Submarine-launched Tomahawk missiles entered service in 1983 with conventional (i.e., nonnuclear) land-attack and antiship missile variants, as well as with a land-attack missile carrying a nuclear warhead. The appearance of the TOMAHAWK mark does not imply or constitute endorsement by the U.S. Government, the Department of Defense, or the Department of the Navy. This article was most recently revised and updated by, https://www.britannica.com/technology/Tomahawk-cruise-missile. (Credit: CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images). Tomahawk, American-made low-flying strategic guided missile that may be launched from naval ships or submarines to strike targets on land. On January 17, the USS Paul F. Foster launched the first Tomahawk missile, and nearly 300 additional missiles were launched from U.S. Navy ships and submarines in subsequent days of the conflict. Improvements have been made on the original design, and today’s more accurate and more powerful versions are manufactured by Raytheon. By the start of the Persian Gulf War in 1991, Tomahawks had been fitted to surface ships. Tomahawks may be retasked in flight, possibly circling for a period before their human handlers select another target for them to attack. Saturation bombing also requires the use of a pilot and crew, which endangers personnel. Beginning in 2020, the U.S. Navy will recertify and modernize the missile, extending its service life by 15 years, and resulting in the new Tomahawk Block V series: U.S. and allied militaries have flight-tested the GPS-enabled Tomahawk 550 times and used it in combat more than 2,300 times. Be on the lookout for your Britannica newsletter to get trusted stories delivered right to your inbox. The land attack version of Tomahawk has inertial and terrain contour matching (TERCOM) radar guidance. Lehman, as Navy Secretary, advocated a … The new weapon proved instrumental in bringing a swift end to the war. A Tomahawk cruise missile launches from the stern vertical launch system of the USS Shiloh, as part of Operation Desert Strike on September 3, 1996. Tomahawks were subsequently used extensively in Iraq to enforce “no-fly zone” operations in the early 1990s and during the Iraq War (2003–11). We use cookies to collect anonymous information. Let us know if you have suggestions to improve this article (requires login). Thereafter it is powered by a turbofan engine that does not emit much heat, which makes infrared detection difficult. Learn how our suite of advanced naval systems helps defend fleets. On December 17, 2009, 41 civilians–mostly women and children–were killed by missiles targeting an alleged Al-Qaeda training camp in Yemen. Initially, there were three types of Tomahawk missile: an anti-ship one with conventional warheads, and two land-attack versions with either nuclear or conventional warheads attached. It can also elude detection by radar because it has a small cross section and operates at low altitudes. Raytheon's Tomahawk has been the subject of controversy in Washington, D.C. The missiles are approximately 21 feet long, weigh 1.5 tons and can be launched from both traditional torpedo tubes and vertical launch tubes on modern submarines. Terms of Use | Privacy Raytheon Technologies is proud to be an equal opportunity employer, MF/D/V. Technological advances made it possible for the missile to be revisited in the 1970s, and the new weapon was introduced by defense contractor McConnell Douglas in 1983. FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. The Tomahawk cruise missile has repeatedly transformed as new technology added capabilities. HISTORY reviews and updates its content regularly to ensure it is complete and accurate. The Tomahawk is a long-range, unmanned weapon with an accuracy of about 5 metres (16 feet). Ballistic missiles, like the Scud, can travel greater distances at faster speeds, but require much bigger launching pads and a lot more fuel, meaning they can’t be used as covertly The Tomahawk is smaller and flies lower than other missiles, making them harder to detect and intercept. By clicking, you agree to our privacy notice. TERCOM uses radar signals, while DSMAC uses optical images stored in the electronic system. It can loiter for hours and change course instantly on command. The Tomahawk Land Attack Missile (TLAM) is an American-developed weapon classified as a cruise missile, which is an unmanned jet-propelled aircraft that uses guidance systems to seek and destroy targets. The Tomahawk land-attack cruise missile has been used to attack a variety of fixed targets, including air defense and communications sites, often in high-threat environments. Used with permission. (Forbes), Raytheon Missiles & Defense gets $349 million contract for Maritime Strike Tomahawk Rapid Deployment Capability. They were also used by NATO forces in early 1999, during Operation Allied Force operations against targets in Serbia and Montenegro. The Tomahawk ® cruise missile is a precision weapon that launches from ships and submarines and can strike targets precisely from 1,000 miles away, even in heavily defended airspace. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us! April 16, 1983. As it closes in on its target, the missile drops to an altitude of 100 feet or less before impact. The Tomahawk® cruise missile is a precision weapon that launches from ships and submarines and can strike targets precisely from 1,000 miles away, even in heavily defended airspace. Although U.S. and Yemeni government officials initially denied responsibility, an investigation by Amnesty International—and revelations by WikiLeaks—eventually concluded that the missiles had been American Tomahawks launched from a naval vessel. On December 16, 1998, 415 missiles were fired at Iraqi targets during Operation Desert Fox, after Saddam Hussein refused to abide by United Nations-mandated inspections. Twice a week we compile our most fascinating features and deliver them straight to you. Updates? U.S. strikes in Syria launched from USS Porter. Tomahawks are launched vertically from ships, but they can be launched horizontally from torpedo tubes on attack submarines or from external launchers attached to a submarine’s hull. The Tomahawk Land Attack Missile (TLAM) is an American-developed weapon classified as a cruise missile, which is an unmanned jet-propelled aircraft that uses guidance systems to seek and destroy targets. Another submarine with the same name was commissioned in 1963 and served as a Tomahawk missile test platform in the 1970s. Explore the history of this iconic weapon. Production of the missile ramped up after that, and hundreds of Tomahawks were used throughout the 1990s. Its most recent use came in 2018, when U.S. Navy warships and submarines launched 66 Tomahawk missiles at Syrian chemical weapon facilities. Encyclopaedia Britannica's editors oversee subject areas in which they have extensive knowledge, whether from years of experience gained by working on that content or via study for an advanced degree.... Get exclusive access to content from our 1768 First Edition with your subscription. Our editors will review what you’ve submitted and determine whether to revise the article. The nuclear variant has since been retired, and a land-attack cluster-bomb variant that disperses bomblets has been added. Corrections? The current version, called the Block IV Tactical Tomahawk, or TACTOM, has a data link that allows it to switch targets while in flight. Cookies help us to improve your website experience. Omissions? They were also used in Bosnia (1995), Libya (1996 and 2011), Sudan (1998), Yemen (2009), and Afghanistan (1998 and during the Afghanistan War, which began in 2001). U.S. strikes in Syria launched from USS Porter It flies at low altitudes to strike fixed targets, such as communication and air-defense sites, in high-risk environments where manned aircraft may be vulnerable to surface-to-air missiles. TOMAHAWK is a U.S. trademark of the Department of the Navy, an agency of the U.S. Government. Block V: A modernized TACTOM with upgraded navigation and communication, Block Va: Block V that can strike moving targets at sea. More than 800 Tomahawks were launched during the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and other successful deployments include Afghanistan, Somalia and Libya. © 2020 A&E Television Networks, LLC. Once the Tomahawk is in the air, the turbojet engine kicks in and its wings spread, allowing it to reach speeds of 500 miles per hour. The 5.6-metre- (18.4-foot-) long missile has a range of up to approximately 2,400 km (about 1,500 miles) and can travel as fast as 885 km (550 miles) per hour. It flies at low altitudes to strike fixed targets, such as communication and air-defense sites, in high-risk environments where manned aircraft may be The sophisticated guidance system uses a combination of GPS, TERCOM (Terrain Contour Matching) and DSMAC (Digital Scene-Matching Area Correlator) to ensure the missile accurately destroys its target. In order to save money the Obama administration wanted to pause production of the long-range missile… Copyright © 2020 Raytheon Company, a Raytheon Technologies company. Traditional saturation bombing–in which hundreds of bombs are dropped from a plane–is powerful, but not accurate. A Tomahawk submarine-launched cruise missile en route to its target on the Tonapah Test Range in Nevada. Development of what would become the Tomahawk began in the 1940s, but the emergence of the Polaris ballistic missile program led to its shelving. (Defense Technology Monitor). Similarly, the target is identified from a stored image. What sets the Tomahawk apart from other types of munitions is that combination of size, speed, distance and trajectory. Today, only the land-attack, conventional non-nuclear version is in use. Once it reaches land, the Tomahawk uses inertial and terrain-contour-matching (TERCOM) radar guidance, in which a map stored on the missile’s computer is continually compared with the actual terrain to locate the missile’s position relative to the target. By signing up for this email, you are agreeing to news, offers, and information from Encyclopaedia Britannica. Use of the missile has not been without controversy. Tomahawk, also called Tomahawk cruise missile or BGM-109, American-made low-flying strategic guided missile that may be launched from naval ships or submarines to strike targets on land. As the TERCOM scans the landscape, the Tomahawk missile is capable of twisting and turning like a radar-evading fighter plane, skimming the landscape at an altitude of only 30–90 metres (100–300 feet). Tomahawks can also use their onboard cameras to transmit battle-damage assessment data back to military analysts. Tomahawk missiles were first used in 1991 during the Persian Gulf War as part of Operation Desert Storm, where they destroyed hardened targets (such as surface-to-air missile sites, command-and-control centres, the Iraqi presidential palace in Baghdad, and electrical power plants). All rights reserved. During the opening salvos of a regional attack, military planning calls for sea-based Tomahawks to be used to compromise and suppress enemy air operations and defenses. (Credit: DOD/Getty Images). The Persian Gulf War also saw the first coordinated Tomahawk and manned-aircraft strike in history. There were three original Tomahawk designs, the nuclear-tipped TLAM-N, the ground-launched Gryphon, and the conventional TASM. The Tomahawk made its debut in live combat during the Persian Gulf War in 1991. The missile is powered by a solid propellant during its launch phase. All Rights Reserved. In layman’s terms, this type of missile is designed to be used at great distances, with pinpoint accuracy, minimizing risk to personnel and civilians.

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