Each year the United States Navy spends about 60 billion dollars on operating and supporting its fleet of about 480 ships, sounds like a lot, right? But to put things in perspective, each year Americans spend 70 billion dollars on lottery tickets, 80 billion dollars on cigarettes, and about a hundred billion dollars on beer.
Today, we will find out how much it really costs to operate each type of ship in the U.S. Navy, starting with the least to the most expensive. If you know anything about the warships, it’s probably not too difficult to guess which type of warship is the most expensive to operate but the cheapest one is not what you think.
So, which warship in the U.S. Navy do you think costs the least to operate?
Number 8- Zumwalt
According to the Congress Budget Office (CBO), the Zumwalt destroyer has the lowest annual operating costs for any warship in the U.S. Navy at 100 million dollars, not bad for a 7.5 billion dollar ship. But what is this 100 million dollars spent on?
The operating costs can be split into three categories: Direct, Indirect, and Overhead costs.
Direct costs include things like crew salaries, fuel, supplies, repair and maintenance.
Indirect costs include expenditures for various support units that are necessary for combat units to fight effectively, like naval bases, maintenance yards, and so on.
Overhead costs include administrative units that help recruit, train, and equip each vessel, medical expenditure, and other types of bureaucracy.
Also keep in mind that the crew size, meaning the number of people on board a ship is always smaller than the total number of personnel assigned to that ship. This could be because some ships have a dual crewing system, but also, the majority of the personnel play a support or administrative role.
Even though Zumwalt destroyers have a crew size of 180, the total number of personnel dedicated to each ship is 500. So, in case of Zumwalt, that 100 million dollar annual operating cost is made up of direct cost of $40 million, indirect cost of $20 million, and overhead costs $40 million dollars per ship.
Number 7- Littoral Combat Ships
Next in line are Littoral Combat Ships (LCS). LCS1 Freedom-class and LCS2 Independence-class. Littoral Combat Ships’ mission ranges from patrolling coastal areas to port visits to anti-piracy. Each Littoral Combat Ship has a total annual operating cost of 100 million dollars, just like Zumwalt, but since Littoral Combat Ships are much smaller than Zumwalt destroyers, we deem them more expensive to operate compared to Zumwalt.
The total number of personnel per ship is 430. As of 2021, there are 21 completed ships of both classes, which means that it costs $2.1 billion to operate the Littoral fleet each year.
Number 6- Ticonderoga
With 122 VLS cells and a powerful aegis combat system, the Ticonderoga guided missile cruiser is a multi-role ship capable of supporting carrier battle groups or amphibious forces as well as operating independently. The average cost to build a Ticonderoga cruiser was $2.4 billion. Ticonderoga cruisers were built in 1980s and have a total annual operating cost of $110 million per ship.
Number 5- Arleigh Burke
The work-horse of the U.S. Navy, the Arleigh Burke destroyers have an annual operating cost of $140 million per ship.
Arleigh Burke destroyers’ mission ranges from patrolling sea lanes and providing overseas presence to supporting other surface ships, carriers, and submarines. 720 personnel are assigned to each of the 68 Arleigh Burke destroyers.
Number 4- Attack Submarines
Attack submarines such as Los Angeles, Sea Wolf, and Virginia class have an annual operating cost of $140 million per boat.
Their mission is to destroy submarines and surface ships with torpedoes and missiles as well as striking targets on land. In total the U.S. Navy has 50 Nuclear-powered attack submarines with an average assigned personnel of 390 per boat. The construction cost of the latest Virginia-class submarine was $2.8 billion.
Number 3- Ballistic and Cruise Missile Submarines
The 14 Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines carry about half of the U.S’ active strategic thermo-nuclear warheads. Every submarine carries 24 trident missiles with up to 8 nuclear warheads each.
The U.S. Navy also operates 4 Ohio guided cruise missile submarines with an average of 660 military personnel assigned to it, the annual cost of running each submarine is $170 million.
The primary role of these 14 ballistic missile submarines is nuclear deterrence which is one of the three prongs of America’s nuclear triad. So every year the United States spends $2.4 billion on operating these submarines to make sure we avoid the nuclear war.
Number 2- Amphibious Assault Ships
Amphibious assault ships such as Wasp or San Antonio class are designed to conduct operations that involve moving troops and equipment from sea to hostile land. These ships usually operate in an amphibious ready group which consists of one amphibious assault ship, one amphibious transport dock ship, and one dock landing ship. An amphibious ready group can carry one marine expeditionary unit.
On average, each amphibious assault ship has 1450 personnel associated with it. Note that this number does not include the Marine expeditionary unit aboard the ship, which consists of 2200 personnel and 30 aircraft.
The U.S. Navy operates about 30 amphibious ships which is enough to support 10 amphibious ready groups. An average annual operating cost of all classes of Amphibious ships is $270 million per ship.
Number 1- Aircraft Carriers
The U.S. Navy has 11 nuclear-powered super carriers. Since one of the carriers is undergoing refit at any given moment and only a few are being deployed at any given time, the U.S. Navy only has 9 air wings.
Each carrier has an average number of 6590 military personnel. The average annual operating cost of a super carrier is $1.18 billion. A carrier air wing typically consists of 4860 personnel with an annual operating cost of $910 million per unit. So considering a carrier including the air wing, its annual operating cost is $2.1 billion.
Since an aircraft carrier by itself has the limited ability to defend itself, it relies on other classes of ships or defense against missiles, aircraft, and submarines. A carrier strike group usually consists of at least 1 cruiser, at least 2 destroyers and sometimes a supply ship or a submarine. Depending on the exact configuration of a carrier strike group, its operational cost is anywhere between $6 million to $8 million per day. In total, the annual cost of operating 11 carriers and 9 air wings is around $21 billion.
So, this is how a part of our tax money is spent on the U.S. Navy. So, do you like how your tax money is spent on the Navy? Think about it, and let us know in the comments section.
While you are thinking, watch this awesome video by Not What You Think breaking down the operating cost of U.S. Navy ships.