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Expensive Military Programs That Bombed And Wasted Millions, Billions – And Even A Trillion – Dollars

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The United States Military budget is the highest in the world, coming in at an impressive $693 billion dollars. Just let that sink in for a second, that’s more than half a trillion dollars. And while we’d like to believe that all that money is going to important military programs, well, let’s just say that everyone makes mistakes.

1. Advanced SEAL Delivery System – $600 Million

In a joint effort by the United States Navy and the United States Special Operations Command, the Advanced SEAL Delivery System (ASDS) was made to provide super stealthy submerged transportation from the decks of nuclear submarines for Navy SEALS. Classified as a midget submarine, the ASDS was to be used exclusively on covert and clandestine special operations missions.

U.S. Navy photo by Chief Photographer’s Mate Andrew McKaskle

The initial budget for the ASDS was supposed to be $70 million, but as the Government Accountability Office reported, for a contract of six of the midget submarines, costs had ballooned to $885 million. Cost overruns ultimately led to the program’s cancelation after only one ASDS was completed and sunk costs reached $600 million.

2. Rockwell B-1 Lancer – Three Decades and $28.3 Billion Dollars

Initially envisioned in the 1960s as a strategic bomber, the Rockwell B-1 Lancer didn’t drop a bomb in action for decades — until 1998, to be specific. In fact, the program was so problematic and costs were so high, plans for the Rockwell B-1 Lancer were canceled in 1977.

expensive military programs

YouTube/Military Archive

However, the B-1 was revived in 1981 by President Reagan. Due to issues with the aircraft’s design it didn’t see action during the Gulf War. Finally, at $283.1 million per plane, with 100 planes built, bought and paid for, the B-1 Lancer made its combat debut during Operation Desert Fox in 1998

3. Missile-X – $25 Billion

Known as either the LGM-118A Peacekeeper, M-X or Missile-X (a shortened version of “Missile-eXperimental), the M-X is an intercontinental ballistic missile, and the first to us a Cold Launch System. The M-X program was started as early as the 1970s, and was created to increase survivability, inflict massive damage and act as a deterrent in the case of a Soviet attack.

expensive military programs - missile-x

U.S. Air Force

The program was put on pause a couple of times due to rapidly skyrocketing costs and issues around where the missiles would be housed. In the end, 114 missiles were made to the tune of $25 billion, but they were taken out of service in 2003.

4. Project Nike – $20 Billion

Yet another program born out of the panic induced by the Cold War, Project Nike was put together by the United States Army as a plan for anti-aircraft missile batteries to be built all across the country. However, the Soviet development of ICBMs lessened the intended effectiveness of the Project Nike air defense system.

Project Nike - Expensive Military programs

U.S. Army

Project Nike was ended almost in its entirety by 1974. And having sat in on a history class or two, we all know that no missile was ever fired on the Soviet Union during the Cold War. In the end Project Nike cost $20 billion to do…not very much.

5. Airbus A400M Atlas – $10 Billion

A tactical, four-engine turboprop military transport aircraft with strategic capabilities, the Airbus A400M was designed to replace a series Europe’s air force fliers. The Organisation for Joint Armament Cooperation was tasked with overseeing the development and production of the Airbus A400M Atlas on behalf of France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom, Turkey, Belgium and Luxembourg.

Expensive Military programs - Airbus A400M

Wikimedia Commons/Tim Felce (Airwolfhound)

Due to a series of delays, technical issues and an ever-inflating budget the Airbus A400M Atlas program was criticized by representatives from many of the European nations involved. A few countries even began exploring the option of buying already existing cargo planes from the U.S. government. As of 2013, the project has reportedly cost the equivalent of $10 billion.

6. Atlantic Wall – $200 Billion

Of all the costly military mistakes that have been made over the years, the failure of the Atlantic Wall at least contributed to the resolution of a terrible war. Built between 1942 and 1944 by Nazi Germany, the Atlantic Wall was an extensive coastal defense fortification that ran along the coast of continental Europe and Scandinavia in anticipation of an Allied invasion.

