Rare, expensive materials, cutting-edge designs and top-secret prototypes are all hallmarks of the military industrial complex. It's how they produce all their beautiful toys: the stealth fighters, nuclear submarines and flying fortresses that are the cornerstone of our childhood fantasies and Michael Bay movies. But what happens when you get bored of your new toys? Why, you just toss them out into the middle of a field somewhere. Sure, they are worth a billion dollars and took dozens of years of intricate design and revision, but have you ever built a garage? That shit is hard.
6The Mothball Fleet
Pack up your towel, your shaky folding chairs, your ineffective cooler and those hilarious shorts that make it look like you're naked from the waist down, because you, sir or madam, are going to tear it up at the beach. Just as soon as you find a nice, secluded one that won't be too crowded, of course. When you get there, you turn to survey the vast beauty of nature (read: ogle some half-clad asses), but instead spy only an endless armada of motley battleships in various states of disrepair. You were looking for the nude beach, but you've accidentally wandered into the post-apocalyptic section.
Half of us just got tetanus simply from looking at that.
There are thousands of government-owned ships sitting at anchor all around the United States right now. They're part of the National Defense Reserve Fleet (NDRF), a collection of mothballed ships ostensibly for use in national emergencies or other times of crisis. But as the decades roll by, wars and disasters come and go, and still the ships just sit. Some are dismantled; some are abandoned until they rust and sink. And these fleets aren't hidden away in remote, top-secret locations, either: One of the biggest collections is the NDRF Ghost Fleet at Suisun Bay, California, only 30 miles northeast of San Francisco. Among that fleet is the battleship Iowa, which played a large part in several of America's wars, including WWII and Korea. In short, what used to be this:
Now looks like this:
Wait, is that ...?
Yes, that's duct tape covering the barrels. Clearly, this ship no longer presents any danger to society, should some unscrupulous individual seek to steal it and show his ex-wife's handsome new playboy boyfriend what he thinks of his precious yacht. Oh, but that would never happen, because even if you get past the duct tape (psh, good luck!), there must be tons of security, right? Not so much. In May 2011, Scott Haefner -- less of an "international superthief" and more of a "casual boat fan" -- managed to break through fleet security and spend an entire weekend photographing the remaining fleet. He and a friend boarded the ships and hopped from vessel to vessel for 48 hours, using only an inflatable raft and a few other supplies you could buy from any camping supply store. One of the greatest surprises Scott stumbled upon while out dicking around on the ghost armada was the Sea Shadow (IX-529).
We're pretty sure one of the shitty Brosnan Bond villains owned one of these.
That's a stealth ship that the military spent $195 million and over 10 years building and testing before unceremoniously dumping it where it now sits ... inside a larger mothballed multi-million-dollar ship, the Hughes Mining Barge. This is the same barge that helped raise the Soviet submarine K-129 from the Pacific Ocean floor in the summer of 1974, so it's not like these ships were unusable or defective in any way. They were simply forgotten.
Although to be fair, the Navy didn't necessarily want to mothball the Sea Shadow; that was a last resort. They initially tried to give it away for free. But since any takers would also have to take the Hughes Barge, no one took them up on the offer.
Apparently, no G.I. Joe fans or scrap-metal-needing meth-heads were around when they asked.
Today, the USS Iowa would cost $1.5 billion to build, which, combined with the Sea Shadow's $200 million, means there's at least $1.7 billion just floating out there in the bay, waiting for bored bloggers to raft out and walk around on top of it.
Despite what one would reasonably assume, this isn't just a side effect of the arrogant and wasteful nature of Western capitalist pig-dogs: When the Soviet Union collapsed, it could no longer fully fund its navy and so was also forced to abandon its ships to the elements. Now they sit in ports like Murmansk, rotting, rusting and practically begging for a Scooby-Doo episode to fire up inside of them.
Man, the running-through-doors montage would be epic.
But more worrisome than the sheer monetary waste might be the ecological factor: Since 1958, the USSR has built 450 naval nuclear reactors, and most of them are still technically in service ... but only because they were never taken out of it. Some of them are doubtless still sitting in these slowly sinking hulls, just waiting to either explode, contaminate the nearby waters or possibly whip up some ad-hoc Incredible Hulks. Think that's just idle conjecture on our part? Nope: In the 10 years following the collapse of the Soviet Union, 170 nuclear submarines were taken out of service, but only 40 of those were ever officially dismantled.
"None of you terrorists touch this. Honor system, guys."
Even now, more than 20 years after the fall of the USSR, Russia still doesn't have the resources to scrap their former fleet. They're still out there, all nuclear and floaty and rusty, just waiting for the Russian counterpart of Scott Haefner to come play with them and maybe accidentally kick off WWIII when he tries to make a bong out of a control rod.