History: September 7, 1776: 5 More Underperforming Weapons

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A Brief History

On September 7, 1776, American patriot Ezra Lee made the first attack by a submarine against a surface warship in history against the HMS Eagle in New York Harbor.  The attack failed when the screw designed to attach an explosive mine to the side of the Eagle failed to penetrate the ships hull, allowing the bomb to float away and explode harmlessly.  Last year on this date we list 10 Underperforming Weapons, weapons and weapon systems that did not live up to expectations though they may have had some level of limited success.  Also see our articles from May 15, 2014, 10 Weapons and Weapons Systems that Flopped, and March 25, 2014, 10 Weapons That Never (Or Barely) Went into Service.   Be sure to tell us weapons you think should be on this list.

Digging Deeper

5.  The Turtle, 1776.

The first submarine used in warfare that actually worked, this man-powered little craft (1 man) got to the target undetected and escaped successfully, but failed to deliver its payload in an effective manner.  Had a better system been designed for attaching a bomb to the target ship, the Turtle would not have made this list.  The Turtle actually tried 1 or more other attacks, all of which failed.  Designed by David Bushnell, the Turtle met its end when the ship transporting it was sunk.  The Turtle could stay submerged for about 30 minutes and travel at a speed of about 3 mph.

4.  B-1 Lancer, 1986.

Developed in the 1960’s and 1970’s as a Mach 2 futuristic bomber to replace the aging B-52 fleet, the B-1A turned out to be unviable in the combat environment of the late 1970’s and was cancelled by President Jimmy Carter in favor of far more cost effective ICBM’s, Sub-launched missiles, and cruise missiles.   The program was resurrected by President Reagan, and the incredibly expensive (for the time, nearly $300 million apiece) bomber was built, 100 of the B-1B models.  The sleek bomber was never able to perform its designed function either at high altitude or at low level without seriously endangering the plane and crew, as it was really no more capable than the B-52.  No longer considered survivable at high altitude even at Mach 2, the B-1B no longer even had Mach 1 capability at low altitude, and high altitude speed decreased to Mach 1.25. Worse yet, it was not designed for non-nuclear weapons, so short of a nuclear war it was useless.  Because of this, our most expensive airplane did not fight in the Desert Shield/Desert Storm War.  In 1998 the plane was given a non-nuclear capability (at a cost of $3 billion!) and was finally used against live targets in Iraq and Yugoslavia.  Before the last B-1B was received by the Air Force, the Air Force had already determined that it was highly vulnerable to Soviet anti-air defenses.  Of the 100 B-1B’s delivered, 10 have crashed and  62 remain in service, the others on display or mothballed. (Note: 78 B-52’s remain in service.)

3.  Sword Bayonet, 1800’s.

Bayonets certainly had their place in the days of muzzle loading when muskets quickly became fouled and were slow to reload, or rain made them useless, but as time went on and percussion weapons replaced flintlocks, the bayonet became less and less important.  Despite the “gut feeling” that the bayonet gave confidence to the soldier, in reality it was more useful to open cans and other tasks.  Somewhat of an arms race in Europe and the US took place in the latter part of the 19th Century and early 20th Century between various militaries determined to give their soldiers the longest combination of rifle an bayonet on the theory that longer was better and would give their soldiers an advantage in combat.  World War 1 proved the idea to be false, as longer rifles with longer bayonets were actually more cumbersome and less effective.  Today, many of the newest rifles, especially of the “bullpup” design are not even made to accept a bayonet.  Modern bayonets are often designed to be an effective knife and wire cutter, but are largely useless as a weapon on a rifle.  During the American Civil War, less than 1% of casualties were caused by bayonets, and the number has declined sharply since.  The extra weight and bulk of carrying a bayonet not justified by the little effectiveness they have, though they do make nifty collector items.

2.  M855 Rifle Cartridge, 1977.

The M-16 family of rifles (often referred to as “AR’s”) were originally designed to use a 55 grain bullet that traveled at 3250 feet per second  from a 20 inch barrel on the M-16 and M-16A1.  When NATO determined in 1977 to make the 5.56mm X 45mm round standard to replace the standard 7.62mm X 51mm round, it was agreed that the SS109 (later called M855) round would be the standard cartridge used.  A heavier and longer bullet (62 grains), the new round needed a faster rifling twist to stabilize the round to achieve the accuracy desired, which was incorporated in the M-16A2 and newer shorter barreled carbine versions.  The heavier projectile and shorter barrel resulted in slower muzzle velocity and a more stable bullet, which decreased effectiveness against real people, as evidenced in actual combat.  This combination often caused the new round to zip through people without becoming unstable and yawing, which creates a more devastating wound.  The lower speed of the bullet meant it was less likely to fragment, again, creating a less devastating wound.  The lower velocity also decreased the “hydrostatic effect” of a high speed projectile versus a human body.  On the other hand, the new round was more accurate and had better penetration against armor and barriers, partly due to it having a steel insert down the middle.  Ironically, the Obama administration has attempted to outlaw the M855 for civilian use because of its armor piercing qualities.  These attempts have failed due to their idiotically unscientific reasoning.

1.  Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor, 2005.

Despite incredible performance on paper and in test flights, the Raptor turned out to have a terrible flaw, oxygen deprivation to the pilot in certain maneuvers making the plane a potential flying coffin.  This problem is allegedly being addressed at this time, but has severely limited the plane’s actual usefulness as a weapon or deterrent so far.  Pilots have experienced a variety of oxygen related problems, such as diminished alertness, headaches, emotional and neurological problems, as well as respiratory related illnesses.  It is too early to tell if the problems have been effectively addressed.  The great expense of having a high performance extremely stealthy fighter plane left the Air Force with only 187 in its production run of operational fighters, a number many feel is insufficient to do the job of the front line fighter in the US arsenal.  The cost per flight hour of the Raptor is over $68,000 per hour, triple that of the F-16.  Though capable of delivering air to ground ordnance, the internal capacity of the Raptor is only 2000 lbs, far less than other fighter-bombers.  When external ordnance is added (only 5000 lbs, again less than other planes) the Raptor loses its stealth characteristics.  The program has cost over $66 billion, at a time when the need for a manned fighter is debatable.

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About Author

Major Dan

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.