As the United States gears up for a seemingly inevitable strike on Syria, defense experts warn that a military action will cost American taxpayers billions of dollars at an era of austerity and contracting budgets.
The most likely scenario for a strike on Syria, as multiple senior US officials have indicated, would be to launch cruise missiles from US Navy destroyers cruising in the eastern Mediterranean.
Each of those sophisticated missiles, which fly as far as 1,000 miles, evade radar and explode within feet of their targets, costs about $1.1 million, according to the US Navy.
"The ships, missiles and salaries are already paid for," Gordon Adams, a professor at American University and a former Defense Department official in the Clinton administration, told the USA Today.
"There may be an incremental cost in the tens of millions for operating the ships outside their routine operating schedule," he added.
But those costs would spiral quickly as the Pentagon would have to ask Congress for more money to carry out follow-up strikes.
Army General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, estimated in a letter to the Senate in July that a military intervention deep inside Syria would require hundreds of warplanes, ships and submarines and that "the costs would be in the billions."
The top military officer said that the US would have to spend at least $500 million a year to train and assist the foreign-backed militants fighting against the Syrian government, but warned that the costs could soar rapidly depending on the scale of the operations.
Dempsey said that establishing a no-fly zone over parts of Syria would cost at least $500 million to begin with and could cost a whopping $1 billion per month to maintain.
Securing chemical weapons sites that the US claims the Syrian government has would cost more than $1 billion a month, according to the top general.
Washington has accused the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad of carrying out a chemical weapons attack on militant strongholds in the suburbs of Damascus on August 21. The Syrian government has rejected the allegation.
On Saturday, President Barack Obama, who had previously said a chemical attack was a “red line”, announced that he had decided Washington should launch military strikes against Syria. The president, however, said that he would seek congressional approval for an attack.