Trying to work out now how much the Cuban missile crisis cost would be practically impossible. For one thing, you would have to try to untangle personnel costs from State, CIA, the White House, and other government departments and agencies involved in one way or another. Who was working the problem, and how was it over and above their regular duties? For another, the CIA and the rest of the alphabet soup of intelligence agencies played a particularly prominent role in the crisis, but it’s not easy to pry those numbers loose even now. And there’s no practical way to estimate costs incurred by the Soviet Union and Cuba.
But just a few months after the end of the crisis, the Defense Department did provide Congress with an accounting of its own out-of-pocket expenses. Their answer: $183,259,048.
In 2012 dollars, that’s about $1.39 billion. By way of some sort of comparison, in FY2010 U.S. spending on the war in Afghanistan was around $1.7 billion a week. But that, of course, isn’t really an apples-to-apples comparison. The natures of the military operations are very different and they are at very different stages in terms of mobilization.
The unclassified numbers provided to Congress in February 1963 are below, broken down by personnel, procurement, operations, and research and development.
It’s not clear what start and end dates were used, but it’s almost certainly not just referring to the 13 days. It wasn’t until November 16, three weeks after Khrushchev had capitulated, that the Joint Chiefs of Staff were able to deliver the news to President Kennedy that they were finally fully ready to take military action against Cuba if ordered to do so. And it was not until November 20 that the naval blockade was formally lifted.
The Pentagon, therefore, was still mobilizing–and incurring heavy costs–weeks after October 28. It was a major operation, involving moving thousands of troops to Florida, bolstering its air defenses, and readying its troops for a range of military actions against the island. They were ready for anything from air strikes on specific targets, a full-fledged amphibious invasion, or defense of U.S. airspace from incoming IL-28 nuclear bombers or even nuclear missiles.
The numbers were inserted retroactively sometime after the February 7, 1963, Congressional hearing date, but it’s not clear precisely when.￼
As one would expect, by far the largest type of spending was operational. But there are some aspects that are a bit unexpected. The next most expensive category wasn’t personnel, but procurement. Another surprise from these numbers is that missile procurement was large enough for each arm to warrant its own line item. What kind of missiles it referred to isn’t specified, but a good portion was probably surface-to-air and anti-ballistic missiles in the NIKE series. But those procurements presumably didn’t actually complete until well after the 13 days had passed.
According to these numbers, each service of the military–army, navy (with Marine Corps), and air force–spent remarkably similar amounts, give or take. The army spent the most. At first glance, this is a little surprising given that the navy’s role was so publicly prominent. But the army was mobilizing large numbers of troops and moving them to the southeastern United States, an expensive undertaking. The army and navy costs included low-level surveillance flights, but the U-2s were operated by the CIA, so those costs are not included (or known).
The “defense agencies” is deliberately vague, but it most likely includes Defense Intelligence Agency and possibly National Security Agency costs.
|Subtotal, Personnel . . .||$16,687,500|
Operation and Maintenance
|Subtotal, Operation and Maintenance . . .||$139,368,215|
|Army: Equipment and Missiles||$1,715,000|
|Navy: Aircraft and Missiles||$2,274,300|
|Air Force: Missiles||$10,152,000|
|Subtotal, Procurement . . .||$22,499,200|
Research, Development, Testing, and Evaluation
|Subtotal, Research, Development, Testing, and Evaluation . . .||$4,704,133|
Grand Total . . .
Source Data: Hearings Before a Subcommittee of the Committee on Appropriations, House of Representatives, 88th Congress, First Session: Department of Defense Appropriations for 1964, part 1: Secretary of Defense (Washington DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1963) p.86.
- The conversion to 2012 dollars was done using the Bureau of Labor Statistics inflation calculator. For costs of the war in Afghanistan, see Amy Belasco, “The Cost of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Other Global War on Terror Operations Since 9/11,” 29 May 2011, Congressional Research Service. ^
- Gregory W. Pedlow and Donald E. Welzenbach, The CIA and the U-2 Program, 1954-1974 (CIA: Center for the Study of Intelligence, 1998). ^