Top 11 RMA Gaffes

The hypothetical Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) stood as a pivotal theory from the 1970s through the 90’s which prophesied a new dawn in defense technology that was thought to usher in an age of international order. The RMA highlighted the evolution of weapons technology, information technology, military organization, and military doctrine. A sort of Manifest Destiny of modern warfare and the Magna Carta of the modern defense industry. Originally theorized as the Military Technology Revolution (MTR) in the 1970s by Nikolai Ogarkov, Marshal of the USSR, the mission was simply to prompt a technological race to control the ground, the seas, and even space. While the RMA has generally been praised for its ability to reduce casualty rates and facilitate intelligence gathering, there were expensively botched programs and even more expensive non-starters. All of which will be covered here.


11. CG(X)

Known as the Next-Generation Cruiser in the early 1990s, the CG(X) was part of the Navy’s Surface Combatant for the 21st Century program. Unfortunately, budget cuts resulted in the program being split up in 2001 with the destroyer-variant being renamed the DD(X) and then the Zumwalt-class of destroyers. The ship was never built, but not before spending more than $200 Mn in development costs.

USS Zumwalt sailing in 2016.

10. Kinetic Energy Interceptor (KEI)

A key component of boost-phase missile defense, the KEI was a part of the emerging Missile Defense Agency’s (MDA) architecture at the turn of the century. However, it was done in by cost growth resulting from MDA’s expanded scope, to include mid-course and terminal phase missions as well as the KEI’s inability to fire from ships due to its size. In 2009, Secretary Robert Gates cancelled the program, but not after MDA spent $1.3 Bn.

Mock-up of KEI Interceptor.

9. XM2001 Crusader

Intended to be the Army’s next-generation mobile gun system, the Crusader was conceived in the early 1990s as a powerful new Self-Propelled Howitzer (SPH). While it was designed to be lighter and faster than the existing M109A6 Paladin SPH, it was too similar to the existing, upgraded inventory. A system designed for the Cold War, it was not widely supported by the Army staff as it no longer aligned with the new operational concept at the time. Consequently, Secretary Rumsfeld cancelled the program in 2002 after spending $2 Bn, making it one of the first RMA-era programs to dissolve. Ironically, many of the Crusader technologies were incorporated in the FCS family of XM1203 Non-Line of Sight (NLOS) cannons, which were subsequently cancelled as well.

U.S. XM2001 Crusader 155mm self-propelled Howitzer prototype.

8. Transformational Satellite Communication System (TSAT)

After Operation Desert Storm, defense officials realized that existing military satellite communications (MILSATCOM) were insufficient for increased data communication requirements of the future force. Designed to be the backbone of the Global Information Grid, TSAT was an orbit-to-ground laser communication program that would have provided DOD with high data rate communications. Although the program was generally on-schedule, the high overall cost, uncertain budgetary environment and the ability of existing Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) satellites to handle the mission resulted in TSAT’s cancellation by Secretary Gates in early 2009. Total program cost: $3.2 Bn.

Transformational Satellite (TSAT)

7. Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle (EFV)

Intended to be a swimming tank for the Marines, the EFV was a hefty 38-ton amphibious assault vehicle designed in the late 1980s. The program’s original use case — beach landings like Normandy and Inchon — was dubious given the emerging threat of long-range, anti-ship missiles. Hampered by delays and cost overruns totaling 270%, the program was cancelled in 2011, having already spent $3.3 Bn.

U.S. Marine Corps’ Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle.

6. Airborne Laser (ABL)

Initiated by the Air Force in 1996, the ABL was designed to be an integral part of the Missile Defense Agency’s architecture for Theater Missile Defense. However, after 15 years and one prototype based on an old Air India 747 air frame, the ABL ran out of runway. Citing a program that has “significant affordability and technology problems [whose] proposed operational role is highly questionable,” The ABL program was cancelled at the end of 2011, but not before spending $5 Bn.

Modified hull of a 747 fitted with the Airborne Laser (ABL).

5. National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS)

Although not as known as other high-profile program gaffes, NPOESS was supposed to be the next-generation satellite system that would monitor weather and atmospherics. Unfortunately, it was also very expensive and succeeded in failing twice. Intended as a partnership with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Air Force in 1994, it was designed to replace the aging Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP). However, the program ran over budget by 25% and launched five years behind schedule before being dissolved in 2010 and cancelled outright in 2011. Currently, the Air Force still relies on NOAA for this mission, but not after having spent $5.8 Bn on this failed venture.

Erica Handlemann and Jane Whitcomb, NPOESS Activity Book (Department of Defense, Department of Commerce, and NASA. March 2007).

4. Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS)

Started in 1997, JTRS was an attempt at unifying military radios while leveraging digital signal processing. While the program is still alive in the form of the Ground Mobile Radio, the U.S. Army spent $6 Bn just to develop the system before cancelling and then restarting it after it failed Network Integrated Environment testing. Meanwhile, the military spent $11 Bn on old radios while waiting for JTRS, radios that needed to be replaced.

JTRS HMS (Handheld, Manpack & Small Form-Fit (SFF))

3. RAH66 Comanche

22 years and $6.9 Bn spent. Zero helicopters deployed. Originally conceived at the height of the Cold War, the stealth helicopter was supposed to become the next generation of armed reconnaissance air support for the Army, replacing the Huey, Cobra, and Kiowa helicopters in the process. A textbook case in technology being superseded by current events, the Comanche also faced serious concerns over its ability to simply get off the ground when fully loaded. The program was cancelled in 2004 with two prototypes now on display.

RAH66 concept art.

2. Future Combat System (FCS)

First introduced in 1999 by Army Chief of Staff, Eric Shinseki, FCS was supposed to be a family of networked, manned and unmanned vehicles and aircraft for the 21st century battlefield. With the Warfighter Information Network – Tactical (WIN-T) intended to support the FCS, it was supposed to be a wholesale re-envisioning of the ground force. However, the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 short-circuited a 15-year operational pause that the military was hoping for to implement the program. Spiral development and shifting requirements by the Army also resulted in costs ballooning by 25%. Finally, after $19 Bn already spent and the program in the System Design and Demonstration phase, it was cancelled in 2009, making it the second biggest budget failure of the RMA era.

FCS XM1203 Non-Line-Of-Sight Cannon (NLOS-C) proto-type.

1. Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) aka ‘Star Wars’ Program

When President Ronald Reagan saw the proposed Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) as a safeguard against the most terrifying Cold War outcome—nuclear annihilation, he probably also knew that this program would become a historical pop culture reference and a deterrent against Russia’s nuclear program in one fall swoop. Where the money went? Who knows. When Reagan first announced SDI on March 23, 1983, he called upon the U.S. scientists who “gave us nuclear weapons to turn their great talents to the cause of mankind and world peace to give us the means of rendering these nuclear weapons impotent and obsolete.” By 1987 more than $3 Bn was being appropriated annually by Congress to start developing the technology, roughly $6.5 Bn in today’s dollars. By the time it was scrapped by Bill Clinton in 1993, the program had hemorrhaged $30 Bn. Its legacy can be seen in today’s Missile Defense Agency. The MDA has cost more than $100 Bn since 2002, and the test results of its missile interceptors have been decidedly mixed.