More cash for less flash: Reaper UAVs said much more costly than manned aircraft

The MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial vehicle isn't cheaper to buy than some manned military aircraft it's frequently compared with; the UAV is from two to six times more costly, Winslow Wheeler writes in Time Magazine's Battleland blog.

Media reports cite a per-unit cost from $4 million to $5 million for the Reaper, but they're wrong, writes Wheeler, the director of the Straus Military Reform Project of the Center for Defense Information in Washington.

His contentions go like this: the ground components for the Reaper must be included, and a Combat Air Patrol (CAP) consists of four vehicles, not one, so the Air Force cites a unit cost for a Reaper CAP, or four aircraft with sensors, at $60.3 million in 2012 dollars. Counting development and other costs, an individual Reaper costs $30.2 million, or $120.8 million for a CAP of four, which may be an underestimate.

Meanwhile, estimates for the F16-C per-unit cost range from $27.2 million in 2012 dollars to $55 million per copy. For the A-10, the Government Accountability Office cited a total program unit cost (including research and development) at $18.8 million in 2012 dollars, Wheeler writes.

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