Here Is What Each Of The Pentagon's Air-Launched Missiles And Bombs Actually Cost

Arming America's combat aircraft, drones, and helicopters is an extremely expensive business.

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Whenever you see pictures of U.S. military combat aircraft, drones, and helicopters deployed on operations overseas, or even just during exercises in the United States or abroad, they're often loaded down with various missiles and other precision-guided munitions. It's no secret that the United States spends a lot on defense, but how much do each of these various weapons actually cost?

The individual prices of various air-launched munitions is an interesting and important thing to consider, especially given how many of them the U.S. military expends each year. In 2019 alone, American military aircraft, manned and unmanned, employed 7,423 munitions of various types in Afghanistan and another 4,729 in Iraq and Syria, according to official data. This year, already, they've expended 415 and 68 weapons in those same areas, respectively.

The War Zone has collected the latest unit costs of many of the Pentagon's air-launched weapons to give readers a sense of just how much it is spending to arm its fleets of combat aircraft. It should be stressed that these are the prices for just the individual weapons and do not factor in any future spending on support services, modifications, or upgrades. Some may be surprised, or even a bit mortified, at just how expensive some of these weapons are. 

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It's also important to note that unit prices fluctuate, wildly so in some cases, depending on various factors, including the economies of scale from buying larger lots. What this means is that different services may actually end up paying different amounts for the same weapons. A single service might also find itself paying different amounts for the same munitions in the base budget and the supplemental Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) budget, especially if the size of the various orders are significantly different. 

The Department of the Navy is responsible for the Marine Corps' budget, as well. So, the unit prices that the Navy pays also apply to purchases of certain munitions destined for the Marine Corps, too.

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What follows are the unit prices, rounded to the nearest dollar, that the various branches of the U.S. military expect to pay for various air-launched weapons in the 2021 Fiscal Year as they appear in the official budget documents.

Air-to-Air Missiles:

  • AIM-9X Sidewinder (Air Force) - $472,000
  • AIM-9X Sidewinder (Navy) - $430,818
    • These unit prices are averages for the entire projected 2021 Fiscal Year orders for both services, which include lots of AIM-9X-2 Block II and AIM-9X-3 Block II+ missiles, the latter of which is specifically for variants F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
  • AIM-120D Advanced Medium-Range Air To Air Missile (AMRAAM) (Air Force)- $1.095 million
  • AIM-120D Advanced Medium-Range Air To Air Missile (AMRAAM) (Navy)- $995,018

Air-to-Surface Missiles:

  • AGM-88G Advanced Anti-Radiation Guided Missile-Extended Range (AARGM-ER) (Navy) - $6.149 million
  • AGM-114 Hellfire (Air Force) - $70,000
    • This unit price is an average for the entire projected 2021 Fiscal Year order, which may include a variety of Hellfire missiles in Air Force service, including, but not limited to the AGM-114R2, AGM-114R4, AGM-114R9E, and AGM-114R12.
    • This is also the unit price for orders in the base budget. The Air Force is also looking to purchase a much larger number of AGM-114 variants through the supplemental Overseas Contingency Operations budget at an average unit cost $31,000.
  • AGM-114 Hellfire (Army) - $213,143
    • This unit price is an average for the entire projected 2021 Fiscal Year order, which may include a variety of Hellfire missiles in Army service, including various different variants of the AGM-114R, as well as the millimeter-wave radar-guided AGM-114L.
    • This is also the unit price for orders in the base budget. The Army is also looking to purchase a much larger number of AGM-114R variants through the supplemental Overseas Contingency Operations budget at an average unit cost $76,461.
  • AGM-114 Hellfire (Navy) - $45,409
    • This unit price is an average for the entire projected 2021 Fiscal Year order, which may include a variety of Hellfire missiles in Navy and Marine Corps service, including, but not limited to the AGM-114K/K2, AGM-114M, AGM-114N, AGM-114P/P2, and AGM-114Q.
  • AGM-158 Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile (JASSM) (Air Force) - $1.266 million
    • This unit price is an average for the entire projected 2021 Fiscal Year order, which includes examples of the AGM-158A JASSM and AGM-158B JASSM-Extended Range (JASSM-ER).
    • The Air Force also expects the complete 2021 Fiscal Year JASSM order will also include the purchase of the first batch of low rate initial production AGM-158D JASSM-Extreme Range (JASSM-XR) missiles.
  • AGM-158C Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM) (Air Force) - $3.960 million
  • AGM-158C Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM) (Navy) - $3.518 million
  • AGM-179A Joint Air-to-Ground Missile (JAGM) (Army) - $324,805
  • AGM-179A Joint Air-to-Ground Missile (JAGM) (Navy) - $243,281

Precision-Guided Bombs:

  • GBU-39/B Small Diameter Bomb (SDB) (Air Force) - $39,000
    • This unit price is an average for the entire projected 2021 Fiscal Year order, which may include the GBU-39A/B Focused Lethality Munition (FLM) variants, which has a special carbon fiber body intended to reduce the chance of collateral damage, and GBU-39B/B Laser SDBs.
  • GBU-53/B StormBreaker/Small Diameter Bomb II (SDB II) (Air Force) - $195,000
  • GBU-53/B StormBreaker/Small Diameter Bomb II (SDB II) (Navy) - $220,916
  • Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) (Air Force) - $21,000
  • Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) (Navy) - $22,208
    • These are the unit prices for orders in the base budget. The Air Force is also looking to purchase a much smaller number of JDAM kits through the supplemental Overseas Contingency Operations budget at an average unit cost of $36,000. The Navy is also looking to purchase a smaller number of JDAM kits through the supplemental Overseas Contingency Operations budget at an average unit cost of $23,074.
    • These unit prices are also averages for the entire projected 2021 Fiscal Year orders for both services and apply to the JDAM guidance kits only for 500, 1,000, and 2,000-pound class bombs.
    • This unit price average also includes multi-mode Laser JDAM kits.
    • The different JDAM guidance kits will work with a wide variety of different dumb bomb types within those classes, but some, such as the new BLU-137/B 2,000-pound class bunker buster, require certain weapon-specific modifications that impact the specific price point.
    • Per the Air Force budget, a standard, unguided Mk 82 500-pound class bomb has a unit price of $4,000, while 2,000-pound class Mk 84 unguided bombs cost $16,000 apiece.

It's important to note that a number of air-launched munitions that are in active service across the U.S. military, such as the AGM-65E Maverick laser-guided missiles, AGM-154 Joint Stand Off Weapon (JSOW) glide bombs, AGM-84 Harpoon anti-ship cruise missiles, and Paveway laser and multi-mode guidance kits for various types of bombs, are not mentioned above. This is because the services are not planning to buy new stocks of them in the 2021 Fiscal Year or they are included include broader sections of the budget where their exact unit cost is not readily apparent. There are requests for funds for sustainment of many of those weapons, as well as modifications and upgrades, too. The Navy is notably expecting to begin purchasing a powered derivative of the AGM-154, known as the JSOW-Extended Range (JSOW-ER), in the 2022 Fiscal Year.

Regardless, now, the next time you see a U.S. military combat aircraft, drone or helicopter, you'll have a head start figuring out just how much its loadout of bombs and missiles actually cost. 

Contact the author: joe@thedrive.com