informed you are about the importance of the military procurement systems to your own existence. Most major technological developments made in history have been made because of the need for countries to protect themselves.

Most pure research is paid for by the military which keeps uncounted thousands of engineers employed. That same technology developed for the military is later filtered down to the civilian sector after the costs have been lowered.

We have a saying in the US about not biting the hand that feeds you. The billions the British and American Gov’ts dump into worthless social programs does nothing but cultivate dependence on handouts from the Gov’t.

Marion Tinsley

Sir:

I have just come back from 3 years working in California, and on a trip to the mall one day, I was confronted by a sales drive for an astronaut school – I think that it was in Alabama, but I can’t be sure.

The company had brought a “weightlessness” machine which kids over 10 could try, as well as videos, glossies, balloons etc. What you and your son / daughter could do was spend a week at the camp, where you would be exposed to a baby sized version of what real NASA astronauts are subjected to as part of their training.

I can’t remember the details, but there was probably a mini-centrifuge in there some where, and underwater training and simulators and so on and so on.

It actually looked like great fun, but my son is only 8 (was that the only reason my wife wouldn’t let me go?). But, to get to the point, I am sure that they also had a fighter pilot camp as well – which would have included some simulators, not dissimilar to the one that you write about below. These are presumably ones that are being taken out of service as part of upgrades – but not too far away from what you suggest !

Go on the web, and see if you can find it.

Steve Carter