America’s $1 Trillion Target Barge

The NYT has a story about a mock US aircraft carrier Iran is building, its sources say, so Iran can blow it up for the propaganda value.

Iran is building a nonworking mock-up of an American nuclear-powered aircraft carrier that United States officials say may be intended to be blown up for propaganda value.

This has set off chatter about how weird and dumb Iran is for building this giant toy boat, which US sources call the Target Barge.

But pretty soon after I started reading the article I found myself applying the phrases in it to America’s F-35 program which, in many ways, is an even bigger propaganda prop. See how it looks when you swap out Iran’s barge for the F-35?

Intelligence officials do not believe that the US is capable of building an actual F-35.

“Based on our observations, this is not a functioning plane; it’s a large spending program built to look like an plane,” said Cmdr. Jason Salata, a spokesman for the Navy’s Fifth Fleet in Bahrain, across the Persian Gulf from Lockheed. “We’re not sure what the US hopes to gain by building this. If it is a big propaganda piece, to what end?”


“It is not surprising that American military forces might use a variety of tactics — including military deception tactics — to strategically communicate and possibly demonstrate their resolve in air power,” said a Chinese official who has closely followed the construction of the F-35.


[T]he Pentagon has taken no steps to cloak from prying Chinese hackers what it is building in pork-laden building sites across several countries. “The system is often too opaque to understand who hatched this idea, and whether it was endorsed at the highest levels,” said Karim Sadjadpour, an American expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

See what I mean?

Opacity of purpose.

Failure to provide adequate security.

Probable impossibility to bring to completion.

Abundant propaganda.

I’m not all that sure what distinguishes the F-35 except the cost: Surely Iran hasn’t spent the equivalent of a trillion dollars — which is what we’ll spend on the F-35 when it’s all said and done — to build its fake boat.

So which country is crazier: Iran, for building a fake boat, or the US for funding a never-ending jet program?

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

8 replies
  1. P J Evans says:

    The people who insist on keeping the F35 program going are the same ones who scream about the deficit and want to kill social programs, which are far less expensive.

  2. Don Bacon says:

    Or fourteen billion dollar useless obsolete aircraft carriers which have been sailing around off Iran’s shores for propaganda value. The carriers have been touted for their impressive intimidation factor, which certainly hasn’t worked in Iran’s case as it has increased its nuclear program ten-fold despite the carriers’ presence off its shores.

  3. Harry Weaver says:

    This sounds like the sort of story put about by American agitators.
    Iranian policy has always come across as more mature than this.

    This is the equivalent of radical right wing ‘peaceful protesters’ in Kiev, and Russian ‘invasion’ of the Crimea.

  4. TarheelDem says:

    Hey, Star Wars brought the Soviets to their economic knees. Budgets as weapons.

    I notice that the reports of what Iran is doing come from the US military, an institution that is scared of losing the reason of being of a substantial part of its budget. The world is slowly figured out that the best way to defeat the US is like Gorbachev did–take away its military enemies. And then let it defense-spend itself into oblivion.

    • chronicle says:



      Well played, Marcy.

      Yes, now that the .0001% informed human beings on the planet know the F-35 is a giant transfer of the labor of the middle class to the ruling class, I guess we can cheer. Now, the only question left is …how do we stop it.

  5. Objectivist says:

    Well there is a lot of ignorance to go around here, between the blog post and earlier responses…

    I’m not a huge fan of the F-35 program, but a major difference between it and this Iranian mock carrier is that the F-35 will eventually be a formidable military asset. There is no realistic way to cancel the F-35, because many US allies are also involved and expect working aircraft. In the long run, the US will probably get a lot of additional overseas sales, which will bring foreign dollars into our economy.

    Look at it this way, at least we’re getting something tangible for F-35 dollars, unlike the countless billions thrown at the “War on Poverty”, the “War on Drugs” and other never-ending, fruitless and quixotic government programs…

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