Syria no-fly zone would cost billions, say analysts

Gulf governments could be called upon to provide some of the funding and support

The cost of implementing a no-fly zone in Syria would run into the billions of dollars, would be a lot more complex to manage than the previous one introduced in Libya and Gulf governments would be required to burden some of the cost, military analysts have told Arabian Business.

The bill for the Libya no-fly zone was estimated to have cost in the region of over $1bn, but Todd Harrison, senior fellow for defence budget studies at the Washington DC-based Centre for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA), said the estimated bill for a similar initiative in Syria would be a lot higher.

“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, senior research analyst with focus on Syria at the Washington DC-based Institute for the Study of War, a non-partisan, non-profit, public policy research organisation on military affairs, agreed the bill would run a lot higher for Syria and the exercise would be a lot more complex.

“To be frank, when we were discussing estimates the number we heard was nearly double the Libyan assessment... 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,” she said

Research by the Institute for the Study of War 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 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.

Analysts also believed Gulf states may also be called upon to fund at potential no-fly zone. “You are talking about billions of dollars and that is a cost the US can’t afford and some other countries could bank roll it,” said O’Bagy.

“There has been a lot of talk from the Saudis and Qatari and other Gulf countries that they would finance it. I question how much of that they would be willing to do.”

“It appears that a no fly zone is in the works specifically with coordination and cooperation between several Western states and Arab countries. One assumes that the tab for the operation will be picked up by several Gulf states because the US and Europe clearly cannot afford such operations since there is no real end-game,” added Theodore Karasik, a defence and security analyst at the Dubai-based Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis.

Regardless of who offers to pay for it, O’Bagy said the feeling in Washington is that this is unlikely to happen and alternative options will be sought.

“I think that’s where when we are talking about cost it becomes more relevant to the defence community here in DC. I just don’t see it happening and I think that a no-fly zone has a very strict military doctrine that goes with it so the argument to get around that military doctrine is to talk about a safe zone instead of a no-fly zone," she said.

“That has allowed for more innovation in terms of what can be done in terms of the humanitarian concerns along the border with Turkey and Jordan, but I think in the way the US conceptualises a no-fly zone and the military doctrine that goes with it you are unlikely to see anything like that happen in Syria.”

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