Today we’re going to look at five of the biggest flops in U.S. military history. These things were wastes of time and money, and in some cases lives, too. On the other hand, we have nuclear submarines and ICBMs and the Internet, so yeah, sometimes they get things right, too
5 Expeditionary Combat Support System
And our last wildly expensive failure comes to us courtesy of the USAF. The Expeditionary Combat Support System (ECSS) was to replace dozens and dozens of disparate hardware and software systems the Air Force was using all around the world, providing it with a unified system. Good idea! It would be faster and safer for the AF to communicate with itself all around the globe! Except that the program totally failed, and experts admitted that after almost a decade gone and more than a billion bucks wasted, that it had “no significant military capability.”
4 Joint Tactical Radio System
Got six billion bucks to waste over a decade and a half on a single failed project? Hey, you must be the military! The Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS) was meant to be a highly adaptable, extremely encrypted radio that could be used by all branches of the armed services and under myriad conditions, but instead it turned out to be a classic example of “Too many cooks in the kitchen” and never worked properly for any of the military branches.
The X-51 ScramJet is the fastest way to waste hundreds of millions ever! Seriously, no sarcasm: this goddamn banshee can fly at up 7,000+ miles per hour! And it would have flown that fast many times, too, had most of the test flights not ended in crashes. Working with Boeing on the X-51 project, the D.O.D. has spent well over a quarter billion dollars on a test aircraft that seems to have the primary attribute of crashing at very high velocity. The last test was in the summer of 2012, and we hope they’ll leave there, though there is one more test planned for this year.
2 Flying Soldiers
The Flying Soldier… never really took flight. Military-minded science-types have been trying to create a viable jetpack-type device for generations. Indeed, if a device could be created that would have a soldier flying through the air using a totally self-contained propulsion and guidance system with enough fuel to last more than a minute or two, the army with said system would kick some serious behind. The problem is we aren’t there yet. Not by a longshot. And we certainly weren’t there in the 40s, 50s, and 60s—the “golden age” of experimentation with this concept. From the WWII era German Himmelstürmer to the American work on the Jump Belt, Aeropack, Rocket Belt and beyond, even when these projects got off the ground (without killing or injuring their test “pilots”) they never flew more than a few hundred feet at best and were big, bulky and extremely expensive.
1 The Strategic Defense Initiative
Aka Star Wars, aka This Program Wasted Billions of Dollars Over Many Years and Achieved Next to Nothing. The SDI program was the brainchild of the Reagan Administration, and was first announced in March of 1983. The plan was simple, except actually the exact opposite of simple: use space-based satellite-mounted weapons to shoot down missiles bound for the United States and its allies. Over much of the next two decades, very smart people tried a lot of fascinating things, from experimenting with lasers to rail guns to kinetic attack blobs (look it up) that all succeeded in wasting money, but did not succeed in creating a system that could shoot down Soviet missiles. Fortunately, there was also that whole “diplomacy” thing, with a side dish of the USSR being a paper tiger by the 80s anyway.