One thing the Pentagon love to do is ‘showcase’ absurdly costly technologies to the public. This military product placement helps justify exorbitant budgets and show off American exceptionalism and superiority. The problem is that most of this crap doesn’t work. In this episode we look at the cinematic and real life histories of some major military tech – the F-35 fighter-bomber, the V-22 helicopter that turns into a plane, and the Littoral Combat Ship, and how Hollywood helps the military continue to buy failed technologies at vast prices.
This is a topic I have wanted to discuss for some time, because it’s a story of government waste, propaganda and political hypocrisy. While we usually look at the Hollywood perception management around either specific events or general policies, we’ve never discussed this in depth before, so it’s about time we did.
The US military has, by far, the largest military budget on the planet. While both China and Russia have invested billions in so-called modernisation programs for their own militaries in recent years, the US remains way out in front, and has been so far out in front for so long that the cumulative effect is by far the most expensive military that has ever existed.
For fiscal year 2024 the Pentagon is seeking a budget of $824 billion, out of an overall national security budget of $886 billion. That’s higher than the total GDP of all but the top 19 countries – the 20th being Switzerland. Everyone from Switzerland through Taiwan, Vietnam, Iran, Cuba, Ghana all the way down to the little Pacific island nations generate less overall money as a country than the US spends on supposedly protecting itself and its interests. Put another way, the total GDP of both Malaysia and Hong Kong together is about the same as the DOD will spend over the next year.
How does this happen? How does a country with 4.25% of the world’s population spend more on weapons and other military expenditure than the next dozen or so countries combined? On the military spending per capita scale, the US is so far out in front it is absurd.
Well, there are several answers. Over the last century and a half the US has built a near-global empire, having started out as a bunch of colonies stitched together by fairly tenuous agreements into some kind of federal republic. The annexation of Hawaii, the landgrab known as the Spanish American war, World War 1, World War 2. These, and the domestic expansion through annexing parts of Mexico and buying Alaska off the Russians, saw the US expand dramatically in geographical territory, geopolitical reach, the ability to project military power, the ability to spy on everyone and – of course – the economy.
But would they have been able to do this without spending enormous sums on developing artillery, then explosives, then chemical weapons, then submarines and planes and aircraft carriers, so on and so forth all the way up to the weapons and systems we’re going to look at today? I think not. Once again, capitalism, empire, technocracy and militarism are in a mutually reinforcing dynamic.
What is often ignored, however, is the role that propaganda, and military-industrial product placement have played in the rise of the US empire. In particular, the invention of cinema – the most effective form of war propaganda – and the US dominion over the world movie industry, is a key factor. As I have cited before, there are US military supported movies from the 1900s – back in the single reel, silent film era, before Hollywood even existed (or at least, was called Hollywood).
As soon as the movie industry got going, the government jumped in and demanded they make propaganda, first to help get the public to support America’s entry into World War One, and then to maintain their involvement. In 1916 Woodrow Wilson was re-elected as President promising neutrality, that he would keep America out of the wars in Europe and Mexico. But he did an about-face, and Hollywood helped sell this national betrayal to the public. Indeed, they did so well that they started getting directives from the Creel Committee and elsewhere telling them to tone it down, because all the demonisation of Ze Germans was making it harder to reach a peace agreement. Hollywood helped prolong World War One.
In the early 20s hardly anyone made war films, at least in America, due to a widely perceived ‘war fatigue’. In the mid-20s, as I outlined in my history of war films episode, this changed, and by 1927 we got Wings, the Top Gun of its day. Wings broke ground in many respects – it was the first movie to win the Best Picture Oscar, it was the first movie to feature combat aircraft, it was the first to make use of product placement (Hershey’s chocolate bars, in case you’re wondering). It was also the first to have a soundtrack alongside the film reel – though it was still exhibited in what was the style at the time, with a live orchestra playing the music in the theatre while the movie showed on screen. Still, it was a step halfway out of silent films and into full colour talkies.
