5 October 2015

The Biggest Military Wastes of Money


The staggering amount of money available to the US Armed Forces has resulted in wasteful military spending on a grand scale and some of the worst military spending in history. As technology changes and improves, new designs in tanks, planes, weapons, and vehicles have to be developed - all of which cost huge amounts. But the military is plagued by bureaucratic inefficiency, redundancy, procurement issues, changing priorities, and a process that simply takes too long.

As a result, the last 30 years are littered with futuristic, pointless military projects that never saw a day of action. Lasers, stealth ships, high-tech tanks and guns, communications systems, even uniforms - all have been developed at massive costs, and done little to nothing to keep the nation or its armed forces safe. The most egregious, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, might top out at $1.5 trillion - more than the GDP of all but 11 countries on earth - and it's never fired a shot.

Rampant military spending isn't a new phenomenon, as numerous European countries during after World War II wasted staggering sums on defenses that provided no defense. But when it comes to wasting money, nobody can beat the US from the Cold War until now. Here are the most egregious examples of military spending gone haywire, from WWII until today.

The Joint Strike Fighter program was meant to produce a fighter that the Air Force, Marines, and Navy could all use - a fast, stealthy plane that could take off from anywhere, land on anything, and deploy almost any weapon. Instead, it became a black hole of technical problems, delays, technology that was obsolete before being deployed, and above all, money. It's been estimated that the F-35 has cost a staggering $1.5 trillion since its inception in 1996. Meanwhile, the plane is plagued by issues, including having trouble landing on aircraft carriers, issues winning dogfights, reliability problems and, ironically, vulnerability to lightning strikes.

Hitler's Atlantic Wall - $200 Billion

Soon after Nazi Germany conquered France, Adolf Hitler ordered the building of fortification all along the Atlantic coast to protect it from Allied landings. Fuehrer Directive 40 called for 15,000 individual emplacements to be manned by over a quarter of a million Germans and foreign conscripts - all in less than a year.

The cost of the Atlantic Wall was staggering, certainly in lives (much of the work was done by slave labor), but also in material and money. 1.2 millions tons of steel, enough to build 20,000 tanks, was used, along with 17 million cubic meters of concrete. The total cost was the equivalent of $200 billion in today's money, a cost that Germany could barely afford. Famed General Erwin Rommel declared the Wall to be a farce in 1943, and he was right - it was breached in less than a day, with the vast majority of the emplacements either never finished or never used.

Strategic Defense Initiative - $100-150 Billion

Announced just a few weeks after Ronald Reagan's "evil empire" speech, the Strategic Defense Initiative was meant to be a space-based system of lasers and satellites that would shoot down any Russian intercontinental or submarine-launched nuclear missile headed toward the United States.

What it became was a black hole of theoretical research, pop culture ridicule, political tension, and spent money. A staggering amount of money. Estimates on the cost of SDI research and development start at $100 billion, and run as high as $150 billion. All for a system that was dependent on technology that was never developed past the theoretical stage. Thankfully, some of the money was spent on basic science research, so it wasn't a total waste.

Rockwell B-1 Lancer - $1 Billion+ per Plane

One of the most troubled and controversial programs in Air Force history, the B-1 was first developed in the early '70s as a replacement for the aging B-52. It was cancelled in 1977 after four prototypes were made. Then it was revived by President Reagan, and development on it continued to the point where 100 were built, despite numerous problems with the plane's design and operation. The planes didn't see combat in the Gulf War due to engine issues, and didn't drop a bomb in action until 1998. The planes have proved useful, but hugely expensive, at over a quarter of a billion dollars per plane.

MX Missile - $25 Billion

A 1970s nuclear deterrent, the LGM-118 (or MX Missile, as the program was usually called) was a land-based ICBM that could carry up to 10 re-entry vehicles, each armed with a 300-kiloton W87 warhead. It could deliver a devastating strike to the Soviet Union that could essentially win a nuclear war in one blow. The program was cancelled and restarted several times due to issues with housing the missiles, before President Reagan approved their deployment in hardened silos.

The program suffered massive delays and cost overruns, and the missiles themselves were hard to maintain and expensive to build. The MX ended up costing over $25 billion to make just 114 missiles. The last were taken out of service in 2003 - and the Cold War they were meant to win lasted just a few years after they were deployed.

