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. Menon

    66 million bucks for unlimited access to libyan oil fields by Republican and Democractic future donors. That's OK. What goes around, comes around. You dont' see any justice for poor old Bahrain protestors that are getting beaten half death tonight in their prisons. Puppet Kings are still enjoying life all over the middle east.

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

    How about this. Stop fighting wars and the price of oil will drop precipitously. The US military is using at least double their normal consumption to kill people. WAIT WAIT. To republicans that is okay. High oil prices to kill people and increased deficits are okay when KILLING

    March 20, 2011 at 12:57 am | Report abuse |
    • Seidan

      I'd like to see where you got your figures concerning the doubling of "consumption" of the US Military.

      March 20, 2011 at 5:26 am | Report abuse |
  3. sunny

    isnt tomahawk the hacket thingy you throw in black ops?

    March 20, 2011 at 1:27 am | Report abuse |
  4. dwight

    Bahrain and the Yemen governments are killing their own protesters/people. Why don't you war supporters go after those Governments? Oh!! Those Governments are friends with the USA. So I guess it's okay.

    March 20, 2011 at 1:29 am | Report abuse |
  5. Blake

    The stupidity displayed in these comments is remarkable.

    March 20, 2011 at 1:33 am | Report abuse |
  6. Arlan

    Damn. There went this years job creation dollars. Oh well, the food bank still accepts me.

    March 20, 2011 at 1:51 am | Report abuse |
    • Seidan

      You do realize the US Navy gets an annual budget that they use to purchase missiles right? They aren't going to get extra money from Congress on Monday to buy more missiles.

      March 20, 2011 at 5:28 am | Report abuse |
  7. American with a brain

    We just attacked another Oil Rich country, but don't expect to reap any of the rewards because the Corporations who run this country do not share what they steal.
    We pay for their raid, they get the resources and captive market, again. And when the world gets mad at the American people we'll have to pay the economic price, and eventually maybe die for it, just like the Germans did during WWII. The faceless globalist Corporatocracy will just relocate to India as America burns, like the world bankers did in Switzerland during WWII.
    Arbitrary No Fly Zone=Excuse to raid a sovereign country. (no Gahdaffi is not a fair or generous man, but these corporations are looking to do what he did to the entire world)
    Seriously, what's next. Algeria? Definitely Venezuela and Iran, because they are among the last that don't already get squeezed by these globalists who run our military.. This failed system is running out of resources to waste for a quick profit, but being slaves to their business models that's all they know.. So the wealth goes back to the top, as we help make that happen, as the Earth just gets filthier and more overpopulated. Good job humans.

    March 20, 2011 at 1:54 am | Report abuse |
  8. wilson

    There sure are a lot of war loving rednecks posting on here. Nothing gets a radical conservative redneck more excited as when the US war machine sends several millions dollars worth of high tech explosive at a supposed enemy.

    March 20, 2011 at 2:10 am | Report abuse |
    • Darien

      You are 100% correct.
      If the criminals in government said Jesus Christ was back and told the public a lie that he was committing genocide, the same idiots would be saying, "Rah Rah, bomb Jesus"!
      Its a shame almost the entire American public is the stupidest group om earth. Otherwise, we would not have a $14 trillion deficit, a annual $800 billion trade deficit and executives who pocket $100s of millions per year while closing factories and laying off millions of workers.

      March 20, 2011 at 10:20 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Matt

    "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."

    Really? I thought missiles were recyclable. It never occurred to me that the U.S. military could only use them once. I guess we learn something new everyday.

    March 20, 2011 at 2:11 am | Report abuse |
    • Seidan

      Comparing missiles to UAVs is like comparing the rounds from a 16 inch battleship gun to a helicopter.

      March 20, 2011 at 5:35 am | Report abuse |
  10. NoseMore

    If you don't know what a Tommyhock missle is.. give up. You're.. oopps.. I mean your too stupid to make it. Sorry. See you next Raygun admonishtration.

