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. lockandload

    One bad mamajama!!

    March 19, 2011 at 10:17 pm | Report abuse |
  2. robroy

    here's an interesting scenario{getting away from your gungho rant on the missles} these camel jockey rebels,apparently armed are situated where? nestled nicely amongst the civilian population.this is no different then the taliban fighters,when their called cowards by the yanks and brits for hiding amongst the civies,its the same thing folks as in libya!!!ghdafi's boys should have gotten the same script for apologies,when you boys take out half a village to get half a dozen fighters in afghanistan!!!!! sometime folks and i mean just sometimes it would be nice if the little guy would kick the big guys in the tender spot,like some rice paddy farmers did in southeast asia.long live the little guy EH !!!!!!!!! .

    March 19, 2011 at 10:17 pm | Report abuse |
  3. jackal&jester

    Well I don't mind the cost being it is a smart weapon. If we could do the same with bullets we probably would.

    March 19, 2011 at 10:21 pm | Report abuse |
  4. lolatmorons

    what a bunch of buffons and tin hatters. international group launches individual missions in a combined effort to enforce the worlds laws. and we get a bunch of morons who somehow figured out how to use the internet and make posts online.

    spewing hate and rhetoric and false facts and moronic statements off the cuff with no forethought.

    heres a couple of facts. every president has a war, look it up. ill wait. k so

    fact 2 the t hacks are nothing more then a big bullet. a standard russian anti air craft site (russian? but this is lybia...dur hur learn yer history morons.) is shaped OF ALL THINGS like a star of david, with the command and control vehicle in the center. makes a real pretty target in the cams. so it takes several bullets to take down a standard lay out russian AA site. 1 – 2 for radars they arrive a few seconds before the rest of the salvo. one BIG one for the command and control vehicle. one for each AA vehicle and or emplaced or "dug in" aa unit. followed a few seconds after by a single cluster munition unit. pulverize the radar, kill the comms and command = disarray on the whole aa net as no info gets out just static. the the clusters to kill the people who survived the first salvo. pretty much over kill would be correct.
    its called WAR for a reason. lots of dead lybian soldiers hopefully the military gets the message and hangs the lunatic.
    bt the way for all of you uneducated dipsticks... quhdaffi actually believe he is the anti crist and dresses accordingly, he has this belief from nostradamaous. or how ever it is spelled.

    last fact , we are throwing a few dozen chunks of smart metal and maybe some jet fuel. its a perfect live fire training run to get ready for iran. but hey all you sheeple can keep yer heads in the sand and be media zombies while the rest of us normal folks run the show k.

    oh yeah tl dr: youre a dipstick who cant read. learn to read.

    for the few people who actually bring smarts to the table, dont waste your time on media comment sections......goto the real forums, the military ones. MUCH better coverage and factual reporting from people who are actually pushing the buttons on scene.

    leave the comments section to the brainwashed dont waste your time with these trolls.

    March 19, 2011 at 10:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • Archie

      And the choir says ...AAAMEN!!

      March 19, 2011 at 11:23 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Jazz7


    March 19, 2011 at 10:24 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Fost

    And many of you are forgetting the NAVY gets a yearly budget anyway. Many times missiles are replaced that AREN'T EVEN USED. This time instead of replacing old missiles for newer ones they will be replacing used up missiles for newer ones, so guess what? Your not really paying anything more than you already would have.

    March 19, 2011 at 10:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Seidan

      Thank you for actually thinking. These people crying about the cost don't understand that the missiles get replaced either way.

