Richard B. Levine provides a brief but useful history of the many failures and rare successes of the U.S. Department of Defense in developing new weapons systems in the last several decades.
It is an ugly history of projects that are over budget, behind schedule, and terminated at the cusp of production or with greatly reduced numbers of units produced that drive up per unit costs dramatically.
The present procurement process is pocked by the cancellation of new weapons on the cusp of production. This has resulted, since the beginning of this century, in dead-weight losses approaching $60 billion, which equates to hundreds of billions of dollars of planned and expected programs that the U.S. military never fielded.
Examples of cancelled programs include the XM2001 Crusader howitzer: $2 billion was spent before cancellation in 2002; the Crusader was to be superseded by the proposed XM1203 non-line-of-sight cannon; it, too, was cancelled, in 2009, after expenditures of at least $18 billion in development and termination costs, including the cancellation of its sister, FCS vehicles. In all these new programs, not one operational unit was fielded.
The RAH-66 Comanche, begun in 1982, was terminated in 2004 after no operational helicopters were produced; program costs exceeded $6.9 billion, plus a half-billion dollars in termination fees that the government was obligated to pay the prime contractors. The Comanche was superseded by the development of the ARH-70 Arapaho, which, too, was not produced, despite the expenditure of millions.
Other important programs such as the F-22 were terminated after very small, inefficient buys. 750 Raptors were originally planned to cost $26.2 billion; the program was cancelled after 187 operational aircraft were built at a cost of over $67 billion. The Zumwalt-class was to have been a 32-ship program; this was reduced to a procurement of three vessels in 2009, thus requiring that the development costs of $9.6 billion be spread over just three ships. Total program costs, for the three ships, stand at $22.5 billion, though per-ship costs were estimated originally to be approximately $2.5 billion, given a full program buy.
The list is certainly not comprehensive.
The Sea Wolf attack submarine program was terminated after a greatly reduced purchase relative to the original plan. The Marines have struggled to field a new armored amphibious personnel carrier for decades. A suite of new XM small arms for the Army was cancelled. Most of the mine sweeping fleet of the U.S. Navy was dispensed with before the replacement Littoral Combat Ship modules were in service. The B-1 bomber program was cut short at far fewer units than planned. A nearly operational combat drone equivalent to fighter aircraft has been proven for both aircraft carrier and Air Force versions.
We can get far more for our money as a nation with our defense dollars than we do.