Top 10 Most Expensive United States Military Projects


The United States Armed Forces are a behemoth spread all over the globe, from Africa to Japan to Cuba. Its current proposed budget for fiscal year 2017 is $603 billion dollars. That is an amount larger than the next 7 largest military budgets in the world combined. It is a budget that is used to fuel not only the current picture of the Armed Forces but about 200 billion dollars for procurement and research and development. Even with all that money, the amount spent on many military projects flabbergasts both politicians and the US public. Many projects make the entire Manhattan Project to develop the atomic bomb, which cost about 27 billion dollars in today’s money, seem modest. With cost overruns and an attitude of accepting nothing but the best, we thought it would be interesting to take a look at these normally cost prohibitive programs in this episode of The Infographics Show: Top 10 Most Expensive US Military Projects.

Number 10: The Littoral Combat Ship

The United States Navy Littoral Combat Ship program was meant to develop a vessel to replace aging and more specialized ships that operate near shorelines such as minesweepers and assault ships. Despite former Secretary of the Navy Gordan England’s claim that the ship was supposed to be a “relatively inexpensive” member of the United States Navy Destroyer family, the cost of the program has now passed $37.4 billion dollars. All that for a ship a Department of Defense report found should not be expected to survive in a hostile combat environment nor could the ship successfully complete US Navy full shock trials. The Navy itself has admitted that despite the cost and delays, the ship has only “very modest” combat abilities.

Number 9: UGM-133 Trident II

The UGM-133 Trident II is the nuclear equipped missile program that is deployed on US ballistic missile submarines to make up the United States Navy’s arm of the nuclear triad. Deployed in 1990 to replace the Trident C-4 missile, the Trident II has much greater range and accuracy than its predecessor. The cost of this greater range and accuracy is $40.6 billion dollars. The missile is able to travel at approximately 18,000 miles per hour, or 24 times the speed of sound, and carry a nuclear payload of up to 14 thermonuclear warheads per missile.

Number 8: CVN-78 Aircraft Carrier

The CVN-78 Aircraft Carrier, or the Ford Class Carrier after the lead ship of the class, is currently in production to replace the Nimitz Class aircraft carrier. So far the lead ship USS Gerald R. Ford and the USS Theodore Roosevelt have launched in a program expected to cost $42.5 billion dollars. The Navy would argue it is getting a bang for its buck in its replacement of the Nimitz class which launched in 1970. The Ford class can carry up to 90 aircraft and sail for 90 days without being resupplied. Each ship in the class is expected to have a service life of 50 years and act as a key part in power projection for the United States military around the world.

Number 7: Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet

The F/A-18 Super Hornet carrier based multirole fighter was the United States Navy’s replacement for the F-14 Tomcat, now serving alongside its brother, the F/A-18 Hornet in serving on today’s Nimitz and Ford class aircraft carriers. The total program costs reached $51 billion dollars, costing twice as much per aircraft as the F/A-18 Hornet. For the doubling of cost, the Navy did get several upgrades. The airframe is slightly larger but also uses fewer parts, increasing the simplicity of the design while improving the aerodynamic effectiveness of the place. The internal fuel capacity was also increased by 33%, which expanded mission range by 41%, and the Super Hornet receives a suite of new and improved electronics systems.

Number 6: Boeing KC-46

The Boeing KC-46 Pegasus is an air refueling tanker and transport aircraft for the United States Air Force. Based off of Boeing’s 767 Airliner, the first of the new aircraft was expected to be deployed in 2016 with the first full batch of 18 combat ready planes expected to be delivered by early 2018. The KC-46 is being used to replace the quickly aging KC-135 Stratotanker. The program cost has entered $52 billion dollars but does have notable advantages in both Cargo and Aeromedical evacuation capabilities over the KC-135.

Number 5: Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey

The Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey has its origins in the failure of Operation Eagle Claw during the Iran Hostage Crisis of 1980 where the United States Armed Forces decided it needed an aircraft that could carry troops long distances quickly while having the functionality of a helicopter. Fast forward 27 years to 2007 when the V-22 Osprey was officially deployed by the United States Marine Corps followed by the United States Air Force. The program was for a long time the poster child of cost overruns and efficiency eventually costing $53.5 billion dollars. This despite being repeatedly noted that regular helicopters could be had with the same capabilities for half of the cost.

Number 4: DDG-51 Guided Missile Destroyer

In production since the 1980s, the DDG-51 Arleigh Burke Class Guided Missile Destroyer was developed as a multirole destroyer to utilize many new combat systems developed shortly before, including the Aegis defense system and the Tomahawk cruise missile. After the first ship of the class was officially commissioned in 1991 it has become the only destroyer in the United States Navy. Despite being in service 26 years, the Navy is planning on purchasing a third group of the Arleigh Burke Class, running program costs up to $87.3 billion dollars with more spending in the future. That makes the Arleigh Burke Destroyers one of the most expensive and longest running programs in United States Military history.

Number 3: Columbia Class Ballistic Missile Submarine

The Columbia Class of Ballistic Missile Submarine is in development as the replacement home to the United States Navy Submarine Based Nuclear Missiles from the current Ohio Class Submarine. The first Columbia Class Submarine is expected to launch in 2031, exactly 50 years after the first of the Ohio Class Submarines launched. The Columbia Class will have 16 missile tubes and will never need to be refueled during its expected 42-year service life. The Government Accountability Office released a report expecting the total acquisition cost of the Class to be $100.2 billion dollars and expect it would be another over $100 million dollars per year per submarine in maintenance.

Number 2: Ballistic Missile Defense System

The Ballistic Missile Defense System is a sprawling program geared towards stopping incoming missiles including detection all of the way through interceptors. This program includes the Patriot Missile Defense System currently deployed in Israel and the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system, better known as THAAD, that is currently being deployed to South Korea. Although it originated in President Ronald Reagan’s Star Wars, the program is still technically in the development stage and may one day include space-based and laser defense systems. So far, the program has cost $126.2 billion dollars, and it is currently unknown just how much farther it can go.

Number 1: F-35 Lightning II

The F-35 Lightning II is the new fifth-generation stealth fighter being acquired by the United States Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps along with many of our allies and it is quickly gaining a reputation. And not for their performance in the aerial exercise named Red Flag, where the F-35 racked up a 20 to 1 kill/death ratio. No, the F-35 has blown by the V-22 Osprey as the poster child of ridiculous costs and cost overruns. The F-35 Lightning II is projected to cost nothing short of an astronomical $1.5 trillion dollars. That’s right, a single weapons program is expected to cost well over every other program on this list combined. A cost so bad Bloomberg has called it the trillion dollar mistake, although almost everyone acknowledges the program has gotten so big both economically and politically, it cannot be allowed to fail. If you want to see a comparison of the American F-35 and the Russian Su-35, tap the video on your screen.

Do you think the US is justified in spending such exorbitant amounts of money on military projects? Tell us why or why not in the comments below!