The movie also had massive military support, entirely for free, from the US Army Air Service. As the database notes:
FIRST ACADEMY AWARD FOR BEST PICTURE WHICH SET STANDARD OF COOPERATION FOR ALL SERVICES. ARMY AND ARMY AIR CORPS PROVIDED ASSISTANCE IN TEXAS FOR NINE MONTHS, INCLUDING USE OF VIRTUALLY ENTIRE COMPLEMENT OF AIRPLANES.
Shot on a budget of around $2 million, a lot for 1927, it made use of hundreds of pilots and uniformed extras, many dozens of aircraft, and was shot largely on-base. The director was William Wellman – himself a pilot in WW1 – and though they had no end of accidents, injured people, damaged planes, and apparently one death of a pilot, the film was completed and is spectacular for its age. As Suid observed:
Ultimately, Wellman’s own experiences, the advice of his military technical advisor, and the Army’s men and equipment created an epic film that won the first best picture Oscar. More than that, it conveyed the excitement of war in the air, which was to help the Air Force in its recruiting and in obtaining congressional appropriations.
Given the expensive nature of this new war fighting technology – planes – how do you sell it to the public? By making a movie that grossly exaggerates the role of the US Army Air Service in World War One, of course. So that’s what Wellman did – having to develop new filming techniques to actually capture the motions of the planes in dramatic fashion.
People talk about Top Gun as though the aerial photography is amazing, but to be honest a lot of it is just planes against a blue sky, you don’t really get a sense of high speed from many of those shots. This is the problem Wellman faced – a horse or a car moving on the ground has visual points of reference that enable the eye to see how fast they are going. But up in the air it’s just sky and clouds. So, it took them a couple of months of shooting on Wings before they were able to get useful footage that conveyed the speed and dynamism of the planes.
The result is a great advert not only for the Air Service, but for planes as military vehicles. So we have the first corporate product placement being matched by the first military industrial product placement, all in a fairly shallow movie with some romance elements and also a bit where one of the pilots shoots down his friend, who is flying about in a German plane. You really can see where they ripped off a lot of Top Gun from when you watch Wings.
Michael Bay: Military-Industrial Product Placement Specialist
Rather than go through the whole history, through the First Motion Picture Unit and the Office of War Information, the bouncing bomb in Dambusters, the use of the Skyhook in Thunderball and The Green Berets and other World War 2 and Cold War examples, I thought we’d pick up on some of the more recent versions of this.
Michael Bay is the best case study because more than half of his major films have had DOD support, and he graduated into directing features from making car adverts for TV. Literally, he just replaced a Lexus with a C-130 and kept the cameras rolling.
Obviously there’s Armageddon, which Bay claims is the first film where anyone shot a B-2 stealth bomber. As far as I know, this is accurate – while the B-2 appears in Independence Day, it is CGI. These days you can fully 3-D scan an aircraft and replicate it digitally quite easily and very accurately, but back in the 1990s that technology wasn’t available. I assume the Independence Day animators just pieced it together from photographs.
So, the B-2 made its real debut in Armageddon, but Bay also claims to have been the first to shoot the F-22, for the first Transformers film. Indeed, one of the making of features for Transformers, called Decepticons Strike, is almost entirely about military hardware.
However, Bay is wrong – the F-22 had already appeared on screen a few years before, in Ang Lee’s Hulk. After the Hulk escapes from the desert facility and goes running off across Nevada towards California, the Marine Corps notes say:
Recommend F-22’s streak past, reporting the Hulk’s location to Ross, who, in turn, reports up his chain of command that the Hulk is entering a populated area, but has so far has not appeared to be dangerous unless provoked. Still, it’s imperative to be prepared. When the incident with the hang glider takes place, Ross wonders if the Hulk was trying to avoid an accident or attack the plane, but he has an idea about how to subdue the Hulk, who has climbed on top of the fighter.
When you watch the film, it more or less plays out as the military pitched it – the F-22 is front and centre in the pursuit of the Hulk. And this was not the only time they recommended using specific technologies that they wanted to show off. Emails from Strub’s office show how the DOD wanted the film-makers to incorporate VMADS – Vehicle Mounted Area Denial Systems, essentially humvees with radar-dish looking things on them that emit micro waves used to attack living things. They’re now in use by metropolitan police departments, against protestors and the like. But back in the early 2000s they were just a military tech.
