Cutting the Tomahawk Missile: Penny-Wise, Pound-Foolish
When the Pentagon announced last week that it would cease purchasing Tomahawk cruise missiles in 2016, it was for the most part ignored by the press. In no way did it garner the same attention that the much more expansive cuts declared in February had. Despite this, the value of the Tomahawk missile far exceeds what the casual observer might believe. If citizens are up in arms over troop cuts, imagine how they would view the cutting of a weapon that has at multiple times achieved military objectives and allowed troops to stay out of combat.
The Tomahawk is a ship-launched cruise missile, brought into service in the early 1980s and with a range depending on model of between 1,500 and 800 miles. It is capable of carrying a wide variety of warheads. To put the maximum range into perspective, that is nearly equivalent to a missile being launched from Maine traveling all the way to Florida. It is currently used aboard U.S. Navy destroyers, cruisers, and cruise missile submarines, the latter of which can carry 154 each.
Why is the Tomahawk important? The Tomahawk allows our warships to attack land-based enemy targets with great precision all the while staying outside the range of enemy aircraft. At under $2 million apiece that is quite a bargain, especially when the alternative is sending a $100+ million aircraft to attack a target and putting pilots lives at risk. The Tomahawk is also excellent at destroying targets which U.S. air and ground forces can't reach, such as in landlocked countries where those operations are logistically impossible or would require violation of another countries airspace with manned aircraft.
The Tomahawk was first used in combat in the First Gulf War where over 288 were launched with devastating effect. It has also been used against Afghanistan in Operation Enduring Freedom and in Iraq in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Additionally, it has been used multiple times where ground forces weren't used. These include instances in Iraq in 1993, 1996, and 1998; in Bosnia and Yugoslavia in 1995 and 1999 respectively; in Afghanistan and Sudan in 1998; Yemen in 2009; and in most recently Libya in 2011. Without a cruise missile like the Tomahawk, delivery of the same ordnance would have undoubtedly put many American lives at risk. In that respect, it made it possible for military objectives to be achieved without placing troops, pilots, or sailors in harm's way. What is even more incredible is that over 4,000 have been built with a total cost including development at around $11 billion, nearly the cost of a new Gerald Ford class aircraft carrier minus its aircraft.
So I'm left wondering, why cut this system? It's cheap and it works. I've always been a firm believer that cuts to defense can be made but cuts that are thought out and are meant to bring about a military reflective of the threats we face in the world today. Ceasing acquisition of this system betrays that idea. Sure the military has stockpiled around 4,000 missiles and is arguing that this figure should be able to handle any immediate threats. History has shown though that conflicts are not always foreseeable and our intelligence community failed to foresee a Russian takeover of the Crimea or civil wars in Libya and Syria.
The money saved in procuring this system, under $150 million a year (a paltry expense when compared to other DoD acquisitions) is being diverted to development of a Tomahawk successor, such as the LRASM. But the LRASM is still in development and is said to be ten years away from being battle ready. One must only look at new weapon procurement to know that any time figures offered tend to be optimistic at best. How naive are the Administration and the DoD forces that are pushing for this. Now I believe in the existence of a military industrial complex but in this situation, the benefits of keeping the Tomahawk in at least limited production far outweigh the negatives. Why should we risk losing the specialized suppliers of the missile especially if the development of its replacement is seriously delayed?
At a time of reduced military spending, when so many new systems are delayed, over budget, and underperforming, why cease production of the Tomahawk? When compared to the F-35 fighter ($150+ million apiece) which has been under development for over a decade, at a cost already nearly $400 billion with only a fraction delivered (it has never seen combat), the Tomahawk is a bargain. Are there cuts that can be made to the defense budget; without a doubt absolutely. Should this be one of them; no.Posted by SPBrooker at April 3, 2014 8:12 PM