    March 20, 2011 at 2:41 am | Report abuse |
  11. Mike

    Intervening in Libya is more than simply about its oil reseves. It's about political decisions made behind closed doors that ordinary citizens world wide will never know about unless you have been issued a top level security clearance ... Sure Gadafi is a tyrant, a dictator, but who helped him conquer the seat of dictatorship? Funny that when Gadafi visited Europe in 2009 or 2010 ... ALL the European Prime Ministers welcomed him & embraced him, to include Mr. Sarkozy! Politics is a dirty game! And typically innocent people are the ones that pay the ultimate price of D I R T Y P O L I T I C S !
    Libya is an Arab Nation and just like Bahrain, it should have been the Arab Countries that should have decided what to do with Muammar Gadafi ! And for those of you that have allowed our Government or the United Nations into fooling us that this conflict with Libya will last a mere T H R E E D A Y S ... OH MY GOODNESS ? Apparently, IRAQ and Afghanistan have taught the PEOPLE OF PLANET EARTH NOTHING ... ... S H A M E F U L !

    March 20, 2011 at 2:45 am | Report abuse |
  12. Kevin in Vancouver

    Isn't America good for anything besides killing Arabs? I'm ashamed to live on the same continent as the US.

    March 20, 2011 at 4:51 am | Report abuse |
    • Seidan

      Last I checked Canada was sending F-18s to enforce the no fly zone. So you're welcome for making those skies safe for your pilots.

      March 20, 2011 at 5:33 am | Report abuse |
  13. Ricky

    I have a missle......in my pants!

    March 20, 2011 at 5:42 am | Report abuse |
    • Mark

      Is it a big missile or a teeney weeney missile?

      March 20, 2011 at 9:22 am | Report abuse |
  14. HILEW

    This is an excellent chance for the Democrats to show they are serious about the budget by agreeing to cut it by the exact expense of the Tommys, infact the total expense of this escapade, say in NPR or some other frivolous subsidy. ARE YOU UP TO IT DEMS???? (I think not)

    March 20, 2011 at 5:59 am | Report abuse |
    • GCC

      While tongue-in-cheek, your point is spot-on, and the reason that Bush II failed with Iraq (regardless of one's position on whether or not it was a "justifiable war"): the moment a war is pursued without explicit funding, you get on the slippery slope of losing economically... hard to argue that has not happened over the past decade. Heck the tax dollars paid to fund TSA's regular scanning and groping of me really make me think Osama and his ilk are laughing their hind ends off!

      March 20, 2011 at 8:48 am | Report abuse |
  15. Proud Sailor

    as a sailor onboard a SSGN what we can do with a TLAM is amazing, so taxpayers... we dont own them till they go boom plus the amount of of money spent on pay, training, food, and all that not including your grunt in a tax free zone, so think of that because you care about the numbers despite what your evening news reports ITS ABOUT GETTING THE BOYS HOME HOW THEY LEFT. SO STFU AND SUCK IT!

    March 20, 2011 at 5:59 am | Report abuse |
    • guest

      Respectfully,I have no idea what you just wrote.

      March 20, 2011 at 6:33 am | Report abuse |
    • Culturestone

      That makes sense. I don't get your point. Try again. Or maybe, don't try again.

      March 20, 2011 at 6:59 am | Report abuse |
    • guest

      @culture...now I 'm confused. Were you referring to my inability to understand the Sailor or to the fact that our Proud Sailor wrote something that made no sense. Is he just being cleverly cryptic or unabashedly intoxicated?

      March 20, 2011 at 7:14 am | Report abuse |
    • Andy Roo

      That proud sailor has had too much rum.

      March 20, 2011 at 7:29 am | Report abuse |
    • GCC

      How can people not understand what was said here? Even if you don't get military jargon (jeez, don't be lazy, Google TLAM and SSGN, it's not that difficult), his message is clear: stop whining about the cost when only a modest amount of it is discretionary, the decision has been made, the mission is apparently successful so far, and the ultimate goal is to return our troops unharmed after completing the goal. There, was that so hard? While his style is emotional, somewhat rambling, and even a bit overwrought, the message is pretty straight forward. If you don't get it, either you're not making the effort, or do get it but don't want to.

      Thanks for everything, US servicemen!

      March 20, 2011 at 8:11 am | Report abuse |
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