Three days after an international military coalition intervened in Libya, the cost to U.S. taxpayers has reached the hundreds of millions of dollars and continues to climb.
U.S. and U.K. ships and submarines in the Mediterranean have unleashed at least 161 Tomahawk cruise missiles from their arsenals to the tune of $225 million, the Pentagon said.
U.S. warplanes have dropped dozens of bombs with price-tags of tens of thousands of dollars apiece.
A downed Air Force F-15 fighter jet will cost more than $30 million to replace.
And operation of the war craft, guzzling ever-expensive fuel to maintain their positions off the Libyan coast and in the skies above, could reach millions of dollars a week, experts say.
"Each sortie, even if it drops no munitions, is very pricey," said Winslow Wheeler with the Center for Defense Information. "These airplanes cost us tens of thousands of dollars to operate per hour, and the fancier you get in terms of planes, the costs get truly astounding."
The 3 B2 stealth bombers that flew from Missouri to Libya and back on Sunday each cost an estimated $80,000 per hour to operate, Wheeler said.
That means their 25-hour flight had a price tag of $6 million, and the 45 Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAM) they dropped added at least $1 million more.
So far the Pentagon has financed the mission to take out Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's air defenses and disrupt his attacks on opposition forces using resources in its existing budget, which accounts for unanticipated military actions. And the White House has not been forced to ask Congress for additional funds for the campaign.
Service member salaries, fuel costs and equipment maintenance are all part of annual military operating budgets. And hundreds of munitions, including the $1.4 million cruise missiles, are acquired each year and routinely used in action and training, officials say.
But experts anticipate the administration may have to submit an emergency supplemental budget request for Libya later this year, assuming U.S. involvement in the international military operation does not end swiftly.
The cost of operating the no-fly zone over Libya alone could cost the U.S. an estimated $30 million to $100 million a week, a study by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments found.
While many Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill have questioned President Obama's constitutional authority to engage in Libya without their consent, some are voicing concern about the contribution to the skyrocketing federal deficit.
"We have already spent trillions of dollars on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, both of which descended into unwinnable quagmires," Democratic Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio wrote in a letter to colleagues Tuesday. "Now, the president is plunging the United States into yet another war we cannot afford."
The combined cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have topped more than $1.2 trillion, excluding troops' pay, medical costs and interest payments on debt incurred, according to the National Priorities Project, a nonprofit budgetary research group.
More than 5,800 American military service members have been killed in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom since 2001.