Operating costs of military aircraft using reimbursement rates as an approximation

An F-16 Fighting Falcon joins in formation with a P-40 Warhawk (front), P-51 Mustang (bottom), and an F-86 Sabre (top) during the Heritage Flight Training Course March 2, 2014, over Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz.  (U.S Air Force photo/ Airman 1st Class Cheyenne Morigeau)

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?

B-52D at March Field museum. Photo by James Ulvog.

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.

Row of KC-135s. Photo by James Ulvog.

Rates by airframe

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

B-52D. Photo by James Ulvog.

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
F-15 (With a few KC-135s in the background). Photo by James Ulvog.

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
A-10C Thunderbolt II firing its 30mm×173mm GAU-8/A Avenger autocannon (U.S. Air Force photo / Senior Airman Chris Drzazgowski)

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
An MQ-9 Reaper, armed with GBU-12 Paveway II laser guided munitions and AGM-114 Hellfire missiles, piloted by Col. Lex Turner flies a combat mission over southern Afghanistan. (U.S. Air Force Photo / Lt. Col. Leslie Pratt)

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
KC-135. Photo by James Ulvog.

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
E-3G Sentry – E-3 Block 40/45 (U.S. Air Force photo / no specific photographer listed)

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
C-17 Globemaster III (U.S. Air Force photo / Staff Sgt. Armando Limon)

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
C-20B of 99th Airlift Squadron at Joint Base Andrews (U.S. Air Force photo / Senior Master St. Kevin Wallace)

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


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