The U.S. military operations in Libya will cost hundreds of millions of dollars and force Congress to seek help next week for the cash-strapped Pentagon, which is operating on a short-term funding resolution.
Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Wednesday that he had asked the Defense Department for an accurate estimate of the cost of the mission since the ballpark numbers being circulated, including one of nearly $1 billion, seemed too high.
House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) also raised the funding issue with the administration Wednesday in a letter to President Obama. Noting that Obama had said the mission could be paid for with money already appropriated to the Pentagon, Boehner pressed the president on whether supplemental funding would be requested from Congress.
Unforeseen military operations that require expenditures such as those being made for the Libyan effort normally require supplemental appropriations since they are outside the core Pentagon budget. That is why funds for Afghanistan and Iraq are separate from the regular Defense Department budget.
The situation is more difficult this year because short-term funding measures, known as continuing resolutions, have kept spending at the levels approved for 2010, below what the Pentagon expected based on its requests for 2011.
As the tempo of military operations has increased in Afghanistan, the Pentagon has had to cut back on other activities not related to wartime efforts, such as training and maintenance expenditures within the United States.
The added costs for some of the operations in Libya are minimal. For example, most Navy ships used to help establish the no-fly zone were in the area.
But the expenditures for weapons, fuel and lost equipment are something else.
The 162 Tomahawk missiles launched at Libyan targets in the first four days of Operation Odyssey Dawn cost more than $1 million each and will eventually have to be replaced. The F-15E fighter plane that was lost to mechanical failure Tuesday cost about $30 million and more will be needed to replace it.
Fuel for the aircraft flying strikes, capturing intelligence and providing protection are costly, as are the tankers needed to refuel them in flight.
The number of sorties by coalition aircraft has grown exponentially. On Wednesday, Rear Adm. Gerard Hueber, chief of staff for Joint Task Force Odyssey Dawn, told reporters that 175 sorties had taken place in the previous 24 hours, 113 by U.S. aircraft. In the first days of the operation, all coalition sorties numbered less than 80 a day.
Experts from the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment released a study estimating that a limited no-fly zone such as the one established over the major Libyan population areas could cost $30 million to $100 million a week.
“The first few days of larger costs will level off after we pass leadership to others,” Levin told reporters Wednesday. Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), also a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said that the financial burden of operations in Libya would have been greater had the United States acted without other coalition partners.