While it’s difficult to estimate the financial cost of the Syria military campaign for Russia’s treasury, it might not be more expensive than the large-scale military exercises that Russia has already been conducting.

Russia's Su-24 aircraft takes off from Syria's Hmeimim airbase. Photo: RIA Novosti

Is it possible to estimate the monetary cost of the Russian operation in Syria? Let’s cut to the chase. No.

That’s because spending on defense and security in Russia is not an open topic. Whether you condemn or condone that fact, it is still a fact. Moreover, it is not even possible to pinpoint the source of funding for the Russian air campaign in Syria.

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Does financing come from funds already set aside in the Defense Ministry budget, or from additional money especially set aside for the purpose? The first option is more likely. The absence of publicly available official data on military spending means that we can only speculate about the scale of the costs involved.

The Russian Aerospace Defense Forces (ADF) operation is based at the Hmeymim airbase in Syria. According to Igor Konashenkov,  the official spokesman of the Russian Defense Ministry, Russia now has more than 50 aircraft in Syria, including 12 Su-24M strike aircraft, 12 Su-25 close air support aircraft, four modern Su-30SM fighters and six brand-new Su-34 strike aircraft.

Given the overall size of the Russian Air Force (which is also classified information, but can be estimated at a total size of about 3,000-3,500 aerial vehicles) the numbers represent less than two percent of Russian military aviation capabilities.

Assuming that no additional aircraft will be procured for the operation in Syria, and that the ADF will make do with existing equipment, the aviation group will consist of units that are armed as a matter of course, so treating them as “operational expenses” is not entirely justified. The only source of potential expenditure is loss or damage to aircraft (due to technical malfunction, enemy action or other causes), as well as ongoing maintenance costs from intensive use.

Incidentally, that applies equally to service personnel. The operation will be conducted by officers and contract soldiers. Although there is no reason to believe that more troops will be required, those involved in the operation will be due additional payments.

Next up are the “consumables” — fuel, oil and lubricants, and air-delivered ordnance. It is likely that fuel consumption per plane will exceed the amount required for routine combat training and patrolling Russia’s airspace (not including military exercises), but it is difficult to assess by how much. As for weapons, they will mainly come from old stockpiles of bombs and missiles. Some of the latest bombs that are deployed are the KAB-500S, KAB-250S and RBK-500SPBE.

Fuel and weapons costs and consumption are also unknown, and to estimate them based on public sources is a thankless task. It should be kept in mind that in recent years the Russian Armed Forces have been carrying out intensive combat training and regular large-scale exercises, which are comparable in scope and at times even surpass the ADF operation in Syria by an order of magnitude.

The Russian Navy is directly involved, too. A naval group maneuvering in the eastern Mediterranean under the flagship of the Black Sea Fleet — the Moskva missile cruiser — is covering and supporting the operation in Syria.

On Oct. 7 the operation was joined by the Caspian Flotilla, whose ships barraged enemy positions with 26 3M14 (Kalibr) long-range cruise missiles. But here, too, it is not possible to estimate the cost of the weapons used, while price comparisons with the U.S. Tomahawk or the export version of the Kalibr missile are likely to be misleading.

Perhaps the biggest cost item in support of the legitimate government in Syria is the supply of weapons, military equipment and other goods to Syria using Russian Navy landing ships, known in the press as the “Syrian Express.” Besides the cost of the goods themselves and their delivery, the high load on the ships involved in the supply operation needs to be taken into account, since it reduces the service life and increases the maintenance costs. But once again, cost appraisals are futile, and any unofficial calculations are subjective.

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Lastly, it is unknown whether Damascus is contributing to the “Syrian Express,” and if so, how much. One thing that can be assumed is that war-weary Syria cannot, at least for now, be paying the full amount.

The number of unknowns in the cost of the operation in Syria does not end there. We have no precise information about the forces and assets engaged by the Defense Ministry and other departments to back up the naval and aviation groups. We cannot even guesstimate how the operation in Syria will affect the exchange rate of the ruble, the price of oil, and sales of Russian weapons and military hardware abroad, and without such knowledge it is impossible to consider the hidden benefits (losses?).

The bottom line is that the cost of Russia’s operation in Syria cannot be assessed for the time being, and any specific estimates are nothing more than speculation.

The opinion of the authors may not necessarily reflect the position of Russia Direct or its staff.