Report: No-fly zone would mean destroying 500 targets at $1-2 million each

Monday, March 14, 2011   E-Mail this story   Free Headline Alerts

WASHINGTON NATO would require up to $1 billion to launch a no-fly zone over Libya, a report said.

The Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments asserted that NATO members would be spending up to $300 million per week to prepare a no-fly zone over Libya. The center, regarded as a leading independent budget think tank, said a one-time strike operation to destroy Libyan air defense batteries could cost between $500 million and $1 billion. A six-month no-fly campaign could end up costing $8.8 billion.

"Because U.S. and allied aircraft would be flying directly over hostile territory and would be within range of Libyan surface-to-air missiles, establishing this no-fly zone could require a series of coordinated strikes to degrade Libyan air defense systems," the report, titled "Selected Options and Costs for a No-Fly Zone over Libya," said.

Authored by analysts Todd Harrison and Zack Cooper, the report was based on the assessment that NATO would designate up to 500 targets in Libya, the size of which is 680,000 square miles. The report said the average cost per target could be $2 million "since many targets would require multiple cruise missiles or bombs to destroy." The report stressed that the establishment of a no-fly zone would be more costly and difficult than in Iraq during the 1990s. The no-fly zones maintained in northern and southern Iraq contained only 104,600 square miles.

A more limited option was the establishment of a no-fly zone that covered major cities as well as areas of Libyan Air Force operations, estimated at including up to 400 targets. The center said this would cover 230,000 square miles and cost between $30 million and $100 million per week.

"But as in the case of the full no-fly zone option, establishing this type of no-fly zone over hostile territory would require an upfront campaign to degrade Libyan air defenses," the report, dated March 10, said. "Since Libyan air defenses are concentrated along the coastal areas, an area that would be covered by a limited no-fly zone, the number of targets would only be slightly less than in the case of the full no-fly zone and might cost between $400 million and $800 million."

A third option was identified as a partial no-fly zone that would employ standoff systems to cover the coastal assets of Col. Moammar Gadhafi. The center said NATO could deploy three U.S. Navy Aegis-class cruisers, AIM-120 air-to-air missiles and airborne early-warning and control systems.

"Given the operating cost of these systems and related munitions, this approach could cost in the range of $15 million to $25 million per week," the report said. "Importantly, since the aircraft involved would remain off the coast of Libya and U.S. forces would use standoff missiles to intercept aircraft violating the no-fly zone, strikes on Libyan air defenses may not be necessary."

The center said NATO and the United States must first determine whether a no-fly zone would serve Western interests and help oust Gadhafi. The report said the Western alliance must decide which country would lead the campaign, rules of engagement as well as direct aid to the Libyan rebels.

"Although the cost of each option is only one of many factors that should influence the decision on going forward with a no-fly zone, in the current fiscal environment considerations of cost are likely to play a significant role in determining whether and how a no-fly zone is established," the report said.

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