What The Navy’s Ship-Launched Missiles Actually Cost

One of the biggest defense topics as of late is the supply of advanced missiles. Russia’s continuous onslaught of aerial attacks on Ukraine, as well as Kyiv’s ability to defend against them, and the defense of Israel from Iran’s large-scale drone and missile barrage, as well as the threat of China in the Pacific, has brought supply and cost concerns regarding these weapons to the forefront. But the Houthi’s constant barrages on shipping in and around the Red Sea, and the defense put up to counter it, has really highlighted just how fast these weapons can be depleted in the naval domain, even against relatively lowly threats.

With this in mind, we followed up on a story of ours from a few years ago on the actual unit costs of the Navy’s diverse array of ship-launched missiles, from SAMs to anti-ship and land-attack types, with the latest figures and put it into a comprehensive video as part of our new YouTube channel.

While nobody would venture to guess that any of these weapons are cheap, some will be very surprised just how expensive they are. Still, it’s always worth remembering that what the missiles are defending or what targets they are attacking are often far more costly or precious, at least in a big-picture sense, than their own value.

So, without further ado, check out the complete rundown in our presentation below:


Have you ever wondered how much the missiles that arm America’s warships actually cost? Buckle up, because this may be a bit of a surprise.

It’s important to note these numbers are just the unit costs of the missiles themselves.based on the Pentagon’s budget documents over the past five years, and don’t include any development, infrastructure or sustainment costs. And we’ve rounded the amounts to the nearest $10,000.

Surface-to-Air Missiles

The RIM-116 Rolling Airframe Missile, or RAM, is a highly maneuverable, fast acting weapon that serves in a similar role as the Mark 15 Phalanx Close In Weapon System.It’s a point defense system used to engage anti-ship cruise missiles, drones, aircraft, and small boats at relatively close distance to the ships it’s mounted on.In other words, it’s a last line of defense against imminent threats. Imaging infrared and passive radio frequency homing seeker capabilities allow RAMs to rapidly hone in on an incoming threat Rolling Airframe Missiles protect carriers, amphibious assault ships, some Littoral Combat Ships, and the Navy plans to have every Arleigh Burke class destroyer outfitted with the system in the coming years beyond the handful of them that have it now. RAM comes in a turreted 21 round launcher that is fully integrated into the ship’s combat system, and a self-contained 11 round launcher known as a SeaRAM that leverages components of the Mark 15 Phalanx to detect and engage threats on its own.

Each RIM-116 Rolling Airframe Missile comes in at $950,000.

The Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile, like the name infers, is a major advancement of the RIM-7 Sea Sparrow the Navy adopted for shipboard use in the 1970s. The radar-guided RIM-162 Is a short to medium range missile that can be used against a wide range of target types, from aircraft to anti-ship missiles. Notably, Four ESSMs, can be packed into a single Mark 41 Vertical Launch System cell, allowing for a major magazine depth boost for Ticonderoga class cruisers and Arleigh Burke destroyers. The Evolved Sea Sparrow can also be carried in a turreted box launcher that carries eight rounds, like those found on carriers and big deck amphibious assault ships.

Now, in it’s enhanced Block II form, RIM-162 clocks in at a cost of $1,490,000 per missile.

The last five missiles serve as the Navy’s Aegis Combat Systems big sticks. All of them are evolutions of the long running Standard Missile family of weapons, but they can be incredibly different from one another depending on the capacity they bring to the table and the threats they’re expected to tackle. The most prolific of the standard missiles currently in the Navy’s inventory are part of the diverse SM-2 to medium to long range subfamily. The most common throughout the US Navy is the Block IIIC configuration, which is actually an upgrade kit that give block IIIA and B missiles an active radar homing capability, which can drastically improve their flexibility and lethality.

The cost of each of these kits to the Navy is $2,530,000.

Another variant of the SM-2 being bought by the Navy today is the Block IIIAZ, which again is a conversion kit for the Block IIIA. The Block IIIAZ variant of the SM-2 is specifically used aboard the Navy’s Zumwalt class stealth destroyers and has a price tag of $770,000.