Expensive Military Programs - Atlantic Wall

Wikimedia Commons/Supercarwaar

A million workers were brought in to build the wall, and calculated in today’s money, it cost roughly $200 billion. As we all know by now, the Allied forces invaded, and the Atlantic Wall was stormed within only a few hours. Not such an effective defense system after all.

7. Boeing YAL-1 Airborne Laser – $5.2 Billion

Sure, missiles are fun, but the sci-fi fanatic in us is all about lasers. And apparently so is the United States Air Force, which initiated the Airborne Laser program back in 1996. The basic idea was to mount a megawatt-class chemical oxygen iodine laser inside a Boeing 747-400F (a commercial airplane).

expensive military programs - airforce one

Wikimedia Commons/US Missile Defense Agency

The aircraft was named the YAL-1, and outfitted with a low-power laser. The YAL-1 was used to destroy a test target in 2010, but funding for the program was quickly cut after the Secretary of Defense expressed concerns over its practicality. After $5.2 billion and more than 15 years in development, the program was zapped.

8. VH-71 Presidential Helicopter – $4.4 Billion

Formally known as the Lockheed Martin VH-71 Kestrel, this helicopter was supposed to be manufactured to replace the United States Marine Corps’ Marine One U.S. Presidential transport fleet. The design was selected as part of a competition, and awarded a $1.7 billion contract.

expensive military programs - vh-71

Photo Courtesy of U.S. Marines

A fleet of 28 VH-71 helicopters were planned, but by February 2009, President Barack Obama and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates proposed putting the project on hold. By June of that same year, and $4.4 billion later, the United States Navy decided to call it a day on the VH-71 and canceled their contract. Sorry, Mr. presidents.

9. Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle – $3 Billion

Formerly called the Advanced Amphibious Assault Vehicle, the word “Amphibious” should give away that the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle was intended for use by the United States Marine Corps. The EFV was meant to hold a full rifle squad, who would be launched from an assault ship just over the horizon and transported to shore.

expensive military programs

Photo Courtesy of U.S. Marines

Developed as part of the U.S. Marine Corps’ “over the horizon” strategy for assaults starting at sea, the program was projected to cost $15 billion by 2015. By the time Secretary of Defense Robert Gates put the kibosh on the combat vehicle in 2011, $3 billion had already been spent.

10. XM2001 Crusader Self-Propelled Howitzer – $11 Billion

Designed to improve the survivability, mobility and of course, lethality of the field artillery vehicle for the U.S. Army, the XM2001 Crusader Self-Propelled Howitzer was meant to replace the M109A6 Paladin and the M992 Field Artillery Ammunition Support Vehicle. Combining everything in one effective armored vehicle, the XM2001 had a few key features.

Expensive Military Programs

Photo Courtesy of U.S. Army

The XM2001 was intended to boast a cooled cannon to maintain high firing rates, automated ammunition loading and handling, and composite armor. Despite everything it was designed to do, the $11 billion program (so many billions!) was canceled by the Secretary of Defense for being neither mobile enough, nor as precise as advertised. Ah well.

11. Northrop Grumman E-10 Multi-Sensor Command and Control Aircraft – $1.9 Billions

First conceived in 2003, the Northrop Grumman E-10 Multi-Sensor Command and Control Aircraft (MC2A) was supposed to be the ultimate airborne combat control center. The goal was to integrate ground search radars with air search radars to serve as the ultimate command authority for forces in the air, on land, or at sea.

Expensive Military Programs

USAF United States Air Force Boeing

Three years later, the Air Force requested the budget to be reshaped for the E-10 MC2A program, maintaining development and testing for only one demonstration aircraft. Pressures from the increasing budget and higher priority projects resulted in the cancelation of the E-10 MC2A, although $1.9 billion had already been shelled out.

12. Zumwalt-Class Destroyer – Earmarked at $22.5 Billion

Designed as multi-mission stealth ships by the United States Navy, the Zumwalt-Class Destroyer is a guided missile destroyer, with a focus on land attack. The project was built around advanced Long Range Land Attack Projectile ammunition (LRLAP), but when LRLAP was canceled, the guns aboard the Zumwalt-Class were essentially obsolete.

