You'd think the U.S. military would have learned a lesson or two about wasteful spending after scandals over purported $100 hammers, $300 toilet seats, and $16 muffins. But it turns out the Pentagon is still presiding over one of the most catastrophically wasteful militaries on Earth. In a way this makes perfect sense: having an annual half-trillion dollar budget and exemption from federal audits is enough to make any branch of government careless with its finances. And some of these mistakes are almost understandable given the vast scale of the U.S. military, like last year when the Department of Defense (DoD) purchased more than $700 million in supplies and equipment that were already overstocked. But with service members facing sharp cuts to their benefits as part of the next round of sequestration, there's no positive way to frame military waste. Here's a list of the more outrageous projects the DoD deems more important than the housing and education of our nation's soldiers.
The program for developing the F-35 has cost taxpayers $400 billion over 12 years of intense development and engineering. And that's not even half the real price tag: building and maintaining a fleet of 2,443 planes for 30 years (their approximate lifespan) will cost more than $1 trillion. It remains to be seen if the F-35 is worth even a fraction of the development cost. The planes currently aren't able to fly in bad weather or at night, and none have been used in combat.
The Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) program was designed to create a next-generation asset for the Navy as it shifts the bulk of its fleets to the Pacific Ocean. So far LCSs have been plagued by numerous problems, including structure cracks, computer system failures, generator meltdowns, burst pipes, propulsions problems, and potentially disastrous communication errors. And to boot, naval officials are skeptical that they will do well in combat. The Pentagon may cut down the planned fleet size of 55 ships, but if they don't, the LCS program will cost taxpayers more than $30 billion dollars.
In a nod toward sustainability, the U.S. Navy has been attempting to create a "green fleet" by adopting alternative biofuels. The catch is that the cleaner fuel costs $26 per gallon, which is much more expensive than the $2.50 the Navy pays for each gallon of petroleum. Despite reports that there isn't a clear long-term cost benefit of adopting biofuel, the DoD has spent millions on private companies that are developing alternative fuels. And green projects aren't confined to a single branch of the military; last year the Air Force paid for 11,000 gallons of biofuel at a rate 10 times higher than the price of regular jet fuel.
The Human Terrain System (HTS) is a $600 million program that helps service members develop a greater understanding of the cultures where they are deployed. A recent investigation criticized HTS for chronic mismanagement, incidents of racism and sexual harassment, serious fraud. Anthropologists have derided it for militarizing their field without producing useful fieldwork — an opinion shared by some military officers, who dismiss HTS reports as useless. As Congress goes through the motions of debating the National Defense Authorization Act, they are poised to approve an additional $15 million for the program.
The U.S. Navy recently launched its first Ford-class aircraft carrier — the first new carrier designed in over 40 years. Although the carrier's sleeker equipment will require lower maintenance and reportedly save the Navy billions, it cost roughly $15 billion to construct, including $1 billion in overrun. A Government Accountability Office report from September noted that the combination of cost problems, engineering obstacles, and untested technology systems was alarming and should be addressed by Congress. Some experts have also pointed out that in an age of long-range and heavy-yield precision missiles, aircraft carriers are becoming obsolete (but still incredibly expensive) strategic assets.