Here Is What Each Of The Navy’s Ship-Launched Missiles Actually Costs

Many of America’s warships set sail absolutely packed with missiles. A single Ticonderoga class guided-missile cruiser has 122 Mark 41 vertical launch system (VLS) cells, each of which can handle one of a wide array of individual missiles, or four Evolved Sea Sparrow Missiles (ESSMs). Even America’s carriers are bristling with missile-based point defenses. While the capabilities the Navy’s array of ship-launched missiles provides are fairly well known, at least conceptually, the staggering cost of each of these weapons is not. Now, just as we did with air-launched weapons and decoy flares, we aim to change that. 

The War Zone has collected the latest unit costs of these weapons to give readers a sense of just how much it is spending to arm its fleet. It should be stressed that these are the prices for just the individual weapons and the figures do not factor in any future spending on support services, modifications, upgrades, or past spending on the weapons’ development. 

The guided-missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald (DDG-62) launches a Standard Missile-3 as part of a joint ballistic missile defense exercise in the Pacific Ocean on Oct. 25, 2012., USN

It’s important to note that individual unit prices can vary from year to year due to a number of factors, including the economies of scale of placing larger or smaller orders. As such, the estimated price point for certain missiles may even be significantly different just between purchases made through the base budget and the supplemental Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) budget.

What is presented below are the unit costs, rounded to the nearest dollar, that the Navy expects to pay for these weapons in the 2021 Fiscal Year as they appear in the official budget documents.

Surface-to-Air Missiles:

  • Standard Missile 2 (SM-2) Block IIIAZ – $1,200,000
  • Standard Missile 2 (SM-2) Block IIIC – $2,349,000
    • This unit price is the cost of the conversion kit to transform existing SM-2 Block IIIA and Block IIIB missiles into the Block IIIC configuration with active radar homing.
  • Standard Missile 3 (SM-3) Block IB – $11,830,000
    • Funding for these missiles come through the Missile Defense Agency’s (MDA) budget.
  • Standard Missile 3 (SM-3) Block IIA – $36,387,000
    • The funds for these missiles also come through the MDA budget.
  • Standard Missile 6 (SM-6) – $4,318,632
    • This unit price is an average for the entire projected 2021 Fiscal Year order, which includes SM-6 Block I and Block IA variants.
  • Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile (ESSM) – $1,795,000
    • This unit cost reflects an average for the entire projected Fiscal Year 2021 purchase, which includes ESSM Block I and Block II versions.
  • 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.
Sailors load an Evolved Sea Sparrow missile into a Mk 29 box launcher aboard USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74). Many millions of dollars worth of missiles are held in a single eight-round launcher., USN

Surface-to-Surface and Land Attack Missiles:

  • Tactical Tomahawk (TACTOM) Block V – $1,537,645
    • This is the unit price for the base land-attack variant. Funding for conversion kits to transform Block V missiles in Block Va Maritime Strike Tomahawk (MST) anti-ship missiles or Block Vb missiles with the new Joint Multiple Effects Warhead System (JMEWS), as well to upgrade existing Block IV TACOMs to the Block V standard, is contained in separate portions of the budget. A unit cost, approximately $889,681, is provided for the MST conversion kit.
  • Naval Strike Missile (NSM) – $2,194,000
    • It’s worth noting that the Navy only requested funds to purchase 15 of these missiles in the 2021 Fiscal Year budget.
  • Harpoon – The Navy did not request any funding for new Harpoon anti-ship missiles or upgrades to existing Block IC air, sea, and submarine-launched variants in the 2021 Fiscal Year. Budget documents for the previous year do not have a unit cost breakdown for conversion kits to bring Block IC missiles up to the new Block II+ standard.
  • Griffin – The service also has not asked for any funding to purchase additional examples of Griffin missile, which its Cyclone class patrol craft are armed with, since the 2019 Fiscal Year, at which time the unit cost for one of those missiles was approximately $127,333. 
  • Vertical Launch Anti-Submarine Rocket (VL-ARSOC) – The Fiscal Year 2021 budget request did not include any funding for new VL-ASROCs, but did funds for refurbishment kits for some of these weapons, each of which cost approximately $490,909.
A $1.5M RGM-109 about to make contact with its intended target. , DoD

Some may be surprised, or even a bit mortified, at just how expensive some of these weapons are. The truth is that advanced naval warfare is a very costly endeavor, especially when it comes to defending one’s fleet or destroying the enemy’s fleet with guided missiles. 

Author’s note: The original version of this piece had an older figure for the unit cost for the SM-3 Block IIA, as it had appeared in the budget documents that purchases of these missiles stopped in the 2020 Fiscal Year. As it turns out, funding for these missiles was simply shifted to another portion of the budget. This piece has been updated with the unit cost for this weapon as of the 2021 Fiscal Year.

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