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I just watched the movie War Dogs last night (good flick, btw), and they opened with a line that claims that it costs $17,500 to outfit the average US Soldier. Assuming this disregards training and only looks at actual supplies, this figure seems extraordinarily high to me.

I did a little research online and found a few references to this number:

But of course none of these sites actually show an itemized list of the costs or even points out the big-ticket items that make up the bulk of this figure. I did see a reference that this is a true average so understandably Special Forces members would have much more expensive gear than the average grunt.

But I'm still really incredulous that supplying a typical soldier would even come close to this figure. Doing the (completely unscientific) math in my head I would imagine that weaponry, armor, sleeping and navigational gear would be the bulk of cost, but even conservatively I can't see those items costing more than a couple grand each (and that's assuming the US Military is buying top-of-the-line merchandise at retail rates which I am pretty sure is not the case).

Question: Where did this figure come from and is it valid? Are they including cost of living (food, heat, water) in these numbers? Does anyone know any more detail?

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    To be fair, 17k worth of gear for each soldier seems like a small investment to me when we are talking about the stuff that will keep them alive. – T. Sar Nov 24 '16 at 13:42
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    Yeah, that seems incredibly cheap – Rory Alsop Nov 24 '16 at 15:31
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    They are certainly buying better-than-top-of-the-line gear at more than retail rates. – user207421 Nov 24 '16 at 20:48
  • Why are we assuming this disregards training? Wouldn't training (and subsistence during the training) cost rather a lot? – A E Nov 24 '16 at 22:07
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    @AE Because it's perfectly impossible for training to be this cheap. Think about it, even boot camp is several months - the cost for housing, feeding, trainers, etc. will be a great deal more. – Voo Nov 25 '16 at 11:06
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This graphic appears to be close to the source and lists items but not individual costs.

enter image description here

I was able to find a breakdown from 2002

Here’s the breakdown:

helmet, $322;

uniform, $67.65;

body armor, $1,620;

nuclear, biological and chemical gear, $341.75,

walkie-talkie, $578;

boots, $105;

M-16 rifle, $586;

fully equipped rucksack, $1,031.15;

This gives a total price of $4651.55. The price has almost certainly increased since 2002 but the claim is from only 5 years later in 2007.

As far as I can find there is no breakdown, the highest level citation I can find for the figure simply cite "GlobalSecurity.org","department of defense" or "Pentagon officials".

Searching inurl:globalsecurity "17,472" yields some results but none are relevant.

This isn't the highest quality evidence but a piece of discussion on a military forum from 2007 seems worth including here:

I couldn't find anything at S&S or on the internet, but I did learn that that exact amount* -- $17,472 -- is what a private gets paid per year. Is it possible that's what they mean? Otherwise it's a heck of a coincidence.

It's almost impossible to prove a negative but given the much lower 2002 breakdown it seems plausible that the 17,472 number may have been based on a official mentioning the figure without going into detail.

Support for this exact figure seems poor since all articles mentioning the number cite the same source article which doesn't cite a specific source.

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    @ventsyv Something tells me that when you buy in bulk and are well connected to the manufacturers you could get a pretty good price – Kevin Wells Nov 23 '16 at 16:49
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    @KevinWells And something else tells me that there are premiums attached to government level procurement. – WernerCD Nov 23 '16 at 18:10
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    @KevinWells $1000 is a relatively low-end Civilian AR-15. High-end will run you around $3,000 or more... without any attachments or add-ons. Military grade gear will likely start at the high-end, and go well above due to special requirements (metal trigger guards, vs plastic, thicker barrel, chrome plated liner, improved buttstock, etc.) and then attachments may push that even further up (some sight attachments cost over $1,000 on their own). I'd wager after bulk purchases, $3,000-$5,000 per fully outfitted M4/M16 is fairly reasonable. – SnakeDoc Nov 23 '16 at 19:02
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    The US Army bought M4A1s for $642-673 each. guns.com/2013/02/26/… – Matt Nordhoff Nov 23 '16 at 23:18
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    Are the WW2 and Vietnam prices corrected for inflation? – vsz Nov 23 '16 at 23:40
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The big complication here is that an individual soldier might have have a lot of equipment allocated to them which isn't necessarily in their possession or immediately available to them at any one time.