Project Nike - $20 Billion

Cold War paranoia over waves of Soviet bombers blasting the US into nuclear oblivion led to a staggering engineering and military project, code-named Nike. It was a plan to build anti-aircraft missile batteries all over the country, concentrating on cities, military targets, and industrial bases. The missiles were placed in batteries of two or three, with corresponding radars, barracks, underground storage bunkers, elevators, and maintenance facilities.

Nike Ajax Missiles were replaced by Nike Hercules Missiles, which were replaced by Nike Zeus missiles. All the while, the Soviet Union was phasing bombers out, making the missiles useless. Nike was ended in the mid 70s, and no missile was ever fired at an enemy. The cost of the program was enormous, at least $20 billion, and probably much more. Nike sites today mostly sit abandoned, with many of them posing severe environmental hazards.

Future Combat System - $19 Billion

Work began on the Future Combat System in 1999, with the intention of building an integrated set of manned and unmanned combat vehicles that would dominate the 21st century battlefield. Then the September 11th attacks happened, and military priorities changed completely, requiring a redesign of the FCS. Ballooning costs, technical problems, and the budgetary drain of the Iraq War sent the bill for the program sky high. When it was finally cancelled in 2009, $19 billion had been spent - and just eight prototype vehicles were built.

Joint Tactical Radio System - $17 Billion

JTRS was an attempt at unifying military radio technology through the magic of digital signal processing. Starting in 1997, the U.S. Army spent $6 billion just to develop the system. Then they cancelled it. Then they restarted it after a different new radio system failed. Then it was cancelled again for good in 2012. Meanwhile, the military had to spend another $11 billion to buy new radios while waiting for JTRS. In turn, these radios will eventually need to be replaced - meaning the Army spent $17 billion to buy things they already had.

The A400M was meant to replace the variety of aging transports in Europe's air forces. Instead, it was plagued with delays, technical issues, and a bloated budget. The plane was delayed so badly that England, France, and Germany all had to explore buying or leasing existing cargo planes from the US. It was nearly scrapped several times, and Britain's Minister for Defense Procurement declared "The A400M is a complete, absolute wanking disaster, and we should be ashamed of ourselves. I have never seen such a waste of public funds in the defense field in the past 40 years."

The first Atlas finally entered service in 2013 - and was grounded when one of the 11 built planes crashed. The program has already cost at least $10 billion.

Zumwalt Class Destroyer - $3 Billion per Ship

Likely the most sophisticated warship in existence, the Zumwalt-class destroyer is also one of the most expensive. A stealth-guided missile destroyer intended to replace current US destroyers, many of which are three decades old, the DD(X) program that birthed the Zumwalt was so plagued with cost overruns that the initial order of 32 ships was cut to 10, then three. Therefore, each ship costs over $3 billion - so expensive that Navy officers are reluctant to use them in combat.

The Withdrawal from Afghanistan - $7 Billion+

When the United States military withdrew from Afghanistan, it left behind a staggering amount of equipment. Most of it was either obsolete, damaged, or too expensive to ship back home, so it was disposed of. Among the most widely left behind items were 2,000 MRAP vehicles, each costing over $1 million, and each needing to be shredded for scrap metal, since complicated laws prevented it from being donated to the Afghani army. Estimates are that $7 billion worth of gear had to be destroyed.

Boeing-Sikorsky RAH-66 Comanche - $7 Billion

The Comanche was developed as a one-chopper-fits-all replacement for the Huey, Cobra, and Kiowa helicopters the Army had been using for decades. Meant to be stealthy, fast, and able to execute a number of different missions, instead was a balky and risky boondoggle that literally had trouble getting off the ground. Two prototypes were built, and the program was cancelled in 2004 - with almost $7 billion spent.

Maginot Line - 7 Billion Francs

The trauma of the Great War led France to develop a defensive strategy, hoping to build strong enough defenses to shore up an army weakened by a low birth rate. The Line was designed to make the French/German border so impregnable that troops and tanks could be stationed on the Belgian border, where Germany had attacked France in 1914. It could also be used as a basis for a counter-attack, and to hold the Germans off while France mobilized. Secretly, the French also hoped that by funneling an attack into Belgium, it would draw England into the conflict - exactly like 1914.

