So How Much is a Blackhawk?


One of our favourite activities is trying to work out the cost of defence equipment from open sources but it’s like plaiting fog, pretty futile.

All sorts of costs are often thrown around as a means to justify an argument, usually, those that think buying off the shelf is automatically going to result in better and/or cheaper equipment.

For example, the recent issues of Super Tucano’s for the RAF with the widely quoted figure of £4-5 million each or the US Blackhawk helicopter being compared to a Merlin or Lynx.

This article is interesting.

The commonly quoted unit price for a UH60M Blackhawk is $14million, a figure generally seized upon by people who think we could buy them off the shelf for about £8million.

Taiwan is not an operator of the Blackhawk, much like the UK so perhaps the $3.1billion is a realistic figure that might include training equipment, logistics support and other costs outside of the basic equipment that any nation seeking to introduce a new type might be expected to face.

Making a simple calculation, $3.1billion divided by 60 is just under $52million each or £32million.

This just goes to show how difficult it is actually to work out the costs of military equipment because there is much more to operating a helicopter than just buying it.

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4 Responses

  1. It seems, from recent mil-oriented open sources, the current going rate for a basic UH-60L is $12-15m INCLUDING spares, $35m when technical support and related information is transferred (out of 15 helicopters). $20m for MEDEVAC-styled units.

    For the more recent UH-60M and related naval models, it’s more in the range of $15-25m (which includes customizations, spares and kits). Good deals on large buys, too ($14-16m per unit for the multi-year large-scale contract with US Army and Navy).

    $14m may be low-balling it, but for the UK to switch the per-unit cost for a large buy (Couple hundred units) will probably average out to about $18m per unit (with all the good bits thrown in).


    6 UH-60Ls to Brazil @ $73.2m ($12.2m) in sept 09
    4 UH-60Ls (modified) to Brazil @ $60.4m ($15.1m) in June 09
    As part of a larger program (DSCA announced Sept 08): up to 15 UH-60L helicopters with 30 T-700-GE-701C engines, 2 spare T-700-GE-701C engines, external and internal fuel tanks, warranty, internal and external hoist kits, weather radar, spare and repair parts, tools and support equipment, publications and technical data, personnel training and training equipment, contractor engineering and technical support services and other related elements of logistics support. The estimated cost is $525 million. ($35m per with all options)

    8 UH-60Ls to Colombia @ $100m ($12.5m)
    2 UH-60Ls (MEDEVAC) to Colombia @ $43m ($21.5m)

    9 UH-60Ms to Bahrain @ up to $252m ($28m per with all options) per DSCA, $204m (with included add-ons, spares, and support), or $22.7m per copy.

    26 UH-60Ms to UAE/Dubai @ up to $808m (with all options, no clear break-down for indiv units)
    14 UH-60Ms to UAE @ $171m ($12.2m), extension of previous contract, and more likely specification of per-unit costs.
    (Details on the add-ons,

    537 UH-60M/HH-60M/MH-60R/MH-60S @ $7.4bn ($13.7m), incl spares. Options bring it up to $11.6bn, but that includes an additional 263 aircraft and spares ($4.2bn for 263 or ~$16m per)

  2. Having looked at the DSCA release, it appears that they’re getting a lot in the package, beyond the normal training for flight and ground crews including lots of maintenance equipment, NVGs, ammunition and related weapons systems.

    “The Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in the United States has requested a possible sale of 60 UH-60M BLACK HAWK helicopters with 120 T-700-GE-701D engines, 18 spare T-700-GE-701D engines, 69 AN/APR-39A(V)2 Radar Warning Receivers, 69 AN/ALQ-144A(V)1 Infrared Countermeasure Sets, 69 AN/AAR-57 Common Missile Warning Systems, 69 AN/AVR-2B Laser Detecting Sets, 120 GAU-19/A .50 cal Machine Gun Systems, and 310 AN/AVS-9 Aviator Night Vision Goggles.

    Also included are .50 cal ammunition, pyrotechnics, cartridges and propellant actuated devices. Also included are other explosives including devices, Po-Sheng Communication/Data Link Systems, ammunition, spare and repair parts, tools and
    support equipment, publications and technical data, personnel training and training equipment, contractor engineering and technical support services and other related elements of logistics support.

    The estimated cost is $3.1 billion.”

  3. I think our intrepid leader was simply using it as an example.
    For the most part, we dont know comes with an eqipment purchase, be it warrior UAVs, Tucano Turbo Props or Typhoon Jets.

    The fact that there’s a 400% unit cost variance is startling

  4. Dominic,
    Well understood, the previous posts were not meant as any sort of reprimand. I was simply providing more data about that and other Blackhawk sales.

    The other sales show similarly large costs for the acquisition of the technical information and training skills required to operate a fleet, emphasizing that the cost is almost doubled in many other small orders. But that additional cost is often smaller in larger orders and, furthermore, includes much more than just the basic airframe.

    Given the recent difficulties ‘upgrading’ a handful of Chinooks to UK standard systems, it might be worth it to pay a bit more per unit in order to have the craft arrive with UK comms and other systems pre-installed.

    Also, if the UK, Australia and NZ are looking for a common helicopter (as I read somewhere recently) then they could do worse. Bundling into larger orders has benefited the USN and US Army on the Blackhawk, I’m sure the UK, NZ and Oz could do the same.

    Just an idea.

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