The Most Wasteful And Expensive Military Programs In History


| LAST UPDATE 08/15/2022

By Xander Sharpe

The USA has a military budget of $693 billion, which seems like a mindblowing amount. But it’s not surprising to know that some of it is wasted. Here are the biggest money pits in global military history.

Advanced SEAL Delivery System – $600 Million

The Advanced SEAL Delivery System was set up to provide Navy SEALS with stealth submarine transportation. The U.S. Navy and Special Operations Command banded together to make this system, which was built with the express purpose of performing secret special missions.

Advanced SEAL Delivery SystemAdvanced SEAL Delivery System
U.S. Navy via Wikimedia Commons

The cost of the six "midget" submarines eventually reached $885 million, a stunning amount when you consider that the initial budget had only been $70 million (according to the Government Accountability Office). The build was eventually canned after the completion of just one submarine, which cost as much as $600 million alone.

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

The history of the Rockwell B-1 Lancer is a shaky one, starting its life in the 1960s as a planned calculated bomber. However, the build was delayed due to skyrocketing costs and other organizational problems, and by 1977 plans were officially canceled.

Rockwell B-1 Lancer MilitaryRockwell B-1 Lancer Military
Ethan Miller / Staff via Getty Images

It was just 4 years later when then-president Ronald Reagan revitalized the plans. Yet, it took another 17 years before the bomber fleet was completed. Finally, all 100 bombers were launched in 1998, during the Gulf War. After over three decades, and at $283.1 million per plane, the B-1 Lancer finally saw action.

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Missile-X – $25 Billion

The Missile-X (or LGM-118A Peacekeeper) program first began in the 1970s and was the first intercontinental ballistic missile to utilize the Cold Launch System. The purpose of the M-X was to stand against a potential Soviet invasion, both by combatting and deterring any attack.

expensive military programs wastedexpensive military programs wasted
U.S. Air Force via Wikimedia Commons

However, as with many military projects, the M-X had to be put on hold multiple times over the years, mainly because of exponential costs and insufficient holdings for missiles. By 2003, all 114 missiles were decommissioned after cost ran as high as $25 billion.

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Project Nike – $20 Billion

Project Nike will certainly go down in history. It was a plan for the U.S. Army to build missile batteries across the U.S., with the intention of shooting down any Soviet aircraft. It's safe to say that the Cold War took up a lot of the military's time (and money).

Project Nike Military ProgramProject Nike Military Program
U.S. Army via Wikimedia Commons

And when the Soviets announced the ICBM, Project Nike seemed a little redundant. By 1974 plans for the project were finally terminated, and not a single missile was ever fired at any Soviet Forces. Considering that no missile ever got off the ground, $20 billion seems like a steep bill for Project Nike.

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Airbus A400M Atlas – $10 Billion

The Airbus A400M Atlas was built by the Organization for Joint Armament Cooperation with the purpose of substituting air force fliers in Europe. This transport aircraft was being built on behalf of various EU countries, including France, the UK, Spain, Germany, Italy, and more.

Military Airbus A400M AtlasMilitary Airbus A400M Atlas
Tim Felce (Airwolfhound) via Wikimedia Commons

But many of the nations involved in the build were skeptical of the Airbus due to its exorbitant $10 billion budget and what was reported to be a series of technical problems. So instead, some governments opted to buy prebuilt cargo planes. However, the first completed aircraft was delivered to the French Air Force in 2013.

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Atlantic Wall – $200 Billion

The Atlantic Wall may have been a colossal waste of military funds, but it did play its part in ending one of the worst wars in history. This wall was originally built as a fortification against Allied Forces, paid for by Nazi Germany, and completed in 1944.

Atlantic Wall Military WasteAtlantic Wall Military Waste
Supercarwaar via Wikimedia Commons

As expected, Allied Forces stormed the wall very soon after completion, and it was breached with ease. Costs ballooned to roughly $200 billion (equivalent to 2020 money), and it is reported that more than a million workers were employed to build it, only for it to fall hours later.

