Lowering the Cost of Coercing Rival States

by Reihan Salam

When I think about our defense budget, I try to think about it in very basic terms. One of the goals of the national security apparatus is to maintain the ability to successfully coerce potential rival states into, say, abandoning their designs on regional hegemony, etc. As a skinflint, I like to think about how we can make this kind of coercive power as inexpensive as possible. Railguns look like a promising approach:


Admiral Carr, who calls the railgun a “disruptive technology,” said that not only would a railgun-equipped ship have to carry few if any large explosive warheads, but it could use its enemies own warheads against them. He envisions being able to aim a railgun directly at a magazine on an enemy ship and “let his explosives be your explosives.”

There’s also a cost and logistical benefit associated with railguns. For example, a single Tomahawk cruise missile costs roughly $600,000. A non-explosive guided railgun projectile could cost much less. And a ship could carry many more, reducing the logistical problems of delivering more weapons to a ship in battle. For these reasons, Admiral Carr sees the railgun as even changing the strategic and tactical assumptions of warfare in the future. [Emphasis added.]

Thanks to Daniel Foster for bringing John Quain’s article to my attention. Note that $600,000 could be the annual compensation bill for a decent-sized business. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could keep that money in the hands of taxpayers?