Thursday, March 4, 2010

A visit to a major US ordnance museum and facility: just connect the dots!


Yesterday, March 3 -- perhaps as a personal celebration of Senator Joe Lieberman’s introduction of a bill to repeal “don’t ask don’t tell” -- I visited the US Army Ordnance Museum at Aberdeen Proving Grounds near Aberdeen. MD, on the Chesapeake Bay, NE of Baltimore. You had to present not just a driver’s license but also car registration and have your picture taken to get on base, and it’s odd that a public museum is deep on base, when it could be located on a public area outside base property. Or perhaps it’s not so odd.

The museum is small (say, compared to the Marine Corps Museum close to Quantico, VA) but one of the most interesting military museums in the nation. On the ground floor there is a lot of the usual display of weaponry, including tanks and artillery, related to all the wars since WWI, with a particular emphasis on WWII. The ENIAC computer is displayed, as well as an explanation of how proximity radio detection of aircraft in sky battles during WWII worked.

There is an upper balcony that has some of the most interesting stuff. For example, there are displays of the tactical nuclear weapons that the Army had at its disposal as early as 1953 (during the Korean War), as well as items related to chemical weapons that the United States apparently never used. (That relates back to the battlefield horrors of World War I, with mustard and phosgene gas.)

One of the most provocative items, tucked away on the balcony, is a yellow robot used for disarming land mines in Iraq and Afghanistan (of “The Hurt Locker” variety), with various technologies including microwave generation, which could disable enemy electronics, at least at short range. The visitor may wish to look at my Sept. 8, 2009 entry on this blog to look up a Washington Times story about a microwave weapon that could be used for EMP damage even in civilian contexts, apparently developed at Aberdeen in 2001, perhaps just before 9/11. It’s all very odd, and frightening. Remember, of course, that Popular Science ran a now-forgotten article on this problem a week before 9/11 in 2001.

Of course, government has a lot of horrific weapons, many of which are never used. (Harry Truman provided the biggest exception.) The danger is that an enemy, perhaps non-state or supported by a rogue state (like Iran or North Korea) could get his hands on something (probably in US defense contractor hands – a world that our former vice president knew too well) and reverse engineer iti (for use against soft domestic targets).

There has never been a time, since the end of WWII or the Cuban Missile Crisis, when our getting things right has been so critical. For one thing, we need every non-Indo-European language translator we have.

No comments: