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. Archie

    Whether what we're doing in Libya is profitable either humanely or monetarily to our (U.S.) interests. Using or not using force has been decided by the cnflict itself. Just as in the Bosnian conflict waiting for political intercourse half measures to take effect would be the height of naivette' which so help us we allowed to occur in that region the repurcussions of which have not yet died out.

    March 19, 2011 at 9:01 pm | Report abuse |
  2. txpatriot

    @archie: thanx for the info - sounds authoritative. Just curious how you came by this info.

    Are you former military? If so, God bless you for your service.

    March 19, 2011 at 9:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • Archie

      Thank you. Proper perspective seemed to be required. Lots of figures were beng thrown around and without framework discourse is impossible. Hope it better frames what the numbers in this article really meant.

      The same type of strike in human terms would have been in the hundreds and may never have been more than 60 percent successful and a much greater loss of life. The money was already spent just like any insurance policy, seldom used tool, or insurance in this case they were used for good or ill arguing cost is a null outcome.

      I feel mostly for those innocent except by location caught up in this thing. All can't be Muslim radical and are probably just trying to survive and if they're lucky get something better.

      March 19, 2011 at 9:54 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Snakespear

    What is a Tomahawk missile? Another war expenditure we CAN'T AFFORD!

    March 19, 2011 at 9:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • Seidan

      News Flash, they are already paid for. Not using them means they get old and have to be replaced, guess what, we don't get to trade them in, they have to be replaced either way. It isn't like tomorrow Raytheon is going to have to make 112 new missiles, we do have STOCKPILES.

      March 20, 2011 at 4:42 am | Report abuse |
  4. txpyr500

    Here is a list of what most of our taxes are used for: someone else's retirement, someone else's health care, a giant list of wasteful and unnecessary government programs, hand outs to those unwilling to work and earn for themselves, handouts to other countries that often prove not to be our friends and the most advanced and capable military in the world. There is only one thing in this list that is justified. Its time to be proud of our military in action.

    March 19, 2011 at 9:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rigel54

      Txpayer500, you're not just wildly wrong, but venal and stupid. I'll wager you're a Tea Party kind of guy. It's a cute, if infantile spiel to rage at government expenses, and some programs are indeed wasteful, but most are to good effect. Highways, air traffic control, NIH (know what that is?), other scientific research grant programs, food inspections, business regulation, and on and on, they make things work. We're in an age of paranoid delusion and infantile self absorption, and you are part of that decay.

      March 19, 2011 at 10:53 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Scott in Ohio

    These arguements remind me of my college days. A student complained about the "waste" of the military spending money on a nuclear submarine named after our state. She claimed that the money would be better spent creating jobs, The professor, a retired Korean war carrier pilot, asked the student to name a profesion. "Waitress." the student replied. "OK, this submarine is being built by hundreds, maybe thousands of workers. It's hot, heavy, back breaking work. It won't be finished before lunch. Who will serve these workers their meals? Name another proffesion." "Doctor" again the professor answered, "This is a muilti-billion dollar piece of high tech equipment. I, for one, don't want it being operated by a bunch of unhealthy fat slobs, they need to be in top physical and mental conditon. Who do you think will determine thier fitness for duty? Name another." "Electrician" "NUCLEAR SUBMARINE! ELECTRICIAN? Are you serious?" He went one to list several, seemingly, unrelated occupations that could be tied to the building of this machine. His point was, "If it cost a billion dollars, you don't just put four billion quarters in a vending machine, and out pops a sub. It is built, and maintained by thousands of taxpaying citizens, using American made materials and components. And if there ever was a vending machine big enough to dispense a sub, still, someone needs to fill it and collect the quarters. The money doesn't just disappear down a rabbit hole, it's paid to workers and investors. Think about where the money goes before you use the word "waste". It may go, eventually, to friends, family, and nieghbors.

    March 19, 2011 at 9:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rigel54

      Amen. Well said.

