The Most Expensive Technology of the Military
Government budget proposals don’t exactly make for the most scintillating reading. Still, they’re one of the best ways to gain insight into the nation’s priorities after all, the way you spend your money says a lot. In particular, civilians can learn about military operations by reading through the weapons and programs the government plans to invest in.
The 21st century already has earned a reputation for technology revolution and evolution at speeds never before experienced. From human-like robots to self-driving vehicles to smart phones with more capabilities than top-of-the-line computers of the late 20th century, technology has become the driving force for change in society, from entertainment to health care to international relations.
The creation of military weapons tends to involve a fair amount of expertise and experience. For example, while the creation of a primitive spear might seem simple and straightforward to us, it still involved the need to find a suitable stick to serve as the shaft as well as some means of either binding or gluing the spearhead to it. Never mind the complexities involved in chipping a piece of stone until it has a sharp edge without ruining it for use in the process.
As a result, it should come as no surprise to learn that military weapons tend to be relatively expensive, particularly when they are the best of the best. Already, the most advanced military weapons can cost millions if not billions of dollars, which is why they are available to such a small number of military units in such small numbers. In the future, it seems probable that their price tags will rise higher still.
$1.5 Trillion–F-35 Lightning II
The F-35 has become infamous for its ever-rising cost, which is expected to reach an estimated $1.5 trillion over the estimated five-and-a-half decades of its useful lifespan. In part, this is because it has spent more than a decade-and-a-half in a development, thus racking up year after year of development costs. The aircraft descends from the Lockheed Martin X-35, which in 2001 beat the Boeing X-32 to win the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program. Its development is principally funded by the United States, with additional funding from program partner countries from NATO and close U.S. allies, including the United Kingdom, Italy, Australia, Canada, Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands, and formerly Turkey. Several other countries have ordered, or are considering ordering, the aircraft. The program has drawn much scrutiny and criticism for its unprecedented size, complexity, ballooning costs, and much-delayed deliveries. The acquisition strategy of concurrent production of the aircraft while it was still in development and testing led to expensive design changes and retrofits. However, it should be noted that this is because the F-35 is expected to be able to fulfill a number of roles, with examples ranging from the F-35A, which will use standard takeoff and landing, to the F-35B, which will use short takeoff and vertical landing, and the F-35C, which will use takeoff and landing suitable for use on an aircraft carrier. It remains to be seen whether the F-35’s stealth, superior sensors, and supersonic speed will enable it to live up to its reputation as the best fighter, but what is known that a single plane will cost at least $100 million.
$53.2 Billion–Trident II Missile
The Trident II missile sees use in both the U.S. Navy and the British Navy. The Trident II, or D-5, is about 46 feet (14 meters) long and carries multiple independently targeted warheads. It has a maximum range of about 6,500 nautical miles (12,000 km).
The Trident warheads are launched by three solid-fueled booster stages and are dispersed toward their targets by a liquid-fueled “bus” in the missile’s front end. With inertial guidance refined by stellar or satellite navigation, Tridents are more accurate than most land-based ballistic missiles. At the time of their deployment during the Cold War, their accuracy gave them the ability, unprecedented among SLBMs, to threaten hardened missile silos and command bunkers in the Soviet Union, and their extended range allowed their submarines to patrol almost anywhere in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, making detection extremely difficult.
Beginning in 1979, Trident I missiles were fitted aboard older U.S. Poseidon-carrying submarines and newer Ohio-class vessels. The Ohio submarines were built with larger missile tubes designed to accommodate the newer Trident II beginning in 1990. Between 1994 and 1999 the United Kingdom commissioned its Vanguard submarines to carry the Trident II, which was fitted with warheads of British design. The British Trident IIs are reported to carry an average of three 100-kiloton warheads each, while the U.S. missiles are variously reported as carrying four, six, eight, or even more 475-kiloton warheads. The numbers of warheads are subject to budget constraints and (in the case of the United States) arms-control treaties with Russia.
