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. Mister B


    March 19, 2011 at 10:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • heydummies

      Ummm the only reason America exists is because we rebelled and started shooting at the government. Please get a middle school education before you post. btw ignorant Americans are accountable for our economic situation. Please go back and arm yourself with information so that you can prevent instead of blame.

      March 19, 2011 at 11:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jack sheet

      Do you own a car? Do you buy gas for your car if you own one?

      March 19, 2011 at 11:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Seidan

      Because we get so much of our oil from Libya? Go do some research regarding where the US gets its oil.

      March 20, 2011 at 5:17 am | Report abuse |
  2. Endido Edgard

    I'm proud of be an american. This action is to show any dictator that kill his own people that the World not allow it anymore.

    March 19, 2011 at 11:08 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Me

    I agree that something needs to be done about Gadhafi, but I also agree that the world should start intervening seriously in other areas of Africa. I always cringe when I hear about the horrors that go on in some of those countries. Africa does have minerals and probably oil that has yet to be discovered. Perhaps that's what some of the fighting is about. They are trying to control the land, therefore claiming rights to the resources. Either way the nightmares perpetrated on the men, women and children are unspeakable. I think Lybians happen to be less black and therefore more worthy of "saving". It will cost less in the long term to stabilize certain countries than it would cost to perpetually send $ and aid to people.

    March 19, 2011 at 11:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Archie

      'Less Black', 'More Worthy of Saving' Are You Mental?

      March 19, 2011 at 11:30 pm | Report abuse |
  4. ZECA

    I always thought it (missile) was innuendo for the male member, but what do I know?

    March 19, 2011 at 11:16 pm | Report abuse |
  5. surfs-up-charlie

    Oppenheimer succinctly said,,'Now we become death,,,destroyer of worlds'. Meanwhile, Scott posits that we all share in the glory of employed assassins but not that glory always has a cost measurable only in human lives.

    March 19, 2011 at 11:35 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Stephen

    Great. More debt. Ok. We blew some stuff up.. Now, let the rest of the world take care of it. I guess the smart ones were Germany, Russia, China, and Brazil which decided to not get involved.

    March 19, 2011 at 11:51 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Jack sheet

    Proud to be an American!!! God bless the USA.

    March 19, 2011 at 11:52 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Dougie Bravo

    Wow, 110 Tomahawk missiles launched. Go Braves!

    March 19, 2011 at 11:55 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Todd from BG

    BREAKING NEWS !! Light rain showers hit the Ohio river valley today are forcing gas prices on the rise. In the event of cloudy weather tomorrow, Americans should expect an even greater increase at the pumps.

    On a brighter note, today the US and Brittan were able to recycle some old aluminum scrap for a good cause in Libya.

    March 19, 2011 at 11:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Arlan

      Bowling Green! I miss home. Any work down there these days? How about the Ohio penal system? Are they hiring co's?
      Enjoyed your post and damn you're not far off.

      March 20, 2011 at 1:53 am | Report abuse |
  10. Richard

    Yemen is killing it's rebels too. Why not attack them? Oh, right, they are buddies of the U.S. I forgot.

    March 20, 2011 at 12:02 am | Report abuse |
    • Realist

      You aren't so naive to think it's all fair and square are you? China kills it's rebels. Are you suggesting we attack them? They already slaughtered their rebels in 1989. Iran is slaughtering their rebels today. We can't fix the whole world, but does that mean we shouldn't try to fix anything? What do you suggest? Sticking our head in the sand and pretending it isn't happening?

      March 20, 2011 at 1:53 am | Report abuse |
  11. ben

    everyone here has a proven point...except.........this is a person who deciced to start shooting his own people because they got tired of the way he rules the country!....at first I disagreed with us bieng involved....but would you watch a person killl innocent people because they don't agree with him????? HELL NO!!!!!!!!. ANY HUMAN WITH A HEART WOULD TAKE HIM DOWN.......IT'S THE HUMANITARIAN THING TO DO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    March 20, 2011 at 12:04 am | Report abuse |
    • Richard

      The U.S. "selectivity" in deciding who to take out is questionable. They are getting rid of someone who hates radical Islamists who may very well take over the country when he's gone. Same in Egypt and other places. They helped the Taliban in Afghanistan to get rid of the Russians and LOOK what THAT got the U.S.!

      March 20, 2011 at 12:07 am | Report abuse |
  12. Rachelle

    And so WWIII begins.

    March 20, 2011 at 12:07 am | Report abuse |
    • vbscript2

      Right. Because LIbya roughly equals half of the world. You do realize that all of the major powers on both sides of WWII authorized this, right?

      March 20, 2011 at 12:31 am | Report abuse |
    • Realist

      What an uneducated comment. You are obviously completely clueless about foreign policy, world history, and military history. You are equating Libya with the second World War and equating it with a third World War? Libya wouldn't even appear on the radar compared to Viet Nam or the Korean War, let alone either World War. I guess you've never read a book.

      March 20, 2011 at 1:07 am | Report abuse |
    • Seidan

      Why do people keep calling this a war?

      March 20, 2011 at 5:22 am | Report abuse |
  13. Mark

    This war will not lower oil prices. It may just stabilize them a bit but they aren't going to go down any more then the usual market fluctuations. This is more about revolutionizing the middle east. Americans better get used to rising gas prices.

    March 20, 2011 at 12:08 am | Report abuse |
  14. vbscript2

    Umm, CNN, aren't all missles single-use? I'm not aware of many cruise missles or ballistic missles that blow up their target and then return home... As for the UAV's, it should be noted that, with few exceptions, they aren't missles. They can fires missles, but they are also obviously single-use. In general, weapons that detonate upon hitting their target tend to be single-use.

    March 20, 2011 at 12:34 am | Report abuse |
  15. John M.B.

    Intervening in a civil war to save civilian lives is a good thing. People all over the Middle East will appreciate us- that in this time, when ordinary Egyptians and Tunisians were able to overthrow tyrannical governments, that the U.S. and Europe came to the aid of ordinary Libyans who are being attacked by their own government. That said, we need to get away from our oil addiction. These are 2 separate issues. We need the ordinary folks employed by oil companies' CEOs to use their skills at creating other energy modes that are not so destructive and don't lead to energy wars.

    March 20, 2011 at 12:39 am | Report abuse |
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