* Destroying Gaddafi air defense could cost $800 million
* Weekly price for patrolling zone more than $30 million
* Britain, France downplay cost of Libya air missions
(Adds budget details)
By David Alexander
WASHINGTON, March 22 The no-fly zone over Libya
could end up costing the Western coalition more than $1 billion
if the operation drags on more than a couple of months, defense
Zack Cooper, a senior analyst at the Center for Strategic
and Budgetary Assessments, said the initial cost of eliminating
Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's air defenses was likely to be
between $400 million and $800 million.
The expense of patrolling the no-fly zone once it is
established is likely to be $30 million to $100 million a week,
The U.S. military has no official cost figures yet for the
operation, which has been going on less than a week. By
comparison, the much more extensive Afghan war costs more than
$9 billion a month.
Some U.S. lawmakers and critics of President Barack Obama's
decision to join allies in the Libya bombing campaign have
argued the United States cannot afford the operation while
Congress wrangles over spending cuts and the country's $1.48
The Pentagon already has plans to cut $78 billion in
defense spending over five years and is delaying weapons
programs and putting off maintenance to reduce costs.
The operation unfolding in Libya resembles a scenario for a
limited no-fly zone analyzed by Cooper and his colleague Todd
Harrison. The scenario assumed a limited no-fly zone covering
Libya north of the 29th parallel, not the entire country.
They made their projections by computing the cost per
square mile of previous no-fly zones and applying that to the
situation in Libya. The price of munitions, jet fuel and
maintenance were the primary cost drivers. Their figures
reflected the cost over and above regular operations.
One thing Cooper and Harrison had not anticipated was
significant coalition support, with allies bearing part of the
expense. Cooper said it appeared the United States had flown
more than half of the sorties and fired most of the Tomahawks.
"In our analysis, we assumed that the U.S. would be picking
up the bulk of the cost," he said. "So even though the U.S. has
picked up more than a majority of the cost, I assume, so far,
it probably hasn't picked up as much as we estimated."
Cooper said the Tomahawk cruise missiles fired so far by
Britain and the United States cost about $200 million, putting
the price for taking out Gaddafi's air defenses on target to
hit their projection.
"We estimated $400 million to $800 million. Between the
Tomahawks and other munitions and flight hours and fuel, it's
probably going to be somewhere in that ... range for the
initial cost of suppressing the air defenses," he said.
The crash of a U.S. F-15 warplane was an unexpected cost.
Cooper said the Pentagon was unlikely to buy another F-15 and
probably would replace it with a joint strike fighter, with an
estimated price tag of between $100 million and $150 million.
NO 'ROBUST ESTIMATE'
The main European countries enforcing the no-fly zone
downplayed the cost of the operation. British Finance Minister
George Osborne, whose government has staked its reputation on
eliminating the country's budget deficit, told Parliament to
expect the cost to be in the tens of millions of pounds.
While saying it was too early for a "robust estimate" of
the price of the Libya operations, Osborn projected the costs
would be "modest" compared with operations like Afghanistan.
"The Ministry of Defence's initial view is that this will
be in the order of the tens of millions not the hundreds of
millions of pounds," Osborne said.
But defense analysts warned that British expenses for even
a limited operation like Libya could quickly add up. Analyst
Francis Tusa told BBC Radio 4 the missions flown so far cost
Britain about 200,000 pounds ($325,000) per aircraft, with
missiles running 800,000 pounds ($1.3 million) apiece.
With Britain flying 10 Typhoon fighters to patrol the
no-fly zone, "you'll be looking at potentially 2, 3 million
pounds a day ($3.25 million to $5 million)," he said.
French analysts also attempted to downplay the expense,
saying the intervention was likely to cost Britain and the
United States much more since they used pricier weapons.
"It's peanuts," said Jean Dominique Merchet, editor of blog
secretdefense on military affairs. It costs about 30,000 euros
($45,000) per hour to operate a Rafaele fighter, he said, but
most would have been in the air at least an hour a day anyway.
But Pierre Tran, Paris bureau chief for specialist weekly
Defense News, said even though France was using less expensive
munitions, the costs would quickly begin to add up.
"If this campaign goes on for very much longer, it would be
costly in terms of fuel consumed, flying hours for the pilots,
and eventually munitions used," he said.
(Additional reporting by Michelle Martin and Sven Egenter in
Britain and Daniel Flynn in France; Editing by Eric Walsh and