It has never been used, and assuming that things go well, it will never be used because it is armed with nuclear warheads. At one point, a conventional version was proposed, but that never went through because most sensors have serious difficulties distinguishing a nuclear ballistic missile from a conventional ballistic missile. Combined, the two navies have spent $53.2 billion on the missile system so far.
$41.6Billion-Joint Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicle
So far, the Joint Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicle has filled an important role in the U.S. military in exchange for $41.6 billion. Like its name suggests, it is not just bullet-proof but also protected from the explosion of roadside bombs, meaning that it was an important tool in both Afghanistan and Iraq.
MRAP vehicles were designed and fielded through an accelerated acquisition process that employed concurrent production, testing, and fielding in order to meet urgent requirements identified during Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. The vehicles’ V-shaped hull, high ground clearance and high hardened armor make them uniquely qualified for high IED threat operations. The U.S. Marine Corps currently has 2,007 MRAP vehicles, comprising three vehicle platforms: the MRAP All-Terrain Vehicle (M-ATV), the Cougar and the Buffalo.
The Cougar platform consists of Category I and Category II variants. Category I vehicles primarily are intended for operations in the urban combat environment and explosive ordnance disposal (EOD). Category II vehicles are capable of supporting security, convoy escort, troop/cargo transport, medical, armored utility, EOD and combat engineer operations. The Category III Buffalo is a six-wheel, six-passenger vehicle developed to conduct route clearance operations. The M-ATV is designed to operate in rugged terrain and provides better overall mobility characteristics than other MRAP platforms. It supports mounted patrols, reconnaissance, security, convoy protection, data interchange, and command-and-control functions
With that said, it is interesting to note that there is a wide range of such vehicles for a wide range of missions, though all of them share a V-shaped design, which is well-suited for enduring explosions.
$57.8 Billion–V-22 Osprey
People should be able to recognize the V-22 Osprey based on its unmistakable profile, which can be attributed to the fact that it is capable of short takeoffs and landings as well as vertical takeoffs and landings. The V-22 Osprey is a joint-service, medium-lift, multi–mission tilt-rotor aircraft developed by Boeing and Bell Helicopters. Boeing is responsible for the fuselage, landing gear, avionics, electrical and hydraulic systems, performance and flying qualities. Bell Helicopter Textron is responsible for the wing and nacelle, propulsion, rotor, empennage (complete tail system), ramp, over wing fairing and the dynamics. A total of 112 V-22s are currently operated by the US Air Force (USAF) and the US Marine Corps (USMC).
The aircraft operates as a helicopter when taking off and landing vertically. The nacelles rotate 90° forward once airborne, converting the aircraft into a turboprop aircraft.
The aircraft can provide VTOL (vertical take-off and landing) with a payload of 24 troops, or 6,000lb of cargo at 430nm combat range, or VTOL with a payload of 8,300lb of cargo for a range of 220nm.
The helicopter is self-deployable worldwide, with a ferry range over 2,100nm. Normal operating range is up to 1,100nm.
The tilt-rotor aircraft is available in three configurations: the Combat Assault and Assault Support MV-22 for the USMC and the US Army; the long-range special operations CV-22 for US Special Operations Command (US SOCOM); and the US Navy HV-22, for combat search and rescue, special warfare and fleet logistic support.
Combined, these capabilities empower it to operate in a wide range of environments, which is important because it is supposed to be a long-range transport with the best characteristics of both helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft. So far, the V-22 Osprey has cost $57.8 billion.
The next array of weapons to outgun the old and explore new discoveries in science and security are coming from defense contractors, university labs and small tech start-ups with big aims. They serve not so much to amaze war tech geeks but to protect and defend…and win.
Some work in the air, some on the ground or water, and others in space. They reflect the innovation, curiosity and commitment of the world’s best engineers and scientists.
A major recipient of this avalanche of change and one of the principal drivers behind it, is the U.S. military. So what will be the top enabling technologies for the warfighter in the 2020s? Tell us in the comment section what will be the major advances and price tags in unmanned vehicles, artificial intelligence, aircraft, maritime vessels, land vehicles, cyber security and trusted computing, medical technologies.