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The Greatest Weapons That Never Saw Action

Updated February 14, 2020 44.9k votes 11.6k voters 1.5m views16 items

It doesn't matter how great in power some armaments seem on paper - sometimes, stuff just happens and even the most ingenious devices end up relegated to the White Elephant chapter of history. Often times, these devices and machinery that never saw action get caught up in a political quagmire, or show up in the wrong place at the wrong time, like when there's no conflict. 

Other times, in the greatest stroke of irony, some of the instruments and machines were just too great for their own good. Too big, too powerful, too expensive - or just too over-the-top to prove practical in battle. But no matter what ultimately kept them off of the field (including peace), it's hard for military hardware enthusiasts to not feel a little pang of regret at the idea of these machines winding up in mothballs.   

Vote up the most innovative armaments that never saw action below.

  • 5

    Lun-Class Ekranoplan

    Photo: Fred Schaerli / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA 3.0

    When it was first spotted by aerial surveillance, intelligence personnel believed "The Caspian Sea Monster" to be an unfinished high-altitude bomber with missing wings. But the Russian Ekranoplane "ground effect" sea skimmer was as fully functional as the Death Star. Like the SLAM, this nuclear bomber was designed to fly under the radar and deliver its massive, 100-ton payload of projectiles before the US Strategic Command had the chance to respond. That's the stealth and hitting power of a large nuclear submarine, with the speed of a jet airliner.

    Ekranoplans don't actually "fly" - they're "ground effect" vehicles, riding on a cushion of compressed air trapped between the ground and their stubby wings. The Russian navy actually did use it through the 1990s as a transport vessel. Good thing for us, since a single ekranoplan would have carried more than enough nuclear ordinance to destroy every major city on the East Coast. 

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  • 6

    Japanese I-400 Aircraft-Carrying Submarine

    The I-400 is not the only submarine ever to carry aircraft inside, but it was the first. This secret advantage of the Japanese navy in WWII was originally conceived by Admiral Yamamoto, who saw this stealth machine as Japan's only hope of hitting the United States or the Panama Canal.

    It carried three Seiran planes armed with either incendiary devices or anti-ship projectiles and used a unique side-by-side double hull to keep from tipping over with the weight of the aircraft hangar on top.

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  • 7


    Photo: Greg Goebel / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Regular ICBMs have one major problem: they're easy to detect once launched, and leave the enemy plenty of time to shoot back. Any launch would essentially leave those who initiated the launch vulnerable, which is exactly what kept either side of the Cold War from firing. The SLAM (Supersonic Low Altitude Missile) would have gotten around that by flying at Mach 4 - below the enemy radar - by using its nuclear-powered jet engine to travel while irradiating everything it flew over. Essentially, it could level buildings with the sheer force of its supersonic shockwave.

    The SLAM's ability to strike without warning would have undone the mutually assured destruction policy, and almost inevitably driven the world toward annihilation. Rather than a nuclear deterrent, the SLAM was a nuclear provocation - which is the primary reason it never (officially) entered service. 

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  • 8

    Space Marines (SUSTAIN)

    Photo: Balon Greyjoy / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Project Hot Eagle was first proposed in 2002 as a variation on Space Ship One, a sub-orbital, air-launched spaceplane. The "Small Unit Space Transport and Insertion" (SUSTAIN) orbiter and its 13 space marines would be carried to high altitude on the belly of an even more bizarre-looking "mother ship" called "White Knight."

    It would use its rocket booster to fly into low orbit. There, it could either hang out for a few hours awaiting the right time to strike or fly to the other side of the planet in less than an hour.

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