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Cruise Missile Provides Flexible, Undetectable Power

American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 4, 1996 – Cruise missiles used in the recent U.S. retaliation against Iraq provide accurate firepower from a long distance with little chance of enemy detection.

Navy ships and submarines, as well as Air Force aircraft, may launch the missile, which can carry conventional or nuclear warheads. The U.S. retaliation on Iraqi targets Sept. 2 came from 27 missiles -- 14 launched from the destroyer USS Laboon and cruiser USS Shiloh in the Persian Gulf and 13 from Air Force B-52 bombers. Follow-up strikes Sept. 3 were launched from the sea.

U.S. naval forces use the Tomahawk cruise missile for land attack and for anti-surface warfare; with conventional armament, the missile has a range of nearly 700 miles. The Air Force cruise missile, the AGM-86, has a range of up to 1,500 miles.

Inside both missile types is an inertial terrain guidance system that helps direct the missile to its target. Each system contains a programmed map reference that helps controllers track the missile's position and make course corrections while the missile is in flight.

The Tomahawk missile uses a solid propellant at launch, then switches to a small turbofan engine. The AGM-86 launches from the aircraft, using a similar turbofan engine once the aircraft "drops" the missile. Both missiles travel about 550 miles an hour.

Because both missiles cruise at low altitude, they are difficult for opposing radar to detect. Similarly, infrared detection is difficult because the missiles' turbofan engines emit little heat.

Tomahawks have a wing span of nearly nine feet and can range from 18 to 20 feet in length. The AGM-86 wing spans 12 feet, and it is slightly longer than its Navy counterpart. Both missiles weigh up to 3,200 pounds and cost about $1.2 million each.

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