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Boeing YAL-1 Airborne Laser – $5.2 Billion

The Airborne Laser program was first discussed in 1996 by the U.S. Air Force, with the idea that they would take a Boeing 747-400F and mount it with a low-power laser! It was a very science-fiction-esque idea, and as you might have figured out from the topic of this list, it didn't last long.

Boeing YAL-1 Airborne LaserBoeing YAL-1 Airborne Laser
U.S. Missile Defense Agency via Wikimedia Commons

The Boeing was dubbed 'YAL-1' and was tested extensively in 2010. However, the Secretary of Defense soon began to question the usefulness of such a device, and the Airborne Laser program was scrapped after 15 years of work, and a whopping $5.2 billion had been poured into it.

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VH-71 Presidential Helicopter – $4.4 Billion

When the U.S. Marine Corps realized they needed a replacement for their U.S. Presidential transport fleet, they devised a plan to build the Lockheed Martin VH-71 Kestrel. There was a competition held for the best helicopter design, and the Lockheed won!

VH-71 Presidential HelicopterVH-71 Presidential Helicopter
U.S. Marines via Wikimedia Commons

They planned to build 28 helicopters, but the project was officially paused by President Obama and his Secretary of Defense. Soon after, the contract was scrapped. Though the build was slated to cost $1.7 billion initially, $4.4 billion was used on the project before it was canceled.

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Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle – $3 Billion

The Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle was built for the United States Marine Corps and was originally branded as the Advanced Amphibious Assault Vehicle if that wasn't on the nose enough. However, this impressive-looking tank-like ship was intended to be launched from a larger ship while transporting rifle squads.

Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle MilitaryExpeditionary Fighting Vehicle Military
U.S. Marines via Wikimedia Commons

The Marine Corps was devising new strategies for military combat that might occur or begin in the ocean, known as the "Over the horizon" strategy. Costs were estimated at $15 billion by 2015, but the EFV never got that far - plans were binned by Robert Gates, the U.S. Secretary of Defense, in 2011.

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XM2001 Crusader Self-Propelled Howitzer – $11 Billion

Another replacement plan, the XM2001 Crusader Self-Propelled Howitzer, was designed with the intention of replacing two military machines: the M109A6 Paladin and the M992 Field Artillery Ammunition Support Vehicle. The idea was that it would mix the best elements of both into one vehicle.

XM2001 Crusader Howitzer TankXM2001 Crusader Howitzer Tank
Mulad / U.S. Army via Wikimedia Commons

Perhaps its most lauded feature was its 'cooled' cannon. But it also came with composite armor and ammunition. But once again, this elaborate plan was canned by the Secretary of Defense before the build could be completed. Costs were projected at $11 billion.

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Northrop Grumman E-10 Multi-Sensor Command and Control Aircraft – $1.9 Billion

The purpose of the Northrop Grumman E-10 Multi-Sensor Command and Control Aircraft (MC2A) was initially to be a combat control center that was entirely in the air. Search radars on the MC2A would be combined with ground radars to provide the perfect command base for all forces.

Northrop Grumman E-10 MC2ANorthrop Grumman E-10 MC2A
Tomás Del Coro via Wikimedia Commons

Within three years of building, a request was made for a new budget. But this monetary increase and mounting pressure on the Air Force team leading the development meant that the MC2A was unsurprisingly canceled. Roughly $1.9 billion was lost from the military budget due to the project.

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Zumwalt-Class Destroyer – Earmarked at $22.5 Billion

This guided Navy missile destroyer was meant to be built as a part of the Long Range Land Attack Projectile ammunition (LRLAP), which was canceled while the Zumwalt-class Destroyer was still being constructed. These stealth ships were then seen as redundant, and well, we’re sure you know what came next...

Zumwalt-Class Destroyer LRLAPZumwalt-Class Destroyer LRLAP
U.S. Navy via Wikimedia Commons

First, Navy officials attempted to use them for surface warfare, but this soon failed. Things were looking bad enough that the Nation Review dubbed the Zumwalt "An unmitigated disaster." Only 2 out of 32 planned ships were produced, costing more than $3 billion per ship. The entire program cost $22.5 billion.

