They are draw-dropping feats of engineering and design. Awesome machines carefully crafted and planned out for years before being expertly constructed. They are also terrifying. They can bring about massive destruction and catastrophe. They are super expensive embodiments of paradox; high-tech machines of war designed to ensure peace. While we all hope they are never needed to fire shots in anger, these military vehicles are undoubtedly amazing. Think back on the great military innovations of the past. The Greeks defeated the Persians with the phalanx, a formation of soldiers with spears. The Mongols conquered much of the known-world with horses and bows. A mere 200 years ago, the British Empire was the dominant superpower thanks to rifled muskets and wooden ships. How the minds of military masters of the past would boggle upon setting eyes on today’s cutting edge military technology. Writer Arthur C. Clarke’s oft-repeated maxim, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic” is no truer than when examining how far our military technological capability has advanced.
Perhaps it reflects poorly on us humans that warfare is often the most effective driver of advancement and technology. But many would argue that it is because of our constant innovation of our military capability that we still have peace. As worrisome a time as the Cold War was, perhaps the thought of Mutually Assured Destruction –that neither the U.S. nor the U.S.S.R. could afford to strike the other for both had the ability to utterly destroy the other– actually prevented war. In any event, whether you’re a hawk or a dove, these machines are truly amazing, so sit back and read about the most expensive military vehicles ever.
15. Bell-Boeing V-22 Osprey – $72.1 million
The V-22 Osprey is like a helicopter on steroids. It is truly a marvel of modern engineering. It takes off and lands like a helicopter, but it can achieve speeds far greater than a traditional helicopter, often matching the speeds of most conventional turboprop airplanes. It was first used in combat by the U.S. Marine Corps in Iraq in 2007. The V-22 Osprey’s very existence is a testament to the difficulty involved in designing high-tech military vehicles. During its design and testing phase from 1991 to 2000, the V-22 Osprey was plagued by a series of accidents, causing 30 deaths. Separating the program cost from the cost of individual vehicles can be tough. These numbers aren’t always public (especially from less than democratic governments) so any list such as this is bound to be disputed. It is estimated that the V-22 program has cost the U.S. government $35.6 billion to date to research, develop and produce the 200+ V-22 Ospreys. That leaves us with a price tag of about $72.1 million per vehicle.
14. F-35 Lightning II – Around $100 million
The F-35 Lightning II was developed as part of the Joint Strike Fighter program – a joint program between the U.S. and the U.K. militaries, as well as some other allies. Its wingspan is 35 feet and its length is 51 feet. It can reach speeds of up to 1200 miles per hour. That is not a typo. 1200 miles per hour. It is quite fast. This top speed is all the more impressive when you factor in the kind of weight it can carry. First off, it has an internal fuel capacity of over 18000 pounds. Then, factor in its arms. It is armed with a 4-barreled Gatling cannon as well as eight types of missiles. Oh, and it also carries a B61 nuclear bomb. Because the program involves several nations and the planes are typically built in parts, it can be hard to nail down a single per-vehicle cost. Estimates range from $85-$122 million per plane. The initial deal was cut with Lockheed Martin in 2001 for $323 billion, which made Lockheed Martin the recipient of the largest military contract ever.
13. Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor – $150 million
Depending on how you factor in possibly related research and development contracts, the program that developed the F-22 Raptor cost somewhere in the region of $66.7 to $79.2 billion. That’s a lot of money. So what do you get for it? Well, the United States Air Force got a state of the art stealth fighter jet equipped with two short range six medium range air-to-air missiles. While the F-22 Raptor does carry other bombs as well, which allow it to carry out a variety of missions, its primary purpose is air-to-air combat. If you could only use one word to describe the F-22 Raptor, it would be “stealthy”. It is designed to destroy hostile aircraft before it is ever even observed on radar or otherwise. Each Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor comes with a price tag of $150 million.
12. Grumman E-2D Advanced Hawkeye
The Northrop Grumman E-2 Hawkeye is an American all-weather, carrier-capable tactical airborne early warning aircraft. The E-2 Hawkeye dates back to the 1960s. The current iteration has been upgraded to the E-2B and E-2C models and the most recent model, the E-2D Advanced Hawkeye, is by far the most sophisticated yet. It boasts a new radar system that triples the craft’s ability to monitor territory. The E-2D Advanced Hawkeye, took its first flight for the U.S. Air Force in 2007. It cost $232 million to produce. Among its numerous features are: a high-tech avionics suite replete with satellite communications capability as well as the ability to refuel in midair. According to the manufacturer’s, Northrup Grumman, the E-2D Advanced Hawkeye began delivery to the US Navy in 2010.