The email begins, ‘Well, I have some free time so here goes (get ready for some cool toys)’ before outlining a whole sequence in which the military confront the Hulk, they try tear gas and firing nets at him but this just pisses him off, and he throws a car at them, justifying them amping up the weaponry. They then roll out the VMADS, and burn the Hulk with ‘Millimeter Waves’. The email goes on:
That stops him! now to drive him, riot troops using rubber bullets, 203 rounds and “bean bag” rounds literally “drive” him towards a side street, a steep hill. Here he hits the slippery foam, will look great in slow mo, eventually he slides down the hill and into the “high tech” vehicle barrier system (see pics). once entangled troops can hit him with TASERS, till he is unconscious or subdued.
Hulk is captured and Military looks great! also can add a good 15 min of screen time. So wadda ya think?
This suggested idea wasn’t used for the 2003 Hulk but a very similar sequence, including the VMADS technology, does appear in the 2008 Incredible Hulk, which was supported by the Canadian (but not the US) military. Even when your script is too radical for DOD support, you can still find someone to place their hardware into your film.
Returning to Transformers, the Air Force and other military product placement was on a scale not seen since epics like The Longest Day and Wings. All the way back in December 2005 they were meeting with Bay to discuss the story, before the draft script had even been completed. An ELO report says, ‘We discussed several opportunities to highlight Air Force personnel, operations and equipment.’
Over the following months the Air Force arranged scouting trips to several military bases and listed the aircraft Bay, producer Ian Bryce and others had seen. Then, in May an update listed all the ‘air to air aircraft requests’ including MH-53s, CV-22s, a C-130, F-117s, an A-10 Thunderbolt, so on and so on. Entries in the Army and Marine Corps ELO reports on the early Transformers films do the same – outline all the different bits of military hardware they were going to show off. The Army entries on Transformers III, for example, keep saying, ‘It will give us the opportunity to showcase the bravery and values of our Soldiers and the excellent technology of today’s Army to a global audience, in an apolitical blockbuster.’
How Hollywood Rehabs the V-22 and F-22 on Behalf of the US Military
Getting back to the first Transformers movie, as shooting began there was another update:
First day of flying ops at Holloman began Thursday. The scenes filmed included A-10 aircraft from Pope AFB, and an AC-130 gunship Hurlburt AFB. Two CV-22 aircraft from Kirtland AFB will fly today (May 26). In all 16 USAF and more than 90 aircrew and maintenance personnel will be participating in filming of the movie at Holloman for several days over the next two weeks.
The V-22 Osprey, also known as ‘the Transformer’ due to its ability to convert from a vertical take-off helicopter-type craft into a rapidly forward-moving plane-type craft, appears a lot in both the documents and in films. It’s the aircraft used to fly the black ops team into the fictional Latin American country in Suicide Squad, it appears in The A-Team movie and Battle: Los Angeles, also in War Dogs, Terminator: Salvation and Sicario: Day of the Soldado. And in CGI form in two of the Monsterverse films.
The Air Force version is known as the CV-22, while the Marine Corps version is the MV-22, but it’s the same aircraft underneath. And, it’s not got a great record, so bad in fact that it has been grounded on several occasions because it keeps crashing.
An article from August 2022 by POGO details how the Air Force decided to ground their entire fleet of V-22s due to its safety record, but the Marine Corps keep on using them. Mark Thompson’s piece references other sources, detailing how Dick Cheney tried four times to get rid of the Osprey, a program that had cost $20 billion by that point, and cost over $35 billion in total. While crashes have claimed the lives of dozens, the Marine Corps are pressing on, simply retraining their pilots (supposedly) to deal with the clutch issues and other quirks of the aircraft.