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Next-Generation Bomber – $100 Million

With a name like the Next-Generation Bomber, you can be sure people were expecting big things from the U.S. Air Force's newest plan, intended to be a solution for their former bomber fleet. It was only a temporary fill-in for the 2037 Bomber, but you can be sure costs ran high regardless.

Air Force Next-Generation BomberAir Force Next-Generation Bomber
U.S. Air Force / Gary Ell via Wikimedia Commons

This was going to be a medium-range bomber, but before the Next-Generation Bomber could be completed, a new plan was drafted for a long-range strike bomber, and the project had to be scratched. But, of course, by that point, the Air Force had already dedicated $0.1 billion to the build.

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Lockheed Martin F-35 – $1.5 Trillion

In 1996 the U.S. Air Force commandeered a plan to replace virtually all of their fighter jets with a collection of stealth combat fighter planes, a fleet known as the Lockheed Martin F-35. There were 2,633 planes commissioned for the Army, Marine Corps, and Navy.

Lockheed Martin F-35 MilitaryLockheed Martin F-35 Military
Larry Marano/Shutterstock via Shutterstock

The program was once described as "Too big to kill," and despite its fair share of critics and technical problems, the F-35 has not been canceled just yet. Production costs have skyrocketed to $1.5 trillion, but the first models of the F-35 entered service with the Marine Corps in July 2015 and with the U.S. Air Force in 2016.

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TCOM Blue Devil Airship – $211 Million

The TCOM Blue Devil was a conspicuous-looking blimp, or airship, built to act as reconnaissance during the Afghan War. The U.S. Airforce planned to use it for stealth missions and even fitted out the TCOM Airship with dozens of sensors of varying kinds.

TCOM Blue Devil AirshipTCOM Blue Devil Airship
David Axe via Flickr

These sensors constituted a "Wide-area airborne surveillance system," including video cameras, communication equipment, and expert hearing devices that could be used over miles. Unsurprisingly, the Blue Devil was an incredibly complicated project, and the $211 million airships were eventually relegated to storage.

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Strategic Defense Initiative – Earmarked at $100-150 Billion

The Strategic Defense Initiative was intended to defend the U.S. against nuclear attack during the 1980s. It was declared by President Ronald Reagen, who believed that nuclear warfare was a "suicide pact." This initiative worked towards dismantling nuclear armament around the world.

Strategic Defense Initiative ProgramStrategic Defense Initiative Program
Cliff / U.S. Army via Wikimedia Commons

A series of lasers and satellites made up the Strategic Defense Initiative, which was believed to be able to stop a nuclear attack before it reached its target. Researchers spent years trying to establish such a system, but all for naught. The program was canceled after $100-150 billion was what turned out to be wasted.

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Bell ARH-70 Arapaho – $500 Million

The U.S. Army made the unusual choice to try and save money by updating their attack helicopters rather than replacing them. This was after their initial replacement plan, RAH-66 Comanche Helicopter, had tanked. But the Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter program, as the update was called, did not work out either.

Bell ARH-70 Arapaho ArmyBell ARH-70 Arapaho Army
Mollie Miller via Wikimedia Commons

And so they set out with a new plan of four attack helicopter prototypes, known as the Bell ARH-70 Arapaho. Unfortunately, during the first test flight, one of the prototypes lost engine power. As a result, the whole program was brought to a close, with "only" $0.5 billion wasted.

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Lockheed Martin Aerial Common Sensor – Up to $7 Billion

This reconnaissance aircraft airframe, known as The Aerial Common Sensor (ACS), was built for the U.S. Army and Navy and had several important military functions, including detecting troop movements, blocking enemy communication, and communicating with other aircraft.

Lockheed Martin ACS MilitaryLockheed Martin ACS Military
Trevor Hannant via Wikimedia Commons

The plan was to build 53 ACS - 34 for the Army and 19 for the Navy. Though the initial contract was set at $79 million, costs were estimated to go as high as $879 million. As it would turn out, both numbers were far from the truth… the ACS was canned in 2006 after more than $7 billion had been sunk into the project.

