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Tomahawk (missile)

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A BGM-109 Tomahawk flying in November 2002
TypeCruise missile
Anti-ship missile[1] (Block V & TASM variants)
Submarine-launched cruise missile
Land-attack missile
Surface-to-surface missile[2]
Place of originUnited States
Service history
In service1983–present
Used byUnited StatesUnited States Navy
United StatesUnited States Army
United KingdomRoyal Navy
AustraliaRoyal Australian Navy (planned)
Production history
ManufacturerGeneral Dynamics (initially)
McDonnell Douglas
Hughes Aircraft Corporation
Raytheon Missiles & Defense
Unit cost
  • $1.87 million (FY2017)[3] (Block IV)
  • $2 million (FY2022)[4] (Block V)
  • Export cost: $4 million (FY2023)[5]
Mass2,900 lb (1,300 kg), 3,500 lb (1,600 kg) with booster
  • 18 ft 3 in (5.56 m) without booster;
  • 20 ft 6 in (6.25 m) with booster
Diameter20.4 in (0.52 m)
Wingspan8 ft 9 in (2.67 m)
WarheadNuclear: W80 warhead (yield 5 to 200 kilotonnes of TNT (21 to 837 TJ)) (retired)[6][7]
Conventional: 1,000 pounds (450 kg) high explosive or submunition dispenser with BLU-97/B Combined Effects Bomb or PBXN
FMU-148 since TLAM Block III, others for special applications

EngineWilliams International F107-WR-402 turbofan
using TH-dimer fuel
and a solid-fuel rocket booster
Block II TLAM-N – 1,350 nmi (1,550 mi; 2,500 km)

Block III TLAM-C, Block IV TLAM-E – 900 nmi (1,000 mi; 1,700 km)
Block III TLAM-D – 700 nmi (810 mi; 1,300 km)[8]

Block IV - 864nmi, 1000+ miles, 1600+ km
Block Vb - 900+nmi, 1035+ miles, 1666+ km (exact range is classified)[9]
RGM/UGM-109B TASM - 250 miles, 460 km[10]
Flight altitude98–164 ft (30–50 m) AGL[11]
Maximum speed Subsonic; ~Mach 0.74. about 567.7 mph (493.3 kn; 913.6 km/h)
GPS, INS, TERCOM, DSMAC, active radar homing (RGM/UGM-109B)
Mark 41 Vertical Launching System
Torpedo tubes
Surface ships

The Tomahawk (/ˈtɒməhɔːk/) Land Attack Missile (TLAM) is a long-range, all-weather, jet-powered, subsonic cruise missile that is primarily used by the United States Navy and Royal Navy in ship and submarine-based land-attack operations.

Developed at the Applied Physics Laboratory of Johns Hopkins University under James H. Walker near Laurel, Maryland, the Tomahawk emerged in the 1970s as a modular cruise missile first manufactured by General Dynamics. The Tomahawk aimed to fulfill the need for a medium- to long-range, low-altitude missile with diverse capabilities. Its modular design allows for compatibility with a range of warheads, including high-explosive, submunitions, and bunker-busters. The Tomahawk can utilize a variety of guidance systems, including GPS, inertial navigation, and terrain contour matching. Over a dozen variants and upgraded versions have been developed since the original design, including air-, sub-, and ground-launched configurations with both conventional and nuclear armaments. The Tomahawk's manufacturing history has seen several transitions. General Dynamics served as the sole supplier in the 1970s. From 1992 until 1994, McDonnell Douglas was the sole supplier of Tomahawks, producing Block II and Block III versions and remanufacturing many Tomahawks to Block III specifications.[12] In 1994, Hughes Aircraft, having purchased General Dynamics' missile division in 1992, outbid McDonnell Douglas to become the sole supplier of Tomahawks.[13][14] A joint venture between Hughes and Raytheon manufactured the missile from 1995 until Raytheon's acquisition of Hughes in 1997, solidifying their position as the sole supplier.[15][16] In 2016, the U.S. Department of Defense purchased 149 Tomahawk Block IV missiles for $202.3 million.[3] As of 2019, Raytheon remains the sole manufacturer of non-nuclear, sea-launched Tomahawk variants.[17]


The variants and multiple upgrades to the missile include:

  • BGM-109A Tomahawk Land Attack Missile – Nuclear (TLAM-N) with a W80 nuclear warhead. Retired from service sometime between 2010 and 2013.[7] Reports from early 2018 state that the U.S. Navy is considering reintroducing a (yet unknown type of) nuclear-armed cruise missile into service.[18]
  • RGM/UGM-109B Tomahawk Anti-Ship Missile (TASM) – Anti-ship variant with active radar homing; withdrawn from service in 1994 and converted to Block IV version.[8]
  • BGM-109C Tomahawk Land Attack Missile – Conventional (TLAM-C) with a unitary warhead. This was initially a modified Bullpup warhead.
  • BGM-109D Tomahawk Land Attack Missile – Dispenser (TLAM-D) with cluster munitions.[19]
  • RGM/UGM-109E Tomahawk Land Attack Missile (TLAM-E Block IV) – improved version of the TLAM-C.[8]
  • BGM-109G Ground Launched Cruise Missile (GLCM) – with a W84 nuclear warhead; withdrawn from service in 1991 to comply with the INF Treaty.[8]
  • AGM-109H/L Medium Range Air-to-Surface Missile (MRASM) – a shorter-range, turbojet powered air-launched cruise missile with cluster munitions; never entered service, cost US$569,000 (1999).[21]

BGM-109G Ground Launched Cruise Missiles (GLCM) and their truck-like launch vehicles were employed at bases in Europe; they were withdrawn from service to comply with the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.[8] Many of the anti-ship versions were converted into TLAMs at the end of the Cold War.[18] The Block III TLAMs that entered service in 1993 can fly 3 percent farther using their new turbofan engines[8] and use Global Positioning System (GPS) receivers to strike more precisely.[18] Block III TLAM-Cs retain the Digital Scene Matching Area Correlation (DSMAC) II navigation system, allowing three kinds of navigation: GPS-only, which allow for rapid mission planning, with some reduced accuracy, DSMAC-only, which take longer to plan but terminal accuracy is somewhat better; and GPS-aided missions that combine DSMAC II and GPS navigation for greatest accuracy.[8] Block IV TLAMs have an improved turbofan engine that allows them to get better fuel economy and change speeds in flight.[8] The Block IV TLAMs can loiter better and have electro-optical sensors that allow real-time battle damage assessment.[8] The Block IVs can be given a new target in flight and can transmit an image, via satcom, immediately before impact to help determine whether the missile is on target and the likely damage from the attack.[8]


UGM-109 Tomahawk missile detonates above a test target, 1986.

A major improvement to the Tomahawk is network-centric warfare-capabilities, using data from multiple sensors (aircraft, UAVs, satellites, foot soldiers, tanks, ships) to find its target. It will also be able to send data from its sensors to these platforms.

Tomahawk Block II variants were all tested during January 1981 to October 1983. Deployed in 1984, some of the improvements included: an improved booster rocket, cruise missile radar altimeter, and navigation through the Digital Scene Matching Area Corellator (DSMAC).[citation needed] DSMAC was a highly accurate rudimentary AI which allowed early low power computers to navigate and precisely target objectives using cameras on board the missile. With its ability to visually identify and aim directly at a target, it was more accurate than weapons using estimated GPS coordinates. Due to the very limited computer power of the day, DSMAC did not directly evaluate the maps, but instead would compute contrast maps and then combine multiple maps into a buffer, then compare the average of those combined images to determine if it was similar to the data in its small memory system. The data for the flight path was very low resolution in order to free up memory to be used for high resolution data about the target area. The guidance data was computed by a mainframe computer which took spy satellite photos and estimated what the terrain would appear like during low level flight. Since this data would not match the real terrain exactly, and since terrain changes seasonally and with changes in light quality, DSMAC would filter out differences between maps and use the remaining similar sections in order to find its location regardless of changes in how the ground appeared. It also had an extremely bright strobe light it could use to illuminate the ground for fractions of a second in order to find its position at night, and was able to take the difference in ground appearance into account.[22]

Tomahawk Block III introduced in 1993 added time-of-arrival control and improved accuracy for Digital Scene Matching Area Correlator (DSMAC) and jam-resistant GPS, smaller, lighter WDU-36 warhead, engine improvements and extended missile's range.[21][23]

Tactical Tomahawk Weapons Control System (TTWCS) takes advantage of a loitering feature in the missile's flight path and allows commanders to redirect the missile to an alternative target, if required. It can be reprogrammed in-flight to attack predesignated targets with GPS coordinates stored in its memory or to any other GPS coordinates. Also, the missile can send data about its status back to the commander. It entered service with the US Navy in late 2004. The Tactical Tomahawk Weapons Control System (TTWCS) added the capability for limited mission planning on board the firing unit (FRU).[24]

Tomahawk Block IV introduced in 2006 adds the strike controller which can change the missile in flight to one of 15 preprogrammed alternate targets or redirect it to a new target. This targeting flexibility includes the capability to loiter over the battlefield awaiting a more critical target. The missile can also transmit battle damage indication imagery and missile health and status messages via the two-way satellite data link. Firing platforms now have the capability to plan and execute GPS-only missions. Block IV also has an improved anti-jam GPS receiver for enhanced mission performance. Block IV includes Tomahawk Weapons Control System (TTWCS), and Tomahawk Command and Control System (TC2S).[25][26][27]