Back in 2000, a crash in Arizona killed 16 Marines, and was blamed on pilot error. Nonetheless, the MV-22s were temporarily grounded pending investigation. The file on The Sum of All Fears includes an email from Maj Thomas Johnson to Capt Matt Morgan at the ELO saying:
Capt. Morgan, FYI. Gen. Sattler called this morning. Apparently, Don B. mentioned something to CMC about using an MV-22 in a “JAG” episode (groan, here we go again, ala “S/F”). CMC loves the idea (hence the hardsell to “All Fears”), but of course the Ospreys are hard down at the moment. As you will most likely inherit this project, just keep in mind that we’ve been pretty much given the “keys” to the aircraft providing that they’ve been deemed airworthy at the time they are required by the production company. The script is a great read except for the CIA assassination at the end and the Army Warrant Officer who carries the “football.” I thought this guy was usually a Marine Major… just a guess. Anyway, I’ll put the script in your office. It’s a pretty entertaining read.
Evidently, the Commandant of the Marine Corps was trying to sell the idea of using the MV-22 in The Sum of All Fears, even though they were grounded because of the Arizona crash (and another around the same time). Or perhaps because they were grounded, and in need of a PR boost. Being highlighted in a major Tom Clancy movie starring President Morgan Freeman and Ben Affleck does a lot to repair the helicopter’s image, if not its flight performance.
In 2016, the Marine Corps finally admitted that the Arizona crash was not caused by pilot error, but by the aircraft itself failing. Widows and other bereaved loved ones of the Marines who died had pushed for over a decade to get the Corps to admit this, showing just how sensitive they are about the V-22 issue, hence their desire to place it into movies and TV.
Indeed, as I’m writing this there’s a story doing the rounds in news media about a crash in Melville Island, Australia, which killed three Marines and seriously injured five others. The aircraft still isn’t being grounded, despite its death toll simply from crashes being up to 54 people.
Getting back to the F-22, it’s a similar story. A mysterious crash in Alaska in 2010 killed one pilot, another crash in 2020 was a combination of the plane misbehaving and the guys who had washed it leaving a piece of tape stuck on an outlet that no one spotted before it was sent up into the air.
The 2020 incident was hushed up, with the Air Force not following procedure and convening an accident investigation board because of ‘operational security concerns’.
It was one of several incidents involving the 325th Fighter Wing, with Air Force Times reporting:
Nearly half of the nine Class A and B F-22 mishaps in fiscal 2020 occurred at the 325th Fighter Wing, including one that destroyed a fighter jet. Since fiscal 2018, Raptors across the service have seen at least 16 Class A accidents — one more than the 15 that occurred over the 18 years prior, according to Air Force Safety Center data.
Class A mishaps cost at least $2 million, involve a destroyed aircraft or cause death or permanent and total disability. Class B mishaps are those that cost between $500,000 and $2 million, lead to a permanent, partial disability, or cause inpatient hospitalization of at least three people.
I’m sure you can see how the F-22 used to have a fairly decent record but in recent years the number of ‘mishaps’ is spiralling drastically. So let’s go back to Transformers, and an article from 2009 on Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, which came out at a time the F-22 was in danger of being cancelled entirely, at least according to the rhetoric coming out of the Obama White House.
It quotes Bryon McGarry, ‘a USAF Captain who serves as deputy director for the Air Force Entertainment Liaison Office in Los Angeles’ saying ‘It’s the first feature opportunity for showing an F-22 dropping a JDAM [guided bomb].’ Then, the article notes how the House Armed Services committee had just voted to order 12 new F-22s (which cost around $200 million each), 8 more than Gates had asked for in his request to the committee.
‘When you see a wide-angle shot of F-22s or hear the real sound of them flying by or rolling in on a target, there’s no substitute,’ McGarry added. The article details how ‘He helped coordinate Air Force resources with the wish lists of Transformers filmmakers, such as timing F-16 training flights with the movie’s shooting schedule. For arrangements outside the usual military training, filmmakers paid the hourly operating cost of the Air Force equipment.’
Just an aside – once again they’re moving training exercises around to fit in with movie shooting schedules, which they aren’t supposed to do because it saves the film-makers money and interferes with said training schedules. But I guess when your film helps promote all this expensive hardware and cover up for the fact it keeps crashing and killing people, moving a few exercises around on the calendar is a small price for the DOD to pay.
