The U.S. airstrikes targeting Islamic extremists in northern Iraq have probably cost about $100 million since they began three weeks ago, according to a defense budget analyst.
Todd Harrison, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments in Washington, said he devised the estimate after analyzing the number and type of strike and surveillance missions the Air Force and Navy has conducted so far.
"It's very approximate, given how little we know of the details," he said of the figure, which was previously reported by Colin Clark of Breaking Defense.
Harrison said he estimated the price tag of the operations to date at a range of between $74 million and $110 million, including between $56 million and $83 million for more than 1,200 surveillance sorties, between $14 million and $21 million on munitions, and between $4 million and $6 million for about 100 strike sorties.
While strike missions flown by such aircraft as the Navy's F/A-18F Super Hornet have generated most of the headlines, the bulk of the cost actually comes from the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions, which "tend to be longer because you're loitering over an area," Harrison said.
The ISR platforms also range in cost per flying hour, from only about $1,000 per flying hour for an MQ-1 Predator or MQ-9 Reaper drone, to about $7,000 per flying hour for an RQ-4 Global Hawk drone to about $22,000 per flying hour for an E-8 Joint Surveillance Target Radar Attack System, or J-STAR, aircraft, Harrison said.
The estimate doesn't take into account the cost of the U.S. military's humanitarian airdrops to provide food and water to displaced Iraqi minorities, known as Yezidis, in the northeastern part of the country, Harrison said. "I imagine those were pretty small unless we were dropping pretty expensive bottled water or fresh lobster instead of MREs," he said, referring to the military's prepackaged Meals Ready to Eat.
The latest air campaign in Iraq appears to be far cheaper than the American-led airstrikes against Libya in 2011. The price tag for that bombing campaign reached almost $1 billion in less than five months, according to news reports.
That's largely because the U.S. fired hundreds of Tomahawk cruise missiles -- each of which costs about $1.5 million -- from the USS Florida, an Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine, in the span of just a few days, Harrison said.
While Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel last week indicated the Pentagon may need to adjust its fiscal 2015 budget request to account for the military operations that began Aug. 7 in Iraq, Harrison noted the cost of the effort is a drop in the bucket compared to the $1.3 billion the Defense Department is spending per week in Afghanistan.
The Pentagon requested a fiscal 2015 defense budget of about $554 billion, including a base budget of $496 billion and a war budget of about $59 billion. Congress hasn't yet approved the spending plan for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1.
What's more, the White House requested a separate $5 billion counter-terrorism fund, of which, $4 billion would go to the Defense Department and $1 billion would go to the State Department -- presumably for exactly the type of missions currently underway in Iraq.
"It seems like this is exactly the type of thing tht this fund should be used to cover," Harrison said.