The high price of a military campaign in Libya

The first US Air Force F-15E Strike Eagle produced by Boeing Co. lands at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada.

STEVE CHIOTAKIS: Some members of the Congress are criticizing President Obama for signing off on the military campaign in Libya. For one, members claim he didn't go through Congress. But there's also blowback on the amount of money the mission's going to cost. And today's crash of a U.S. fighter jet in Libya is likely to exacerbate that argument. According to the government, the F-15 wasn't shot down; it had mechanical problems. And both pilots ejected safely. But a plane like that is not cheap.

Marketplace's David Gura has been looking into the American costs of maintaining that no-fly zone. Good morning, David.

DAVID GURA: Hey Steve.

CHIOTAKIS: Thanks for being here live. First of all, how do you begin to estimate what it costs to maintain a no-fly zone?

GURA: I talked to Todd Harrison, with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. He estimates this no-fly zone could cost as much as $16 billion. Harrison came up with that number by looking at data from no-fly zones the U.S. has enforced in the past, over Kosovo and Iraq. To cover one square mile in Iraq, for one year, was $11,000. Now, Libya is about six times bigger, so, Harrison estimates this no-fly zone will cost somewhere between a $100- and $300 million every week. But he said to keep in mind that figure doesn't include how much it costs to get this thing up and running.

Todd Harrison: In order to have air superiority over the whole country, you're going to have to go in initially and take out a lot of targets. You know, surface-to-air missile sites, command-and-control facilities. Things like that.

Harrison estimates each of those targets costs about $2 million, on average, Steve. So, the start-up costs were probably $500 million.

CHIOTAKIS: What makes a no-fly zone so expensive?

GURA: It costs a lot of money to keep jets in the air, and the equipment itself is expensive. Harrison said a tomahawk cruise missile, for instance, costs about $1.5 million. And a plane like the one that went down last night? You can't get one of those for less than $30 million.

CHIOTAKIS: Marketplace's David Gura. David thanks.

GURA: Thank you.

About the author

David Gura is a reporter for Marketplace, based in the Washington, D.C. bureau.

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