Special Report

The Most Expensive Planes in the U.S. Navy

usnavy / Flickr

The United States Military is known for being one of the best forces in the world. Not only do they consistently rank in the top three in the world, but per US News and World Report, the United States is considered to be the most dominant economic and military power in the world.  The budget request for the Department of Defense in 2024 came to $842 billion, equal to the previous year’s massive budget. This level of expenditure ensures the United States’ dominant position as the world’s leading defense spender.

Recent data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute reveals that American military spending surpasses the combined expenditures of the subsequent nine countries. Among the branches of the military set to receive a share of these funds, the U.S. Navy’s air fleet stands out. The Department of the Navy has an FY 2024 President’s Budget request of $255.8 billion. This is an $11.1 billion increase from the previous year’s fiscal budget. Considering the aircraft already within the Navy’s possession, the cost of introducing new aircraft is notably high.

24/7 Wall St. reviewed Department of Defense data on the unit price of aircraft to identify the most expensive aircraft in the U.S. Navy. Prices were adjusted from the year listed to current values, using the CPI inflation calculator from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. We only listed the 15 aircraft with unit prices above $1 million, considering only fixed-wing aircraft, excluding drones and uncrewed vehicles, for which unit cost estimates were available on the U.S. Navy website

Inventory of each aircraft is in the World Air Forces report from FlightGlobal, an aviation news and data company. Information on aircraft function and contractors are also from the U.S. Navy. Also check out: the slowest planes in the US military. 

The most expensive aircraft in the Navy’s fleet is the E-6B Mercury Airborne Command Post. It has an estimated unit cost of $153.9 million. The aircraft is used primarily as a strategic communications center to pass information along to the Navy’s nuclear-powered submarines. The Navy also employs warships.  These are the most mass-produced planes of World War II

Here are the most expensive planes in the U.S. Navy.

15. T-34C Turbomentor Training Aircraft

  • Est. unit cost in 2022: $1.1 million
  • US Navy inventory: 13
  • Aircraft’s primary function: Pilot proficiency, low safe mission, and other aircraft support services for the fleet
  • Primary contractor(s): Raytheon Aircraft Company

14. UC-12 Huron Logistics Aircraft

  • Est. unit cost in 2022: $6.9 million
  • US Navy inventory: 13
  • Aircraft’s primary function: Light passenger and cargo airlift
  • Primary contractor(s): Raytheon Aircraft Company

13. T-45C Goshawk Training Aircraft

  • Est. unit cost in 2022: $18.5 million
  • US Navy inventory: 191
  • Aircraft’s primary function: Training platform for Navy/Marine Corps pilots
  • Primary contractor(s): The Boeing Company

12. F-16A/B Fighting Falcon Fighter

  • Est. unit cost in 2022: $26.7 million
  • US Navy inventory: 14
  • Aircraft’s primary function: Adversary fighter
  • Primary contractor(s): General Dynamics Corp., and Lockheed Martin

11. F/A-18 A-D Hornet

  • Est. unit cost in 2022: $32.9 million
  • US Navy inventory: 68
  • Aircraft’s primary function: Multi-role attack and fighter aircraft
  • Primary contractor(s): The Boeing Company

10. C-20 Gulfstream Logistics Aircraft

  • Est. unit cost in 2022: $42.6 million
  • US Navy inventory: 3
  • Aircraft’s primary function: Worldwide passenger and cargo airlift
  • Primary contractor(s): Gulfstream Aerospace and M7 Aerospace

9. C-2A Greyhound Logistics Aircraft

  • Est. unit cost in 2022: $43.4 million
  • US Navy inventory: 33
  • Aircraft’s primary function: Carrier On-board Delivery (COD) aircraft
  • Primary contractor(s): Northrop Grumman

8. EA-18G Growler Airborne Electronic Attack Aircraft

  • Est. unit cost in 2022: $72.8 million
  • US Navy inventory: 153
  • Aircraft’s primary function: Airborne Electronic Attack
  • Primary contractor(s): The Boeing Company

7. UC-35 Citation

  • Est. unit cost in 2022: $73.4 million
  • US Navy inventory: 0
  • Aircraft’s primary function: Passenger and cargo airlift
  • Primary contractor(s): DynCorps; Valair and Pratt & Whitney.

6. C-37A (Gulfstream V) and C/NC-37B (Gulfstream 550)

  • Est. unit cost in 2022: $73.6 million
  • US Navy inventory: 0
  • Aircraft’s primary function: Passenger transport
  • Primary contractor(s): CLS – Gulfstream

5. F/A-18E/F Super Hornet

  • Est. unit cost in 2022: $76.4 million
  • US Navy inventory: 566
  • Aircraft’s primary function: Multi-role attack and fighter aircraft.
  • Primary contractor(s): The Boeing Company

4. E-2 Hawkeye Airborne Command and Control Aircraft

  • Est. unit cost in 2022: $86.9 million
  • US Navy inventory: 97
  • Aircraft’s primary function: Airborne Command and Control, Battle Space Management
  • Primary contractor(s): Northrop Grumman

3. C-130 Hercules Military Transport Aircraft

  • Est. unit cost in 2022: $89.4 million
  • US Navy inventory: 28
  • Aircraft’s primary function: Aerial refueling, tactical passenger and cargo airlift
  • Primary contractor(s): Lockheed Martin

2. F-35C Lightning II

  • Est. unit cost in 2022: $102.6 million
  • US Navy inventory: 26
  • Aircraft’s primary function: Multirole: ground attack, air superiority
  • Primary contractor(s): Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and BAE Systems

1. E-6B Mercury Airborne Command Post

  • Est. unit cost in 2022: $153.9 million
  • US Navy inventory: 16
  • Aircraft’s primary function: Communications relay for fleet ballistic missile submarines (A and B models) and airborne command post for U.S. Strategic forces (B model)
  • Primary contractor(s): The Boeing Company

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