The Cost Of Attacking Libya

Five days into Operation Odyssey Dawn, the bill racked up by the U.S. alone is undoubtedly already in the hundreds of millions of dollars. And the U.S. military, which remains in the lead now, will continue to pump millions more into strikes targeting military assets in Libya. On March 19, while announcing he had ordered the air strikes, Obama phoned in his remarks from Brazil, conveying that the United States was at war because we had no other choice. Congress and the President have enacted 11 separate formal declarations of war against foreign nations in five different wars. Each declaration has been preceded by a presidential request either in writing or in person before a joint session of Congress. The reasons cited in justification for the requests have included armed attacks on United States territory or its citizens and threats to United States rights or interests as a sovereign nation.

Congress and the President have also on a number of occasions enacted authorizations for the use of force instead of declarations of war. Most commonly, such measures have authorized the use of force against either a named country or unnamed hostile nations in a given region. In most cases, the President has requested the authority, but Congress has sometimes given the President less than what he asked for. In contrast to the declarations of war, not all authorizations for the use of force have resulted in actual combat. Both declarations and authorizations require the signature of the President in order to become law.

The cost of war is often as unpredictable as war itself — a lesson the U.S. military learned the hard way on Monday when it lost its first major piece of equipment, an F-15 fighter aircraft that crashed because of a mechanical failure. By late Tuesday, U.S.-led forces launched 162 long-range Tomahawk cruise missiles, which cost about $1 million to $1.5 million apiece, from ships stationed off the Libyan coast. The total to replace those missiles comes to between $162 million and $243 million. It is unclear how many of those Tomahawks came from the U.S. inventory, but it is believed the vast majority did.

The Defense Department typically buys about 200 Tomahawks a year. While the military likely can put off buying new missiles for months, it will ultimately need to boost planned procurement rates to refill its stockpile. Defense budget watchers said the deployment of guided missile destroyers and submarines would not put a major dent in the Pentagon’s accounts because the ships were already deployed to the region. But the U.S. military has tapped its B-2 bombers as well as F-15 and F-16 fighter jets to strike a number of targets, undoubtedly forcing an immediate uptick in the military’s operations and maintenance expenditures, including fuel costs. It generally costs $10,000 per hour, including maintenance and fuel, to operate F-15s and F-16s. Those costs do not include the payloads dropped from the aircraft. The B-2s dropped 45 Joint Direct Attack Munitions, or JDAMS, which are 2,000-pound bombs that cost between $30,000 and $40,000 apiece to replace.

Army Gen. Carter Ham, the Odyssey Dawn operational commander, said allies are stepping up to shoulder much of the mission. But it appears the United States is still flying the majority of sorties. Between Tuesday and Wednesday morning, the U.S. aircraft flew 113 sorties, while coalition aircraft logged 63. For the U.S. military, the highest costs of the operations over Libya come in the form of munitions, fuel for aircraft, and combat pay for deployed troops — all factors that will pile up each day U.S. forces remain at the helm of the operation.

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