Obama's Pet Projects: Lasers, Hybrid Hummers

Senator and Presidential candidate Barack Obama today released his list of "earmarks" -- pet projects planted in spending bills. His defense programs are pretty much standard fare: $6 million to work on the roof of the local Rock Island Arsenal; $7.5 million for cybersecurity research at the University of Illinois. But he also secured funding for some fairly exotic military science and technology projects, too.

Obama helped secure $1.95 Million for the so-called "Compact Tactical Laser" program. (The words "tactical" and "laser" together usually mean some kind of real-life ray gun research -- take these two programs, for instance.) The earmark, given to Optical Engines, Inc., is meant to "enable the scaling and aggregation of a large number of diode lasers so as to increase the optical power and brightness that is delivered by means of fiber optic coupling." Most of the leading laser weapon researchers now use light-emitting diodes (like the kind on your computer's "on" switch) to "pump," or add extra energy, into their laser systems.

Obama requested -- by didn't appear to get -- $4.8 million for another light-emitting diode project. This one uses LEDs to heal. Strange as it may sound, military medicine specialists have known for years that the LEDs can play a role in healing wounds, building muscle, turning back the worst effects of diabetes and repairing blinded eyes.

The Air Force Medical Service (AFMS) wants to accelerate the development of a tissue and wound healing assessment program involving diverse frequencies within electromagnetic spectrum for use in aviation, SPEC OPS [special operations], expeditionary, military, retiree health care, and in response to homeland disasters. The AFMS needs a device to carry into theater to initiate healing and prevent infection. LED DE/RF hand-held tools and therapies will be extremely critical in managing patients both in theater and those affected by homeland disasters and will potentially allow immediate response to wound healing, lessen infection and scaring, and reduce operation and medical costs.

Obama also landed $1 million for the Illinois Institute of Technology to develop a cost-effective conversion kit to retrofit Army Humvees with electric hybrid systems. It's a trick the military has been trying to pull off for years -- a hybrid can run whisper-quiet, and without gorging itself of fuel. But the generals have never seemed able to get themselves the battlefield equivalent of a Prius.

Speaking of alternative energy, Obama got another $1 million for a Chicago State University project to equip drones with fuel cells. That would let the pilotless planes run for much, much longer than the current, gas- or battery-pwoered models.

So that's what Obama earmarked. I wish I could tell you what Hillary's pet projects were. But she hasn't released 'em, yet.

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