Off the shelf and into the desert

Hooray for modern US technology and its ability to knock out bad guys science-fiction style. I sleep better knowing that all that tasty tech gear is on our side. Recently, though, I read a New York Times article that simultaneously pleased and disturbed me: Military Now Often Enlists Commercial Technology. The gist of it is that, whereas in the old days (say, ten or more years ago) secret military research led to our gee-whiz weaponry, these days the military buys a lot of it high tech gear straight off the hardware store shelf. Think about the implications… This is good news from the defense budget’s point of view: a product that competes in the open market is bound to cost less than one developed solely for the Pentagon. On the other hand, if we’re buying it, then anybody can, right?

To be fair, the commercial products the military is buying are computers and communications gadgets, not missiles and guns, but the point is still valid: spending is the name of the game. If it’s on the menu, anybody with enough cash can buy it. We may be ahead of the bad guys, but they’re happy to walk in our footsteps, picking up goodies. They don’t have fancy R&D laboratories, but they don’t need them. Humans have been involved in a continuous arms race since the first well-aimed rock, but high technology makes it spiral faster and faster. It used to be a race with the Russians, but now it looks like we’re in for an ever faster race with our own shadow.