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Most expensive U.S. military weapons and programs

  • Most expensive military weapons and programs

    Government budget proposals don’t exactly make for the most scintillating reading. Still, they’re one of the best ways to gain insight into the nation’s priorities—after all, the way you spend your money says a lot. Civilians can gain insights into military operations by learning about the weapons and programs in government budget plans. Using the data from the Feb. 10, 2020 Department of Defense Fiscal Year 2021 Budget Proposal, Stacker ranked the most expensive military weapons. This budget was passed by Congress on Jan. 1, 2021, despite then-President Donald Trump's veto. 

    Year over year, the U.S. spends significantly more of its budget on military operations than any other country. In 2019, the U.S. spent almost three times as much as China, the country that spends the second most of its budget on its military, and after China, 10 times more than any other country.

    The 2021 budget came to a total of $706 billion—a high number, but actually 4% less than 2020's budget. Most of 2021's budget— $706 billion—is allocated for the Department of Defense's "base budget," which includes peacetime military operations and management of weapon systems. The rest—$69 billion—is for "overseas contingency operations" (OCO) that goes to temporary "war-related activities." At $706 billion, defense spending makes up more than half of the U.S.'s overall total budget, at 55%. For comparison, the Department of Education received $66.6 billion in the 2021 budget. 

    As you'll see in this list, weapons easily eat up that enormous amount of money. Hundreds of millions of dollars go into helicopters, missiles, and even digital security. Keep reading to see which missile defense systems, space programs, submarines, and other weapons the U.S. military plans to invest in next year. Staying informed is your civic duty, after all.

    You may also like: The impact of the military on every state economy

  • #30. VH-92 Presidential Helicopters

    - 2021 Department of Defense budget investment: $739 million
    - Amount invested in: 5
    - Type of weapon or program: aircraft

    The fleet of VH-92 helicopters flies the president and other high-level White House personnel around the world. The U.S. Marine Corps handles the president’s air transportation.

  • #29. Patriot Advanced Capability Missile Segment Enhancement

    - 2021 Department of Defense budget investment: $780 million
    - Amount invested in: data not available
    - Type of weapon or program: missile defeat and defense

    This powerful air defense missile can be deployed to protect ground forces from aircraft, cruise missiles, and other tactical ballistic missiles. The U.S. government expects to spend $780 million on PAC-3 missiles in 2021.

  • #28. Cloud

    - 2021 Department of Defense budget investment: $789 million
    - Amount invested in: data not available
    - Type of weapon or program: cyberspace

    Threats no longer come in just physical form; the digital realm is equally as dangerous. In an unclassified Department of Defense document from 2018, the DOD admitted to “a lack of cloud fitness” and outlined a more definitive cloud strategy.

  • #27. Standard Missile-6

    - 2021 Department of Defense budget investment: $816 million
    - Amount invested in: 125
    - Type of weapon or program: munitions

    Three missiles in one, the Standard Missile-6 is unique in that it can perform anti-surface missions, anti-air warfare, and ballistic missile defense. The system is particularly useful to the U.S. Navy because in confined ship space, it offers flexibility.

  • #26. Artificial Intelligence

    - 2021 Department of Defense budget investment: $841 million
    - Amount invested in: data not available
    - Type of weapon or program: cyberspace

    The Joint Artificial Intelligence Center (JAIC) leads the Department of Defense’s AI strategies and development. While China and Russia are known for their advancements with AI as a military weapon, questions of ethics and safety often arise. The United States has promised its AI technology and will be both safe and ethical and cite the creation of programs like Project Salus, which helped with supply chain management during COVID-19.

  • #25. THAAD Ballistic Missile Defense

    - 2021 Department of Defense budget investment: $916 million
    - Amount invested in: data not available
    - Type of weapon or program: missile defeat and defense

    The Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system provides the capability to intercept and destroy ballistic missiles during their final phase of flight. Though the weapon is based on land, it can shoot down missiles inside and outside the atmosphere.

  • #23. Frigate (FFG(X)) (tie)

    - 2021 Department of Defense budget investment: $1.1 billion
    - Amount invested in: 1
    - Type of weapon or program: maritime

    The FFG(X) program is set to build a class of 20 guided-missile frigates, and falls under the United States Navy. Construction is set to begin by April 2022. Completion of the first ship should happen by 2026, and it should be operational by 2030.

  • #23. AEGIS Ballistic Missile Defense System (tie)

    - 2021 Department of Defense budget investment: $1.1 billion
    - Amount invested in: data not available
    - Type of weapon or program: missile defeat and defense

    The naval component of the missile defense system, AEGIS Ballistic Missile Defense can defeat short-to-intermediate range missiles. It’s a crucial part of the nation’s defense.

  • #20. Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System (GMLRS) (tie)

    - 2021 Department of Defense budget investment: $1.2 billion
    - Amount invested in: 7,360
    - Type of weapon or program: munitions

    This rocket system has both an upgraded tracked launcher and high-mobility wheeled launcher, allowing it to carry out precise and destructive hits on a variety of targets. Munitions fired by the GMLRS are more accurate than ballistic rockets.

  • #20. Landing Platform Dock Ship (LPD) (tie)

    - 2021 Department of Defense budget investment: $1.2 billion
    - Amount invested in: 1
    - Type of weapon or program: maritime

    Also known as an amphibious transport dock, the Landing Platform Dock Ship (LPD) is a versatile maritime vessel that aids with expeditionary warfare. It can carry hundreds of troops as well as equipment and vehicles, making it a valuable wartime weapon.