Since the cost of a Libyan no-fly zone was estimated, the U.N. coalition has extended the mission to attacking ground forces. Image: CC mashleymorgan/Flickr

Details about the cost of the Libya war to the U.S. began to emerge as the intervention launched by a U.N. coalition against Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi concluded its fifth day. With a military budget under stress from two wars, the initial cost of Operation Odyssey Dawn to the U.S. is estimated to approach $1 billion. The U.S. cost of the Libya war is being drawn from money set aside each year for emergency military action and humanitarian relief, but a prolonged conflict may require the Pentagon to request emergency funding from Congress.

Estimate of Libyan war costs destined to increase

The cost of establishing a no-fly zone over Libya was initially estimated at somewhere between $500 million and $1 billion in a report issued by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, an independent policy research institute. The report said the initial cost of the missiles and bombs required to neutralize Gadhafi’s air defense sites could run from $400 million to $800 million. Enforcing a no-fly zone after that could cost between $30 million and $100 million a week, primarily in fuel. Since those initial estimates, the coalition has extended the mission from a no-fly zone to targeting ground forces along Libya’s coastline as Gadhafi continues to take the fight to the rebels.

How cost of Libya war adds up

On its first day, costs for Operation Odyssey Dawn passed $100 million just in cruise missiles. By the fourth day, the U.N. coalition had launched at least 162 Tomahawk missiles priced between $1 million to $1.5 million each. Three B-2 stealth bombers are flying from Missouri on a 25-hour round trip costing $10,000 an hour to drop 45 2,000 pound bombs known as Joint Direct Attack Munitions costing up to $40,000 each. The B-2 stealth bombers require air tanker support on the flight and the pilots collect combat pay. It costs about $10,000 an hour to fly a full contingent of U.S. fighter jets, of which one crashed at a cost of about $75 million to replace. Meanwhile, 11 U.S. Navy vessels including two amphibious assault ships, two destroyers and three submarines are cruising off the Libyan coast to support the mission.

Beware of mission creep

The Pentagon hasn’t issued an official cost estimate for Libyan intervention. How much it will cost is unknown until the length and scope–as well as the U.S. role in Operation Odyssey Dawn — becomes clear. Military analysts have said that an operation lasting a week that involves limited involvement of the U.S. military is manageable within the existing defense budget, which includes a fund for emergency military action. Critics on Capitol Hill, citing the mission creep of past conflicts, warn that at a time when the Pentagon is being forced to trim its budget, the Defense Department may be forced to request more money from Congress to pay for Libyan intervention.


Associated Press:

National Journal:

New York Daily News:

Wall Street Journal:

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