Steven M. Kosiak
The Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA)
The Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA) estimates that the US military campaign against Taliban and al Qaeda forces in Afghanistan has cost some $400 million to $800 million in its first 25 days (October 7-31).1 Currently, the United States has several dozen warships and several hundred aircraft deployed in support of the operation. In addition, some Special Operations Forces (SOF) and other ground troops have been deployed to the region. If operations continue at roughly the same tempo and with roughly the same forces, the Department of Defense (DoD) is likely to incur additional costs of some $500 million to $1 billion a month for the duration of the operation.
Estimating the costs of military operations is an inherently difficult and uncertain task. It is made even more difficult in this case because the operation is ongoing and because DoD has so far provided fewer details concerning this campaign than it did during some past military operations (such as the 1991 Gulf War and the 1999 war in Kosovo). Thus, this should be viewed as only a preliminary rough estimate of the costs of Operation Enduring Freedom.
In addition to these costs, the US military has also incurred increased costs related to Operation Noble Eagle. This operation is focused on enhancing US homeland defense capabilities. Among other things, most of the 41,000 reserve personnel activated since the terrorist attacks of September 11th are apparently being used to support this operation. This analysis does not attempt to estimate the costs of this operation. However, a ballpark estimate might be in the range of one hundred to several hundred million dollars a month.
Basis for Estimate
In estimating the cost of Operation Enduring Freedom, CSBA used two methodologies. The first is a top-down approach based on US experience during the 1991 Gulf War (Operation Desert Storm) and the 1999 War in Kosovo (Operation Allied Force). The second relies on a bottom-up methodology and defines costs more narrowly.
Top-Down Cost Estimate: During Operation Desert Storm, U.S. Air Force aircraft flew about 35,000 strike sorties (i.e., round-trip missions by individual strike aircraft) and incurred incremental costs (i.e., costs above and beyond those incurred as part of normal peacetime operations) of $15 billion.2 By comparison, Operation Enduring Freedom has so far involved a total of some 1,600 strike sorties. Assuming costs are relatively closely (if not always directly) related to the number of strike sorties flown, this would imply costs to date of about $700 million for US aircraft operations in Operation Enduring Freedom.3
In addition, Navy ships have launched about 90 Tomahawk land-attack cruise missiles, the Army has reportedly deployed some 1,000 troops in Uzbekistan in support of the operation, and a small number of SOF troops have been deployed in Afghanistan. At about $1 million apiece, the use of the Tomahawk missiles would add some $90 million to the cost of the operation. A reasonable estimate of the cost of deploying the ground troops in Uzbekistan (based on the cost of past and ongoing peacekeeping operations) would be some $25 million, with a few more million dollars (or perhaps tens of millions of dollars) needed to cover extra costs related to SOF operations inside Afghanistan. Altogether, this top-down methodology would imply total incremental costs for the first 25 days of Operation Enduring Freedom of some $800 million.
Another top-down approach would be to estimate the costs of Operation Enduring Freedom by extrapolating from the costs incurred during Operation Allied Force. The total incremental costs of this military campaign were about $3 billion. This war and these costs were dominated by the Air Force and air operations, but this figure also includes costs incurred by naval forces (e.g., for carrier-based aviation and Tomahawk cruise missiles) and Army units deployed to the region. US land and carrier-based air aircraft flew a total of some 8,500 strike sorties during this conflict. Assuming the total costs of the war in Kosovo are relatively closely related to the number of strike sorties flown, this would imply costs of about $600 million for the ongoing campaign in Afghanistan.4
Bottom-Up Cost Estimate: The second approach used to estimate the incremental costs of Operation Enduring Freedom relies on a bottom-up methodology and defines those costs more narrowly. As noted earlier, through the first 25 days of the war, US aircraft have apparently flown some 1,600 strike missions. This reportedly includes about 200 bomber and 1,400 fighter-bomber sorties. Many other sorties have presumably been flown by various support aircraft, including, for example, reconnaissance aircraft, tankers and electronic warfare aircraft.5 Modern combat aircraft are very expensive to operate and support. The Navys carrier-based F/A-18 fighter-bomber, for example, costs some $5,000 an hour to fly. Moreover, the distances that US aircraft must travel in this conflict are enormous. For example, it is some 700 miles from the Arabian Sea, where US aircraft carriers are deployed, to Kabul, and some 2,500 miles from Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, where US bombers are deployed, to Kabul. Given the high hourly operations and support costs of US military aircraft, and the great distances involved, a reasonable estimate of the cost of US air operations in and around Afghanistan, through day 25, might be $150 million, exclusive of munitions costs.
The cost of the air-delivered munitions used during the first 25 days of the campaign may have added another $150 million to the cost of the operation. As indicated in the attached table, some precision-guided munitions are quite expensive. In addition, as noted in the previous section of this analysis, the Navys expenditure of Tomahawk cruise missiles, and the deployment of ground troops to the region have probably added another $90 million and $25 million, respectively, to the cost of the operation. Altogether, this second approach yields a cost estimate for the first 25 days of Operation Enduring Freedom of some $400 million.
For more information, contact Steven Kosiak at 202-331-7990.
The Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA) is an independent policy research institute established to promote innovative thinking about defense planning and investment strategies for the 21st century. Our web site is at http://www.csbaonline.org