NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles Cost Much Less Than Fighter Jets

October 12, 1999

Some analysts argue that the military prefers buying big-ticket weapons such as tanks, aircraft carriers and fighter jets -- hardware that would have been useful if the Cold War had ever heated up -- rather than investing in innovative equipment more suitable to the evolving needs of modern warfare.

For example, there is the promise of unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, which have been around for decades -- but which the Pentagon has failed to fully exploit.

  • Military experts say that UAVs can fly lower, longer and into more hazardous missile-riddled airspace than any pilot would dare.
  • During the war in Kosovo, the U.S. used only two dozen or so Predator aircraft and similar UAVs despite their potential for keeping pilots out of harm's way.
  • Over the past 20 years, the Pentagon's spending on such unmanned drones has totaled $2 billion -- roughly equal to what it pays for a single B-2 bomber and one-tenth of what it soon plans to spend every year on manned combat aircraft.
  • While some military experts believe the next century could see the end of manned combat aircraft altogether, Air Force officials reportedly continue to push for ever more-advanced manned fighters.

The Pentagon now plans to spend $340 billion on 3,700 manned fighters over 30 years.

Source: Thomas E. Ricks and Anne Marie Squeo, "Why the Pentagon Is Often Slow to Pursue Promising Weapons," Wall Street Journal, October 12, 1999.


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