11. Arleigh Burke DDG 51 Destroyer – $1.843 billion
Torpedoes, 5-inch guns, mine detectors, guided anti-aircraft missiles, guided anti-surface missiles, and Tomahawk Missiles. This is the murderer’s row of armaments boasted by the Arleigh Burke DDG 51 Destroyer. As a destroyer, it is designed to move relatively swiftly on the water, being smaller and more agile than battleships or aircraft carriers. Its primary purpose is to protect larger warships from short-ranged attackers, but its complement of guided missiles is rather unusual for a ship of its class. A single Arleigh Burke costs in the neighborhood of $1.843 billion. All of the Arleigh Burkes currently operated by the U.S. navy cost around $101.8 billion. That’s a lot of money. If you’re thinking, “If the Arleigh Burke is a destroyer –a medium sized warship– then what do the big ships cost???”. Well, just keep reading and you’ll find out.
10. INS Vikramaditya – $2.35 billion
The INS Vikramaditya is a modified Kiev-class aircraft carrier. The Vikramaditya began life as The Baku in 1987 and served in the navies of the U.S.S.R. and the Russian Federation. Russia sold the ship to India in 2004 in a complicated deal that saw the aircraft carrier go for free… but also cost India $2.35 billion. International arms deals are weird. Basically, India bought a fixer-upper. And boy, did they fix her up. The Vikramaditya has eight diesel boilers with six turbo alternators and six diesel alternators. It has a range of 13,500 nautical miles. It can travel at a speed of 30 knots, or 33 kilometers per hour. It is 932 feet long, 200 feet wide, and can carry 1600-2000 personnel as well as up 30 planes, helicopters, and other aircraft. It weighs 44,500 tonnes.
9. Varyag/Liaoning Aircraft Carrier – $2.4 billion
No vehicle on this list has quite as interesting a backstory as the aircraft carrier now known as Liaoning. It was first launched as a Kuznetsov-class aircraft carrier by the Soviet Union in 1988 as Riga. But the Soviets were still tampering with it when the U.S.S.R. fell in 1991. The rights to the ship were eventually transferred to Ukraine and it was renamed Varyag. And what did the Ukrainian government do with it? Why, sell it to a Chinese travel agency, of course. In 1998, Chong Lot Travel Agency, a travel agency based in Hong Kong, bought the Varyag for a cut-rate price of $20 million with an ostensible intention to moor it in Macau and turn it into some kind of floating hotel and casino. This despite the fact that officials in Macau stated before the sale that they would not permit such an action. Chong Lot still bought it and did nothing with it. Because of the complicated structure of the Chinese government and Chinese businesses, it’s unclear exactly what happened next, but the Varyag ended up being docked in the northeastern city of Dalian. There it was renamed Liaoning and became the first commissioned aircraft carrier in the People’s Liberation Army Navy, the Chinese navy.
8. Virginia Class Submarine – $2.688 billion
The Virginia class submarine is a new class of nuclear attack submarine. It was developed and designed with the intention of use for a variety of missions, including both shallow and deep water combat as well as stealth. Powered by a nuclear reactor, the Virginia Class vessel includes four torpedo tubes as well as twelve vertical missile launchers. These are capable of launching up to 16 cruise missiles in a single burst. Because of its stealthy qualities, the Virginia class submarine can deliver teams of Navy SEALs for missions of both reconnaissance and combat. Its nuclear reactor is paired with two turbine engines as well as a pump jet, which generates over 29 megawatts of energy. This class of submarine has been in commission in the United States Navy since 2004. Each unit costs an estimated $2.688 billion. Its endurance is limited only by food and maintenance requirements.
7. USS America (LHA-6) – $3.4 billion
The USS America (LHA-6) is an America-class amphibious assault ship in the U.S. Navy. The ship was delivered in the spring of 2014, with the intention of being the flagship of an expeditionary strike group or amphibious ready group of warships designed to carry marines, helicopters, and other aircraft. With a displacement of 45,000 tons, the USS America is as large as many aircraft carriers of other nations, and can carry out similar missions. The ship is propelled by a gas fueled turbine system and has an operational range of 11,000 nautical miles at a speed of 16 knots or 22,000 miles at a pace of 12.5 knots. It can carry as many as 34 planes, ten of which would be strike aircraft, with all of the aircraft fitting on the 86,000 square-foot flight deck.