      March 19, 2011 at 10:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • s

      That is so wonderful and thanks for enlighten me who does study Economics! I guess we should keep building these subs then? Why stop? If we keep building these everyone will be so rich that we can afford all those under-water houses and there will be no foreclosures and all our financial problems will be solved!

      You don't even need economics here – just use your common sense. Give me a break!!!

      March 20, 2011 at 1:39 am | Report abuse |
    • Ajois

      Mr./Ms. "S". Defense is a major economy around the world and people have made lots of money in in defense industry including our VP, Mr. Dick Cheney who are rich enough to own houses under water or whereever they want to. One need not keep on constructing submarines just to maintain jobs, typically a project has end of life and after that new projects taken up based on new requirements and market needs.

      March 20, 2011 at 10:30 am | Report abuse |
  6. The Joker

    They should use tomahawk missles on the eastside of Allentown, Pa and the southside of Bethlehem and just level Easton, Pa that would be a great sight it would save the state money from Welfare.

    March 19, 2011 at 9:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Archie

      Owww! Somwbody lick the red off your candy or steal your girl?

      March 19, 2011 at 10:16 pm | Report abuse |
  7. fernando

    I am in huge favor of The U.S. having launched those tomahawk cruise missles against Libya today. I don't care if they cost $5 million a piece. It was the right thing to do.

    March 19, 2011 at 9:33 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Philip

    @TriXan...what part a Texas you be from.

    March 19, 2011 at 9:33 pm | Report abuse |
  9. B

    I think we should spend the money on a couple of 20 Megaton nukes to be dropped on Isreal. Nuke Isreal, and the world will finally be at peace. But I forgot, America is nothing more than a jewish war machine that exists to protect Isreal. I guess Nuking Isreal is not in the cards. Now watch as this post get's deleted and I get banned from CNN. You can say anything negative you want about Libya and other countries around the world, but as soon as you make a negative comment about jews, the jewish executives that run the media will have this post filtered, deleted, and myself banned from posting on CNN. For those of you interested in this outcome, watch and witness how freedom of speech is dead in your great american country. Dead because the Jewish agenda says so.

    March 19, 2011 at 9:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rigel54

      And yet here your message is, proving that no matter how retarded, vicious, ignorant, or stupid you are, you can be heard in this great nation. Thank you, B, for sacrificing your dignity to make this important point.

      March 19, 2011 at 10:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • vbscript2

      Yes, Ghadfi would clearly stop killing his own people if Israel were destroyed. Saddam gassing his own people was Israel's fault, too, I'm sure.

      March 20, 2011 at 12:22 am | Report abuse |
  10. sara

    Yes, proudly made in Tucson AZ at Raytheon Missile Systems. The only place that they are made.

    March 19, 2011 at 9:38 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Chris

    KId, what's wrong with you? Sounds like a serial killer in the making.

    March 19, 2011 at 9:39 pm | Report abuse |
  12. fernando

    Why are you bringing the jews into this? They had absolutely nothing to do with Kaddafi killing his own citizens.

    March 19, 2011 at 9:39 pm | Report abuse |
  13. ttt

    "whats a tomahawk cruise missile?": same thing that hit the pentagon

    March 19, 2011 at 9:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • Archie

      You're right with the exception of the terrified unwilling people aboard those flights. You do actually remember it was a hijack. How does that equal to missiles being fired from one military site against another?

      March 19, 2011 at 9:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • EM

      LOL! YUP!

      March 19, 2011 at 10:27 pm | Report abuse |
  14. B

    People are ranting about how wasteful it is to spend nearly $100 million on missiles for Kaddafi. I am simply just suggesting a better use of that money.

    March 19, 2011 at 9:42 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Sad but true.

    "He who desires peace prepares for war"

    March 19, 2011 at 9:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • Scott in Ohio

      Si vis pacem, para bellum. An old latin saying. Still true in this day and age. (Thanks Wikipeidia!)

      March 19, 2011 at 10:07 pm | Report abuse |
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