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. Toumi Mondésir

    Try to protect Lybian civilians from a madman, you're damned; don't try to protect them from a madman, you're damned. What is the alternative, then? Would It be to let the world be governed by this bunch of idiotic commentators.

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

    I did a little looking and these missiles cost around $500,000.00 each. You fire off over a hundred of them in a day and you spend about 62.5 million, not counting the infrastructure-enough to pay for a lot of critical surgeries. What has Libya done to us? Are they an immediate threat? Why should our tax dollars go for this? Where is the tea party? Why did the founders give the congress power to declare war and not the executive? Who really runs this country? Are our representatives representing us or their global buddies that buy their elections?

    March 20, 2011 at 4:23 pm | Report abuse |
  3. AL

    what about it cost $570000 USD a pop?sending a 100 of these guys it cost 27 million USD ! well Mcdonald douglas will love that news bc military need new stock! by the way that number is whole sale!. One of these they can buy a nice executive home ! in nice suburb in USA!

    March 20, 2011 at 4:26 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Ronald Raygun

    a tomahawk is a man named tom with a mohawk...

    March 20, 2011 at 4:32 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Joe

    Looks like we need to lower salaries of those greedy teachers to pay for restocking our missiles. Wonder what those B2 stealth runs cost?

    March 20, 2011 at 4:32 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Tammy Obeidallah

    Where was the UN-mandated no-fly zone over Gaza when the IDF was raining hell down upon the civilians there? Where is the no-fly zone over Afghanistan and Pakistan so the US can't drone small boys gathering firewood? Hypocrites, all.

    March 20, 2011 at 4:39 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Leon Jaeger

    The Tomahawk in the hand,s of a native American, used with Discretion in times of war and for hunting, as for this version, a child a women a baby,indiscriminate murder, 1.2 million civilians dead in Iraq 230.000 where children, the west,s blood lust know,s no bounds. Will the cost of living go down when these people have been butchered, who ultimately benefits Rothschilds NWO! maybe. Sheeple news!

    March 20, 2011 at 4:49 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Matt

    good GOD! Nobody has a chance against the US weapons!!!!

    March 20, 2011 at 4:56 pm | Report abuse |
  9. alberto

    US,UK and France coalition force's concern is just oil.Not people, not democracy.France wants to make a show.
    A US hate is increasing in the world.In my personel opinion the USA is making a great mistake by intervening in Libyan affair.
    By doing this USA is preparing her end.

    March 20, 2011 at 5:06 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Chief Flying Eagle

    Tomahawk is a light ax formerly used as a tool or weapon by our people the Indians. Woo woo woo

    March 20, 2011 at 5:18 pm | Report abuse |
  11. anchorite

    The article doesn't mention it, but Tomahawks also contain about 500 lbs. of depleted uranium as ballast.

    March 20, 2011 at 5:42 pm | Report abuse |
  12. peter

    [3:37 p.m. Sunday ET, 9:37 p.m. in Libya] The United States has now fired a total of 124 Tomahawk missiles at Libya's air defense sites since strikes began Saturday night

    As per http://www.buzzle.com/editorials/11-10-2004-61475.asp

    The average cost of a Tomahawk missile is close to $1.5 million. But this takes into account the initial research and development costs. As a pure production cost it costs less that $500,000.
    Note that this is in 2004 dollars...

    That's about $186M cost of the missiles, w/o counting the military's deployment costs.
    Meanwhile Congress cut the $56M of NPR funding.

    March 20, 2011 at 5:46 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Zapotal

    A tomahawk (also referred to as a hawk) is a type of axe native to North America, traditionally resembling a hatchet with a straight haft.The name came into the English language in the 17th century as a transliteration of the Powhatan (Virginian Algonquian) word. Let's respect the Native Americans for what they deemed sacred.

    March 20, 2011 at 5:59 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Nancy Subsister

    Bravo Zulu, Tomahawks. These non-nuclear guided missiles are UNMANNED. They'll prepare the way, if needed, for UN-backed military personnel - ground, air - and, thus, save lives, prevent life-threatening and disabling injuries.

    I know where I'm coming from. My late brother, a former sub commander, was the program manager for the testing/development/successful launch of the Tomahawk Weapons System for surface ships and submarines. His boss, Rear Admiral Walter E. Locke is the "father of Tomahawk" as was Admiral Rickover for nuclear submarines and much of today's nuclear energy..

    Fair winds and following seas for Navy personnel from all of the countries participating in this assault on the insane Libya dictator who has no qualms about killing his own people.

    March 20, 2011 at 6:03 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Sean L

    You people are nuts, look....it isn't about the oil nor has it ever been. The area we call the "Middle East" is a tinderbox, anybody who knows a thing about international politics knows you have to have balance and quiet there to have a shot at peace elsewhere. It is no different than the Balkans....another flash point with a history of spreading, I recall multiple campaigns in that region. Last I checked they had about ZERO gallons of oil.

    Its not always about conspiracy and the great evil of industrialized nations, stop listening to those jokers on the idiot box.....read up on history to find out why these regions are critical to international stability.

    March 20, 2011 at 6:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • Corey

      Well said.

      March 20, 2011 at 6:32 pm | Report abuse |
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