What's a Tomahawk missile?
March 19th, 2011
07:38 PM ET

What's a Tomahawk missile?

The Tomahawk cruise missiles that were launched Saturday against Libya are unmanned, single-use, programmable jet-engine missiles used only by the U.S. and British navies.

They fly very close to the ground, steering around natural and man-made obstacles to hit a target that is programmed into them before launch. Newer versions can be reprogrammed in flight but in this case that was not done, at least not yet.

They are different from other unmanned aerial vehicles in that they can only be used once - they are fired, they fly to the target and blow up. End of missile. A Predator and some other unmanned aerial vehicles can carry missiles, hit a target, then continue flying.

Tomahawk missiles normally carry a 1,000-pound conventional warhead. They can also carry 166 combined-effects bomblets, or mini bombs that spread out over a larger area. They can also carry nuclear warheads.

Tomahawks, developed in the 1970s, were first launched operationally by the United States during Operation Desert Storm in 1991. They are about 18 feet long with a wing span of nearly 9 feet, and they can fly at about 550 mph. Regarding Saturday's strikes against Libya, Vice Adm. William E. Gortney, director of the Joint Staff, said the missiles were in flight for about an hour, so they were likely fired several hundred miles from their targets.

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Filed under: Libya • Military • U.S. Navy • United Kingdom
soundoff (439 Responses)
  1. GetReal

    Smart weapons. Why didn't W. use them in Baghdad? Oh yeah, he had to demolish the whole country to find "WMD's" that didn't exist.

    March 20, 2011 at 1:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • 1GregM

      So this applies to OBUNGLER'S war how. Bush is gone – news alert!

      March 20, 2011 at 3:35 pm | Report abuse |
  2. CT

    There are no soldiers in Libya. Nobody is in any immediate danger at the time. The US could destroy Libya without any personnel even stepping foot next to it (without nukes). If anyone, repub or dem thinks this is about anything other than oil, you're a fool. Just like anyone who believed Iraq had legitimate WMDs. But, as a democrat, I'm perfectly fine using our supreme military capability over a tyrant to keep gas prices as low as possible.

    March 20, 2011 at 1:20 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Untouchable from INDIA

    What US and Allies doing in LIBYA is justified, one family rulling a country for 40 yrs, and eating up all natural wealth and killing people who say NO to it, is not good in this mordern world. Like in INDIA 20% tribes (called upper castes) eatup all Indian resources, bottom 50% struggle for everyday living. May God let westren countries know these details in detailed and may help Low caste people voice heard across the world.

    March 20, 2011 at 1:25 pm | Report abuse |
  4. jim

    it breaks my heart that we are creative and spend so much energy and money on how to destroy and kill each other.

    March 20, 2011 at 1:56 pm | Report abuse |
  5. EC

    about 99% of the $(%^ posted here has no relevance to the article... mindless ranting at best. Even the article needs to be deleted and re-written.

    March 20, 2011 at 2:11 pm | Report abuse |
  6. robroy

    well folks,what we need here is a good ole case of the little guy {libya} kicking the big guy{take your pick} in the tender spot.last time that happened was a bunch of rice paddy farmers in southeast asia .help me if i'm wrong here but did we not tell the Libyan army to get out of Libyan towns and cities.strange ?while watching these stories unfold tell me folks,just exactly where are these armed camel jockies {rebels} hiding thats right in amongst the civies .that's funny because when you Americans and Brits level half a village in Afghanistan to get half a dozen of these coward animals its inYOUR terms as collateral damage. tell these camel jockey's to come out of their holes,stand out in the middle of the desert and wait for whats coming!!!!see folks when rats hide behind the civilian population, their no better then the other side.

    March 20, 2011 at 2:23 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Zoom

    Seoul is South Korea, why would they attack themselves??? Idiot!

    March 20, 2011 at 2:43 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Davey Jones

    Actually, we are helping overthrow a dictator whom we had been in bed with politically, shamefully, even after the Lockerbie bombing and after we had already hit his palace with missiles once already. Now let's see a no fly zone over Yemen, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia. How about a really big one over China?

    March 20, 2011 at 2:45 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Davey Jones

    In other words, if you have blood on your own hands, don't point fingers?

    March 20, 2011 at 2:47 pm | Report abuse |
  10. erich555

    Not to mention, you could put one through an evil dictator's bedroom window from 1700 miles away.

    March 20, 2011 at 3:18 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Zitz

    I thought Tomahawks had wings. Where are the wings in this picture?

    March 20, 2011 at 3:21 pm | Report abuse |
  12. 1GregM

    Interesting that in all the time the incompetant poseur we are led by dithered and couldn't make a decision and people were dying, there was never a public debate as to the merits of gong to war. Then came the emotional decision FINALLY. No notice to Congress or any kind of debate there either. Isn't there supposed to be some sort of Congressional aproval before committing our troops to a war? Just who the h@ll does this putz-in-chief think he is. This incompetant buffoon is way beyond any desriptive phraseology to describe what we have inherited. What kind of party did we attend to get this kind of hangover?

    March 20, 2011 at 3:22 pm | Report abuse |
  13. OreElect

    So at 569 thousand dollars each,thats 70 million dollars just on missles.And were just getting started

    March 20, 2011 at 3:33 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Disbelief

    Can't believe we need to explain to the idiotic public what a missile is.... incredible.

    March 20, 2011 at 3:44 pm | Report abuse |
  15. dike

    and how is Bahrain and Saudi different from Libya, because the governments are in line with US policies? Not a word was said condemning the actions of these governments.

    March 20, 2011 at 3:58 pm | Report abuse |
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