The cost of the Line was staggering - 7 billion Francs, or about a third of France's entire military budget. And when Germany's attack came, their forces simply went around the Line, punching through the undefended Ardennes Forest in southern Belgium, and beating France's over-matched, poorly-led army in six weeks. Where the Line was tested, its troops fought well. But it simply didn't do what it was designed to do.

M247 Sergeant York - $6 Billion

Designed as a counterpart to mobile Soviet self-propelled anti-aircraft guns (SPAAG), the M247 was meant to deploy two 40mm cannons on a radar controlled turret. The procurement process was plagued with arguments over what design to go with, and what cannons to use. Once a design was chosen, it had severe problems with its radar, including an inability to discern enemy helicopters from trees. To save money, off-the-shelf parts were used, including World War Two era Bofors guns.

But design and construction pressed on. When the tank was finally unveiled, the fire control radar mistook a reviewing stand for a target, sending observers scrambling for cover, lest they be shot to pieces. The M247 was finally cancelled after only 50 had been made, and most were bombed as targets. All told, the US spent over $6 billion on four different experimental SPAAG systems, none of which worked.

Airborne Laser - $5 Billion

Initiated in 1996, the Airborne Laser (ABL) was designed to be an integral part of the Air Force's missile defense system. An old Air India 747 air frame was acquired and fitted with a chemical oxide iodine laser - which actually was successfully fired. Research went on, but given “significant affordability and technology problems," the program was eventually cancelled at the end of 2011. Over $5 billion had been spent on a project that was deemed to serve no military purpose.

Albanian Bunkers - Roughly One Quarter of Albania'sMilitary Budget

Staggering wastes of military money aren't simply an American phenomenon - but it's easier to do when you've got anAmerican budget. Sadly, the tiny nation of Albania spent a crushing amount of money on a project that never fired a shot. Albanian strongman Enver Hoxha was obsessed with defending his nation from what he saw as threats on both sides, from both the West and East. So he ordered the building of bunkers that could be defended by civilian reservists.

750,000 of the round concrete domes were eventually built, popping up everywhere from empty fields and farms, to tourist-friendly beaches, graveyards, and the middle of streets. A quarter of Albania's budget went to its military, and the vast majority of that to the bunkers. Meanwhile, the country had a massive housing shortage, and crumbling roads. When Hoxha died in 1990, the bunker program was stopped - leaving the country with hundreds of thousands of useless eyesores.

Army Combat Uniform - $5 Billion

The Army spent $5 billion to develop and produce a uniform featuring a camouflage pattern that could be used in any environment. The result, the ACU unveiled in 2004, was so unpopular and ineffective that soldiers in combat environments simply stopped wearing it. The Army had to buy uniforms from private contractors, while sinking more money into developing a new pattern. New uniforms were finally approved in 2014 - but used a design the Army had actually been considering before the ACU.

Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle - $3.3 Billion

The EFV was a 38-ton amphibious assault vehicle designed in the late 1980s for Marine rifle squads to use in beach landings. But given the emerging threat of guided anti-ship missiles, the EFV was basically obsolete before it was even built. Delays, a ballooning budget, and lack of support in Congress led to the program being cancelled in 2011, having already wasted $3.3 billion.

XM2001 Crusader - $2 Billion

Designed to be the Army's new self-propelled gun, the Crusader was intended to be lighter, faster, and more powerful than current artillery. It turned out to be unsuitable for the post Cold War military - a mobile, precise cannon that wasn't mobile or precise enough. It was cancelled in 2002, with over $2 billion down the tubes. Concepts from the Crusader were used in the experimental XM-203 Line of Sight Cannon - which was also cancelled.

Expeditionary Combat Support System - $1 Billion

A seven year effort to replace over 200 separate Air Force computer systems with one integrated network, the ECSS was instead a billion dollar disaster. It was plagued with organizational problems, chronic mismanagement, lack of priorities, and monstrous turnover. How bad? The ECSS program had six program manager changes in eight years, five Program Executive Officers in six years, and had its entire organizational hierarchy reorganized ten different times.

In 2012, a report was released that claimed ECSS would need to double its budget to achieve a quarter of what it was meant to, and it was cancelled.

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