How much does it cost for the US Army to kill someone in a war?

Pick the era of your choosing, I’m more worried about more modern styles of combat (say, starting in World War II), but I’m also very interested in how costs have evolved (I suspect that with the advent of suppression fire it suddenly became a lot more expensive).

I realize that this varies a lot from situation to situation (i.e. was the soldier in a tank? Was it urban combat? Trench combat? I’ll leave you to mull over the details), but generally speaking, given a typical open combat climate (i.e. not an ambush or small scale assassination), given things like typical soldier wages, cost of command, cost of ammo (including suppression fire) and all of that fun stuff, approximately how much money goes into killing one enemy soldier in the US army?

Nothing at all about this question makes sense. “Cost of command”? What the hell is that?

Just the US Army, not the whole armed forces?

Where do you stop counting costs? The bullet? The rifle that fired it? The rounds expended in the battle? The cost of the soldier’s meals? The cost of training the soldier from boot camp forward? The cost of recruiting the soldier? Any family allowances he receives?

This is just a quick estimate, and I’m not sure it’s what you’re looking for, but using the Wikipedia (always reliable, I know) numbers for casualties in the Iraq war provides this information:

Estimates of enemy deaths in Iraq range widely, from 40,000 to 70,000. Let’s go with the high estimate, and assume 70,000.

As of January of 2010, the amount of money directly spent on the Iraq war is about $700 billion.

So, 700,000,000,000/70,000 = $10 million per enemy combatant killed in Iraq.

I fully admit that this analysis is so simplistic as to be almost useless. But it might provide at least ballpark estimate.

According to a 1986 Mother Jones piece (by editor Michael Moore), it cost $200,000 for each kill in Vietnam.

This is a ridiculous question with an agenda. It isn’t even worth answering in its simplicity. The cost ranges from $0 if the targets all just gave up to billions if you had a successful war that saved the world but only one person died in. The goal isn’t to kill people. If that were the goal, we have plenty of nukes coming up for maintenance where we might be able to save money by destroying them over Middle Eastern cities but that would be stupid just like the question is.

Related question:

How much does it cost to kill someone in a manned U.S. Space vehicle?

The ridiculous math, if you wanted to do it, requires everything that goes into the U.S. military, its contractors, the U.S. government itself, and everything else through the economy. The marginal cost for a death after you have all of that in place is usually just a few cents for the bullet which seems like a good deal.

FWIW Cecil worked out whether it would have been cheaper to bribe the Vietnamese than to prosecute the war. But he didn’t work it out on a cost-per-kill, but rather on a per capita basis.

Does this include reconstruction efforts or just combat and or garrison related costs.

I have no agenda, and the math was meant to be imprecise and ridiculous. I just found the question amusing to think about.

I’m looking for every number that can be divined, cost of the bullet, cost of the rifle, cost of the research to make the rifle, cost of training recruits, cost of providing quarters for recruits. By “cost of command” I mean the cost of all of the equipment used to organize soldiers, as well as the (ballpark) salaries of the COs. I realize the goal of war isn’t necessarily to kill people, however it does tend to happen in wars, and I was wondering the cost. So basically the answer to:

is simply “you don’t stop counting until you either get bored or go insane.”

To stave off curiosity of why I asked this question, it actually has to do with games. When I watch Let’s Plays of shooter games, both military and police (the recent one that started my train of thought was an LP of SWAT 4), a lot of times people make cracks about how much it actually cost to kill the 10-15 terrorists given all the medical attention needed to their comrades that kept getting shot, along with all the ammo they’re wasting on nothing. It got me thinking about how much, in real life, does it cost to kill someone in a war. The question has no agenda, and I’m not fishing for anything ridiculous to be outraged over. I’m looking for a very imprecise ballpark figure, for no reason other than for my own vague amusement.

That’s actually a pretty interesting question, I’d like to know the answer to that one too.

Well, I haven’t heard from the OP as to whether he was looking for only the cost of the US Army to kill someone, but I’m going to answer as though he’s asking about the US Armed Forces generally.

In 1991, the Gulf War cost $61 billion, and somewhere between 20,000 and 35,000 Iraqis were estimated to have been killed. All up, that works out to $2 million per kill.

The cost of Vietnam was about $740 billion, and about 1 million North Vietnamese combatants were estimated to have been killed. That makes it about $750,000 per kill.

Going further back, the Civil War cost the North $3.1 billion, and it looks like the South had about 75,000 combat deaths. So that’s about $41,000 per kill. The South spent $1 billion, and 140,000 Northern troops were killed, making it $7,100 per kill.

I took the casualty numbers from Wikipedia and the cost of wars from here.

I was mostly interested in the actual US Army, though now that I think about it comparing different branches might be amusing, even comparing different scenarios could be fun. For instance, naval battles require a lot of specialized equipment, and engineers with a lot of training, however depending on how many people die on average when a ship is sunk, how much did each of them cost? Same with armor to armor combat, plane to plane combat, bombings etc. And even then going up a level and looking at system interactions could be fun “giving that a city is being bombed, how does that affect infantry combat casualty costs?” and so on and so forth.


One thing to consider is that the high dollar rate for each “kill” in our modern wars also represents dollars spent trying NOT to kill the innocent schmucks next to him. The results of that vary I know, but I’m sure indiscriminate slaughter would get more blood for the buck.

Excellent user name/post combo!

Yes, in general it would be cheaper to kill indiscriminately. Some area weapons are fairly inexpensive (cluster bombs and so on). Some are not (cruise missiles).

This is a very complex question to discuss. Does one include the costs of feeding and housing soldiers one would have had to feed and house anyway, even in peacetime? What about the “assistance” payments to countries whose goodwill allows us to operate bases or stage supplies? What about money spent to keep our soldiers from getting killed/maimed – is that “offset” by the cost of caring for them or death benefits to their survivors?