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US role in Libya costs millions and could rise

23 March 2011 No Comment

Calculating the U.S. price tag for the no-fly zone in Libya is hardly simple math. The cost of four nights of a US and European assault easily tops hundreds of millions of dollars as the international coalition seeks to undermine Moammar Gadhafi’s air defenses and save the rebels from likely defeat.

The cost could rise moderately if the US role is limited, with the Pentagon using its existing budget to cover the expense, or it could jump significantly if the operation drags on for weeks or months. As of Tuesday, the coalition had fired at least 162 sea-launched Tomahawk missiles priced at $1 million to $1.5 million apiece and dispatched B-2 stealth bombers _ round trip from Missouri _ to drop 2,000-pound (900-kilogram) bombs on Libyan sites. Total flying time: 25 hours. Operating cost for one hour: at least $10,000.

The Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, in an analysis this month, estimated that the Libyan no-fly zone could cost $100 million to $300 million per week. In a classified briefing for congressional staff on Tuesday, officials from the State Department, Pentagon and Treasury were pressed on the cost. They declined to address the issue.

The Pentagon has requested $553 billion for the fiscal year that begins Oct 1, plus $118 billion in war costs for Iraq and Afghanistan. “The Pentagon really needs to do this on the cheap,” said Loren Thompson, head of the Virginia-based Lexington Institute and adviser to several major defense contractors.

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