Sunday, August 07, 2011

Pinon Canyon: an Obsolete Extravogance

The Army's Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site in Southeastern Colorado glaringly demonstrates everything that's wrong with our U. S. economy. It is an example of the obsolete, unnecessary, wasteful extravagance which typifies our bloated military-spending practices.

Military planners often make the mistake of training to fight the last war. In the case of the Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site it's not even the last war, nor the one before that. You have to go all the way back to World War II to find a war in which tanks were actually a significant factor. The Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site is predicated on an out-dated military doctrine; huge numbers of tanks and other armored vehicles arrayed against each other on a vast battlefield. It's true that billions of dollars were spent on bigger and better tanks during the Cold War, a boon to defense contractors, but of little actual military value. In this high-tech age of unmanned aerial vehicles, and robots, and lasers, tank warfare is an obsolete military doctrine.

The military refers to these old systems as their, "legacy " weapons. the term "legacy" brings to mind the big estates that have been left as a legacy to the decedents of European nobility. These high-maintenance estates are expensive, but the heirs feel obliged to hang on to them in memory of past glories. It's the same with tank warfare. It represents the romantic but expensive legacy of World War II battles in North Africa. An important difference between the heirs of European nobility and the Pentagon's legacy weapons is that the former is financed by private money, while the later is paid for with our tax dollars.

The advocates of continued funding for tank warfare have found creative ways to use tanks in the current wars in order to try and justify continuing the stream of funding to the corporations that they represent. In Afghanistan tanks have been used to shell the crops of villagers as a way to force them into the arms of the central Afghan government. Farmers can get reparations for their destroyed crops only by applying to the Karzai government. This dubious method of breaking the grip of the Taliban upon villagers is a pretty lame misuse of tanks, obsolete both in terms of military doctrine and economics.

The 238,000 acre Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site is unnecessary. The Department of Defense controls 32 million acres of land in the U.S. and even more around the world. Yet they say they need expand Pinon Canyon to as much as 6.9 million acres. This is all based upon a flawed method of calculating the land requirements for military bases. Instead of calculating the overall real estate holdings of all of the DoD's ranges and then coordinating the use of these ranges among the different service branches and bases, each individual base calculates its ideal amount of training land. All of these wish-lists are then added together to arrive at the total of the DoD's "land shortfall." It's like each and every household calculating its individually need for recreational land and then insisting that each household needs its own park, as if such facilities cannot be shared. Each and every Army base having its own huge training range is simply an unnecessary extravagance.

Meanwhile, valuable assets like the helium, uranium and natural gas underneath Pinon Canyon are being withheld from the regional Southeastern Colorado economy.

We can no longer afford to preserve our legacy weapon-systems like armored tanks. It's time to return Pinon Canyon to the public so that the Department of Defense can save some money, and the people of our region can make some.

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