      March 20, 2011 at 4:56 am | Report abuse |
  7. Big Al

    How many are needed to take out a military instillation? Helloooooo!!! It is a MILITARY INSTILLATION! Does not matter if it is for defensive or offensive purposes. The FACT remains it is a designed MILITARY instillation or component. It will have several protective walls, barriers, and levels. They are NOT supposed to be destroyed or rendered inoperable easily. If it takes 3 Tomahawks or more to effectively dismantle the target, then it takes 3 or more. Lets look at one of our own "targets" from 911, The Pentagon, and it was hit with a Jumbo Jet (Boeing 757) that is several times the size of a Tomahawk. Because of the design of the Pentagon, the damage was significant but limited only to the point and site of impact. The rest of the building had minimal or no damage at all. Would one Tomahawk be enough to destroy the building or render it's systems inoperable? Most likely...NO!!!!! It is a well designed and fortified building intended to protect and operate a strategic attack and defensive operation from, at all times. My guess is that it would certainly take more then 3-4 Tomahawks to neutralize the Pentagon. No one ever puts vital services and systems in one building or in one place together in a building. They will be strategically placed throughout a compound and well protected. Each defensive and offensive system is targeted for neutralization and maximum damage for long term operations, there will also be several backup systems located in other places on the compound as well. The countries in the Mideast are notorious for using underground bunkers for protection and fortification strongholds because of the land. Rock is a very good barrier and throw in some reinforced concrete and steel and you have an almost impenetrable stronghold (Afghanistan). Think of Tomahawks (or other similar weapons) as a hammer hitting a nail. Sometimes it takes several strikes in the same spot (or area) to put the nail in the wood securely. Each impact puts the nail deeper and deeper in the wood. The type of wood, size of nail, and force of impact determines the difficulty, and number of strikes needed to finish the job. Each Tomahawk to the same or general area increases the damage of the targeted site and if that site is underground or in a bunker, It is going to take several strikes in the same area to ensure the goal has been met and the target neutralized. Gee whizzzzz people..... Never half do the job......... although sometimes, it DOES happen.

    March 19, 2011 at 10:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Scott in Ohio

      Nail. Hammer. Good analogy, thanks Big Al.

      March 19, 2011 at 10:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • lARRY

      Remember that the Tomahawk has a warhead on it. The planes that hit the WTC and Pentagon did not have a warhead. This warhead could be, as the article mentions, nuclear. One of those nukes can take out an entire city including that fortified bunker you're hiding in.

      March 19, 2011 at 11:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • Seidan

      1.The warhead on a Tomahawk is relatively small, they are designed to be precise so they don't need to have a large explosion.
      2. Are you seriously saying to save money would should use missiles with nuclear warheads?
      3. The cost of using "special" Tomahawk is much more costly than a regular ones.

      March 20, 2011 at 5:02 am | Report abuse |
    • Big Al

      OMG!!!???? Really..... lARRY....????? Nuclear Warhead??? Why did you comment that way???? Watch a lot of TV and sci-fi movies? Playing too many video games? What kill factor did you get from the Dungeon Master when you rolled the dice? Did you even pay attention to the article at all or even understand WHY Tomahawks were being used?

      The amount and type of force used is sanctiond by the UN and other counttries. WE WANT MINIMAL DAMAGE WITH MAXIMUM RESULTS at this point, not TOTAL and UNLIVABLE DESTRUCTION. The intent was to HELP the people, not kill them all.

      And even though the planes did not have a warhead on them, the type of damage inflicted, was more then comparable when you consider the factors of size, speed, and fuel load of the two.

      Now if you want to change the article and the whole scenario, and you are going to remove the conventional munitions(as stated in the article) and put a nuke warhead in your Tomahawk, then my 757 jumbo jet now has a nuke warhead in it too. It was placed in the luggage compartment one day in advance of the scheduled hijacking. My turn to roll the dice and see what the Dungeon Master gives me..... Sometimes when you compare apples to oranges, some of the results are the same depending on your intent.

      March 20, 2011 at 10:08 am | Report abuse |
  8. banasy

    Wow...I sure learn something new every day reading these blogs...

    March 19, 2011 at 10:30 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Chris

    The Navy could put one of these missles right through the front door of your house from several hundred miles out. To Gadhafi with love.

    March 19, 2011 at 10:35 pm | Report abuse |
  10. blessedgeek

    Within the arid regions of Libya would be the secret storage of silkwoms and exocets. Perhaps, even the latest c-701.

    Gadhafi & co calls for a truce, so they could access their locations secretly bring them into action. He never expected he would have trouble accessing his missile storage facilities within his own country.

