THE FALLING EROI: Say Goodbye To Military Secret Weapon Boondoggles

The days of military secret weapon boondoggles are coming to an end… so enjoy them while you can.  The heyday of the big budget military boondoggles took place mostly during the 1950-1980’s.  This was due to the cheap and high EROI – Energy Returned On Investment of oil during that time period.

The two main superpowers during that time were the United States and Russia (former Soviet Union).  The amount of oil consumed by the U.S. and Russian Military over that 40 year period was staggering to say the least.

I remember the U.S. sent B-52 bombers with nuclear weapons every day toward Russia from the late 1950’s to 1960’s.  This top-secret military exercise was called Operation Chrome Dome.  These B-52’s flew these round trip missions daily toward Russia just in case they were needed to release their nuclear weapons in an event of a nuclear war.

Neither the U.S or Russian Military were concerned about energy during the Cold War period.  There was so much of it to go around.  This cheap and abundant energy allowed these countries to produce some of the strangest secret military weapon boondoggles ever.   While there is a long list of these wasteful military extravagances, here are two that I found quite interesting.

The Russian Lun Ekranoplan


(photo courtesy of

This Russian Lun Ekranoplan was a cross between a hover craft and an airplane that flew right above the ocean surface.  This model was based on an older version called Caspian Sea Monster pictured below:



(photos courtesy of

The reason the Ekranoplan flew right above the ocean surface was to avoid radar detection.  The Ekranoplan took off and landed on the ocean surface.  It could also land on a beach and offload military equipment.

However, the Lun Ekranoplan was designed to hold six cruise missiles that could be fitted with nuclear warheads.  The Lun Ekranoplan was built during 1987-1989:




(photos courtesy of

According to an interesting article about the Ekranoplan by

What’s more, it was equipped with unparalleled to this day ZM-80 “Moskit” (SS-N-22 Sunburn) supersonic rockets, capable of sinking any enemy ship at a ridiculous distance. This machine would’ve ended up to be a formidable threat to NATO, if not for the sudden collapse of the Soviet Union. Insufficient funds prevented further research, and the overall decline of the Soviet Union had sunk this project altogether – although some efforts have been made to convert the “Lun / Spasatel” into a sea rescue vessel.

Due to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989, development of the Lun Ekranoplan was halted and the plane mothballed.  However, here is a very interesting video showing the different Ekranoplan models in action.  It also includes the firing of a missile from the Lun Ekranoplan:

While there are many Russian-Soviet Era military boondoggles, I thought the Lun Ekranoplan was one of the largest and most strange secret weapons developed.  The United States has had its share of odd and weird military weapon disasters, but the one that caught my eye the most was the U.S.S. Zumwalt.

The United States U.S.S. Zumwalt Destroyer


(photo courtesy of Fred Field, Boston Globe)

The U.S.S Zumwalt is the most expensive destroyer ever built by the Navy.  It is a guided missile destroyer built to include Stealth capabilities.  The construction of the ship started in 2008 and was commissioned into service on Dec 15, 2015.  According to the article, Is This Maine-Built Destroyer A Marvel, Or A Floating Boondoggle:

WASHINGTON — With sharp angles and sleek surfaces that evoke Hollywood science fiction, the Zumwalt-class guided-missile destroyer is the weirdest-looking warship produced in Maine since the Navy launched a low-slung oddity called the USS Katahdin 125 years ago. Widely mocked, the Katahdin ended up being used for target practice.

The 600-foot Zumwalt — picture an Aztec pyramid welded atop a machete blade — is an infinitely more elaborate and costly ship, a futuristic showcase crammed with electronic innovations. But it, too, appears destined to fall well short of its promise.

After two decades on the drawing board and a tortured recent history, the $22 billion Zumwalt program is seen by numerous critics as a prime example of Pentagon budget bloat, delays, and misplaced priorities.

The Navy doomed the ship to sideline status when it slashed its order to just three of the vessels, from an original plan for 32. It disclosed in 2008 that the warship would be vulnerable to enemy missiles and submarines. And it has publicly questioned the destroyer’s mission and usefulness.

Taking control of the new high-tech U.S.S. Zumwalt is none other than Capt. James Kirk.  Yes, it’s true, the captain of the advanced U.S. destroyer has the same name as the captain of the U.S.S. Enterprise space ship on the TV series, Star Trek…. how fitting.


(photo courtesy of

As the article stated above, the U.S. Navy slashed its original order from 32 down to only three.  The cost of each of the Zumwalt Destroyer is $4 billion, but including all the research and development, the total sum for three of the proposed ships will be $22 billion.


(photo courtesy of

In the race to keep up with the military weaponry advancements in Russia and China, the U.S. will find it increasingly difficult to fund these sort of wasteful experimental military projects in the future.  This will also be true for Russia and China.  They are not immune to negative impacts of the falling EROI – Energy Returned On Investment of oil.

In 10-20 years when global oil production is a fraction of it is today, we will look back at the time period when the superpowers wasted vast amounts of energy to produce some of the most expensive military weapon boondoggles in history.

This reminds me of the collapse of the great ancient Roman Empire.  Even though the Roman Empire had the most advanced military power in the world at the time, it still collapsed regardless.  The collapse of the Roman Empire occurred due to its falling EROI.  The same will be true for the United States, Russia and China.

