“I wouldn’t want to hazard a guess at the no-fly zone but it is going to be a similar order of magnitude and will be a single digit billion and something less than $10bn if it is a similar no-fly zone that we did in Libya.
“It is a complex situation... Syria has much more sophisticated military systems than Libya so taking down their air defences is much more of a challenge. This could require a lot of Tomahawk missiles and bomber strikes and that will significantly add to the cost.”
Elizabeth O’Bagy, a senior research analyst with a focus on Syria at the Washington, DC-based Institute for the Study of War (ISW), a non-partisan, non-profit, public policy research organisation on military affairs, agrees the bill would run a lot higher for Syria and the exercise would be a lot more complex.
“Obviously a no-fly zone over Syria is much more difficult because of the fact they have an integrated air defence system; whether that is actually working we are not sure, but they certainly have it on paper. When I speak to people at the Department of Defense, and about no-fly zones in particular, there is this idea that you have to take out the entire air defence system.
“Establishing a no-fly zone in Syria would be much more difficult and would require flying over Syrian air space and destroying at least close to 80 percent of their air defence. It would be a significant cost, not just in terms of putting the planes in the air but in terms of the equipment.”
Looking at some basic mathematics, even this opening requirement to dismantle Syrian air capabilities would quickly run up a large bill. Research by the ISW estimated that while the Syrian Air Force is considered old and not up to the same standards as modern fighters, it would require dropping around 250 Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles (TLAM) into Syria to neutralise it. With each TLAM costing around $1.4m each, this puts the initial bill within a few hours at over a third of a billion dollars, and this is before you even start monitoring a no-fly zone.
When estimating the Libyan no-fly zone, Harrison outlines three possible options, which would again be put on the table for Syria. Option one, a Full No-Fly Zone, is the most resource-heavy and would cover the entire country and would cost around $500m to $1bn to set up and incur ongoing costs of around $100-$300m per week to implement.
The second option available is a less costly Limited No-Fly Zone approach and would cover the major population centres where the majority of attacks on rebels are taking place. This option would have run to around $400-$800m and the weekly bill would run at around $30-$100m.
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