Website Calculates Costs In Terms Of Stealth Fighters

One World Trade Center? Roughly 31 F-35s
U.S. navy, via Flickr CC BY 2.0

How expensive is the most expensive stealth fighter ever made by the United States? The three versions of Lockheed Martin’s stealth fighter range in value from a low $108 million for the Air Force’s F-35A through $129 million for the Navy’s F-35C, and up to $134 million for the Marine Corps’s vertical takeoff F-35B. That’s a sort of incomprehensible number, especially since the Pentagon plans to order over 2,4000 of them altogether. To better get a grasp on the cost (and as a joke), Johns Hopkins graduate student Kedar Pavgi tweeted a conversion of winning bids at an art auction in terms of F-35s:

Before starting at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, Pavgi worked in journalism at the publications GovExec and DefenseOne, giving him some familiarity with the plane and long-running debates over its astronomical cost. To reach his calculations for the price of an F-35, Pavgi took the estimates from the Pentagon’s Joint Strike Fighter program head, and averaged them to roughly $123 million apiece.

Perhaps sensing the popularity of this calculation, and urged on by others (full disclosure: including myself), Pavgi created a simple site that takes in costs and spits them out in terms of stealth fighters. For example, New York’s One World Trade tower costs roughly $3.8 billion, which is equivalent to almost 31 F-35s. The International Space Station, with a cost of $107 billion (total, shared among several countries and across thirty years) is the same as 867 F-35s. Triple Deuce, the world’s largest and most expensive yacht at $1 billion, is 8 stealth jets. As noted on Twitter, the 2016 budget for Feed the Future, the “U.S. Government’s global hunger and food security initiative,” is $978 million, or just shy of 8 planes.

“Guns and butter” is a popular simplification in both political science and economics about how nations can choose to spend money. In 2015, American consumers spent almost $2 billion on butter, or about 15.5 F-35s.

Have fun with the calculator!