The F-35 and the Littoral Combat Ship
Perhaps the most expensive waste of money in government history is the F-35, an aircraft that was supposed to be a fighter-bomber that was adaptable enough to be used by all branches of the US military – a true ‘joint strike fighter’. It first appeared in a movie in CGI form in Superman Returns – not a film that appears to be military-supported. The plane only performs a simple escort role in a brief sequence.
A year later and it was back, in Live Free or Die Hard, where it chases John McClain because the military have been tricked into thinking he’s a terrorist. The plane destroys an entire motorway, then another one, all while missing its target – McClain, who is driving a big truck like in Terminator 2. The plane ends up crashing, with the pilot ejecting.
In 2011’s Green Lantern our protagonist starts out as an F-35 test pilot, but during an exercise where he’s battling two drones, he flies up to high altitude, his engine stalls, and he bails out. So far, the cinematic record of the F-35 is not great.
Then in the first Avengers film, it battles the Hulk and he leaps out from the flying aircraft carrier, onto the plane, not unlike the scene in the 2003 Hulk suggested by the Marine Corps ELO. Strub tried to distance himself from this by saying the F-35 wasn’t real, it was ‘digitally inserted’ by the studio, as though people thought that scene really happened, where the Hulk starts smashing up the plane in mid-air.
Bizarrely, the DOD then made a bit of a fuss about the F-35’s official debut in Man of Steel the following year, when it appears in the background in one scene. Strub called it a ‘target of opportunity’. They also insisted the F-35 appear in CGI form in the sequence where they take on General Zod’s forces. The script notes say:
Pg 106, Sc 202 and elsewhere — DOWNTOWN METROPOLIS: We assume that the point of this and Sc 235 on Pg 118 is to portray (via CGI) the heroic sacrifices of fighter pilots to divert the Kryptonians from the C-17, because the destructive capability of the Kryptonians has already amply been demonstrated. If so, these must all be Air Force fighter aircraft, F-35 or otherwise.
Hence the bit in Man of Steel where an Air Force pilot says ‘a good death is it’s own reward’ before doing a kamikaze crash into the big alien machine, 9/11 style. In a film where the skyscrapers of Metropolis are destroyed, crumbling to the ground, 9/11 style. Were they trying to say… no, nevermind.
Why does this Man of Steel story amuse me so much? Because they couldn’t actually film the damn thing flying for real, they could make it fly with CGI but the real ones had to be filmed on the ground. The F-35 barely worked in 2012, even though it was supposed to be fully operational and combat ready by that point. It had already appeared in several films where it proved overly destructive, impossible to control and/or blew up, all of which are somewhat reflective of its operational record up until that point.
Then, Man of Steel came along and now they finally had what they wanted – a possible portrait of the F-35 in combat. Against aliens. But because the damn thing wasn’t flying properly they had to do that bit with CGI, while only being able to show the real ones being towed around, because in 2012 the world’s most expensive plane couldn’t do a lot more than that.
Why is something that doesn’t work so damn expensive? The 2001 estimate for the full cost of the F-35 program was $233 billion, but by 2019 it had ballooned to $397.8 billion and it has continued growing since. The engines don’t work properly, so much so that the DOD has taken to listing the aircraft and engines separately in its Acquisition Reports.
The engine is so weak that from the off there was an agreement that the F-35 could be out of commission five times more often than other military aircraft, such was Pratt and Whitney’s inability to actually build an engine capable of reliably flying the plane. The problem is so drastic that a British Navy F-35 simply fell off the end of an aircraft carrier in late 2021 without ever getting airborne – the engine appears to just give up, the pilot ejects, and the plane falls into the Mediterranean.
There have been crashes at Hill Air Force Base in Utah, Fort Worth in Texas, another one in Carolina, and a mysterious one in the Pacific where a Japanese F-35 sent no distress signal, the pilot attempted no rescue manoeuvre, it seems to have just cut out and plummeted into the ocean. The Japanese Defence Ministry blamed the pilot, who of course died in the crash.
Another one happened at Eglin AFB in Florida, which due to pilot survival couldn’t be blamed on his error so they had to find the real reasons. They included a malfunctioning oxygen supply (fairly important for pilots), a malfunctioning head-mounted display (not unlike in Iron Man) and the flight controls were unresponsive.
