The world’s most expensive public art project

April 18, 2005 at 11:24 pm (Random)

the end of a dirt road scraped into the desert, past the grazing
antelope and “US Air Force” placard, a snow shovel props open the door
to a monumental artifact of the Cold War.

The Over-the-Horizon Backscatter radar system, built to track Soviet
bombers over the Pacific Ocean, went on line just as the Cold War
ended. The government never used it.

“We expect to continue dismantling it and for the Air Force to leave the property,” said Steve Hinds, the program’s director.

Depending on the extent of the demolition, that could take years. What
remains until then is the antenna farm: originally 216 metal towers
ranging from 35 to 165 feet high, set in three long rows. It’s an
incongruous site in a region where hay sheds are the closest thing to

the gist: the Air Force spent $300 million on a gigantic radar system
right before the CCCP fell, never used it, and is now spending even
more to dismantle it. Unfortunately, the online version of The Oregonian
does not have pictures, so you can’t see it. And for some reason
Squarespace doesn’t want me to be able to use the little shortcuts they
have for things like posting images, and I don’t know HTML well enough
to do it manually–a cry for help?–so perhaps I should just describe
it. Imagine the Very Large Array, from Contact fame, only with
giant TV antennas instead of dishes. It looks like the Bridesburg
skyline on steroids. It’s in SW Oregon, in the general vicinity of
Crater Lake. As you may have guessed, I have a few questions:

Is this Pork at its worst, or simply an unfortunate co-incident? I
hesitate to call it pork since Oregon Rep Peter DeFazio at the time
called it a “high-tech program of dubious value.”

Is this really high tech? It bounces radar off the atmosphere, so it
can detect things beyond the horizon. We’ve known that the earth is
round since 1492, and the Brits invented radar in the 40s…this
doesn’t seem like a giant leap forward to me.

Would this have protected the US at all? Didn’t/don’t the reds have several thousand ICBMs?

Why bother dismantling it? The thing is a sunk cost in any case, so you
might as well just leave it there rather than waste more money. I for
one plan on going to see it this summer. It could be a pretty big
tourist draw…a relic of the past like the ICBM silo in North Dakota that was turned into a national park.
Look how ready we were! the park rangers would tell visitors from
Nebraska. It could signify a statement against wasteful government
spending, proof that advocating massive reductions in our ridiculously
bloated military spending could (if done right) have no effect
whatsoever on our defense capacities, a counter to the knee-jerk right
wing reactionism that brands anyone in that camp as an America-hating
terrorist sympathizer. Maybe I’ll form a non-profit called “Taxpayers
for military fiscal accountability.” That sounds so much more appealing
than “Friends of The Over-The-Horizon Backscatter.”



  1. larry said,

    I’m going to make a guess that its real purpose wasn’t the stated one, which is why they’re spending the money to dismantle it. Or maybe it’s just pork. Lots of that in the military world (things like $2 billion a piece stealth bombers come to mind).

  2. JB said,

    What possible other use could it have? Other than what Kehr would say.

  3. larry said,

    I don’t know. Just a gut feeling. They’e always sneaking shit in somewhere. Whatever it is, they don’t want tourists seeing it.

  4. larry said,

    Sorry, the linking seems to be horked.Based on this ( ) I have a new hypothesis. We’ve got something better that we’re keeping super top secret (you probably think I’m making that term up). That’s still an example of wasted money, only seen in hindsight — if that thing detected a wave of Soviet or Chinese bomers enroute you wouldn’t be decrying it — but that’s they way the Pentagon operates, more or less regardless of which party is in power. We have chosen to have “THE BEST” military in the world, period, and we’ve got it (or our elected leaders have… etc, whatever). Compare the costs of a $2 billion plane to this system and you can understand why this got the go ahead. Right wing military types get all charged about how antiquated our bomber fleet is (to pick an example) and I’m always like, uh… that’s cause we keep the good shit top secret you dipshit.Anyway. You may now have your blog back.

  5. jones said,

    this doesn’t really bother me. cutting edge tech is sweet (even when its 20 years old) and a how much of that 300 mil made its way into the economy? i also don’t mind our military’s insistence on being “the best”, or at least seeming that way, and spending so much money (oftentimes wasting it) helps spread the impression we are. this color scheme, however, is fundamentally offensive.

  6. JB said,

    Hey my blog is dark and mysterious, just like me.

  7. scott said,

    A couple pieces of code for you to try. http://www.picturename.jpg“ border=”0″ /> OrYou should be able to upload the image to your space at ss. Then put the image name in the space for the picture name above

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