Cost of Libya mission will be $80-85 million – not $60 million

A comparison can be made between the current Libya mission and Canada’s air campaign over Kosovo in 1999.

Based on the costs, the number of sorties, and the number of bombs dropped, we can observe that the operational tempo over Libya today is 24-30% higher than it was over Kosovo.

Using the figures available from DND and adjusting to today’s dollar, we estimate that the incremental cost of the Libya mission from its beginning to the end of September will be between $80-$85 million.

This is significantly higher than Defence Minister Peter MacKay’s estimate of $60 million, which he announced this week.

From Bill Robinson, Rideau Institute Senior Advisor:

Here’s a quick “back of the envelope” comparison of the estimated cost of the Libya intervention to that of the Canadian contribution during the Kosovo war in 1999 (Op ECHO):

Kosovo war lasted 78 days. Total incremental cost: ~$45 million (or about $60 million in today’s dollars); Op ECHO as a whole cost $61.3 million, but that total includes operations before the war from June 1998 to March 1999. CF-18s flew 684 combat sorties, dropped 532 bombs. Initial contribution was 6 CF-18s; peaked at 18 CF-18s and 300+ personnel.

Libya intervention to 2 June 2011: ~76 days. Total incremental cost said to be $26 million. As of 6 June, CF-18s had flown 393 sorties, as of 25 May had dropped 240 bombs. Initial contribution 6 CF-18s + 1 spare, 2 CP-140 Auroras (65 sorties flown), 3 tanker aircraft (146 sorties flown), 1 frigate, ~650 personnel.

Extension of Libya mission to end of September will add another ~120 days past 2 June, which if previous cost estimate is correct and activities/costs continue at about the same average daily rate would add ~$40 million to the total, for a total incremental cost of ~$66 million, about 10% higher than the estimate provided by the minister.

If the Kosovo experience is a reasonable guide, however, this is also likely to be an underestimate. Continuing the Libya mission at the current tempo would imply about 960 CF-18 sorties over the total mission and about 690 bombs dropped, i.e., about 24% more sorties and about 30% more bombs dropped than during the Kosovo war. It also suggests a total of ~160 Aurora sorties and ~357 tanker sorties (cost unknown). Personnel contribution in person-days (excluding the frigate, which will be addressed separately) would be more than 3 times as high. Altogether this suggests incremental costs on the order of 30% or more higher than the Kosovo mission, which would suggest ~$76 million in today’s dollars. The incremental cost of 6+ months of frigate operations would add about $7 million, for a total incremental cost of about $80-85 million.

Thus, unless DND anticipates a significant decrease in operational tempo over the next three and a half months compared to the war so far, the department’s $60 million estimate appears to be substantially underestimated.

Bill Robinson
e. newman-robinson@rogers.com

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