Yet another happened on board the USS Carl Vinson, the ship used to film parts of Top Gun and also used to bury Osama Bin Laden.
Seven people were injured during a ramp strike on the deck of the ship, the pilot ejected relatively safely, and the plane skidded off into the ocean. It was eventually recovered, from a depth of around 12,000 feet at the bottom of the South China Sea. Because we couldn’t let the Chinese or Russians get their hands on this completely useless piece of utter shite. They might get it working, and then where would we be?
Indeed, the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship is, in some ways, their F-35 or V-22, in that they keep pushing it on Hollywood but it is beset by scandals and problems. In March this year three men at Austal USA, a company that builds the LCS, were indicted for massive fraud.
But that is just the tip of the iceberg. Originally, contracts were awarded to General Dynamics and Lockheed Martin to come up with designs for the ship, with the idea being to amalgamate the designs and then award the building contract separately. Instead, the Navy decided to go with both designs and get 10 copies of each version. Bear in mind these things cost around half a billion each.
The problems are quite fundamental – the Lockheed version doesn’t steer straight, or as one Navy document put it, ‘Ship is inherently directionally unstable.’ Constant equipment failures, the occasional ship-wide power outage, cracks in the hull letting water in, and in other parts of the structure, engine failures, rampant corrosion, failure of seals leading to more water coming in – it’s had some issues during testing. A DOD assessment said the LCS was ‘not expected to be survivable in a hostile combat environment.’
By 2015, serious design flaws had emerged and the response was to spend an extra $75 million per ship to retrofit and ‘up-armor’ them to compensate for these flaws. The ships were so useless that the Navy stopped asking for them, but Congress somehow approved more purchases. The DOD’s request in 2017 asked for only one more LCS – albeit at a cost of $1.2 billion. I have no idea how those numbers are supposed to add up.
In 2020 the Navy decided to decommission four of these ships – one of which had only completed a single operational deployment, in 2017, and the oldest of which had only been in use since 2008. They had come to realise that their dream of a multi-mission close to shore ship, with different modules and crews that could be easily swapped out, was a miserable failure. Stuffing as many technologies into one boat as possible, without figuring the basics like piping and getting the toilets and electricity to work, proved to be as stupid as it sounds.
Because of all this, the Navy have had to pitch and push the LCS onto Hollywood to mask this epic waste of national and natural resources. Their ongoing Hollywood to the Navy program, where they take people on tours of ships and submarines, had its first LCS-themed event in 2013. The senior guest was Robert Orci, of Mission: Impossible and Star Trek fame.
The same year, they met with Bob Krasser who was planning an IMAX movie around Naval vessels, and they ‘recommended changing his premise to LCS, DDG1000 and F-35s’. You see how this works – someone comes in with an idea, they try to inject the technologies they want to promote.
In early 2014 the Secretary of the Navy paid a visit, and the ELO reports record:
Successful SECNAV visit and key leader engagements with executives from NCIS (CBS) Execs and Nautilus “Godzilla” (Legendary Pics). SECNAV talking points with NCIS execs included future episode development that highlights SAPR adjudication, demonstration of new capabilities (LCS), and females in key leadership/command roles.
A few months later and they were arranging a site visit for writers and producers on NCIS to visit an LCS and talk to some of its crew. Then the first season of The Last Ship premiered, and the LCS command were invited to the big blue carpet event. When they began discussing season two, the LCS came up again as something both the Navy and the director wanted to include. Ditto, on season three:
DIR/DEP met with CO, Naval Weapons Station and PAC to discuss emergent Season Three opportunities to showcase weapons load-out of destroyer/LCS.
On the K2 IMAX film series Seapower they:
Held conference call with director/producer to discuss progress and timeline of the show and how that fits in with Navy operational/training schedules. Reemphasised the importance of incorporating surface and subsurface assets as a major portion of the film [including the DDG-1000 and/or LCS] to comply with the PAA.
