11.6k voters

The Greatest Weapons That Never Saw Action

Updated February 14, 2020 42.0k 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.

  • 1

    Horten HO 229 'Bat'

    Photo: Alf van Beem / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    No, that's not a B-2 Spirit stealth bomber - it's the German wonder weapon that inspired it. The "Bat" wasn't just incredibly fast and futuristic - it was the world's first purpose-built stealth aircraft. Most historians agree that the conflict could have gone very differently if the "Bat" had actually entered service earlier, not least of which because of its planned big brother.

    The "Amerikabomber" would have been capable of reaching New York or Washington from bases in Germany, slipping under our radar, dropping a few tons of explosive devices, and returning without refueling. The original "Bat," though, would have been more than sufficient to rain havoc all over Europe, Russia, and England with near impunity. 

    Is this cool?
  • 2

    Excalibur Space Laser

    Photo: DOD Defense Visual Information Center / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Otherwise known as "the project that bankrupted the Soviet Union," this space laser was at the heart of the 1984 "Star Wars" program touted by Ronald Reagan. It harnesses the power of a small nuclear blast to create a concentrated dose of X-ray or infrared energy at the Earth. That might sound like a Doctor Evil doomsday device, but this laser was meant to prevent doomsday for the United States.

    It was designed as part of a projectile defense system and would have been used to shoot down incoming ICBMs while they were near orbit themselves. Technical problems, as well as the inability to target multiple warheads, kept this one from becoming a reality, but we could easily do it with modern technology. The air force is already working with airplane-mounted laser cannons to do exactly the same thing.

    Is this cool?
  • 3

    F-22 Raptor

    The $450 million machine that is the F-22 Raptor has never once in its 25-year history fired a shot in anger. The world's first fifth-generation fighter has yet to find a target deserving of risking its expensive hide, especially since the Soviet Union collapsed. True, there are other fifth-gen fighters out there, but they're all still playing catch-up to the F-22 in terms of design and performance.

    Lockheed won't be making any new F-22s for the foreseeable future. You could call that a shame, but as long as we're not using it, that means we're not at war with anyone dangerous enough. 

    Is this cool?
  • 4


    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. 

    Is this cool?