As the U.S. government stumbles from one budget crisis to the next, defense officials have been searching for ways to make due with less money while minimizing any impact this will have on combat readiness. Cutting expensive weapons programs is one of the ways the armed services have tightened their belt in the past, but that doesn’t mean they have given up on all the big-ticket items. For example, the Air Force still expects to spend many billions of dollars on a replacement for the B-2 Stealth Bomber and is quietly testing a prototype spaceplane. Still, meeting budget sometimes means the military has to cancel weapon systems it would love to add to its arsenal, as these five examples illustrate.
5. Objective Individual Combat Weapon
Pentagon officials conceived of the OICW as a family of weapons with variations that could replace the M16 rifle, M249 machine gun and the M9 handgun. The various models were to be phased in over time, and combat field-testing would be used to identify and address issues as quickly as possible. However, numerous delays and budget overruns posed a problem and the program was canceled in 2005. The notable survivor of the cuts, the XM25 grenade launcher, is undergoing evaluation in Afghanistan. It’s become quite popular with soldiers, earning the nickname “The Punisher”; it was pulled from service, however, in February 2013 after a soldier suffered injuries using it in a training exercise.
While the M16 is a good weapon, since its design in the 1950s there have been many advances in materials and designs of combat rifles. Even with the budgetary pressures the Pentagon faces it does not seem unreasonable that it could find some money for a relatively small-ticket item like a new rifle. The U.S. Special Operations and Command has provided several new rifles to its operators with some positive feedback, but none of these have made it into the hands of other combat units.
4. SLAMRAAM Antiaircraft System
It’s hard to imagine a weapon with a more unwieldy name than the SLAMRAAM, or Surface-Launched Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile. Some defense analysts found it even harder to imagine why the U.S. Army would need to spend billions of dollars on a new short-range antiaircraft missile when the U.S. had dominated airspace in combat action since World War II. Development of the SLAMRAAM — which is basically an antiaircraft missile system mounted on a Humvee — began in the late 1990s, and the U.S. government spent more than $3 billion on development of this Raytheon system before canceling the program in 2011 in a budget move. The Army and the Marines both employ shoulder-fired antiaircraft missiles like the Stinger. This man-portable and much cheaper system has proven its worth going back to the 1980s when Afghan rebels used them to shoot down Soviet attack helicopters.
3. Boeing-Sikorsky RAH-66 Comanche Helicopter
This stealth helicopter showed great promise in the development stage and the Pentagon spent $6.9 billion over two decades before canceling the program in 2004. Although U.S. helicopter models such as the Kiowa scout, Apache attack and Chinook cargo are aging, they have been regularly upgraded to extend their service lives for decades. With the military pivoting away from major battles to focus on smaller-scale, asymmetric warfare, an expensive scout helicopter was no longer a priority given budget concerns. Now that other aircraft like the V-22 Osprey tilt rotor and the Predator drone are available for service there is even less of a rationale for developing a new and expensive helicopter.
By the way, the V-22 Osprey goes to show that when the military cancels a program, it’s not always forever. The Osprey was targeted for elimination in the early 1990s before being brought back to fly another day and now flies with the Air Force and Marine Corps.
2. XM2001 Crusader
Besides being a howitzer program in an era of high-tech air power and laser-guided munitions, the name “Crusader” must have seemed like an unfortunate choice to politically correct bureaucrats in an era of fighting militant Islamists. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld dropped the $11 billion program in 2002, deciding that the cannon was not mobile or accurate enough and would not be very well suited for theaters of operation like the rugged terrain in Afghanistan. The Pentagon’s transformation program instituted in 2001 under Rumsfeld put a premium on information technology and lighter, more deployable forms of firepower over more traditional weapon systems like the Crusader.
1. Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle
The Marine Corps’ amphibious assault on Inchon during the Korean War is regarded as one of the greatest amphibious attacks in military history. But modern missile defense systems have rendered large-scale amphibious assaults against a defended beach mostly obsolete. Nevertheless, the Marine Corps had high hopes for a new landing craft to replace its aging amphibious troop carrier. But U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates killed the Marine Corps’ Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle in 2011, after $3 billion had already been spent on development, with another $12 billion needed to fully implement the program. As Gates noted when he dropped the EFV, it promised to be an “enormously capable vehicle,” but “if fully executed, the EFV … would essentially swallow the entire Marine vehicle budget and most of its total procurement budget for the foreseeable future.”