When it came to Comic-Con in 2015 they had a bridge trainer for the LCS go along and provide demonstrations for the ‘geeky’ writers and producers attending the event. When Discovery got in touch with a series where each episode focuses on one piece of technology and how it works, the Navy again suggested the LCS (albeit among other things). The technology didn’t work at all, and by this point the Navy were rowing back on their decision to buy over 50 of these damn things, but they were still pitching it to Hollywood.
There are so many examples – Jay Leno’s Garage, Mega Shippers, NCIS: LA, Transformers Five, Impossible Engineering (no, I am not making that one up), Mega Marine Machines, Combat Ships 2, a PBS series called Working (no, I am not making that one up either). Even as the Navy were effectively scrapping the program – no longer buying new ships and starting to mothball existing ones – they were still helping Hollywood promote this extremely profitable lump of complex scrap.
It’s as though, having spent so many years pro-actively pushing the LCS that they couldn’t now back out and start turning down requests from the Michael Bays of this world. Having told Hollywood how great and cool and well-functioning the ship was, to go into full reverse could expose the whole scam.
Remote Controlled Tanks in Fast & Furious
To round off I want to look at one final example that – while nowhere near as expensive – is just as childish and easily mocked. It comes from a file from the US Army on Fast and Furious 8, which I obtained via a FOIA request. It relates to use of the Ripsaw vehicle – a kind of armoured car or lighter, faster tank that can be operated by remote control. True boys with toys stuff – unsurprisingly, it has also appeared on Top Gear, perhaps the most military-supported TV show from the UK.
The Ripsaw isn’t actually being used by the US Army, it’s still in testing and evaluation, but the guys who designed and built it (and have developed new versions) have made a civilian model, albeit without the weapons. As such, we cannot criticise its track record – it doesn’t really have one – or its exorbitant cost – because it isn’t that much.
Nonetheless, I find it interesting that the Army documents make clear that they wrote the lines introducing the vehicle, and were keen to see it displayed in such a massive franchise movie. One email explains the need to have a rep on location during shooting in Iceland, and says, ‘The dialogue introducing the vehicle was one of the main points we wanted to get into the script, so that is extremely important to us.’ Then, after viewing the rough cut, ‘Thank you for keeping in the dialog containing the description of the Ripsaw vehicle. That was important to us.’
As you can see, Ludacris praises the Ripsaw technology for keeping soldiers safe, and highlights the various features like this is some sort of automobile ad, the sort of thing Michael Bay used to make. I can only assume that the Army want the Ripsaw to become a standard vehicle rather than an experimental thing cooked up by two guys who saw a market post-9/11. Indeed, the original prototype was sent out to Iraq, though whether it was used for anything meaningful is another question. This thing has been knocking around in some form for 20 years, but in the last few years it’s begun making appearances in films and TV.
Almost as though it was an ad hoc marketing plan cooked up by the Army’s ELO.
Then, there are the really dumb making of featurettes that accompanied the movie. Note just how similar they are to the equivalent ones for Transformers.
What stands out here for me is that when you make a behind the scenes video like this about getting access to a military vehicle for use in your movie, you have to praise the DOD. In reality, it was a bit of a struggle, with emails flying around as late as December asking for final approval for shooting in early February. But this is how it works in the creative media industries – everyone pretends to be friends, everyone pretends everyone else is a delight to work with. And when that ‘friend’ is the DOD, who can literally kill you by remote control and then make a movie glamourising it, I do understand why these weak ass punk ass bitch ass punks pretending to be hard men are nothing of the kind.
Before I go, I do want to highlight something else – both liberals and conservatives are equally hypocritical on this. Both sides have their people talking about government waste, government being too big, too much money being taxed off people and thrown at different things. But those same people love expensive weapons systems and love military PR, because it’s good business for them too. They want all those contracts landing in their state because higher employment equals re-election.
As such, the entire system – from the movies and documentaries to the military officials to the politicians supposedly providing oversight – all are vested and complicit in this. It’s been going on so long and it has become so incestuous and mutually beneficial that I’m honestly not sure how to undo it at this point. I think factors beyond our control will be the catalyst for change, because it’s already self-destructive as hell and we keep doing it anyway.