Sunday, August 31, 2014

ISIS Strike Costs

Breaking Defense website reports that the costs of engaging ISIS are running an average of $7.5M per day and have totaled $573M since 16-Jun, according to Pentagon spokesman RAdm. John Kirby (1).  Kirby also confirmed that the Pentagon would not need money to supplement the 2014 budget.

First, I don’t even remotely believe this and, second, I am nowhere near an expert on Pentagon budgets.  So, on what basis do I not believe this if I admit to not being intimately familiar with the budget or its workings?  The numbers were presented by a Pentagon and Navy expert.  How can I not believe them?  Well, common sense, I guess.  It just feels wrong.  Let me apply a tiny bit of common sense and see what that reveals.

If we decide to launch a hypothetical aerial strike on an enemy and we happen to have a carrier in the vicinity to do so, it stands to reason that the cost of the strike would be the extra fuel, maintenance, and munitions expended that would otherwise not have occurred, right?  So, in this example, it would be the cost of several planes worth of fuel (strike aircraft and, perhaps, some rescue aircraft standing by and maybe an electronic warfare aircraft), some extra maintenance for the additional flight hours, and the bombs that were dropped.  Well, several planes worth of fuel, some extra maintenance, and several bombs would add up to, what, $10K?  $50K?  Certainly not $7.5M.

Real Costs?

Yeah, but what about the cost of operating the carrier, itself?  And the crew?  And the carrier’s escorts?  And the resupply ship?  And the Pentagon intel support?  And the Joint Chiefs leadership time?  All of those were required for the strike to occur.  That’s got to easily add up to $7.5M for one day, right?

Well, here’s the thing.  If we hadn’t conducted the strike, the carrier would still have operated, the crew would still be paid, planes would still have been launched, maintenance would still have occurred, escort ships would still have sailed, resupply would still have occurred, intel would still have been collected, and the Joint Chiefs would still have met.  In other words, all those things would still have taken place and their costs would still have been incurred.  They just would have been carrying out some other task.  Suppose the other task had been to ID a fishing boat with a helo.  Would we assign a cost to ID’ing the boat of $7.5M?

As I stated, the only real, additional cost of the strike is the fuel, maintenance, and munitions that would otherwise not have been expended.  The rest was going to happen anyway and is paid out of the Navy’s general operations funding.  In fact, in our strike example, even the fuel and maintenance of the strike aircraft is debatable since some or all of the aircraft were probably going to fly that day, anyway, just on some other mission.

Now, if we surged an otherwise idled carrier group specifically to launch our strike then, yes, the entire cost of the carrier group’s operations would be a legitimate strike expense (well, not the entire amount because a carrier still costs money to operate even when it’s idled but we won’t quibble about that).

It sounds like attributing $7.5M per day to ISIS strikes is a case of dumping the entire carrier/Pentagon routine operating costs on the ISIS strikes when, in fact, the incremental costs of the strikes was minimal.  Thus, a common sense logic exercise suggest to me that the claimed costs are not even remotely accurate.

Having said all that, I repeat my caveat that I have nowhere near the level of knowledge to properly assess the budget and strike costs.  I may be completely wrong.

If I’m right, though, one has to ask why the Pentagon is misrepresenting the strike costs?  The answer to that is obvious enough that I won’t even waste the time to spell it out. 

The games that the Navy and Pentagon play when it comes to obfuscating costs are staggering and border on fraud (they don’t border, they are fraud but I’m being nice today).  Whether it’s ISIS strike costs (unless I’m wrong), JSF procurement costs, LCS costs, estimated SSBN replacement costs, or whatever, the Navy’s reported costs are absolutely worthless and lack of integrity and honesty inherent in them are very discouraging.

(1) Breaking Defense, Colin Clark, 29-Aug-2014,


  1. Welcome to the world of DoD budget Obsfucation. First rule, always attach costs to the few itmes that are controverisal, you will get cover form the ones that want it and the others will spedn all of their effort on this one item. The rest of the huge and bloated budget will then escape unnoticed.

    Look at the past 10 years, the DoD could not (would not?) provide estimates for the costs of the wars in the regular budgets. Instead they always asked for supplemental appropriations. If you can't budget for a 10 year car loan, you shouldn't have a car! Supplemental are for unexpected or unforeseen items. We budget for WW II for God's sake.

    REMEMBER: A mority of us voted for the folks that let this continue to happen.