President Trump used Tomahawk cruise missiles last night to strike a Syrian airbase allegedly storing chemical weapons, and they’re the most advanced missile in the U.S. military’s arsenal.
With a wingspan of nearly nine feet and its overall length being just shy of 21 feet, the Tomahawk can carry up to a 1,000-pound payload – both nuclear and conventional – to reign down America’s military might on its enemies. The missiles are fired from either a submarine or destroyer, and they have an effective range of up to 1,550 miles making them an effective strike option when restricted airspace stands in the way of an intended target.
The laser-guided missiles are also pin-point accurate. They use an advanced navigation system that allows them to fly at low altitudes while hugging the landscape, which makes them difficult for enemy radars to detect.
The high-tech munitions use a turbofan engine with a small heat signature to avoid thermal detection systems, and they use complicated flight patterns to navigate their way to the target, further confusing the enemy’s advanced warning systems. With a top speed of 550 mph, the Tomahawk reaches its target in a hurry and makes it next to impossible for the enemy to evacuate prior to impact.
A key feature of the Tomahawk is its ability to loiter over a battlefield while awaiting targeting instructions. This allows the missile to be deployed to an area and transmit vital information from its cameras and sensors back to command before receiving targeting coordinates to strike.
Tomahawks come equipped with an improved anti-jam GPS receiver for enhanced mission performance which help prevent external signals from throwing it off course. Certain variations of the missile also have 166 sub-munitions in 24 canisters: 22 canisters of seven each, and two canisters of six each to conform to the dimensions of the airframe, which can perform up to five separate target segments and enables it to attack multiple targets.
Unfortunately, the advanced features of the state-of-the-art ballistic missile don’t come cheap. Each one costs a staggering $1.5 million, although its price is easily justified when you consider pilots lives aren’t placed in danger and aircraft costing tens of millions of dollars aren’t put in harm’s way.
The U.S. military has been using the Tomahawk missiles since the first Gulf War in 1991, and over the years it’s made significant improvements to the platform, the most significant of which is network-centric warfare-capabilities, using data from multiple sensors (aircraft, UAVs, satellites, foot soldiers, tanks, ships) to find its target. This will also allow it to send data from its sensors to these other platforms.