    So watch out, he will be firing some Chinese & NK made equivalents of the tomahawk some time soon, which also sells much cheaper than tomahawks or exocets. China and North Korea would be standing askance arms folded, happily watching the performance of the weaponry they sold. Iran would be watching anxiously too, as they too have those Chinese and NK made missiles, hoping that they would whack in a wallop against UN forces. Iran and NK had been jointly improvising the Chinese made missiles too, allegedly.

    March 19, 2011 at 10:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • fernando

      That chinese garbage will not work against the west

      March 19, 2011 at 11:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Seidan

      They won't be hitting any US ships with that crap! The US ships shooting Tomahawks are AEGIS Cruisers and Destroyers that will shoot down any missiles fired at them.

      March 20, 2011 at 5:14 am | Report abuse |
  11. Joe

    i am proud to be an american today

    March 19, 2011 at 10:37 pm | Report abuse |
  12. giglr

    "Raytheon and McDonnell Douglas build them for us (so Im sure they are very very happy this military action is underway)."
    There's no McDonnell Douglas.

    March 19, 2011 at 10:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • vbscript2

      Correct. They merged with Boeing many years ago.

      March 20, 2011 at 12:27 am | Report abuse |
    • Seidan

      Raytheon is the only company that makes them. Your data about anybody else making them is 20 years old.

      March 20, 2011 at 5:10 am | Report abuse |
  13. Greg

    Actually we ordered 132 new Tomahawk VLS missiles just last year. These are the type launched from surface ships. We used 112 today so we only have to fire 10 more and we did a pretty good job estimating our needs.

    March 19, 2011 at 10:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • vbscript2

      umm.... 132 – 112 = 20, not 10.

      March 20, 2011 at 12:26 am | Report abuse |
    • Wildcats Baby

      i can tell you from actual inside knowledge of tomahawk operations that we were going through older stockpiles of tomahawk missiles..in some cases 15-20 year old ones at that. if you are being told otherwise it's merely propaganda and i obviously don't blame you. and as sad as it is to think (since deaths are involved) but I actually had dinner with a director and program manager of the tomahawk cruise missile program in tucson and they are sympathetic, but also carry a big smile. ps get raytheon stock, Monday will be a good day

      March 20, 2011 at 3:33 am | Report abuse |
  14. Darien

    It IS a big waste of money. For all of you "lets kill a bunch of terrorists in Libya" crowd, keep in mind that the USA has an absolutely horrible record of supporting the WRONG despot and our criminal interventions usually backfire like supporting Osama bin Laden against the Soviets. Lets wait and see who takes office after Ghaddafi is ousted, probably a muslim fundamentalist, an enemy of America.
    The true cost will be more than the the price of the missiles (which will have to be replaced). It will also include all of the other costs to support the naval task force in the area. We have a $14 TRILLION defict and rising and can ill a=foord to blow a couple more $trillion on more military misadventures.
    The real reason we are there has nothing to do with bringing down a despot or saving lives. Its really about putting a few more $billion into the pockets of the Oligarchy.

    March 19, 2011 at 10:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • vbscript2

      We do not have a $14 T deficit. The deficit is actually almost exactly a tenth of that. The debt, however, is nearing the $14T level.

      March 20, 2011 at 12:29 am | Report abuse |
    • Darien

      Sorry, I meant DEBT. The annual trade deficit is around $800 billion, some mof that money going to China for military related parts and equipment. If our worthless leaders do not stop wasting our precious $$$, we will not be able to afford to buy bullet to defend American soil, so screw the others, we need to start thinking about our own hides first.

      March 20, 2011 at 1:12 am | Report abuse |
  15. robroy

    hey,G.P. burdell hope your post wasn't meant for little-o-me,if it was so be it{i've taken a few kicks in the tender spot and stubbornly survived} if that missile landed on my house you'd probably be safe because my neighbors still own their homes and have healthcare coverage.unlike millions of you americans ,see where i'm going with this G.P.?look after your own folks before meddling in other peoples problems!!!!!!!! .

    March 19, 2011 at 10:56 pm | Report abuse |
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