One example is NBC protection equipment. For example a soldier may be issued with a respirator and a protective suit, respirator filters, decontamination kit, medication etc etc but there may be any number of additional sets of the consumable items held in storage either at unit level or more centrally.

Equally the equipment an individual soldier needs will vary according to their role and the climate they are operating in. This is well illustrated by the British Army's 'black bag' issued to troops deployed in Afghanistan which has three different protection categories plus specialist equipment for armoured vehicle crews and this is just personal items and clothing and doesn't even consider weapon systems or other operational equipment.

In general training the equipment allocation may well be comparable to what an air-softer would own as practicing basic infantry skills doesn't really need that much expensive kit. Indeed there was a period when a British infantry soldier might well have used very nearly 100% privately purchased kit on exercise (apart for weapons and helmet), indeed in the 80's and 90's optimizing kit was practically a hobby.

The overall, qualitiy of issued equipment ahs also markedly increased, as an example these boots (£50) are the previous generation wherrease these are current issue (£134) in fact now soldiers even get a choice of brands.

There is also the problem of how you account for things like food and ammunition. While you could well consider general catering to be a running cost there is an argument that at least some quantity of field rations could legitimately be part of their operational equipment. Ammunition is even more difficult. As a baseline there is a certain amount required even in peacetime for training and marksmanship practice and on active operations an infantry soldier could expend very large and very variable quantities. At the very least a rifleman could be expected to be carrying 100 rounds and possibly a lot more. 6 30 round magazines plus belts for a section machine gun is certainly not particularly excessive and in some cases additional boxes or loose rounds or bandoliers of stripper clips. Many armies also use section or platoon level 2" mortars or increasingly 40mm grenade launchers.

The best example of individual weapon costs I can find is the L129A1 ordered as an urgent operational requirement to improve the range and accuracy of firepower available at section level, at a cost of 1.5M for 400 units.

Equally in the last decade of so the amount of technology used by ordinary infantry soldiers has increased dramatically. Most individual weapons now have optical sights (which need to be a lot more rugged than civilian equivalents) and it is increasingly common for every infantry soldier to have a personal radio. Also officers and senior NCOs may well be issued with laptops for base administration, longer range radios as well as GPS and other tactical electronic and communication equipment. The use of body armour and blast protection has also dramatically increaced in the last decade or so.

This BBC article suggests that the cost of the current generation of body armour is around £1400 per unit.

It is also not necessarily a valid assumption that military equipment is cheaper to procure than civilian equivalents. For a start military equipment often has complex standards and requirements which need to be met and in many cases they won't be buying equipment 'off the shelf' but will often end up covering the full development costs of a particular item. For example the SA80 is reputed to have cost around £450M to equip around 150 000 troops and it also had a fairly major upgrade a few years ago at a cost of around £500 per weapon. This also means that in cases like the AR15 system the government may have effectively subsidised the civilian version as a civil version has already had most of its development and tooling costs covered by military procurement budgets.

Equally even quite small infantry units now have access to some very expensive weapon systems, for example one-shot anti-armour/material missiles can be getting on for £10,000

So a lot really depends on exactly how you account for spending and it's not really that meaningful to come up with a 'per soldier' cost in any case as any individual unit isn't much use without the logistics and support arms which allow it to operate. For example the cost of an infantry platoon calling in one airstrike could very well dwarf the cost of the equipment they are carrying with them. Equally not every single infantry soldier will be issued with every piece of equipment they would need for operations at any one time so many of the costs are per item not per soldier.

Overall it is probably safe to say that the actual personal equipment and uniform that a soldier is issued as their personal 'property' may be only a few hundred £/$ but once you start to try to account for operational equipment held at unit level it really depends on your definitions, for example do you include organic assets like vehicles and crew-served weapons held at company/battalion level ? Do you include the costs associated with storing and shipping equipment to an operational theater ?