6. Charles de Gaulle Aircraft Carrier- $4 billion
The Charles de Gaulle Aircraft Carrier is the first French vessel to be nuclear powered. Named after famed former French President Charles de Gaulle, the aircraft carrier has two nuclear powered reactors which produce a total of about 117,000 kilowatts. Also on board are four diesel generators, four gas-turbine generators, and four turbo-generators. The Charles de Gaulle can fit as many as 40 aircraft and 1900 personnel. The aircraft carrier is 859 feet long and has a 206 foot wide flight deck. The project that birthed the Charles de Gaulle was originally ordered as Richelieu in 1986 but because of numerous snafus, setbacks, and shattered budges, it was not commissioned until 2001. It is the flagship of the Marine Nationale (France’s navy) and is the largest Western European warship currently in commission. The Charles de Gaulle is the only non-American carrier-vessel in the world which is capable of operating U.S. aircraft like the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and the C-2 Greyhound.
5. HMS Astute – $5.5 billion
The HMS Astute (S119) is an operational nuclear-powered submarine in the (British) Royal Navy, and is the lead ship of her class. The Astute was the largest attack submarine in Royal Navy history when it was commissioned in 2010. The HMS Astute is armed with high-tech Spearfish Torpedoes. These torpedoes are capable of sinking vessels which are up to 30 miles away. The submarine also boasts Tomahawk land-attack missiles which have a range of over 1000 miles. The HMS Astute cost about $5.5 billion in U.S. dollars. For all that money, you’d think you’d get an invincible, stealthy, state-of-the-art machine. And the Astute is that, but, it’s only as good as the personnel on board, and sometimes things go wrong. A few years back, the Astute made headlines for less-than-desirable reasons when it got stuck off the coast of Scotland when it ran aground delivering troops to shore. A fleet of tug boats and towboats had be called in to rescue it.
4. USS George H.W. Bush (CVN-77) – $6.2 billion
Named for the first President Bush, the USS George H.W. Bush (CVN-77) was the final Nimitz supercarrier produced for the US Navy. It was commissioned in 2001 and it was built by Northrop Grumman at a cost of about $6.2 billion. The supercarrier was completed in 2009, and was docked at Naval Station Norfolk, Virginia. It is nearly 1100 feet in length, making it one of the longest warships in the entire world. It possesses a top speed of over 30 knots, which it can reach with the aid of the two nuclear reactors it has on board. The nuclear power source means that the USS George Bush can keep running for over 20 years without having to refuel, even once. It has a displacement of 102,000 tons. It can carry up to 90 aircraft.
3. DDG 1000 Zumwalt-Class Destroyer – $7.5 billion
The DDG 1000 Zumwalt-Class Destroyer should have appeared much earlier on this list. At least, if the initial estimated costs were correct. Instead, the DDG 1000 comes in with a price tag of around $7.5 billion. It is a stealth warship, which means it’s meant to sneak past hostile defenses and then launch a huge payload. The price of this high-tech warship skyrocketed when the U.S. Navy decided to load the ship up with some of the latest in technological advances. The ship can, reputedly, find its way onto enemy radar but will appear only to be about the size of a fishing boat. The USS Zumwalt boasts an advanced automation system which cuts in half the necessary crew required to operate this ship, as well as the U.S. Navy’s brand new railgun. Despite the rise in cost, the USS Zumwalt is undeniably state-of-the-art.
2. HMS Queen Elizabeth – $9.3 billion
The HMS Queen Elizabeth is the lead ship of the Queen Elizabeth-class of aircraft carrier. It is still yet to be commissioned, but it is the largest warship ever built for the Royal Navy and it is capable of carrying as many as forty aircraft. Named by Queen Elizabeth II (not for herself, but for the first Queen Elizabeth) on 4 July 2014, it is scheduled to be formally commissioned in May 2017. The HMS Queen Elizabeth was designed with flexibility in mind, accommodating up to 250 Royal Marines and has the capability of supporting them with both attack helicopters and troop transports. Like several other vehicles on this list (the USS Zumwalt, the Charles de Gaulle) the HMS Queen Elizabeth has gone far over budget, doubling from its initial estimate. As the ship has yet to be formally commissioned, all the data is not yet in, but estimates of the overall cost for the HMS Queen Elizabeth range from over $5 billion to $9.3 billion, in U.S. dollars.
1. USS Gerald R. Ford – $12.8 billion
The USS Gerald R. Ford cost an obscene fortune. Scratch that, several obscene fortunes. Named after 38th U.S. President Gerald Ford, it is the lead ship of the U.S. Navy supercarriers. It is expected to be commissioned into the navy in 2017. However that date could be delayed and has been several times already. The $12.8 billion figure arises from a 2013 estimation and that number could still prove higher by the time the ship is formally commissioned. So why such an astronomical cost? Well, the USS Gerald R. Ford is 1106 feet long and yet it is nearly undetectable by radar. It has the capability of launching 220 sorties per day from dual runways and can accommodate 5000 people, including 4000 marines and sailors. The supercarrier was designed to be able to deploy weapons up to 25% quicker than the previous best performing platform.