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
Comments
Comment #377698

SP,
We currently have 4,000 missiles in stock, with a new generation scheduled to come out in a few years. We do not have enough targets to use that many missiles in any realistic scenario, and many alternatives to Tomahawks already available.

When we invaded Afghanistan, we ran out of targets in just three days. Many third world countries do not have enough infrastructure for targeting to keep us busy for a week.

We do not need more horses, bayonets, or Tomahawks. Times change. The nature of warfare changes. This is a good example. Technology that seemed incredible just a decade ago is already giving way to new methods and new delivery systems.

You mention Russia and the Ukraine. There is no scenario where we will use Tomahawks. We will, however, use other types of coercion. Immediately after Russia made its move, their stock market crashed 10%. Putin blamed the US Federal Reserve. He talked with Obama. Their market got better.

Listening to the Neocons at Heritage and people who are virtually, factually wrong and habitually make terrible judgment calls, such as Krauthammer, is a big mistake. Just ask Mitt Romney, and see if he still thinks we need more naval surface ships, horses, or bayonets.

Posted by: phx8 at April 4, 2014 10:55 AM
Comment #377708

Brilliant, phx8. Just get rid of all those weapons that have a possibility to be used under unknown conditions that your myopic eye cannot. Your ability to understand weapons and technology is not known. One cannot be overstocked in any weapons. One never knows where or when the weapons could be used in a way not known or understood before.

Posted by: tom humes at April 5, 2014 12:51 AM
Comment #377711

With half the world yet to be conquered, we’re going to need every weapon we can get!

We’ve been at war since WWII. We just changed the enemy. Once Germany was finished we turned our might toward the USSR and entered “The Cold War”. We have been in a state of war with North Korea since 1950 and Colombia since 1964. When you think about it, this country has been in one war or another throughout it’s entire history.

Can’t have defense spending without “defending” something, right?

In peace time, the US government used to spend very little on defense, about one percent of GDP. But that changed after World War II when the United States found itself in a global contest against Communism. Ever since, defense spending has never been less than 3.6 percent of GDP.

The U.S. has ongoing wars in:
Korea
Colombia
Afghanistan
Philippines
Somalia
Pakistan
The Maghreb
Yemen
Uganda
And, that’s not to mention the List of United States military bases around the world. Why bother, right? Who cares!?

Yep, we’re going to need those tomahawk missiles. And when the federal government runs out of other people’s money we’re going to need those horses and bayonets too!


Posted by: Weary Willie at April 5, 2014 10:35 AM
Comment #377715

tom humes,
As a B-52 Radar Navigator (bombardier) in SAC, I worked with weapons systems such as SRAMs- Short Range Attack Missiles.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Short-Range_Attack_Missile
When it comes to missiles, I do have some background knowledge.And yes, it is possible to ‘overstock’ and overproduce weapons. Not only do they cost money to manufacture, they have to be maintained, and they only last so long- think of it as a ‘shelf life.’ Resources and manpower are not unlimited. It is common sense to invest resources where they will be the most useful. Weapons systems come and go- that includes SRAMs, Tomahawks, horses, and bayonets.

Posted by: phx8 at April 5, 2014 5:03 PM
Comment #377716

I am not often in agreement with you. I am thankful for your service.
I still agree about the weapons. They must be maintained in an orderly manner whatever that is.

Posted by: tom humes at April 5, 2014 7:32 PM
Comment #377726

I don’t get the problem.

The DOD budget request isn’t to cut spending on Tomahawk and Hell Fire missile classes, it is to redirect current spending on aging systems to development of a new generation of such missiles. It is to accelerate an existing replacement program.

Considering that we already have 4,000 of the older system stockpiled, it only seems smart to use available funds for development of the replacement system.

Posted by: Rich at April 6, 2014 9:42 AM
Comment #377765

This is why we have an incredibly bloated defense budget. They make it almost a literal minefield to cut anything, using the fear of an insufficient defense to justify one that overwhelms everybody else’s costs a million times over.

There’s a strategic flaw in doing things this way: the more expensive a defense is, the less sustainable. If we got missiles to spare, and the new generation’s going to roll out, then the author of this post has his hair on fire for nothing.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at April 7, 2014 3:00 PM
Comment #377771

I agree with you Stephen in a small part. If we have a new generation of weaponry coming out yes dismantle the old much like we do with our Air Crafty Carriers as a new one is commissioned we decommission an older one. But not until the newer is completely tested.

Posted by: Rich KAPitan at April 7, 2014 4:29 PM
Comment #377778

Just as a side note. My son leaves Ft. Bliss tomorrow and will arrive in Gitmo tomorrow morning. I am proud of my Sgt. Humes.

Posted by: tom humes at April 7, 2014 6:53 PM
Comment #377789

If we are in fact cutting and not just buying somewhere or some-thing else it’s deleterious. We cannot cut mil out and not suffer a brunt—could this be the genesis of our downfall? There’s probably more to this picture and we are going to a smarter more precise military somehow.

Posted by: simpleheaded at April 8, 2014 11:37 AM
Comment #377811

Tom,
You have every right to be super proud of your son. May God bless him and bring him home safely.

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