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CG(X) Next Generation Cruiser – $200 Million

This special program, known as the CG(X) Next Generation Cruiser, was intended to be a destroyer that could defend any carrier strike group of ships on the water. The idea was born not long after the end of the Cold War, in the early 90s, and was estimated to cost $3.2 billion for 19 Next Generation Cruisers.

CG(X) Next Generation CruiserCG(X) Next Generation Cruiser
JAMES COLLINS / U.S. Navy via Wikimedia Commons

The ships were expected to enter service by 2017, but as you've probably already guessed, it didn't turn out that way. And, after $200 million worth of development had been done, not one unit was completed, and the project was officially ended in 2010.

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CSAR-X Combat Rescue Helicopter – $200 Million

Back in 1999, it was decided that the U.S.Air Force needed better helicopters - machines that were faster, more spacious, and with better range than what they had. Three years later, an extensive study was done, and 141 aircraft were planned for and funded by the U.S. government.

CSAR-X Combat Rescue HelicopterCSAR-X Combat Rescue Helicopter
Staff Sgt. James L. Harper Jr. via Wikimedia Commons

So the CSAR-X program began, as it was named in 2005. The contract was awarded to the Boeing HH-47 Chinook, but it was canceled after prompting outrage from other competitors. It briefly picked up again in 2007 before a second cancelation. By 2011 almost nothing had been done, yet over $200 million had been spent. Yikes!

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Army Combat Uniform – $5 Billion

This one's quite unique - not only because it's the first example of a uniform on this list, but because it's hard to imagine a uniform costing BILLIONS of dollars! Why was the 2004 Army Combat Uniform so expensive? Apparently, the redesign consisted of an innovative camouflage pattern that could be effectively used anywhere.

U.S. Army Combat UniformU.S. Army Combat Uniform
Artanis / U.S. Army via Wikimedia Commons

But as it turned out, regardless of how effective the camouflage was, the style certainty wasn't. The redesign proved to be disliked by most soldiers, who began abandoning their new uniform in droves. A new uniform was commissioned, an overall $5 billion was spent on the rehauling.

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Agent Orange Vietnam – At Least $211 Million

The use of Agent Orange has to be one of the biggest mistakes in U.S. military history. And not just because of the devastation it wreaked on thousands of people during the Vietnam War, but because of the costs it incurred years later. So it's safe to say; this herbicide should have been left on the shelf.

Agent Orange Vietnam PlaneAgent Orange Vietnam Plane
Staff Sgt. Daryl McKamey / U.S. Air Force via Wikimedia Commons

Because of the damaging health effects inflicted on various soldiers and civilians, the government was hit with a class-action lawsuit, paying over $180 million in compensation to these people. In addition, an extra $30 million was added to the bill for a clean-up project, and by 1971 use of the chemical was outlawed.

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Future Combat Systems – $18.1 Billion

The Future Combat System was an expansive project that aimed to establish a new fleet of vehicles for the U.S. Army back in 1995. At the time, it was named the "Most ambitious and far-reaching modernization" program that the military had taken on since World War II.

Future Combat Systems VehiclesFuture Combat Systems Vehicles
U.S. Army via Wikimedia Commons

Little progress was made over the years as costs mounted up and plans were delayed. Just over a decade into it, the FCS was estimated to cost a jaw-dropping $340 billion by the time it would be finished in 2030. It would almost be a relief that they shut down development in 2009 if they hadn't already used up $18.1 billion.

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M247 Sergeant York – $6 Billion

The M247 Sergeant York was designed to be an anti-aircraft gun, built with top-of-the-line technology. It was named by a lauded WWI hero known as Sergeant Alvin York and was modeled after the M48 Patton tank, also named by another war hero, General George S. Patton.

