The Cheapest Planes in the US Military

One of the key goals of any defense budget is, ideally, to build the best military capabilities with the lowest investments. Part of this is strategy – when it is necessary to meet threats and when not to overextend – and part is effectively managing resources. While cheaper might not always be better, finding a cost-effective balance that yields the best outcomes is crucial in all military operations.

The U.S. military maintains easily the most expensive fleet of aircraft on the planet compared to any other country, but that is not to say it does not employ many cost-effective planes – many worth less than $100 million per unit. These aircraft serve essential roles and complement the high-value aircraft.

To identify the least expensive military planes in the U.S. military, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the 2023 World Air Forces report from FlightGlobal, an aviation and aerospace industry website, and varying sources for prices of U.S. military aircraft listed in the report. Included in this list are the 35 aircraft with unit prices of less than $100 million – adjusted for inflation to May 2023 using the CPI inflation calculator from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Data on primary roles and primary contractors came from various military and historical sources.

One of the more famous entries on this list is the A-10 Thunderbolt II, commonly referred to as the Warthog. Valued at around $18 million, the Warthog is known for its durability, firepower, and low-speed, low-altitude attack capabilities. It acts as a vital asset for ground troop support.

The F-16 Fighting Falcon, another essential aircraft, is valued at roughly $27 million per unit. Possessing a mix of air-to-air combat and ground attack capabilities, the fighter jet is used by various nations due to its affordability and continues to be a staple in the U.S. air fleet. (See other aircraft used by the most nations and military forces.)

In contrast to the high-cost stealth fighters and bombers, the aircraft on this list constitute a major component of the U.S. military’s air fleet, often with relatively high numbers of active aircraft (over 280 for the Thunderbolt, about 775 for the Fighting Falcon, and nearly 550 for the Super Hornet), speaking to their cost-effectiveness in allowing for higher inventory. They demonstrate that advanced technology, such as in the case of the F/A-18 Super Hornet, does not necessarily have to drain the budget. (The Super Hornet is among the 26 military aircraft of the future.)

What stands out about this list is that the lesser expensive aircraft of the U.S. military fleet tend to be combat aircraft, fighter jets, and smaller transports. This is in stark contrast to the B-2 Spirit Stealth Bomber, which only had a production run of 21 because each unit is valued at more than $2 billion.

It is also important to consider not just the purchase value of these aircraft, but also the cost to maintain, train, and operate them. All of these factors contribute to the overall affordability.

Click here to see the least expensive planes in the US military.

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