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The Pentagon's 5 most ridiculous projects
The Department of Defense hasn't met a dumb idea it isn't willing to fund
The first test flight of the Aerocycle — "The Flying Blender — at the Brooklyn Army Terminal in 1955.
The first test flight of the Aerocycle — "The Flying Blender — at the Brooklyn Army Terminal in 1955. (transchool.lee.army.mil)
W

hen it comes to wasting money, the U.S. military is unbeatable. That much is made clear by a new Vanity Fair piece on the Pentagon’s troubled Joint Strike Fighter program. The Department of Defense first unveiled plans to buy 2,852 of the next generation fighter jets back in 2001 in a contract worth an estimated $233 billion and an estimated delivery date of 2010. Instead the project is years behind schedule, its total costs have spiraled to $1.5 trillion, and the fighters themselves might not even be safe to fly. They've been grounded repeatedly for problems as diverse as broken parts, being unable to fly near lightning, and a stealth coating that burns off when the plane goes supersonic.

Still, this isn’t the first time the Pentagon has pumped taxpayers' money into a deeply flawed project. Here, five far more ridiculous weapons systems that the DoD should never have signed off on:

1. The cat-guided bomb
During World War II, a (probably dog-loving) official in the Office of Strategic Services — the precursor to the CIA — was pondering how to improve the Air Force’s targeting of enemy battleships. His solution: Strap a cat to a bomb. The thinking was that cats hated water so much that, if you dropped a kitty bomb over the ocean, poor little Socks would instinctively steer the bomb toward the battleship’s deck in order to avoid getting wet. Of course, it didn’t quite work out like that. During testing, it was discovered that cats tend to pass out as they plummet toward the earth, and the kitty bombs sank without trace.

2. The shoulder-launched nuke
Between 1956 and 1971 the military produced around 2,100 "Davy Crocketts": a tactical nuclear recoilless rifle with a 0.01-kiloton payload designed for use on Cold War battlefields. The problem: It could only shoot its rocket 2.5 miles, meaning the very soldiers who fired it were also likely to be irradiated by the subsequent mini-mushroom cloud. This Pentagon propaganda film advises soldiers how they can avoid the worst of that radiation — by jumping into a nearby trench.

3. The flying blender
In the years following World War II, the military experimented with a series of mini helicopters designed to zip individual troops to the front line in record time. Unfortunately for the soldiers in question, the contraptions generally resembled the impossible lovechild of a Segway and Edward Scissorhands. The de Lackner HZ-1 Aerocycle — unveiled in 1954 — required the poor grunt to stand on a platform above four whirling blades, which he then steered by tilting his bodyweight toward those fast rotating shards of metal. The brave GI who tested the HZ-1, Capt. Selmer Sundby, was awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross for surviving a series of crashes.

4. The lightning gun
In 2009, DARPA — the Pentagon’s top-secret research wing — unveiled a lightning cannon that could zap enemy bombs and improvised explosive devices with high-voltage bolts of electricity. However, the prototypes only had a range of 15 meters, which is far too close for comfort when you’re trying to detonate a car bomb. That hasn’t stopped DARPA from trying to mimic Thor: It’s now looking into technology that could reroute lightning storms so bolts strike and frazzle enemy installations.

5. The very sinkable ship
The Navy has spent $37 billion on the Littoral Combat Ship, which is intended to patrol shallow coastal waters and tussle with pirates and drug smugglers. But few mariners would want to sail this vessel — nicknamed the "little crappy ship" by Navy hands — into combat. Its hull is so thin that this $440 million boat could be knocked out by a single hostile cruise missile, leading a Pentagon testing office to declare that the LCS is "not expected to be survivable" in a firefight. What’s worse, its guns vibrate so violently when the ship moves that they become almost impossible to aim.

Theunis Bates is a senior editor at The Week's print edition. He has previously worked for Time, Fast Company, AOL News and Playboy.

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