Special Report

These 21 Military Aircraft Cost Taxpayers More Than $100 million Each

With air bases all over the world, and multibillion-dollar investments in technologically advanced warplanes, aircraft carriers, and weapons systems, air power is central to America’s global projection of its military strength. To achieve and maintain air superiority, the U.S. military has some of the most advanced aircraft on the planet, many of which cost tens of millions of dollars a unit and more. (The U.S. has the largest air force in the world.)

To identify the most expensive aircraft in the U.S. military, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed U.S. Air Force data and Department of Defense data for Navy aircraft on the unit price of aircrafts. 24/7 Wall St. also checked a variety of third-party estimates for unit costs of aircraft used by other military branches, such as the Marines. Unit prices were adjusted for inflation to January 2023, using the CPI inflation calculator from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Of the dozens of aircraft reviewed, we listed the 21 with inflation-adjusted unit prices above $100 million. The number of aircraft in active service in 2021 is from the 2022 World Air Forces report from FlightGlobal, an aviation news and data company. 

The 21 American warplanes that have a unit cost of more than $102 million have been developed by defense contractors such as Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, to name a few. The roles of these planes vary – attack, resupply, rescue, airdrop for special forces, aerial tankers, and cargo and troop transport. 

The largest inventory of a single military plane is for the C-17 Globemaster III. There are 228 planes used for cargo and troop transport. The smallest inventory is of the E-4B airborne strategic command and control post aircraft, of which four are used for airborne operations. At $407.6 million, it is the fourth-priciest aircraft developed for the U.S. military.

The U.S. is the world’s dominant air power. However, China’s People’s Liberation Army is quickly modernizing, and military leaders and analysts say China may challenge America for air supremacy in Asia. Gen. Charles Brown Jr., chief of staff of the Air Force, speaking at an Air Force Association conference in September 2021, said the PLA had what he called “the largest aviation forces in the Pacific” and predicted China could overtake American air superiority by 2035. (Here is every airplane in the Chinese military.)

Click here to see which 21 military aircraft cost taxpayers more than $100 millions each.

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