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ISIS and the future of the Tomahawk missile

Kate Davidson Sep 24, 2014
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At the United Nations, President Obama referred to the extremist group ISIS as a “network of death” on Wednesday. As part of the effort to dismantle it, the U.S. deployed a trusted weapon this week, launching more than 40 Tomahawk cruise missiles at targets in Syria.

That could be good news for a weapon on the budgetary chopping block. By best estimates, the U.S. has about 4,000 Tomahawk missiles in its inventory. Or they did, until this week.

Todd Harrison, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, says Tomahawks are launched from ships or submarines, and can fly 1,000 miles to their targets.

“It has wings that fold out and a jet engine that turns on and it powers it like an airplane,” he says.

Raytheon makes the Tomahawks, which cost the military more than $1 million each.

“We had been buying them at a rate of almost 200 per year,” says Harrison, adding that the Department of Defense proposed phasing out Tomahawk purchases in its most recent budget request. The idea is to find the next-generation replacement.

“In 2016 and beyond, they had zeroed out that budget line,” says Harrison, “indicating they don’t plan to buy any more Tomahawk cruise missiles.”

Mackenzie Eaglen, a defense and military analyst at the American Enterprise Institute, says some members of Congress had already wanted to extend the Tomahawk program, including lawmakers on key committees. She says this new campaign against ISIS could convince more lawmakers that’s necessary.

“The caveat for ending the program next year, by the Navy, was always that there would be no unanticipated events that would drain current stockpiles of Tomahawks before a new missile is ready,” she says.

Forty-plus missiles hardly drains the stockpile. But Gordon Adams, an International Relations professor at American University, agrees the product line could well be extended.

That’s good news for Raytheon.

“For any contractor that is making ammunition or building a piece of equipment that’s being used in the campaign against ISIS,” he says, “the campaign against ISIS is good news about the near term future of that program.”

Not to mention for the company behind it. 

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