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. d duke

    Wake up white people.....stop bein so yella......these mud people are coming to our country and multiplying.....wake up white people.....we need to shoot some tomahawks at the border

    March 20, 2011 at 9:37 am | Report abuse |
  2. Sink Pants

    Tomahawk is as racist as braves, Indians, redskins etc.

    March 20, 2011 at 9:40 am | Report abuse |
    • ddferrari

      Well then, so is "white" bread and NY "Yankees"... what's it like to go through life being offended by the silliest of things?

      March 20, 2011 at 3:49 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Ross

    I love that this article made sure to inform us that tomahawk missiles are unmanned. I have been worried sick all weekend for the safety of our tomahawk missile pilots only to find out that they were no longer needed. Now if only we kind find a way to no longer need carrier pigeons to pilot our mortar shells.

    March 20, 2011 at 9:43 am | Report abuse |
    • Andrew

      It is also important to note that they are single-use. Unlike most missiles.

      March 21, 2011 at 10:11 am | Report abuse |
    • Doug

      The joke about pigeon-piloted mortar shells notwithstanding, pigeons were used in one of the first attempts to produce guided missiles.

      Not surprisingly, the project was cancelled in 1944 because it was difficult for anyone to take it seriously.

      March 21, 2011 at 2:38 pm | Report abuse |
  4. retCapt

    Reading GCC's comments should be educational for most. Good points. I'll just add a couple of points. It takes a fair amount of resources (time/spare parts) to maintain these old missiles. Using them is good. They were bought years ago – better to fire them then scrap them. As to the number of missiles vs the number of targets. These are, essentially, low yield systems. You send a string of missiles to a target, the number and interval depends on the hardening and the size of the target. I suspect the out of 110 missiles, 105 performed as designed. The other small percentage either fell from the sky (but did not explode – they are designed not to explode if not OT) or KATO'ed.

    March 20, 2011 at 9:59 am | Report abuse |
  5. notayesman

    I believe Gadifi is correct in his assessment of fighting a war with new NAZIS. This time the USA is the NAZIS and we are using what sounds very similar to the BUZZ BOMBS of the NAZIS in WWII with these "Tomahawk" missiles.

    March 20, 2011 at 10:01 am | Report abuse |
    • operation Dawn

      Let the tomahawks keep coming,, its good pratice for our military, thats why we are a super power,, we should use our most advanaged weapons

      March 21, 2011 at 10:21 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Alain

    I think I agree with Mouamar Gadhafi. The Nations that are bombing Lybia are new kind of terrorists / Nazis. Meaning, if you are not part of NATO, then you do not have the right to claim the sovereinty of your country and you are exposed to severe retaliations by the new type of NAZIs/NATO.

    We have nothing to do in Lybia, other than to amuse some military that have nothing to do.

    The decision to attack or no attack is taken by people from the generation that leaves us with hundreds of billions in debts, environmental problems, etc... Now, they are at an age where they will need even more in medical health (cost more and more) and they continue to keep their grip on their life and the decisions that they take are the reflect of their lifetime realizations ! They will leave not only a trace here, but overseas. It is our local problem to get rid of these persons.

    Maybe they will try to justify their actions with the «women conditions» or you do not know what. Anyway, we have nothing to do there, according to me.

    I appologize to people of Lybia (and other Arabe countries/Irak, Iran, etc..) for what we did to them, mostly, in the name of terrorism or women conditions or ??? The only real reason was to amuse our leaders and military staffs that take this opportunity to bomb countries unable to defend themselves against attackers like us. Then, when the ground staff go there, they take advantage of the situation to harm, ridiculise and do whatever they feel on what they call «the bad persons». It is so cheap but this is our leaders at this time.

    March 20, 2011 at 10:01 am | Report abuse |
    • DJF

      Alain you would do well to remember that every successful revolution against tyrannical oppression is accompanied by help from foreign allies. It rare when a tyrant gives his detractors the keys to the armory. Think where would the United States be without the French or the French later without the United States. In this case the Libyan people needed the UN, and the UN supported them hoping that it would in the end create a more stable and democratic nation one day, just as the United States and France have become.

      March 20, 2011 at 5:29 pm | Report abuse |
  7. BC1

    "What's a Tomahawk?"

    Never mind. Go crawl back under your rock...the sun is shining.

    March 20, 2011 at 10:02 am | Report abuse |
  8. Planet X

    Israel is becoming a nation. http://nopolicestate.blogspot.com/2011/01/egypt_29.html

    March 20, 2011 at 10:26 am | Report abuse |
  9. go2goal

    almost40pct's post is the best I've seen in a long time. He is absolutely correct....the government continues to under state our real & total military costs....and the Repubs in particular refuse to connect military spending and wars with having to cut anything and everything in domestic spending. They keep doing this while offering bribes...in the form of unfunded tax cuts to the rich.

    When will the insanity of our massive US military stop?

    March 20, 2011 at 11:10 am | Report abuse |
  10. ISI agent stationed in Afghanistan.

    Some of these missiles fell into our territory in 1998. We reverse engineered them to make our own cruise missle.

    March 20, 2011 at 11:49 am | Report abuse |
  11. Nathan

    Stupid article... Poorly written

    March 20, 2011 at 11:56 am | Report abuse |
  12. Cliff Brooke

    Do you all like the lifestyle you live? Driving your cars, buying whatever you want whenever you want? Did you think it was all free? Pretty simple really.....its all about the black stuff.

    March 20, 2011 at 12:42 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Walter

    When is Col. Gaddafi ever going to make General? He has been a Colonel for as long as I can remember.

    March 20, 2011 at 12:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • Corey

      hahaha. too funny.

      March 20, 2011 at 6:17 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Cin

    I don't want US forces functioning under UN orders. Let the Libyans sort out their affairs for themselves. We don't have a dog in this fight.

    March 20, 2011 at 12:54 pm | Report abuse |
  15. macaronte

    May I ask who's paying for our envolvement in Lybia? Could it be the U.S. taxpayers? While Khaddafi has been in power for 40 years, Castro has been in power for 52.!! A tyrant is a tyrant no matter which way you look at it. Castro has his share of havoc, destruction and death. There must be something else that's motivating U.S. envolvement into this affair. Could it be: oil? –BINGO.!!–

    March 20, 2011 at 12:56 pm | Report abuse |
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