Why the F-22, F-35 and F-15EX Rank as Some of the Most Expensive Fighters Ever

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April 6, 2024 Topic: Security Region: Americas Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: F-22F-35F-15EXF-15EX Eagle IIJ-20Typhoon Eurofighter

Why the F-22, F-35 and F-15EX Rank as Some of the Most Expensive Fighters Ever

Since the introduction of fighter jets in the combat space first emerged during the Second World War, these mighty weapons have come a long way. But planes like the F-35 and F-22 don't come cheap. 

Since the introduction of fighter jets in the combat space first emerged during the Second World War, these mighty weapons have come a long way.

Engineers have implemented various technological advancements to these airframes over the years, showcased by the increasing complexity of the modern fighter jet.

The U.S. was the first nation to develop a fifth-generation aircraft in the early 2000s. While the F-22 Raptor has been followed by several other near-peers designed by China and Russia, the race to produce next-generation counterparts is already on.

Modern jets feature a range of sophisticated capabilities, including fast speeds, lower radar cross-sections, heavier payloads and maneuverability.  These assets are essential for combat, however, can also come with a high price tag.

Below are five of the most expensive platforms to ever fly the skies.

F-22 Raptor:

The American-made Raptor is so expensive that the Air Force is hoping to relegate its remaining F-22 fleets to retirement. At the time of its development in the late 1990’s/early 2000’s, the Raptor was the most cutting-edge fighter in the world. As the first fifth-generation fighter to be introduced, America’s air superiority was secured.

The $108 billion dollar program was developed to counter the then-Soviet Union’s alarming aerial arsenal. However, following the collapse of the USSR and the emergence of the War on Terror, these jets were not deemed to be as essential as before.


The Air Force ultimately reduced the total number of airframes it planned to procure from 750 to 187 back in 2009. The development of the F-35 Lightning II was also well underway at the time, which was seen as a more affordable option.

F-35 Lightning II:

Although the Raptor’s $135 million per tail price tag is exorbitant, the F-35’s cost is certainly not cheap. According to Simple Flying, each Lightning II costs up to $109 million per aircraft.

The single-seat, stealth multirole fighter jet is capable of performing both air defense missions and ground attacks.

F-35 Fighter

The Raptor may have the Lightning II beat in terms of speed and a smaller radar-cross section, but the latter undoubtedly takes the cake when it comes to versatility. The Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps are all equipped with specialized F-35 variants.

This fighter is poised to represent one of America’s most successful airframes. Today, more than 20 export customers have procured the platform, making the F-35’s higher costs well worth it.

F-15EX Eagle II:

Perhaps surprising, America’s fifth-generation fighter jets are actually not the most expensive to fly on behalf of the U.S. military. This title belongs to a fourth-generation platform- the F-15EX. While the exact price per airframe has been difficult to compute, many experts agree that the Boeing jet costs more per plane than the F-35.

F-15EX Eagle II

According to the Air Force’s most recent annual Selected Acquisition Report, each Eagle II jet comes with a staggering $93.95 million price tag. 

The higher cost of the Eagle II is associated with the sophisticated enhancements it possesses. This latest Eagle iteration recently broke records in terms of tonnage and quantity of ordnance carried, able to launch up to 12 air-to-air missiles during test flights this January.

Chengdu J-20:

China’s homegrown fifth-generation fighter is rumored to cost up to $120 million per airframe. However, like many details that come out of the authoritarian-led country, this number is certainly not reliable. The “Mighty Dragon” was developed by China’s Chengdu Aerospace Corporation for the PLAAF in 2017. From avionics and cockpit to armament and stealth, the J-20 is believed to be the biggest aerial threat to America’s fifth-generation fighter platforms.

China's J-20 Stealth Fighter

The J-20 is believed to be fitted with an integrated avionic suite like the Type 1475 active electronically scanned array radar, although exact specs remain highly classified. The J-20 also features canard wings and leading edge root extensions to reduce its radar cross section. If and until combat necessitates the deployment of the J-20, its true capabilities will not be fully known.

Eurofighter Typhoon

Another exceptionally expensive fighter jet is the Eurofighter Typhoon. Developed jointly by the United Kingdom, Italy, Germany and Spain, the fourth-generation multirole fighter remains one of the most formidable combat-tested jets out there. Experts estimate the Typhoon to have a current cost of roughly $124 million per unit. However, the jet may be as cheap as $50 million for countries within the European Union that participated in its development.  

Eurofighter Typhoon

Modern fighter jet platforms may be expensive, but they certainly represent one of the most critical weapons for militaries today. As sixth-generation airframes are developed, the costs associated with aerial fleets are sure to skyrocket further.

About the Author: Maya Carlin 

Maya Carlin, National Security Writer with The National Interest, is an analyst with the Center for Security Policy and a former Anna Sobol Levy Fellow at IDC Herzliya in Israel. She has by-lines in many publications, including The National Interest, Jerusalem Post, and Times of Israel. You can follow her on Twitter: @MayaCarlin