Fighter jets are the most advanced, the most powerful, and the most technologically complex aircraft.
This article’s price list includes only the cost of the aircraft itself, without accounting for expenses related to its development, maintenance, and other associated costs. The “ticket price” of a jet may also vary as it is open to negotiation. Additionally, it is important to note that our list only features the most expensive variant of each model, with one exception.
With these caveats out of the way, let’s check the Top 10 most expensive fighter jets cost in 2023!
10. Lockheed Martin F-16 Block 70/72: $63 million
(Image: Lockheed Martin)
The F-16 was created as a light and maneuverable fighter jet that would offer an affordable alternative to the F-15. Its older variants cost roughly $30 million apiece – cheaper than the vast majority of contemporary fighters – but the most advanced ones are really quite pricey.
The Block 70 and 72 configurations include much of the upgrades intended for the F-16V, and most likely are very similar to the F-21, a jet Lockheed Martin has offered to India. While we may never know the price of the F-21 or the F-16V, the cost of a single F-16 Block 70 gives an insight into how much a top-of-the-line jet, based on the venerable F-16 airframe, may cost.
9. Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet: up to $66.9 million
(Image: US Navy)
The F/A-18 Super Hornet came in the late 90s, replacing older Hornets of A, B, C, and D variants. Although originally – and primarily – a carrier-based aircraft, it has found a fair share of interest from countries that intend to use it only as a ground-based one.
The latest upgrade of the F/A-18, the Block III configuration, features vast improvements to avionics and weapon systems. It brings the Super Hornet in line with the latest 4.5 generation fighter jets, but drives the price up as well.
The most expensive variant of this jet is the EA-18G Growler though, a dedicated electronic warfare aircraft with a price tag of up to $125 million. While it can be equipped with both air-to-air and air-to-ground munitions, it is much too specialized to be considered in the same vein as regular fighter jets.
8. Shenyang FC-31: $70 million
The Shenyang FC-31, also known as J-35 or J-31 is a multi-role fighter aircraft developed by the People’s Republic of China. It is primarily designed for military purposes and intended to serve as a fifth-generation combat aircraft. The FC-31 is intended to be used for various missions, including air superiority, ground attack, and reconnaissance. The FC-31 incorporates stealth technology, advanced avionics, and other features commonly associated with fifth-generation jets.
According to U.S. military and industry officials, it is believed that once the J-31 becomes operational, it will likely outperform current fourth-generation fighters such as the F-15 Eagle, F-16 Fighting Falcon, and F/A-18E/F Super Hornet. However, its effectiveness against the latest fighters like the U.S. F-22 and F-35 would depend on various factors including the quantity of J-31 aircraft deployed, the skill level of pilots, and the capabilities of its radar systems and other sensors.
7. Saab JAS 39E/F Gripen: $85 million
The Swedish JAS 39 Gripen, of variants C and D, is notorious for being one of the cheapest new 4 or 4.5 generation fighter jets around. Its cost could go as low as $30 million per piece, a bargain for such an advanced machine.
Its latest variants, the E and F, changed that. While they are still much cheaper to operate than 5th generation fighter jets, the cost of one such jet has more than doubled. An explanation of that lies in jets’ differences: almost everything, except for the airframe, got upgraded. New radar, engine, avionics, improved weapons systems – very little remained of the old Gripen.
In 2012, the new-generation JAS 39 was expected to cost over $100 million. It is only in the latest years that Saab managed to reduce the price, and with the reduction, the Gripen once again became a sought-after jet on the international market.
6. Chengdu J-20: $110 million
(Image: Alert5 / Wikipedia)
Very little is known about the Chinese 5th-generation jet. Its price tag is, too, mere speculation. Nevertheless, considering the fact that just several decades ago China had no aviation industry as such and that labor costs in the country are steadily rising – as well as until recently the country had to buy all jet engines from Russia – the estimate seems realistic.
The J-20 is not for sale though, as China never intended to export its top weapon.
5. Dassault Rafale: around $115 million
(Image: Sirpa Air)
There are varying reports about the price of the Rafale, ranging between $100 and $120 million per piece in the most basic configuration. The French Air Force definitely bought the plane for much less, although the Indian deal – reportedly, full of minute, but pricey enhancements – was more expensive, and is often criticized for that.
Nevertheless, being one of the most advanced aircraft and manufactured in one of the most expensive regions of the world, the Rafale is not cheap.
4. Boeing F-15EX: $117 million
The F-15 itself was not supposed to be cheap, and its latest variant, the F-15EX, demonstrates that. It is supposed to replace older C and D models while being more affordable than the most advanced 5th-generation jets. That affordability comes mostly from operational costs.
Its operating cost is “only” $29,000 per hour. This cost represents one-third of the total operating cost of the F-35. That, as well as its similarity to previous models of the F-15, makes the F-15EX an attractive aircraft for many countries.
3. Eurofighter Typhoon: around $124 million
Another European fighter jet, the Eurofighter Typhoon may cost as cheap as $50 million for buyers within the European Union, but the export price is much higher. In 2018, Airbus reportedly offered Eurofighters to India for as much as €138 million per piece, which is still cheaper than what was paid for Rafales.
For both Eurofighter and Rafale, we are talking about the latest configuration: the Tranche 4 and the F3-R (or equivalent) respectively.
2. Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor: $143 million
Praised as one of the best fighter jets in the world, the F-22 Raptor holds a prominent position. Developed by Lockheed Martin for the United States Air Force, this fifth-generation, single-seat, twin-engine, all-weather stealth tactical fighter aircraft boasts top-notch attributes.
It incorporates highly dependable stealth technology, earning it recognition as one of the best in its class.
1. Lockheed Martin F-35: $177 million
The F-35 went down in history as the most expensive weapon system ever. Operational costs of the newest fifth-generation fighter jet are some of the highest in the world, making the aircraft relatively expensive to buy and maintain. From 2022, the unit cost of F-35 has further increased because of inflation, lower quantities, and improved capabilities.
In a report published in late May 2023, the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) wrote that “the program attributes the increased procurement cost to additional years of costs related to airframe and engine production, along with support costs for equipment, technical data, and training.”
The A, B, and C variants of the F-35 are, for all intents and purposes, different aircraft. The most expensive is the F-35B, designed for short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL).
With a price tag of approximately $177 million per unit, it also claims the title of the most expensive aircraft on this list.