Special Report

The US Military’s 11 Drones That Each Cost Millions To Build

On September 14, Ukrainian unmanned surface vessels struck several Russian ships crossing the Black Sea. The ongoing conflict in Ukraine, now more than 18 months in duration, has featured an unprecedented level of drone warfare. Ukraine and Russia have both employed unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), remotely piloted and crewless, for reconnaissance missions and as combat weapons. These drones have been utilized in various roles, from dropping grenades onto tanks to serving as automated forward observers, aiding in the precise targeting of mortar fire and artillery.

“The size and the scale of drone use in Ukraine supersedes all the previous conflicts,” Samuel Bendett, an analyst of uncrewed military systems, told the AFP news service in January. Notably, the war in Ukraine has shown the effectiveness of small, inexpensive, and expendable commercial-type drones.

Ukraine has also deployed larger Turkish combat drones in the war against Russia’s invasion, while Russia has been using Iranian “kamikaze” drones. (Here are the 25 countries selling the most weapons, and who their biggest clients are.)

The United States has been a leader in producing some of the largest, most advanced, and most expensive military-grade drones. Provocative names like “Predator,” “Reaper,” and “Stingray” reflect how these drones have been used in the U.S. global war on terror that has been going on for more than two decades. (These are the 40 countries spending the most on war.)

To identify the most expensive drones in the U.S. military, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed a range of official government sources as well as recent press coverage of arms deals. Every drone on this list has a unit cost of at least $1 million. 

When possible, drone unit costs came from a July 2022 drone report from the Congressional Research Service titled “Unmanned Aircraft Systems: Current and Potential Programs.” The unit cost estimates used in this report are in current dollars. For drones not covered in the report, we relied on media reports of recent arms deals or unit costs as reported by the U.S. military that we adjusted to current dollars using the CPI inflation calculator from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

Here are the most expensive drones in the U.S. military.

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