Operating costs of military aircraft using reimbursement rates as an approximation

The Department of Defense has established reimbursement rates for the airplanes and helicopters in the military inventory. If I’m reading this right, these are the hourly rates for reimbursement when an aircraft or helicopter is loaned out.

This seems to be usable as an estimate for the operating costs of airplanes. I previously discussed Operating costs per hour for USAF planes. This post provides more detailed descriptions.

There are separate rates for loans to another US military organization, other federal agencies, and two other categories I don’t understand (FMS and All Other).

Sure would be fun to put together a tongue-in-cheek conversation for which these rates would be used (Short outline: British Defense Minister: “Say old chap, we’re putting together a strike in our little squabble and we’d like to borrow two flights of Strike Eagles and a half-dozen tankers for a couple of days. Can you do that and what’ll the tab be?” U.S. Secretary of Defense: “Sure, for you, no problem. Um, yeah, we have the resources available. Hold on a second while I look up the list price.”)

More seriously, I’m guessing this provides a simple way to calculate the dollar amount of assistance we provide our allies, say the French need air transport to land a brigade of troops in Africa to deal with a new round of shooting in a civil war, like in Mali or Central African Republic. Or, say we provide refueling for the superb fighters of our French and British allies while all three of us launch a coordinated air strike in Syria.

Anyone care to share your guesses on how these reimbursement rates would actually be used?

Reimbursement rates

On a practical basis, this reimbursement table provides a frame of reference for the operating costs of U.S. airborne resources. The rates are broken out between operating and maintenance (O&M) and personnel costs (MilPers) on tab F2. That likely approximates the hourly operating costs and the hourly compensation for a standard crew.

The personnel costs are built on \$90 an hour for the Air Force officers. That rate is obvious from the tables – just look at the rates for planes that have only one crew member. That would be about \$180,000 annually, which would appear to include benefits and a blended rate probably of Captain or Major in the pilot seat. I haven’t bothered to calculate the implied rate for the enlisted crew.

The table is found in a Financial Management page from The Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller). Tables from FY 2019 back through FY 1997 are available. The Fixed Wing and Helicopter Reimbursement Rates for FY 2018 is the one I will work with below.

Rates by airframe

Here is some of the data I extracted and reorganized for your pondering and my future reference:

For the bomber info, I’m not sure why the B-2 is as close to the B-1; seems the B-2 would be a lot higher:

 aircraft O&M crew total B-1B 37,917 361 38,278 B-2A 58,621 180 58,801 B-52H 32,569 451 33,020

Here is the fighter info:

 aircraft O&M crew total F-15C 20,792 90 20,882 F-15D 21,117 90 21,207 F-15E 16,659 180 16,839 F-16C 7,692 90 7,782 F-16D 7,663 90 7,753 F-22A 35,294 90 35,384 F-35A 17,243 90 17,333

For dedicated ground attack, here’s the reimbursement rates:

 aircraft O&M crew total A-10C 5,474 90 5,564 AC-130J 5,245 645 5,890 AC-130U 17,302 877 18,179 AC-130W 8,594 597 9,191

The drone costs show one major reason they are so popular with commanders, in addition to the very long loiter time along with two of them capable of being armed:

 aircraft O&M crew total name MQ-1B 452 138 590 Predator MQ-9A 486 138 624 Reaper RQ-4B 3,537 138 3,675 Global Hawk

Modern jets are really, really thirsty, so here is the cost to run the refueling ops:

 aircraft O&M crew total airframe KC-10A 14,152 275 14,427 DC-10 KC-135R 11,843 228 12,071 707 KC-135T 11,979 228 12,207 707 KC-46A 6,377 228 6,605 767

Here are the rates for surveillance and command & control:

 aircraft O&M crew total airframe E-3B 16,575 1,607 18,182 Sentry – AWACS – 707 E-3C 16,575 1,607 18,182 Sentry – AWACS – 707 E-3G 16,575 1,607 18,182 Sentry – AWACS – 707 E-4B 74,050 1,545 75,595 Airborne command post – 747 E-8C 27,122 1,375 28,497 JSTARS – 707-300

For moving lots of cargo and troops, here’s the reimbursement rates:

 aircraft O&M crew total C-130H 9,993 413 10,406 C-130J 5,520 275 5,795 C-17A 13,471 275 13,746 C-5A 26,140 370 26,510 C-5B 25,509 370 25,879 C-5C 25,509 370 25,879 C-5M 25,125 370 25,495

For moving the VIPs, this is what the Air Force has available:

 aircraft O&M crew total airframe C-12C 2,412 270 2,682 Beech King Air C-12F 2,412 180 2,592 Beech King Air C-12J 2,412 180 2,592 Beech King Air C-20B 7,847 322 8,169 Gulfstream III C-20C 7,847 322 8,169 Gulfstream III C-20H 7,847 322 8,169 Gulfstream III C-21A 2,288 180 2,468 Learjet 35 C-32A 15,566 602 16,168 757 C-32B 14,950 602 15,552 757 C-37A 10,445 322 10,767 Gulfstream V C-37B 10,445 322 10,767 Gulfstream V C-40B 4,255 555 4,810 737 C-40C 4,170 507 4,677 737