Illustrative photo: U.S. Army AH-64E Apache Guardian helicopters hover nearby an M1A2 Abrams during a multinational live fire exercise / Photo credit: Capt. Tobias Cukale, U.S. Army

Ukraine's Weapon Wishlist Price Tag is Surprisingly Reasonable and Realistic

Illustrative photo: U.S. Army AH-64E Apache Guardian helicopters hover nearby an M1A2 Abrams during a multinational live fire exercise / Photo credit: Capt. Tobias Cukale, U.S. Army

How much an adequate number of F/A-18, AH-64 Apache, Abrams and even THAAD would cost

The official request for weapons and equipment presented by the Ukrainian delegation to the United States during a conference in Washington D.C. includes an extensive (although maybe not full) list of various items.

In all honesty, it appears more as a "wishlist" than a realistic request. Perhaps the underlying principle was to "ask for everything, as much as you can, and eventually you'll get at least something." This approach might be a logical consequence of Ukraine's diplomatic "fight" for essential weapons, which dragged on for months amid talks of "escalation," concerns about equipment in question being "too sophisticated," and other pretexts.

Read more: Ukraine Presents Wishlist of Weapons to the United States: From Advanced THAAD to Drones and Transport Aircraft
F-16 Viper Demo Team aircraft
One of the official reasons why the provision of F-16s to Ukraine took so long was because the U.S. believed Ukrainian pilots would need to train for years to start piloting them / Illustrative photo credit: F-16 Viper Demo Team, U.S. Air Force

The reported list, according to Reuters, encompasses:

  • F/A-18 multirole fighters
  • F-16 multirole fighters
  • AH-64 Apache attack helicopters
  • C-17 Globemaster III cargo planes
  • C-130 Hercules cargo planes
  • UH-60 Blackhawk transport helicopters
  • M1 Abrams tanks
  • MQ-9 and MQ-1C UAVs
  • THAAD air defense systems

For simplicity, we'll consider the price of newly manufactured equipment, as the U.S. generally prefers to transfer weapons under the USAI program, while PDA focuses on supporting previously transferred weapons.

Breaking down the cost of each item:

1. F/A-18 (F/A-18E/F Super Hornet):

  • Finland was considering buying new Hornets instead of aging ones in 2021: the budget ceiling was $11 billion for the replacement of 62 F/A-18E/F Super Hornets.
  • Approximately $177.4 million for one aircraft in a complex supply with associated weapons, if we presume each aging Hornet was to be replaced with its upgraded counterpart.
F/A-18E Super Hornet
F/A-18E Super Hornet / Photo credit: U.S. Navy

2. F-16 (F-16V):

  • Cost for Bulgaria, 2023: $1.3 billion for 8 aircraft.
  • Approximately $162.5 million each in a similar complex supply.

3. C-17 Globemaster III:

  • Last exported to Kuwait, 2013: one aircraft at $371 million with associated equipment, as mentioned in DSCA permission
Boeing C-17 Globemaster III
Boeing C-17 Globemaster III military transport aircraft / Photo credit: Senior Airman Christopher Quail, U.S. Air Force

4. C-130J-30 Super Hercules:

  • Australia in 2022 got DSCA permission for 24 aircraft at $6.35 billion,
  • Approximately $264.58 million each

5. AH-64 Apache (AH-64E Apache Guardian):

  • Potential deal for Poland, 2023: 96 helicopters for $12 billion.
  • Approximately $125 million per unit in a complex supply.

6. UH-60 Black Hawk (UH-60M):

  • Authorization for Lithuania, 2020: six helicopters with at $380 million.
  • Approximately $63.3 million per aircraft.
A UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter flies over a M1A2 Abrams main battle tank
A UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter flies over a M1A2 Abrams main battle tank / Photo credit: Spc. Timothy Jackson, U.S. Army

7. M1 Abrams tanks:

  • A good example of why DSCA permits do not always reflect the real price: 54 tanks were offered at $2.5 billion, but Romania is buying them for $1.07 billion in 2023.
  • Logical explanation for the discount: Romania could use a "voucher" for weapons transferred to Ukraine.
  • Polish contract, 2022: 250 tanks at 4.75 billion.
  • Approximately $19.8 million per tank in both cases

8. MQ-9B SkyGuardinan and two more drones from General Atomics (most likely, MQ-9A Reaper and MQ-1C Gray Eagle):

  • Anti-submarine version for Australia, 2021: $1.65 billion for 12 drones, approximately $137.5 million each.
  • Recent Netherlands' permit for MQ-9A Reaper Block 5, 2023: $611 million for 4 UAVs, $152.7 million each.
  • MQ-1C Gray Eagle has not been subject to an export contract.

9. THAAD missile defense systems:

  • Difficult to calculate the price, but a basic estimate is $2.5 billion for one set, based on old contracts for UAE and Saudi Arabia
THAAD launcher
THAAD launcher / Photo credit: Lockheed Martin

This leads to an approximate total cost, based on hypothetical needs:

  • F/A-18: 64 units = $11.35 billion
  • F-16: 64 units = $10.4 billion
  • AH-64 Apache: 64 units = $8 billion
  • C-17 Globemaster III: 12 units = $4.45 billion
  • C-130 Super Hercules: 12 units = $3.17 billion
  • UH-60 Blackhawk: 64 units = $4 billion
  • Abrams: 180 units = $3.56 billion
  • MQ-9/MQ-1C: 64 units = $9.8 billion (max)
  • THAAD: 2 units = $5 billion

The highly approximate marginal price for purely hypothetical needs is $59.7 billion for complex supplies. This includes weapons, spare parts, logistics, training, etc.

Considering the United States' intention to spend $61.1 billion for military support to help Ukraine in 2024, it appears to be a realistic estimate. Keep in mind that this is only an approximate price based on export permits. If ordered under the USAI program, it would likely be lower because the USAI prices are estimated as if for a domestic customer.

Additionally, we should not forget that a significant portion of the U.S. military aid goes to supporting already transferred weapons and providing ammunition.

Ukrainian M142 HIMARS rocket system reloading
Ukrainian M142 HIMARS rocket system reloading, July 2022. In addition to new weapons, providing a stable flow of ammunition to already supplied systems is no less important / Archive photo credit: General Staff ofthe Armed Forces of Ukraine
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