By Tom Vanden Brook
WASHINGTON — Waging war, even on a limited basis, is a costly venture.
An attack on Syria would be no exception to the rule.
“This would come in under $100 million, if it goes off as advertised,” said Gordon Adams, a professor at American University and a former Defense official in the Clinton administration.
The mostly likely scenario for a punitive strike on Syria: land-attack cruise missiles launched from five U.S. Navy destroyers cruising in the eastern Mediterranean. That attack would be in response to a chemical weapon attack that the Obama administration says killed 1,400 civilians, including 429 children.
Each of those sophisticated missiles, which fly as far as 1,000 miles, evade radar and explode within feet of their targets, costing about $1.1 million, according to the Navy. The destroyers generally carry dozens of them, Adams said.
“The ships, missiles and salaries are already paid for,” Adams said. “There may be an incremental cost in the tens of millions for operating the ships outside their routine operating schedule.”
In any event, the cost of such a limited attack wouldn’t be likely to force the Pentagon to ask Congress for more money, Adams said.
But those costs would escalate quickly, and the Pentagon would have to ask for more money if follow-up strikes occurred or the action escalated.
Take Libya, for example. The Pentagon spent $1.1 billion in 2011 to launch attacks that destroyed that country’s air defenses and established a no-fly zone. On the first day of that assault, 110 Tomahawk missiles were fired.
Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, estimated some of the costs for intervening more deeply in Syria in a letter to the Senate in July. He estimated that strikes with weapons launched from outside the country would require hundreds of warplanes, ships and submarines and could cost billions.
They would be aimed at “targets that enable the regime to conduct military operations, proliferate advanced weapons and defend itself. Potential targets include high-value regime air defense, air, ground, missile and naval forces as well as the supporting military facilities and command nodes.”
In that scenario, hundreds of targets would be hit, and depending how long the attack lasts, “the costs would be in the billions.”
Other options, and costs, according to Dempsey:
•Advising, training and assisting Syrian rebels: $500 million per year to start. “The scale could range from several hundred to several thousand troops with the costs varying accordingly,” Dempsey wrote.
•Establishing a no-fly zone: $500 million to start, $1 billion per month to maintain. Keeping Syria’s air forces grounded requires destroying its air defenses, shooting down enemy aircraft and bombing airfields.
•Controlling chemical weapons: More than $1 billion per month. It would require the initial attack and a no-fly zone. It would also require ground forces to assault and secure critical sites. Not all of the weapons would be secured, Dempsey wrote.
Without Syria, the Pentagon is on pace to spend about $574 billion total this year. Of that, about $86 billion was spent on the Afghanistan War.