The Pentagon is estimating the cost of U.S. air operations in Iraq and Syria at about $7.6 million a day.
That’s about $424 million from the start of airstrikes on Aug. 8 through through Oct. 2, according to new data provided by the Defense Department.
The latest estimate is at the low end of a range of $7.5 million to $10 million a day that Pentagon officials, including Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, have cited since last month. The monthly cost of about $225 million compares with an average of $4.6 billion a month that the Pentagon has been spending on air and ground operations in Afghanistan as of June 30, the most recent data available.
“The Pentagon said from the beginning that their initial cost estimates were just rough estimates, so it’s not surprising to see the numbers change,” Todd Harrison, the defense budget analyst for the nonpartisan Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments in Washington, said in an e-mail.
Defense officials also confirmed for the first time that AC-130 gunships made by Lockheed Martin Corp. have joined bombers such as the the B-1B and fighters such as the the F-16, F-15E and F/A-18 in attacking Islamic State targets in Iraq. Announcements have referred only to the use of unspecified “attack” aircraft.
Air Force Colonel Patrick Ryder, a spokesman for the U.S. Central Command, said of the AC-130s that “we’ve been using them for a while” in Iraq. The gunship is designed to hit targets at night while flying racetrack orbits as high as 25,000 feet (7,620 meters.) It fires 25mm Gatling guns and 40mm and 105mm cannons.
The use of the precision strike aircraft suggests that the U.S. doesn’t think the Islamic State extremists have significant air-defense capabilities, at least in parts of Iraq.
The U.S. Air Force and Navy, together with partner nations, flew 5,060 combat missions as of Oct. 8. That includes 436 airstrikes, as well as reconnaissance and refueling flights, according to Central Command data.
The U.S. had conducted 379 of those strikes, and other nations have carried out 57, according to the data.
Partner nations that have joined in the air campaign are the U.K., Netherlands, Belgium and Australia, as well as the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. The U.S. has said Arab nation pilots are flying half the missions in Syria.
The strikes increased this week as U.S. aircraft, including B-1B bombers, attacked Islamic State targets near the besieged Kurdish town of Kobani in Syria.
Since Aug. 8, the U.S. Air Force and Navy have delivered most of the 1,070 bombs and missiles used. Central Command hasn’t released a full compilation of the number or types of weapons dropped or their cost.
An information sheet released this week by the command put the rough cost of Navy munitions used at $62 million, including $53 million for 47 Tomahawk cruise missiles made by Raytheon Co. that were launched at targets associated with the Khorasan group of extremists in Syria. That doesn’t include operations by the Air Force.
Pentagon budget analysts are preparing an amendment to the proposed $58.6 billion war budget for the current fiscal year to include added expenditures for the fight against Islamic State, according to a defense official.
The proposed revision probably will be delivered to the White House Office of Management and Budget this month, said the official, who asked not to be identified discussing internal budget deliberations.