“Here Is What…Missiles Actually Costs” –The Drive

The Drive brings us estimates of the per round price for several types of missiles in the US inventory, “ship launched” here and “air launched” here. The “air launched” list includes a couple of missiles that can also be surface launched, LRASM and Hellfire. I have pulled out info on those systems that could someday up-arm Coast Guard cutters.

These numbers might look quite scary at first glimpse, but if you consider the cost of an operating day, for a ship like the $650M National Security Cutter, (I don’t really know, but a very rough estimate would be on the order of –don’t quote me– $250,000/operational day, see foot of the post for how I got this) it does not look that much out of line. (Reportedly the 57mm Mk110 gun cost $7.2M and the rounds $1200 each. The fire control systems, maintenance, training, and support personnel are additional cost.) By comparison, the Hellfire looks like an absolute bargain. We could probably mount a set of up to eight on an FRC for less than the cost of a 25mm Mk38 mod3.

Keep in mind, that if the Navy sees a need to arm Coast Guard cutters, the Navy pays for the systems. (I do believe the Navy does not really understand or appreciate our counter terrorism needs, maybe the Coast Guard does not either.)

We had some earlier estimates of the cost to arm cutters here, here, and here.


Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile (ESSM) – $1,795,000 (average for the entire projected Fiscal Year 2021 purchase, which includes ESSM Block I and Block II versions).

Mk49 “SeaRAM launcher for Rolling Airframe Missiles.

Rolling Airframe Missile (RAM) – $905,330 – This unit price is an average across the full projected Fiscal Year 2021 order, which includes multiple RAM variants, including the Block II and IIA.

Tactical Tomahawk (TACTOM) Block V – $1,537,645 (base land-attack variant). Conversion kits to transform Block V missiles in Block Va Maritime Strike Tomahawk (MST) anti-ship missiles approximately $889,681.

The U.S. Navy littoral combat ship USS Gabrielle Giffords (LCS-10) launches a Naval Strike Missile (NSM) during exercise “Pacific Griffin” on 2 October 2019. The NSM is a long-range, precision strike weapon that is designed to find and destroy enemy ships. Pacific Griffin is a biennial exercise conducted in the waters near Guam aimed at enhancing combined proficiency at sea while strengthening relationships between the U.S. and Republic of Singapore navies. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kenneth Rodriguez Santiago

Naval Strike Missile (NSM) – $2,194,000 (Navy only requested funds to purchase 15 of these missiles in the 2021 Fiscal Year budget).

ARABIAN GULF (Sept. 16, 2018) A MK-60 Griffin surface-to-surface missile is launched from coastal patrol ship USS Thunderbolt (PC 12). Ships attached to U.S. 5th Fleet’s Task Force 55 are conducting missile and naval gun exercises against high speed maneuvering targets to advance their ability to defend minesweepers and other coastal patrol ships. U.S. 5th Fleet and coalition assets are participating in numerous exercises as part of the greater Theater Counter Mine and Maritime Security Exercise to ensure maritime stability and security in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility, connecting the Mediterranean and the Pacific through the western Indian Ocean and three strategic choke points. (Photo by MC2 Kevin Steinberg)

Griffin – None included in current budgets, but  2019 Fiscal Year unit cost  $127,333. 

ATLANTIC OCEAN—A Longbow Hellfire Missile is fired from Littoral Combat Ship USS Detroit (LCS 7) on Feb. 28 2017 as part of a structural test firing of the Surface to Surface Missile Module (SSMM). The test marked the first vertical missile launched from an LCS and the first launch of a missile from the SSMM from an LCS. (Photo by U.S. Navy)

Hellfire (AGM-114):  A number of different costs were reported. This is apparently due to the large number of different versions of the missile. The average price for the Navy was reported as $45,409, for the Air Force $70,000, and for the Army $213,143.

Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM)

LRASM (Long Range Anti-Ship Missile): AGM-158C Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM) for the Air Force – $3.960 million, for the Navy – $3.518 million


How I got a very approximate cost for an operational day for a National Security Cutter.

Annual Coast Guard budget approximately $12M, divide by 40,000 (approximate number of uniformed active duty Coasties, about $300,000 each), multiply by 150 (approximate number of crew members ($45M/year), divide by 180 operating day/year=$250,000/day. (Back in the 1980s I figured a 378 cost forty or fifty thousand per op day. Forget what it was exactly but the higher cost of today’s NSC sounds about right.)

15 thoughts on ““Here Is What…Missiles Actually Costs” –The Drive

  1. A MLRS round is also 155.4k. Not really great for the coast guard, but it sure seems like an easier way to go than the AGS boondoggle.

  2. Seem like everything mentioned fits into three categories: “Must Have”, “Could Have” and “Would Be Nice”! Unfortunately the USCG’s budget only covers “Must Have”…

  3. The Navy has an operating cost numbers buried in a table on personnel costs, the name of which escapes me CRS

    And MSC used to post the per diem of its ships but stopped that years back I have an old spreadsheet

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  4. COMDTINST 7310.1R from 2017 lists the WMSL cost for Outside the Govt at $30,859/hr. That’s a modest $740,616/day.
    COMDTINST 7310.1S is out, but lists the costs behind a link that wouldn’t load for me at home.

  5. The Coast Guard budget includes pay for retirees of USCG, NOAA, AND USPHS. That amount should be deducted.

    Only 180 operating days? It used to be 210. Should not operating days be around 75%?

    • Retired pay is part of the compensation package, so at least that part for Coast Guard should be included, although it is paid much later.

      The standard used to be 185 days away from home port, but that could include yard time rather than Op Days.

      Really I was just trying to illustrate an order of magnitude, but it would include a portion of all the supporting personnel ashore, acquisition and disposal, fuel, yard periods, training enroute to the unit, all the things that have to be done to keep the ship operating.

  6. Interestingly the Canadians has chosen the Sea Ceptor as CIWS system and ESSM as longer range. I wonder what a Sea Ceptor missile costs.
    Was there also another small European missile system, smaller than the ceptor?

    • There is the French Mica.

      In fact there are several smaller missile systems based on medium range Air to Air missiles.

      One of them is in the US inventory. It is the system being used to protect Washington DC. It is a joint project with Norway.

      The Israelis have a family of missiles of increasing size beginning with the Iron Dome interceptor which the Army uses in small numbers.

      • Thanks. Thats likely the one. Seems like the French are using that and the UK the ceptor?

        The NASAMs I believe you are thinking of. Its a complete system with sensor, control and shooter.

        What small ships like the FRC need is a single missile system that can engage both aerial, land and surface targets and the missiles have to be cheap. There is not a lot room. The JAGM seems quite good in the regard.

      • JAGM and Hellfire can function against some aircraft–helicopters, drones, general aviation aircraft–that are low and slow.

        High performance aircraft at altitude, from where they can drop enough smart bombs to overwhelm even better defensive systems like RAM.

        So you have to operate as part of a group effort where air defense is handled by interceptors or a SAM capable big brother.

    • MBDA has had a Missile Production facility located in Quebec, Canada since 1989, and has been producing the Sea Ceptor since shortly after entering service in 2018…

      • In 12 Mach 2018, the HMNZS “Te Kaha” started a ten month refit and followed later by HMNZS “Te Mana” at the Canadian Seaspan Shipyards in Victoria, BC. Both vessels received the Lockheed-Martin CMS 330 Combat Management System, and the MBDA “Sea Ceptor” to replace their older RIM-7P “NATO Sea Sparrow” Missile Systems…

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