Zumwalt-Class Destroyer

U.S. Navy

Once the guns were rendered unusable, the Navy refigured the ships for surface warfare, still, a Nation Review article called the Zumwalt-Class Destroyer “an unmitigated disaster.” Of the original 32 ships planned for production only two were made after costs overran their initial budget of $3 billion per ship, with the actual cost of the program coming in at $22.5 billion.

13. Next-Generation Bomber – $100 Million

From its earliest stages, the Next-Generation Bomber was intended as a stop-gap solution for the United State Air Force’s bomber fleet. As the bomber fleet has grown increasingly outdated, the Next-Generation bomber was supposed to be a temporary replacement, until the “2037 Bomber” could enter into service.

Next-Generation Bomber

U.S. Air Force/Adrian Pingstone

The Next-Generation Bomber (NGB) was meant to be a subsonic, medium-range and medium payload stealth bomber. But before the NGB program was completed, it was replaced by another plan for a long-range strike bomber. The United States Air Force’s funds were funneled out of the NGB and into the new(er) fleet, but not before $0.1 billion had already been spent.

14. Lockheed Martin F-35 – $1.5 Trillion

Let us introduce the Lockheed Martin F-35, a family of single-seat, single-engine stealth combat aircrafts. Developed to replace almost all United States fighter jets, the plan was to purchase 2,633 F-35 jets for the Army, Navy and Marine Corps. Only it’s taken a little longer, and cost a lot more than expected.

Lockheed Martin F-35

Picryl/Robert Sullivan

Critics said the program was “too big to kill,” and so, even though there have been technical issues (like landing capabilities), the F-35 is still in production. Since its inception in 1996, the program has been estimated to have cost as much as $1.5 TRILLION. Let that sink in. Not a billion — a trillion!

15. TCOM Blue Devil Airship – $211 Million

Proposed as a reconnaissance airship (essentially an airborne spy-mobile for us simple folk) for use by the U.S. Airforce in the war in Afghanistan, we’re not sure how the TCOM Blue Devil was supposed to be a subtle spy airship, since it was basically a big blimp. The Blue Devil Airship was supposed to be outfitted with nearly a dozen sensors.

TCOM Blue Devil Airship

Flickr/David Axe

The sensors included listening devices, video cameras, communications equipment and a “wide-area airborne surveillance system” which could cover areas of multiple miles across. Complications with the design, and of course the $211 million cost led to the Blue Devil Airship’s dismantling and death in storage.

16. Strategic Defense Initiative – Earmarked at $100-150 Billion

Announced by President Ronald Reagan in 1983, the Strategic Defense Initiative was a missile defense system against attack by ballistic strategic nuclear weapons. Coming out quite strongly against the doctrine of mutual assured destruction of nuclear warfare, which Reagan called a “suicide pact” the Strategic Defense Initiative was supposed to make nuclear weapons essentially obsolete.

Strategic Defense Initiative


The Strategic Defense Initiative was supposed to be a system of space-based lasers and satellites that would intercept any attack on the United States. It’s all nice in theory, but that’s all it ever was. Years of research were put into the theoretical system, that in actuality has been estimated to have cost between a staggering $100-150 billion.

17. Bell ARH-70 Arapaho – $500 Million

After the RAH-66 Comanche Helicopter plan was scrapped, the Army estimated it would save $14 billion, which would then be used to update their already existing fleet of attack helicopters. It’s almost like the project was cursed, because again, the Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter program ran into problems.

Bell ARH-70 Arapaho

Photo courtesy of U.S. Army

A contract for the Bell ARH-70 Arapaho was announced, with plans for four prototypes to be made and delivered to the U.S. Army for the Limited User Test. During its first flight the prototype suffered a loss of engine power. So, it should come as no surprise that the program was canceled, although at least this time only half-a-billion dollars had been wasted.

18. Lockheed Martin Aerial Common Sensor – Up to $7 Billion

Commissioned by both the U.S. Army and the Navy, the Lockheed Martin Aerial Common Sensor was a reconnaissance aircraft airframe project. The Aerial Common Sensor (ACS) would have detected troop movement on the ground, intercepted enemy communications and radar transmissions, and of course, it would have communicated with other aircraft.

