Leadership: NATO Ponders The Long-Term Cost Of Libya


February 13, 2012:  NATO countries that participated in air operations over Libya last year have examined the experience and were shocked at how dependent NATO was on the United States for communications, aerial refueling, and specialized intelligence aircraft (including UAVs). Although American warplanes flew very few bombing missions, most of the refueling and intelligence missions were supplied by U.S. aircraft. This has prompted some European NATO nations to at least consider increasing the number of intelligence and refueling aircraft they have, as well as command and communications equipment, satellites, and aircraft. Nothing may come of this, as these shortages have been noted before, pledges made to fix it and nothing much happened.

NATO countries also noted the importance of smart bombs and guided missiles and the tendency of European nations to maintain meager stocks of these (and many other) munitions and spare parts for the aircraft that deliver them. NATO nations did not start acquiring smart bombs until after the Cold War ended, about the same time their procurement budgets were cut sharply. European defense spending continues to shrink, and war reserve stocks (large quantities of munitions and spares stockpiled to keep the troops supplied during the initial month or so of a war) are not a high priority. Moreover, the nations delivering most of the bombs in Libya had already used many of them in Afghanistan over the last few years. All this was yet another reminder that cutting corners in maintaining war reserve stocks was false economy. But the smart bombs and missiles are expensive. About 30 percent of the cost of the NATO Libya operation was for these high-tech weapons, with the rest of the expense being operational costs (fuel, spare parts, and personnel expenses).


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