People, I need your help: Inflation and the cost of fighter planes versus a Corvette

Okay, I am embroiled in an argument with a good (possibly soon to be ex) friend. He claims I have no basis for arguing that the cost of the new USAF F-22 fighter is unjustified. He says inflation accounts for the vast cost differences between this fighter and the F-15, and cites the change in cost of a Corvette since 1975 as an example.

SO…now I appeal to the SDMB masses for statistical help. I have several questions. If you can answer any of them, please cite a source.

1- How much did a Corvette cost new in 1975?
2- How much does a new Corvette cost now?
3- How much did an F-15 fighter cost the U.S. government in 1975?
4- How much does the latest models of F-15 cost the government now?
5- What has the rate of inflation been since 1975? i.e., what would $100 in 1975 be worth in today’s dollars?
6- How much are F-22 fighters expected to cost? I thought is was $100 million per, but I’m not sure.

Please help people. I’m battling a lot of ignorance here, and I need assistance.

Base Corvette Sport Coupe $6,810

2001 Chevrolet Corvette
Base Retail Price: $40,280 - $48,055

Current F-15 “Streak Eagle”

Cost: $10,890,000

Well…Im not sure what they plan on charging for the things here(lockheed), but its pretty hard to compare the cost of an F22 to a F16 or F15. Its just not the same thing. A new Corvette is more or less just a modernized sports car. It has a few tech inovations, mostly cosmetic, but the cost to design and build it are comparable to what it cost to design and build a corvette in 1975. The F22 however, is a totally differant critter. There is so much High tech stealth stuff involved, that wasnt even dreamed of in 1975, that the cost of design and construction is not comparable. To design just a straight fighter along the lines of the F15, that does the same thing, only more modern woudlnt cost that much. Its really more like comparing the cost of a model T with the cost of a new corvette, adjusted for inflation. There wasnt all that much to a model T, no safety glass, no airbags, no stero, no electric start etc…So the price differance even adjusted would be astronomical. Same thing with the F22 and the F15.

If we wanted just a straight fighter, we could just keep the F16, with updated electronics. This would be much cheaper, and the F16 has never been defeated in Air-to-Air combat. The comparison between a modernized F16 and A 1975 price for a F15 would be a valid comparison. Maybe.

The previous post was F-15 1975 costs…this is the most recent cost for an f-15…Cost: $27,500,000

Streak Eagle was a stripped down F-15A used to break various speed/altitude records in the 70s. Not even painted. It is not a standard production unit you would find at any airbase now.
Right from the USAF F-15 Info sheet:
Unit Cost: A/B models - $30.1 million;C/D models - $34.3 million (flyaway costs)**

Go here for a Federal Reserve Bank inflation scale since 1975

Another word of warning, here: Much of the cost of a military airplane is R&D. That money’s all already been spent, and discontinuing the line won’t get any of it back. Before you design a plane, the most relevant cost-per-plane figure would divide the R&D cost up among the expected size of the production run, but once development is complete, it’s far more instructive to look at the marginal cost, and take the money already spent out of the equation entirely.

I just bought a 2002 Corvette. Interestingly, many of the new innovations in the car come from the aerospace industry, including the HUD (Heads-Up Display) on the windshield and “Drive by Wire” technology in transmission and elsewhere. Mine cost ~$56K with all available options.

Just curious but with all available options at 56K was it the Z06?

Nope. It was the convertible.

Ahh thanks for telling me [sub](you lucky bastard)[/sub]

I have no figures on the costs of cars or planes, but here is an alternative source of information. In Rise and Fall of the Great Powers, Paul Kennedy states that for the past 5 centuries each generation of equipment has become more expensive than the last, at a higher rate than inflation. This according to Kennedy has led to an ever decreasing quantity of equipment with an ever increasing quality. Thus even if WWIII broke out tomorrow no one would be able to match the production numbers of WWII. In other words there is no way the US will ever again match some 45,000 modern fighters produced in a year. To even try would bankrupt us, and the economy is significantly larger than it was in the mid '40s.

Now if this spiraling cost is justifible will depend on your point of view. I imagine it looks pretty good to the fighter pilot who anticipates combat.

I have read that book, and know what you are speaking of. This is exactly the crux of the argument with my friend. He says I “just don’t understand” the issue, but I’m looking at it in just this way: since the jets we have are STILL the best in the world, why buy completely new, redesigned ones that cost ~3.5 times as much?!

He hasn’t really come up with a good counter argument, beyond telling me that I don’t know what I’m talking about.

(I should addd that he works for the Air Force)

Sorry this just isn’t true.

You must understand that the F-22 has been worked on for twenty years, counting design and concept. The main reason for aquiring new and better aircraft, when as you say and I agree “we have the best jets in the world” is we don’t want to be behind the power curve in the future. Advanced planes designed to overcome other country’s new technology do not happen overnight. And yes, I am in the Air Force. :slight_smile:

Thanks for reading,

Well, basically, if the evil forieng powers dejour come up with a super new whiz bang stealth fighter, washington cant just call up our boys at skunk works and say build one better, and have it ready tomorrow afternoon. So, you have to keep ahead of the curve. We cant put as many fighters in the air now as in WWII, but then again, we don’t need to. One F22 will do a lot more than a metric crapload of Corsairs and mustangs.

I don’t work for the Airforce, I work for the guys that sell F-16’s and F-22’s, and God willing, the new JSF to the Air Force/Navy/Marines/Coastguard/Israelies/UAE/everybody else who needs to shoot down planes or haul big stuff in them.

Speaking of which, our JSF(the program I work in) made aviation history when our STOVL plane(Short Takeoff Vertical Landing)plane whent from short takeoff to supersonic and back to vertical landing. No other plane has ever done this(the harrier is sub-sonic). The boys at boing arent there yet. Plus, our plane is doesnt look like a big mouth bass with wings. I got pictures of it hovering as my wallpaper at work.

*Originally posted by Lizard *

He may not be able to make an eloquent argument but the crux of the issue is really this-

Designing and building the latest and greatest airplanes often has direct and associated costs well beyond the envelope of relative costs defined by inflation so attempting to do a consumer car/military airplane comparison is meaningless. Beyond the utility of having military aircraft that are and remain the best on the planet, if we don’t constantly innovate and push the envelope of air power and air superiority we lose the momentum of a entire technology base and industrial culture and “art” devoted towards this end.

If others decide to take up the torch of air superiority this is not something we can regain overnight and it can have serious real world consequences if we are subject to effective challenges in the air by other powers with superior air technology. If a wealthier future China (or others) can buy airplanes that outclass ours do you think they will be less or more inclined to challenge us even more directly than they are doing now?

For better or worse the fact that aggressive and potentially aggressive powers fear our expensive, cutting edge technology and decline to engage us, is much less expensive for us on several levels ,than being forced to engage enemies on more even terms with lots of more reasonably priced mediocre weapon systems.

Read that one again, Mike. Bolding mine.

Why not go to the Bureau of Labor Statistics website and get the index for automobiles and then take the cost of F-15 from the year it first appeared and scale it by the CPI for cars?

Of course, the problem with this is that a car is not a jet fighter. The demand and supply equations underlying the two are going to be different and respond to different economic stimuli differently.

Saying that the cost is simply inflation is rather idiotic, IMO. Inflation is a monetary phenomenon. If it were just inflation then that means the price of the F-15 and the F-22 are identical in real terms.