Some of the information contained in this post requires additional references. Please edit to add citations to reliable sources that support the assertions made here. Unsourced material may be disputed or deleted.

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    This answer is based on your own expertise instead of third-party evidence. There's a ton of stuff that needs to be referenced, I'm afraid. – Sklivvz Nov 23 '16 at 23:20
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    I think you have a great point about allocating some of the less tangible "per person" items which I'm sure makes up a chunk of this figure. SAWs, explosives, communication equipment, ammo... those are expensive items that are going to be a part of each squad but need to be allocated across all of the members. I'm sure that pads what I was thinking as more "routine" expenses. Thanks! – DanK Nov 24 '16 at 10:42
  • There's no way the $17k cost includes combat equipment (crew served weapons, ammunition, ordinance, pyro, etc). If they did, the cost would be enormous. Same with the cost of training and supplies like food. $17k sounds pretty reasonable just for the cost of the equipment we were issued. – L0j1k Nov 25 '16 at 7:32
  • To reiterate: please fix this answer or we will delete it as theoretical. – Sklivvz Nov 25 '16 at 22:01
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    I've added numerous links to government and credible journalistic sources for costs of weapons and equipment and the main thrust of my argument is that the premise of the question is flawed based on rational arguments about how costs might be meaning fully calculated. However I think that my reference establish that a minimum cost of around £6000 is very credible at minimum. – Chris Johns Nov 25 '16 at 22:14
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I know I'm a little late to the party, but I figured I'd chime in anyway. As I was in the U.S. Army Infantry from 1990-1994, I can give an idea as to what we were issued but not to the cost. I think that's a good start though.

Since I was the automatic rifleman for my fire team, I carried a M249 instead of the M16A2. Anyways, This what I was issued.

  • 4 Uniforms (Top/Bottom), 2 summer, 2 winter
  • 2 pairs of boots
  • 1 Kevlar Helmet
  • 1 LCE (Load Carrying Equipment) system
  • 1 Flak Vest (which, by the way, is NOT compared to the body armor issued today. It's not bullet proof)
  • 1 Rucksack
  • 1 E-Tool
  • 4 pairs of socks (OD green)
  • 4 pair of underwear, (yes, underwear) brown
  • 4 T-shirts/undershirts, brown
  • 1 mummy style sleeping bag
  • 1 Polypad (to sleep on)
  • Gortex Gear: This includes but is not limited to, the Top/Bottom outer shell, long sleeve undershirt and bottom("long johns")
  • 1 "Bear Suit"(for extreme cold). This was extra thick top and bottoms
  • extreme cold weather boots
  • NBC Gear: top, bottom, gloves, boots, gas mask w/hood, extra filter(s)
  • Leather gloves w/wool inserts
  • Compass (very important)

  • other misc. items (it's been too long, I can't remember everything.)

The extra "Mission Essential" gear:

  • M249 Suad Automatic Weapon (my issued weapon), or
  • M16A2
  • Bayonet (if you carried a M16). I was not issued one since it doesn't fit the M249.
  • NVG (Night Vision Goggles)

  • Night Vision scope for my weapon

  • Frag and/or Smoke Grenades

  • anywhere from 600-1200 rounds of 5.56 NATO ball ammunition EVERY TIME we went outside the wire.

  • Various other "mission essential" equipment

This list is by no means all inclusive, it's just what I can remember off the top of my head. My only hope is that it gives some insight as to what it takes to outfit the "average" infantryman circa 1992 (I use that term very loosely because none of us were just "average"). I'm sure things have changed over time (new and more equipment issued), but I think this a good example of the "core" equipment one is issued. If someone wants to take the time, I'm sure they can take this list and get some kind of average outfitting cost.

*Of course I forgot the wet weather gear. Poncho, Poncho liner, Jacket, pants. Also, first aid supplies.

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    This would be a perfectly fine answer on most sites, but it doesn't work here. We are primarily looking for citations. The text is just supposed to summarize what the citations say for easier reading. An answer with no citations (other than "personal experience") will never quite work here. – Brythan Mar 26 '17 at 23:42

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