Cost of bombing Islamic State cheap compared with Afghan War
By TOM VANDEN BROOK | USA Today | Published: September 26, 2014
WASHINGTON — The U.S. military is spending as much as $10 million per day on its new air war against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, a relative pittance compared with the hundreds of millions it spent fighting every day in Afghanistan in 2013.
The costs in Iraq and Syria will escalate substantially if, as President Obama and Pentagon officials have said, the new war lasts for years, according to military analysts. Flying and maintaining warplanes requires a substantial investment in weaponry and personnel.
"If airstrikes in Syria and Iraq continue for as long as the president predicts, they will eventually cost tens of billions of dollars," predicts Loren Thompson, a defense industry consultant and the military analyst at the Lexington Institute. "The price of munitions is just one part of the bill. Thousands of personnel are engaged in sustaining aircraft, flying drones and operating warships in the region."
The Pentagon estimates that it is spending $7 million to $10 million per day in Iraq and Syria, Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, told reporters Thursday. That annual cost of $2.5 billion to $3.65 billion pales compared with the cost of fighting in Afghanistan. In fiscal year 2013, the Pentagon's budget for Operation Enduring Freedom — most all of it spent in Afghanistan — totaled $77.7 billion. That's a daily burn rate of more than $212 million per day. Costs in the current fiscal year, through June 30, have been $40.9 billion.
The current estimate of the fight against the Islamic State is rough, Kirby acknowledged, and promised more precision in coming days.
There are, however, a few price points to consider in the cost of waging war.
- The 47 Tomahawk land-attack cruise missiles launched by the Navy cost $1.1 million apiece.
- • "Smart" bombs, which glide to their targets with guidance from satellites, can cost about $40,000 each. Wednesday's airstrikes, for example, involved the use of 18 "precision" bombs, according to the Pentagon.
The major driver of cost is flight time for warplanes and steaming time for ships — not missiles or bombs, said Richard Aboulafia, a military aviation analyst with the Teal Group. A warplane can cost at least $10,000 per hour to fly.
"What clobbered us over the past decade wasn't procurement (of weapons)," Aboulafia said. "It was operations and maintenance."
Thompson also pointed out that some of the costs in the Middle East are already accounted for in the Pentagon's nearly $500 billion annual budget — war or no war. Ships will sail. Planes will fly. And troops will be paid.
"The nicest thing you can say about the price-tag for yet another war in the Middle East is that most of the forces being used would have been funded even in peacetime," Thompson said. "If the bombing campaign works, at least we will be getting a return on that trillion-dollar investment."