The largest superpowers, corporations and entities will suffer the most when the final collapse of the EROI takes place.

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20 Comments on "THE FALLING EROI: Say Goodbye To Military Secret Weapon Boondoggles"

  1. Steve,

    Fascinating, who knew.


  2. Robert Happek | October 6, 2016 at 2:16 pm |

    Given the small economic output of Russia (formerly Soviet Union) and their relatively small population size (only 100 million), they managed to build some amazing military and space equipment. The Russian rockets seem to be more powerful and more reliable than the corresponding NASA gear. A remarkable accomplishment for an economically backward country. A war against Russia will not be easily won.

    • Robert Happek,

      I agree with you. However, in about 20 years, it won’t matter.


    • Farah Bazzrea | October 6, 2016 at 6:31 pm |

      A war with Russia cannot be won. Nuclear winter makes everyone lose. This fallacy of beating Russia and/or China is ludicrous and foolhardy.

  3. Now I know why Armageddon will have bodies piled five feet high. It’s because current modern military machines will not be available. So they send in a lot of foot troops. I have always heard Armageddon would be a mass of piled bodies.

    • Nuclear weapons are the most effective in that regard, and require insignificant new investment with the nuclear materials inherited from the 20th century. If the fancy weapons become unavailable, the next step (back) is the nuclear option from 1950s: lots of simple bombs and rockets. US has just failed to dispose of plutonium sufficient for about 20 thousand nuclear bombs — more than enough for any desired body count, at any realistic EROI.

  4. Robert Happek | October 6, 2016 at 5:34 pm |

    Better materials and more sophisticated electronics make modern war equipment much more efficient than the obsolete stuff used in WWII. The energy going into the production of a single missile is really tiny when compared against the effective destruction accomplished by such a missile. A modern nuclear missile is capable of wiping out not just one large city (like NYC) but almost all of the state NY. That is something Cesar and Napoleon have never dreamed about. It is actually frightening in its ultimate consequences. In a certain sense, modern weapons are too powerful. We need to go back to the old methods where generals fight on the battle field with a sword against the enemy. In such a war, only military people die. Civilians are not much affected. Modern nuclear weapons are designed to wipe out the civilian population. What a shame ! We pay taxes in order to finance the development of powerful nuclear weapons which aim to kill us. What a crazy world !

  5. Farah Bazzrea | October 6, 2016 at 6:35 pm |

    On topic, thankfully there is a natural default economic end to the insanity.

  6. Bhavesh Modi | October 6, 2016 at 7:52 pm |

    Thanks Steve, was interesting.

  7. You state that the Roman empire fell due to falling EROI.
    What kind of energi did they use and how fast was it depleted?

  8. I believe the main energy used by the Roman Empire was the food produced by their conquered neighbors. As the Romans lost control of this food supply, the power of their empire collapsed.

  9. “The collapse of the Roman Empire occurred due to its falling EROI” : simply huge, thanks for this one !

      • I will read it carefully.
        However, I could make a first comment without having read it is that it is a process of thought which is the result of the division of the thoughts : all subjects related with humanity and nature and divided into categories : economy, politics,, anthropology, humans relations, humans action, psychology, logic,… are all separated items and so independant (everything being equaled by else).
        Studying energy and EROI nearly alone is just wrong and attributing the falling of Rome (a great thing) on EROI is just misleading.

  10. Vernon Brechin | October 8, 2016 at 5:31 pm |

    I worked in the U.S. NORAD system during the Cold War era. The system I was familiar with operated from the 1960s through to the early 1980s. The many Direction Centers were powered by diesel generator plants, 24-hours a day for 365 days a year. They had an output of around 3 millions watts to power the enormous computer in an adjacent hardened building. Local power was always available as a back-up but the primary power source was the Air Force supplied diesel fuel.

    These Direction Centers were fed by an array of long-range radar sites that also received their power from on-site diesel powered generator plants.

  11. I completely agree with the crucial nature of energy returned on energy invested.

    Add to that a surveillance of the industrial human society where the energy returned is in many ways completely wasted on non-productive adventures or is used in massively greater quantities to achieve what in times past was achievable with less [e.g. mining of raw materials]. In other words, the “productive” work that is getting done with the “energy returned” is only a fraction of what it was in the past, especially the 1950’s and 1960’s.

    The setup and the spike.


  12. The paradox is that as climate change worsens then tensions will increase, driving the need for more of weapons at a time when we can least afford them due to energy and carbon budgets. So the death spiral that we are now in will accelerate.

    See my book The Vortex of Violence and why we are losing the war on climate change.

  13. Robert Happek | October 9, 2016 at 4:20 pm |

    Not every civilization collapses due to resource scarcity. Occasionally, collapse is due to diseases, internal moral decay, inability to compete against other civilizations etc etc. The Soviet Union did not collapse due to resource scarcity. It collapsed because people lost trust into the system. The remarkable thing about the Soviet Union is that it collapsed in a peaceful and bloodless way, not like the Roman Empire which agonized over many centuries and had to defend itself against the “barbarians”..

    • diseases, internal moral decay, inability to compete against other civilizations etc etc : everything is connected.
      USSR cannot be compared in my opinion with rorman empire as the former was the example of monopolistic state capitalism (ie a kind of capitalism) with the roman empire was an empire based on slavery, which disappeared in this area with it and was replaced by feudalism (and despotic in spain).

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