Surface Forces: May 5, 2003

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The U.S. Navy fired 775 Tomahawk cruise missiles during the Iraq war. The navy's Tomahawk inventory before the war was only about 2,000 missiles. The latest version of the 1.2 ton, 18 foot long missile has a range of 870-1600 kilometers, getting there at a speed of 600-900 kilometers an hour, flying at an altitude of 50-100 feet propelled by a jet engine generating only 600 pounds of thrust. Accuracy is now on a par with JDAM (about 30 feet). Production was halted in the late 1990s as work proceeded on a cheaper (less than half a million dollars) and lighter version of Tomahawk. But this version (RGM-109E, or "Tactical Tomahawk") won't enter service until 2004. While a JDAM is a lot cheaper (about $20,000), it costs you about as much to deliver the JDAM (F-18s don't fly for free) and you still have to worry about enemy air defenses (which can double or triple the delivery price because of the cost of escorts to deal with that.) Moreover, the navy has installed VLS (Vertical Launch Systems) on most of its warships. The VLS comes in modules, each with eight launch tubes. You can launch anti-aircraft missiles, anti-ship missiles (eventually, either Harpoons or a new design) or Tomahawks from a VLS. It's been many decades since an enemy has declared war and sent aircraft or ships to attack a U.S. warship, but there are still plenty of bad guys on land who could use a little attitude adjustment via cruise missile attack. Some American warships carry a hundred VLS tubes, providing plenty of space (perhaps half the tubes) for Tomahawk. These cruise missiles turn every VLS equipped warship into a miniature aircraft carrier. So, despite the cost, the cruise missile will continue to coexist with JDAM. 

 


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