Lockheed Martin Aerial Common Sensor

Wikimedia Commons/Trevor Hannant

The Army had planned on acquiring 34 ACS, and another 19 for the Navy. The contract had initially been awarded for $79 million, but costs were estimated to rise to $879 million. In the end, the total cost was estimated to come in at $7 billion. With such a hefty price tag the program was unsurprisingly canceled in 2006.

19. CG(X) Next Generation Cruiser – $200 Million

In the early 1990s, in the aftermath of the Cold War, the U.S. Navy created a special program envisioning a destroyer with ballistic missile defense and the ability to provide area defense for a carrier strike group of ships. In various stages of development for years, the plan – eventually earmarked at $3.2 billion – was to deliver 19 CG(X) Next Generation Cruisers to the Navy by 2005 and enter service by 2017.

CG(X) Next Generation Cruiser


By 2007 the CG(X) project was split, asking for 14 “escort cruisers” and five ballistic missile defense ships. Still, not a single destroyer ship was ever constructed. After $200 million had already gone into the development stages, the program was ultimately canceled in the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review.

20. CSAR-X Combat Rescue Helicopter –  $200 Million

It was in 1999 when the United States Air Force expressed a desire for a helicopter with better range, speed and cabin space than anything they had already. After an analysis was conducted and completed in 2002, funding was granted for 141 aircrafts (apparently the Air Force really needed it).

CSAR-X Combat Rescue Helicopter

Wikimedia Commons Tim/Felce (Airwolfhound)

The program was renamed CSAR-X in 2005, and combat search and rescue helicopters entered the competition. The Boeing HH-47 Chinook won the contract, which was then promptly canceled after protest from competitors. The program restarted in 2007, and was almost immediately canceled a second time. By 2011, $200 million had already been chopped up. Oops.

21. Army Combat Uniform – $5 Billion

If you’re wondering how something without all the bells and whistles of an aircraft equipped with a laser, for example, could end up costing so much, take a look at the 2004 Army Combat Uniform redesign. The Army decided it wanted to produce a camouflage pattern that could be used in any environment, so far, so practical.

Army Combat Uniform

U.S. Army/Artanis

Well, the redesign was remarkably unpopular with soldiers, so much so that they just stopped wearing it altogether. In the meantime, the Army bought new uniforms from private contractors, while simultaneously sinking even more than the $5 billion they’d already spent on yet another redesign.

22. Agent Orange Vietnam – At Least $211 Million

Sure it’s technically billed as an herbicide and defoliant chemical used to clear out swaths of land for agricultural purposes, but the use of Agent Orange by the United States Air Force during the Vietnam War is typically the only reason anyone is familiar with the infamous Rainbow Herbicide today.

Agent Orange Vietnam

U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Daryl McKamey

The reported health effects of Agent Orange on the people exposed to it led to a class action lawsuit resulting in $180 million in compensation. Add to that number the more than $30 million which has gone towards cleanup efforts, and no one will be blue to hear Agent Orange was banned back in 1971.

23. Future Combat Systems – $18.1 Billion

Touted by the United States Army as their “most ambitious and far-reaching modernization” program since the ’40s, the Future Combat Systems hoped to have a brand new brigades of manned and unmanned vehicles. However, 14 years after its advent, the Future Combat Systems had little to show by way of tangible results.

Future Combat Systems

U.S. Army

As costs kept rising various parts of the plan were scaled back or cut out entirely. By 2006, experts calculated the total cost of Future Combat Systems to come in at $340 billion by 2030. But before things could get that pricey the project was canceled in 2009 after a whopping $18.1 billion had been lost.

24. M247 Sergeant York – $6 Billion

Named after famed World War I hero Sergeant Alvin York, the M247 Sergeant York was developed by Ford Aerospace in the late ’70s, based on the M48 Patton tank (itself named for World War II hero General George S. Patton). The M247 Sergeant York was a self-propelled anti-aircraft gun, with twin radar-directed rapid-fire guns.

