Sticker Shock: Iraqi F-16s $165 Million Each

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F-16s perform the "Delta Burst" over Florida / Air Force photo by Larry E. Reid Jr.

Think of it as a military-industrial complex two-fer — first we invade Iraq, eight years later we’re selling it F-16s. “Iraq has now made its first transfer payment for the purchase of 18 F-16 fighter aircraft,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Tuesday. “These aircraft are going to help provide air sovereignty for Iraq and to protect its territory and deter or counter regional threats.” They represent “the cornerstone of the kind of cooperation that we hope to have in the future to support the secure, peaceful, democratic development of Iraq.”

Iraqi jet jockeys can’t wait. “It was a dream come true to fly in the F-16,” Iraqi air force Brigadier General Ali al-Aaragy said after taking one of the fighters for a test ride at Arizona’s Luke Air Force Base nearly three years ago. The first flock of F-16s is slated to arrive in Iraq in 2014. The U.S. is selling Iraq 18 of the “low end” of the Pentagon’s famed “high-low mix” — F-15s were the more costly “high end.” But these 18 F-16s are no bargain.

The planes are going to cost $3 billion (extra spares and services could drive the total cost to $4.2 billion). That base price, without the options, works out to more than $165 million a plane — more than the current estimated $154 million price tag on the much more modern — so-called fifth generation — F-35. (The Pentagon stopped buying F-16s back in 1995; it paid an average of $17 million per plane).

The good news is the deal will likely keep the Lockheed’s F-16 plant in Fort Worth running perhaps a year longer. The bad news is that only 70% of Iraqis have access to clean water, and only 25% have clean sanitation.