Air Force's costs on Libya campaign $75M to date

The Air Force is spending about $4 million each day for its part of the Libya campaign, and has expended $75 million since the operation began, says a senior service official.

Air Force Secretary Michael Donley told reporters Tuesday that the service’s costs should begin to decline now that most of its fighter jets have been pulled from daily strike sorties.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates told House lawmakers last week he believes the Pentagon can pay for its Libya tab without seeking a second 2011 emergency spending measure.

Pentagon officials believe they can shift monies within a war funding measure the Department of Defense already has sent to Congress. What’s more, Defense officials say they likely could help pay Libya bills by using funds already allocated in a 2010 war-funding measure put in by lawmakers for items the Pentagon would prefer not to purchase.

The Air Force now has 39 “support aircraft” in the NATO-led Libya campaign, which was commanded by the U.S. during the opening days when the coalition dropped the most bombs and fired the most missiles at targets to blunt Moammar Gadhafi’s military advantage.

Those aircraft are providing aerial refueling and gathering intelligence, among other things.

Around 50 Air Force fighter jets conducted strike missions there “over the last few days,” Donley said during a breakfast session sponsored by the Center for Media and Security.

Those jets are now “back at their home bases” in Europe, or “in reserve” for NATO commanders to request if needed, he added.

That update came a few hours before The Hill obtained a letter that Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), a member of the House Armed Services Committee, plans to send to President Obama urging a limited U.S. role in the remainder of the campaign.

“Now that the military situation in Libya is under NATO control, it is important that the United States stand firm against any pressure to resume a primary leadership role and ensure other nations within NATO maintain full mission responsibility,” Hunter wrote. “NATO has both the strategic and air power components to continue operations without a direct U.S. contribution.  Any American involvement from this point forward must not deviate from a mission-support role, with the U.S. military providing only limited assets and capability.

“The U.S. military, other than providing assets such as aircraft surveillance, electronic reconnaissance and aerial refueling, as indicated by [Gates], should not be expected to have any additional involvement in the NATO-led Libyan operation — a point that needs to be made clear throughout the duration of the campaign,” states the letter.