There are a lot of valid criticisms of most weapon programs while they’re in development, but some get hit with the dreaded title of “boondoggle,” a massive waste of taxpayer funds that should be canceled. But some boondoggles prove the naysayers wrong and go on to have successful careers protecting U.S. troops and killing enemies. Here are 5 of the weapons that ascended:
Abrams tanks roll down Norwegian streets
(U.S. Army Sgt. Williams Quinteros)
M1 Abrams tank
The M1 Abrams was famously seen as a failing, expensive program in its early days. It was an heir to two failed tank programs, the MBT-70, and the XM803. Both programs cost billions but failed to produce a suitable weapon, largely because they were too complex and didn’t quite work. So, when the Army pursued a turbine-powered tank with the XM1 program, there were a lot of naysayers.
And the initial prototypes kept the laughter going. The Abrams was massive and heavy and burned through fuel, and many thought it was clear that the Army had made another misstep. But then the Abrams went to its first war game and devastated more conventional tanks. Then Desert Storm came and 2,000 Abrams tanks slammed their way through Iraqi forces with losses of only 18 tanks and zero lost crews.
Kadena F-15C Eagle takes off like the glorious beast she is…
(U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Matthew Seefeldt)
The F-15 was a response to the Air War over Vietnam where multi-role F-4s were struggling against older MiGs. The Air Force decided they needed a dedicated air superiority fighter once again. But the program was expensive, leading to the press and Congress saying the service was buying too many of an overpriced, overly complex aircraft when they could just buy Navy F-14s instead.
But the F-15 has a legendary combat history with 104 enemy shootdowns for only two combat losses, both to ground fire. No enemy force has been able to prove an air-to-air victory over the F-15 (though some have claimed it).
An F-14D Tomcat flies during Operation Enduring Freedom in 2001. The plane was retired in 2006.
(U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Michael D. Gaddis)
But back to the F-14, the Tomcat was designed to defend carrier fleets and beat out other planes during a fly-off before the Navy picked it. But during development, test pilots encountered multiple stalls in the plane and had to eject multiple times. In order to sidestep criticism, especially from then-Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, the Navy rushed the fighter into production. It came under fire again in 1989 as Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney tried to cut purchases to save other programs.
But the F-14 ended up proving itself in U.S. service over Libya, Iraq, Bosnia, and Afghanistan, but it really dominated in Iranian service back when they were a U.S. ally. In all, the F-14 is thought to have a 164-to-1 record of air-to-air kills and losses. The number is a little soft, though, since it takes data from multiple services including Iran.F/A-18 Cleaning
(U.S. Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Donell Bryant)
Yeah, there are a lot of planes on the list. And the F-18 was the Navy’s answer to the high and rising costs of the F-14. Congress told it to find a cheaper plane to fill some slots that would otherwise require the F-14, but then the cost of the F-18 program ballooned from billion to billion despite the F-18 having less range, speed, and ordnance carrying capability.
The F-18 would prove itself though, later leading the Navy to brag that it had broken “all records for tactical aircraft in availability, reliability and maintainability.” During Desert Storm, individual planes could shoot down Iraqi jets and take out ground targets on the same mission. It was the Navy’s primary air combatant for decades.
The B-1B Lancer
(U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Emily Copeland)
The B-1 Bomber bucked the trend of bomber design in the late 1960s. Most were focused on faster, higher-flying bombers that could fly over enemy air defenses and outrun fighter taking off for intercepts. But the B-1 was envisioned as a low-flying bomber that would maneuver through air defenses instead. But the costly development was controversial, and the B-1 bomber was canceled in 1977.
But Reagan revived the program in 1981, and the requirements of the plane were changed, slowing it to Mach 1.2 and increasing the required payload. The production B-1B debuted in 1984 and “holds almost 50 world records for speed, payload, range, and time of climb in its class,” according to Airman Magazine. It has flown over Yugoslavia, Iraq, and Afghanistan, and accounts for 40 percent or more of bombs dropped during some periods of conflict in those countries.