By Wes O’Donnell, Managing Editor, inmilitary.com/inmilitary
10. F/A-18 Hornet: $94 million
First entering service in the 1980s, the twin-engine fighter plane was the U.S.’s first strike fighter — an aircraft capable of attacking both ground and aerial targets. It has seen action in Operation Desert Storm and as the aircraft of the Navy’s Blue Angels Flight Demonstration Squadron. The F/A-18 is also used by Canada, Australia, Finland, Kuwait, Malaysia, Spain and Switzerland.
9. EA-18G Growler: $102 million
Hot off the presses, the Growler is a lightly armed version of the F/A-18 fighter that has been updated for electronic warfare (it is currently being delivered to the Navy). Growlers are capable of not only finding and disrupting anti-aircraft radar, but also jamming enemy communications.
8. V-22 Osprey: $118 million
This tiltrotor aircraft, which takes off and lands like a helicopter but can fly faster and farther like a fixed-wing plane, was first used in combat in Iraq in 2007. The Osprey’s production has been bedeviled by design and construction problems: the craft claimed the lives of at least 30 Marines and civilians during its development alone (former Vice President Dick Cheney tried repeatedly to ground the plane). Still, because of its range and versatility, the Marine Corps plans to deploy a squadron of V-22s to Afghanistan by the end of the year.
7. F-35 Lightning II: $122 million
Lockheed Martin’s 2001 deal to build these stealth, supersonic fighter jets was at the time the largest military contract ever. The F-35s, intended to replace an aging aircraft arsenal, were developed as part of a Joint Strike Fighter program between the U.S. and its allies and were criticized as underpowered and overweight — and therefore easy targets. Making matters worse, from 2007 to 2008, cyberspies infiltrated the 7.5 million lines of computer code that powered the Joint Strike Fighter, raising concerns that enemies could copy the F-35’s design and exploit its weaknesses. In April 2009, Lockheed Martin said it did not believe the program had been compromised.
6. E-2D Hawkeye: $232 million
A major step forward for surveillance and reconnaissance, the Advanced Hawkeye’s powerful new radar system will increase the range of territory an aircraft can monitor by 300%. “It can probably watch the pistachios pop in Iran,” an analyst for the think tank Lexington Institute told National Defense in July. Though development of the plane is on track and two test versions have been delivered to the Navy, budget cuts may keep the planes grounded for at least a year longer than planned.
5. VH-71 Kestrel: $241 million
Okay, technically not a “plane”, this high-tech helicopter project, intended to replace the President’s aging chopper fleet, was running more than 50% over budget by the time Barack Obama took office. Soon after his Inauguration, the President announced plans to scrap the helicopters because of cost overruns. On July 22, however, the House Appropriations Committee unanimously approved restoring $485 million to fund the Kestrels.
4. P-8A Poseidon: $290 million
Boeing’s spruced-up military version of its 737 jet will be used by the Navy to conduct anti-submarine warfare and gather intelligence. It can carry torpedoes, missiles, depth charges and other weapons. The P-8A is expected to go into service in 2013.
3. C-17A GLOBEMASTER: $328 million
The Air Force military-transport plane is used to move troops into war zones, perform medical evacuations and conduct airdrop missions. There are 190 C17As in service; the aircraft is propelled by four turbofan engines (of the same type used on the twin-engine Boeing 757) and can drop 102 paratroopers at once. In operation since 1993, it has been used to deliver troops and humanitarian aid to Afghanistan and Iraq.
2. F-22 Raptor: $350 million
First conceived during the Cold War as an airframe to vie with Soviet aircraft that was never built, the F-22 is touted by manufacturer Lockheed Martin as the best overall combat plane in the world — not to mention the most expensive. It can shoot down enemy cruise missiles, fly long distances at supersonic speeds and avoid nearly all types of radar detection. But the Senate debate over whether to build seven more — at a taxpayer cost of $1.67 billion — eventually came down to the plane’s job-creating abilities. The axed project would have employed 25,000 Americans.
1. B-2 Spirit: $2.4 billion
The B-2 bomber was so costly that Congress cut its initial 1987 purchase order from 132 to 21. (A 2008 crash leaves the current number at 20.) The B-2 is hard to detect via infrared, acoustic, electromagnetic, visual or radar signals. This stealth capability makes it able to attack enemy targets with less fear of retaliation. In use since 1993, the B-2 has been deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan.
Information from US Department of Defense, 2016. Released and approved for public use.