Both missiles have a range of up to 90 miles and can engage drones, manned aircraft, cruise missiles, and even lower end ballistic missiles under narrow circumstances. The SM-6 is an evolution of the SM-2 to add a greatly increased range, an active homing seeker capability, which would later be added to the conversion kits for the SM-2 Block IIIC. The SM-6 doubles the range of the SM-2 with a range of around 200 miles. The SM-6 is considered a complimentary missile to the SM-2, as opposed to a replacement for it.It’s capable of swatting down incoming ballistic missiles in their terminal stages of flight as they careen down through the atmosphere at their targets, as well as taking out aircraft and cruise missiles. It even has the ability to strike land and surface targets over long distances, acting as a quasi-ballistic missile. This is why the type is being deployed on land by the U.S.Army. Finally, the SM-6 is currently the only missile capable of intercepting hypersonic weapons, although only under certain circumstances.

The cost for arguably the Navy’s most flexible missileis $4,270,000 per round.

Finally, for the Standard family and the last surface-to-air missiles we’ll look at are the SM-3 Block IB and IIA.Both of these missiles have a much different mission set than the other Standard missiles and that is mid-course ballistic missile defense. The SM-3 specializes in knocking out ballistic missiles at long ranges while they’re flying outside of the atmosphere. They do this with a kinetic hit-to-kill vehicle that physically impacts the incoming threat during the portion of its flight outside the Earth’s atmosphere. Think of it as hitting a bullet with a bullet, traveling at each other thousands of miles per hour.in space. SM-3s are now capable of engaging very fast and far flying intercontinental ballistic missiles, as well as less capable ballistic missile types. Although incredibly expensive, these weapons provide a prized ballistic missile defense capability, and their cost is paid for by the Missile Defense Agency.

The extremely high tech multi-stage SM-3s come in at $12,510,000 for the Block IB, and $28,700,000 for the Block IIA.

Surface-to-Surface Missiles

The first missile we’ll talk about is probably the one that comes to mind when we talk about attacking land targets and that is the Tomahawk Block V cruise missile, otherwise known as the Tactical Tomahawk. The Tactical Tomahawk has a range of around 1000 miles and is used for over-the-horizon land attack missions. It can loiter, and its orders can be updated in flight via satellite data link. Robust anti-ship capabilities are also being integrated into the latest variants.

This block V Tomahawk costs $1,890,000 per round.

The Naval Strike Missile is a multi-purpose weaponintended for both use in littoral waters and the open sea. It has a stated range of around 111 miles, some stealthy features and an imaging infrared seeker that is impervious to electronic warfare. Naval strike missiles can also strike land targets in a secondary capacity. These missiles are currently only deployed aboard some Littoral Combat Ships. They will also be deployed on the Constellation class frigate currently in development.

These weapons cost $1,900,000 each.

The Harpoon has long been the Navy’s staple anti-ship missile, but the service has not requested any funding for the missile in the FY24 budget. The Navy did spend funding on Block II Harpoons in the FY2020 budget at a cost of $1,410,000 per missile.

Finally, the Navy also uses its vertical launch cells to protect its surface ships from threats under the water via the Vertical Launch Anti-Submarine rocket or VLA. This system is a rocket that packs a Mark 54 lightweight torpedo, and can very quickly deliver it well over a dozen miles away from the ship right on top of an enemy submarine. The Navy hasn’t requested funding for the VLAs but did include funding for refurbishment kits at a cost of around $530,000 per kit.

What’s the Total Cost?

So if you were to fill an Arleigh Burke destroyer in the Rota configuration, which includes Rolling Airframe Missiles in their self-contained SeaRAM system, with all new weapons, including, let’s say, 11 RAMs, 32 ESSMs, 16 Tomahawks, 40 SM-2s, 12 SM-6, sand eight SM-3s, as well as six VLAs and eight Harpoons, based on these figures, the bill would be around $420 million.

Contact the author: Tyler@TWZ.com

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Tyler Rogoway


Tyler's passion is the study of military technology, strategy, and foreign policy and he has fostered a dominant voice on those topics in the defense media space. He was the creator of the hugely popular defense site Foxtrot Alpha before developing The War Zone.