Weapon of choice: why the US uses Tomahawk missiles

Weapon of choice: why the US uses Tomahawk missiles
By Pierre Bertrand
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The US' Tomahawk missile was first used in 1991 and is relied upon for land attacks. As many as 59 were fired at Syria on Friday morning.


The US military used Tomahawk missiles early on Friday morning to target and destroy a Syrian air base from which it is alleged Syrian war planes carried out a chemical attack in Idlib earlier this week.

As many as 59 of the missiles were used in what the US has called a “one-off” strike in retaliation against the Syrian government.

According to the US Navy, the Tomahawk is a long-range, subsonic, missile that is used for land-based attacks. They are ordinarily launched from navy surface ships or submarines.

At 5.56 metres long without a booster (6.25 metres with), travelling at 880 kilometres per hour and capable of delivering more than 450 kilograms of conventional explosives, the missile is the US military’s weapon of choice in carrying out long-range missile strikes.

It has a range of 1,200 to 2,500 kilometres.

Using sophisticated guidance systems, the missile is capable of flying to its target without the need of a pilot in the air to deploy the weapon.

It also approaches its target at relatively low altitude, making it hard for defenders to counter its approach.

The missiles have the added advantage of relying on their self-navigational abilities to circumvent defences. The Tomahawk doesn’t, for instance, fly in a straight line from launch to target.

First used by the US military in 1991 during the First Gulf War in Iraq, the missile has been a mainstay of the US military arsenal. The missiles have been previously used in October 2016 against targets in Yemen and as many as 47 of them were launched against al Qaeda targets in Syria and Iraq in 2014, reports the Wall Street Journal.

Estimates vary as to the cost of each Tomahawk missile, with figures of between US$830,000 to US$1.5m being cited.

The missile is named after the axe used by Algonquin native American tribesmen. The word tomahawk itself originates from the Algonquin name of the axe “tamahaac”.

The word entered the English language in the 1800s.

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