These are the Most Expensive Aircraft in the US Air Force

Aircraft started being widely used in military operations during World War I. At the beginning of the war, aircraft were mostly used for unarmed reconnaissance missions. However, by the end of the war, they were also helping ground-based combat operations and carrying out strategic bombing raids far away from enemy territory. Since then, the importance of aerial combat in the military has increased significantly over the past 100 years.

In American military strategy, air superiority is very important for the success of any military operation. It means having control over the skies and reducing the risk of enemy attacks from the air. The U.S. Air Force receives a large amount of money each year because having control of the skies is very important.

Based on documents from the Pentagon, the U.S Air Force has a budget of $185.1 billion for the fiscal year 2024. This amount is higher than the total amount spent on defense by every country in the world, except for China. The Air Force receives a lot of funding, even compared to other branches of the U.S. military. The Pentagon is spending approximately $153,700 for each person employed by the Air Force this year. This includes both civilians and active-duty service members. In FY 2024, the per capita U.S. Army budget is only $84,100.

The reason for the USAF receiving a lot of funding is mainly because they need to develop and buy expensive advanced weapons systems. These systems will help the US maintain control of the skies in the future. Currently, a lot of the most important aircraft in the USAF fleet cost more than $100 million each.

24/7 Wall St. used data from the U.S. Department of Defense to find out which aircraft are the most expensive in the U.S. Air Force. Aircraft are ranked based on their estimated unit cost, as reported by the USAF, in dollars adjusted for inflation. The Air Force inventory and pending orders for each aircraft on this list are sourced from the 2023 World Air Forces report and the USAF. This analysis did not include unmanned drones and aircraft used only for training.

The Most Expensive Aircraft in the U.S Air Force

B-2 Spirit

  • Est. unit cost in 2024: $2.2 billion
  • Active units in USAF inventory: 18
  • Aircraft type: Combat aircraft
  • Primary function: Multi-role heavy bomber
  • Primary contractor(s) include: Northrop Grumman and Boeing

B-21 Raider

  • Est. unit cost in 2024: $734.7 million
  • Active units in USAF inventory: 0 (100 ordered)
  • Aircraft type: Combat aircraft
  • Primary function: Nuclear-capable, penetrating strike stealth bomber
  • Primary contractor(s) include: Northrop Grumman

E-3 Sentry

  • Est. unit cost in 2024: $514.0 million
  • Active units in USAF inventory: 31
  • Aircraft type: Special mission
  • Primary function: Airborne battle management, command and control
  • Primary contractor(s) include: Boeing

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E-8C Joint Stars

  • Est. unit cost in 2024: $465.3 million
  • Active units in USAF inventory: 13
  • Aircraft type: Special mission
  • Primary function: Airborne battle management
  • Primary contractor(s) include: Northrop Grumman

E-4B Nightwatch

  • Est. unit cost in 2024: $424.9 million
  • Active units in USAF inventory: 4
  • Aircraft type: Special mission
  • Primary function: Airborne operations center
  • Primary contractor(s) include: Boeing

B-1B Lancer

  • Est. unit cost in 2024: $407.5 million
  • Active units in USAF inventory: 43
  • Aircraft type: Combat aircraft
  • Primary function: Long-range, multi-role, heavy bomber
  • Primary contractor(s) include: Boeing

C-17 Globemaster III

  • Est. unit cost in 2024: $385.1 million
  • Active units in USAF inventory: 228
  • Aircraft type: Transport
  • Primary function: Cargo and troop transport
  • Primary contractor(s) include: Boeing

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