WASHINGTON - US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told lawmakers a limited military strike to deter Syria from using chemical weapons would likely cost tens of millions of dollars, but if past experience is a guide, the number could be substantially higher than that.
It is not uncommon for US forces to open an assault by launching scores of Tomahawk missiles costing over $1 million apiece and dropping bombs from radar-evading B-2 planes that fly 18 hours each way from their base at a cost of $60,000 an hour.
"I was surprised when I heard him (Hagel) say tens of millions of dollars. That's low-balling it," said Todd Harrison, a defense budget analyst at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.
He said the defense secretary might have been thinking of what the Pentagon would have to spend during the remainder of the 2013 fiscal year, which ends on Sept. 30.
Most of the cost of an action against Syria would be for replacing munitions that were used, funds that would not be required until after the 2014 fiscal year begins on Oct. 1.
The Pentagon probably would pay for the munitions with a supplemental war-funding request to Congress, which would not be subject to current budget spending caps, Harrison said.
"If you include the replacement costs of munitions, it (an operation against Syria) could cost half a billion, up to a billion dollars depending on the number of targets they go after," he said.