• Military transport aircraft can be incredibly costly, with newer and more capable planes reaching prices of over $100 million per unit.
  • The price of military transport aircraft can be influenced by factors such as size, capabilities, age, inflation, and the overall program cost.
  • Specific examples include the Airbus A330 MRTT with a unit cost ranging from $300 to $340 million, the Boeing KC-46 Pegasus priced at $200 to $230 million per unit, and the Alenia C-27J Spartan with a relatively lower cost of around $27 million (adjusted for inflation).

Some military transport aircraft are immense, capable of carrying tanks, fighter jets, ammunition, and even helicopters. These massive planes drive the capabilities of various armed forces around the globe. But with significant power comes substantial costs and a hefty price tag.

This article presents the aircraft cost alone, excluding development, maintenance, and other related expenses. We also consider price-influencing factors and the price list of some of the well-known military transport aircraft.

Factors influencing the price

Different types of military aircraft fall under various categories and price tags. Naturally, larger, newer, and more capable transport aircraft cost more than smaller, less capable, and older jets.

Based on the available information, one of the newest and most commonly used military transport aircraft can cost over $100 million per unit and sometimes even exceed $200 or $300 million.

However, it is essential to keep in mind that in the realm of defense aviation, prices are often subject to negotiation, leading manufacturers to withhold specific unit costs for military transport aircraft. The negotiable nature of these prices makes them variable and adaptable based on discussions.

Taking inflation into account is another crucial factor when it comes to the cost of military transport aircraft. This is particularly evident in the case of older transport aircraft that have been in service since the 1950s or 1970s, such as the Lockheed C-5 Galaxy or Lockheed C-130 Hercules. Looking back, the nominal price of older transport aircraft may not have been as high as today's price, but accounting for inflation, the true value of the aircraft remains high.

The USAF Lockheed C-5 Galaxy taking off
Photo: Richard Stephen/Shutterstock

In addition, the price of the aircraft unit depends on the overall program cost. Sometimes, aircraft programs can face delays and cost overruns. Another aspect influencing the price of military transport aircraft is whether the customer opts for used or brand-new units.

Here are some of the prices for specific aircraft we could gather from available and publicly accessible sources.

Airbus A330 MRTT

Arguably, one of the most expensive military transport aircraft is the Airbus A330 MRTT, a recent addition based on the civilian Airbus A330 widebody platform.

In 2015, South Korea purchased four A330 MRTTs for $1.3 billion, which translated to an approximate unit cost of $325 million, according to Janes. Meanwhile, the United Arab Emirates bought two A330 MRTTs for $680 million in 2021, which translated to a unit cost of $340 million. Various calculations based on acquisitions by different customers indicate that the unit cost ranges from around $300 to $340 million.

It is worth noting that converted A330 MRTTs from previously used commercial A330s are also being delivered. However, the price varies compared to that of brand-new A330 MRTTs.

Boeing KC-46 Pegasus

Derived from Boeing's 767 commercial jet, the KC-46 Pegasus is a military transport aircraft with a substantial price tag. This recently introduced transport aircraft is primarily operated by the US while also being utilized by foreign operators such as Japan and Israel.

Boeing KC-46 Pegasus taking off
Photo: Aqeela_Image/Shutterstock

The US Department of Defense (DoD) reported that Japan placed an order for two KC-46As valued at nearly $400 million, resulting in an individual unit cost of almost $200 million. In a similar vein, Israel procured four KC-46As in 2022 for $927 million, reflecting a per-unit cost of roughly $230 million, according to Defense News. These figures indicate a price range from $200 to $230 million.

Alenia C-27J Spartan

Developed by the Italian military aircraft manufacturer Leonardo, the Alenia C-27J Spartan is a mid-sized transport aircraft that has been in production since 1999. It finds use among various foreign customers in Europe, Africa, Asia, and North America.

Compared to larger military aircraft, the Alenia C-27J Spartan comes with a relatively lower price tag. For instance, in 2006, the Lithuanian Air Force ordered three C-27J Spartans worth $75 million ($81 million), which translates to an approximate unit cost of $27 million. However, considering inflation, the current unit cost would be around $40 million.

Sources: Janes, Defense News, US DoD