M247 Sergeant York TankM247 Sergeant York Tank
Jollyroger via Wikimedia Commons

The York was meant to latch onto any airborne target and fire within seconds, but unfortunately, plans never got that far. The team working on it experienced multiple technical problems before being made redundant by more sophisticated Soviet military designs. The M247 Sergeant York was canceled after $6 billion had been used.

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

When the U.S. Army looked at their helicopter fleet in the 80s, they knew their inventory needed a refresh. That's where the Boeing-Sikorsky RAH-66 Comanche came in. This reconnaissance and attack helicopter seemed an excellent replacement until the Government Accountability Office began casting "serious doubts" on the program.

Boeing-Sikorsky RAH-66 ComancheBoeing-Sikorsky RAH-66 Comanche
Harald Hansen via Wikimedia Commons

Between 1996 and 2004, the first prototypes of the helicopter were tested extensively and were built to carry missiles, rockets, and a rotary cannon. Despite its potential, the program was canned before any of the models could see action (or even take flight). It cost over $7 billion.

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Ground Combat Vehicle – $1.5 Billion

After the failure of the Future Combat System, the U.S. Army began making new plans. After all, spending money seems to be the military's favorite pastime. So in 2009, plans for an armored vehicle were started. The vehicle was dubbed The Ground Combat Vehicle.

Ground Combat Vehicle ArmyGround Combat Vehicle Army
Schierbecker / U.S. Army via Wikimedia Commons

Unsurprisingly, the GCV went the same way as the FCS. System management issues and technical problems were recurring, seemingly without end. Eventually, the program was called off in 2014. The military had sunk $1.5 billion into the GCV over just 5 years.

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Maginot Line – 7 Billion Francs

Back in WWI, France's exceptionally low birthrate left the country with a concerningly small army. So when Germany began to invade their borders, they found themselves struggling to keep the enemy out. They realized that they needed proper fortification, and quickly.

Military Program Maginot LineMilitary Program Maginot Line
Dietrich Krieger via Wikimedia Commons

That's where the Maginot Line came in, a concrete fortification that was impervious to most kinds of attack. Almost an entire third of the nation's military budget was funneled into the project, which is unfortunate considering that the Germans invaded simply by circumnavigating the wall and entering through a poorly-guarded forest nearby.

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Albanian Bunkers – A Quarter Of Albania’s Military Budget

These strange domes nestled into the Albanian countryside almost look like they could be turned into small houses. At least it would stop them from going to waste. They were ordered back in the 1960s by a politician called Enver Hoxha, who was obsessed with protecting the country from attack.

Albania Albanian Bunkers ProgramAlbania Albanian Bunkers Program
Flickr upload bot / Arben77 via Flickr

And so these concrete bunkers were built along the countryside and in small towns (and even many popular beaches!) of Albania. After Hoxha's death, his plans were finally halted. Thus, more than 750,000 bunkers were built, costing roughly a quarter of the country's military budget.

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Space-Based Infrared System – $1.7 Billion Per Satellite

If you think the U.S. military couldn't waste any more money on land or sea, it turns out they've found another place to do it - in space. The Space-Based Infrared System (SBIS) is evidence enough that the miscalculated ambitions of humanity know no bounds.

Space-Based Infrared SystemSpace-Based Infrared System
U.S. Air Force via Wikimedia Commons

These satellites were built to send missile warnings to earth and had built-in infrared technology that could intercept these threats before signaling the Air Force. But by 2018, the program was shut down by the Air Force after $1.7 million was spent on the SBIS.

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Transformation SATCOM – $3.2 Billion

The Transformational Satellite Communication System (TSAT) was officially launched in the early 2000s. This space project was created by the U.S. Air Force to build a communication network between NASA, the Department of Defence, and U.S. intelligence.

Transformational Satellite Communication SystemTransformational Satellite Communication System
USAF (Los Angeles AFB) via Wikimedia Commons

Overall costs for the TSAT were projected at $16-18 billion, and everything was set to go ahead. But like so many other programs of its kind, it was quickly canceled. Thankfully the entire budget had not been sunk into development, and costs only ran as high as $3.2 billion.

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