Key point: Washington is more than willing to spend on wonder weapons, but that doesn't mean it is always worth it.
The United States spent $610 billion in 2018 on defense, roughly one-third of all military spending on the planet—but that doesn’t mean that money is always being used efficiently. Over thirty years, the U.S. Army has engaged in two long-term wars and several briefer ones without replacing the major weapon systems which entered service in the 1970s and 80s.
In part, this is because the Army scaled back hi-tech equipment procurement in order to sustain expensive wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But at the same time, the Army did spend $30 billion dollars on five new hi-tech weapons—all of which were canceled.
Brilliant Anti-Tank Munition
Even in the waning years of the Cold War, the Pentagon remained preoccupied by the threat posed by the Soviet Union’s vastly larger tank force. The “Brilliant Anti-Tank Munition” (BAT) was devised as part of the “Assault Breaker” initiative to qualitatively offset Soviet armored forces. The BATs were miniature guided rockets packed into a larger long-range Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) fired by the M270 multiple-rocket artillery system.
The ATACMS would release thirteen BATs that would float down by parachute using directional fins to home in on armored vehicles using sophisticated infrared-seekers. Theoretically, a single ATACM could wipe out an entire company of tanks.
Of course, the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the thrashing of Saddam Hussein’s huge mechanized army in the 1991 Gulf War made the threat of tank hordes seem quaint—but the cost of the BAT submunition was anything but quaint at a cool $2.2 billion before it was finally canceled in 2003.