M247 Sergeant York - Expensive military programs

Wikimedia Commons/Jollyroger

The M247 Sergeant York was supposed to acquire a target and start firing within only a few seconds of the target coming into range. A series of development problems, bad press, and finally some Soviet helicopter and missile designs rendering the M247 obsolete led to the cancelation of the project, and the loss of $6 billion. Talk about a tanked plan.

25. RAH-66 Comanche Armed Reconnaissance and Attack Helicopter – $7 Billion

Back in the early ’80s the United States Army started putting together a plan to replace the helicopters in service, and so the Boeing-Sikorsky RAH-66 Comanche was created. The RAH-66 Comanche was supposed to be a stealth armed reconnaissance and attack helicopter, but by the late ’90s the Government Accountability Office reported “serious doubts” about the program.

M247 Sergeant York

Wikimedia Commons/Harald Hansen

Two prototypes were constructed, and even underwent testing between 1996 – 2004. They were each equipped with one rotary cannon and could carry missiles and rockets, but they’d never actually see the skies. The program was canceled just before mass production was set to begin, with $7 billion lost to the cause.

26. Ground Combat Vehicle – $1.5 Billion

The U.S. Army had just sunk $18.1 billion on the Future Combat Systems when it decided to go another direction. And in 2009, the Army launched a new armoured fighting vehicle project called The Ground Combat Vehicle, or GCV. The GCV ultimately met the same fate as its predecessor.

Ground Combat Vehicle

US Army/Wikimedia Commons

The brand new armoured vehicle was canceled almost as quickly as it was launched. After some issues with the technology and management of the system, as well as some particularly high expectations, the program was cancelled in February 2014. By that time, the Army had already spent $1.5 billion on the program within those five years of its existence.

27. Maginot Line – 7 Billion Francs

France was facing a big problem during the World War I. A low birth rate throughout the country had led to a particularly small army, and a small line of defence against German forces. So the military decided to do something big, and construct an impenetrable fortress type border wall to keep the Germans out.

Maginot Line

National Archives and Records Administration/Wikimedia Commons

By the time the entire Maginot Line was constructed, the French had spent about a third of the country’s entire military budget, about 7 billion Francs. And it turned out not to be money well spent, considering that the Germans ultimately attacked France by simply going around the wall. It turns out, the forest near the wall was not well guarded.

28. Albanian Bunkers – A Quarter Of Albania’s Military Budget

Anyone visiting Albania might be struck by the amount of completely abandoned concrete domes that pop up just about everywhere. Starting in 1967, Albanian politician Enver Hoxha was particularly fixated on defending the small nation and ordered bunkers be built throughout Albania.

Albania Bunkers


Soon enough, bunkers were erected everywhere, from open fields to small towns to tourist-filled beaches. 750,000 concrete bunkers were built in total. With a huge housing shortage, and Albania being uninvolved in any conflict at the time, the bunkers seemed like a waste of money. Once Hoxha died, the construction stopped, but not before Albania had used up a huge chunk of their military budget and were left with hundreds of thousands of concrete, abandoned domes.

29. Space Based Infrared System – $1.7 Billion Per Satellite

While the US military has been prone to spend unnecessary money on failed projects on the ground and in the air, the Space Based Infrared System (or SBIS) is proof that it is also capable of shelling out too much money on space programs as well.

Space based infrared system

US Air Force

The SBIS program was a grouping of missile warning satellites, said to be able to register threats using infrared technology. The program was supposed to send data to the Air Force once it received a signal. Unfortunately, in 2018 the Air Force announced that it was cancelling the SBIS program and going in another direction after spending $1.7 billion to develop the system.

30. Transformation SATCOM – $3.2 Billion

In the early 2000s, the US Air Force launched a space based project called the Transformational Satellite Communication System, or TSAT for short. The constellation of five satellites in space was meant to create a global, secure communications network that could be used by the Department of Defense, NASA and the US intelligence community. But that’s not exactly how it all worked out in the end.

Transinformational SATCOM

Air Force/Wikimedia Commons

The project was estimated to cost the Air Force somewhere between $16 billion and $18 billion. The program was later cancelled in 2009 before the Air Force put all of that money into the communications project. But by then, the military had already spent $3.2 billion on development.

Sources: businessinsiderrankermillionairessaying

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