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They were military aircraft. Specifically, they were meant to launch salvos of nuclear cruise missiles at carrier battle groups and high-value littoral targets.
As for why they didn’t catch on… probably because you can’t deploy and posture with ekranoplanes the same way you can with submarines. I mean, you can’t land an ekranoplane offshore and float undetected for weeks on end. You can’t selectively let yourself be seen by the other guy’s assets just to screw with them. Ekranoplanes may fly low, but they’re not undetectable. Their main use would have been as unconventional first strike, which is a potent thing, but destabilizing. Just IMHO.