On 16 August 2010, the Navy completed the first live test of the Joint Multi-Effects Warhead System (JMEWS), a new warhead designed to give the Tomahawk the same blast-fragmentation capabilities while introducing enhanced penetration capabilities in a single warhead. In the static test, the warhead detonated and created a hole large enough for the follow-through element to completely penetrate the concrete target.[28] In February 2014, U.S. Central Command sponsored development and testing of the JMEWS, analyzing the ability of the programmable warhead to integrate onto the Block IV Tomahawk, giving the missile bunker buster effects to better penetrate hardened structures.[29]

In 2012, the USN studied applying Advanced Anti-Radiation Guided Missile (AARGM) technology into the Tactical Tomahawk.[30]

In 2014, Raytheon began testing Block IV improvements to attack sea and moving land targets.[31] The new passive radar seeker will pick up the electromagnetic radar signature of a target and follow it, and actively send out a signal to bounce off potential targets before impact to discriminate its legitimacy before impact.[29] Mounting the multi-mode sensor on the missile's nose would remove fuel space, but company officials believe the Navy would be willing to give up space for the sensor's new technologies.[32] The previous Tomahawk Anti-Ship Missile, retired over a decade earlier, was equipped with inertial guidance and the seeker of the Harpoon missile and there was concern with its ability to clearly discriminate between targets from a long distance, since at the time Navy sensors did not have as much range as the missile itself, which would be more reliable with the new seeker's passive detection and millimeter-wave active radar homing.[33][34] Raytheon estimates adding the new seeker would cost $250,000 per missile.[35] Other upgrades include a sea-skimming flight path.[36][37] The first Block IV TLAMs modified with a maritime attack capability will enter service in 2021.[38]

A supersonic version of the Tomahawk is under consideration for development with a ramjet to increase its speed to Mach 3. A limiting factor to this is the dimensions of shipboard launch tubes. Instead of modifying every ship able to carry cruise missiles, the ramjet-powered Tomahawk would still have to fit within a 21 inches (530 mm)-diameter and 20 feet (6.1 m)-long tube.[32]

In October 2015, Raytheon announced the Tomahawk had demonstrated new capabilities in a test launch, using its onboard camera to take a reconnaissance photo and transmit it to fleet headquarters. It then entered a loitering pattern until given new targeting coordinates to strike.[39]

By January 2016, Los Alamos National Laboratory was working on a project to turn unburned fuel left over when a Tomahawk reaches its target into an additional explosive force. To do this, the missile's JP-10 fuel is turned into a fuel air explosive to combine with oxygen in the air and burn rapidly. The thermobaric explosion of the burning fuel acts, in effect, as an additional warhead and can even be more powerful than the main warhead itself when there is sufficient fuel left in the case of a short-range target.[27][40]

The USS Chafee (DDG-90) launches a Block V Tomahawk during the start of operational testing in 2020.

Tomahawk Block V was introduced in 2021 with improvements to navigation and in-flight targeting. Block Va, the Maritime Strike Tomahawk (MST) which allows the missile to engage a moving target at sea, and Block Vb outfitted with the JMEWS warhead for hard-target penetration, will be released after the initial batch of Block V is delivered in March 2021.[41] All Block IV Tomahawks will be converted to Block V standard, while the remaining Block III missiles will be retired and demilitarized.[42]

Tomahawk Block V have longer range and dynamic targeting with the capability to hit vessels at sea (maritime strike role). Raytheon is recertifying and modernizing the missile, extending its service life by 15 years, and resulting in the new Tomahawk Block V series:

  • Block V: A modernized TACTOM with upgraded navigation and communication
  • Block VA: Block V anti-ship version, capable of hitting moving targets at sea. Block VA's range is shorter than the Block V it's based upon, due to the extra space for the new navigation/sensor/passive radar needs. Estimate the Block VA's range is 500–700 km (310–435 miles)[citation needed]
  • Block VB: Block V, with a joint multi-effects warhead that can hit more diverse land targets.[41]

In 2020, Los Alamos National Laboratory reported that it would use corn ethanol to produce domestic fuel for Tomahawk missiles, which also does not require harsh acids to manufacture, compared to petroleum-based JP-10.[43]

Launch systems[edit]

Each missile is stored and launched from a pressurized canister that protects it during transportation and storage, and also serves as a launch tube.[44] These canisters were racked in Armored Box Launchers (ABL), which were installed on the four reactivated Iowa-class battleships USS Iowa, USS New Jersey, USS Missouri, and USS Wisconsin. The ABLs were also installed on eight Spruance-class destroyers, the four Virginia-class cruisers, and the nuclear cruiser USS Long Beach. These canisters are also in vertical launching systems (VLS) in other surface ships, capsule launch systems (CLS) in the later Los Angeles-class submarine and Virginia-class submarines, and in submarines' torpedo tubes. All ABL equipped ships have been decommissioned.

For submarine-launched missiles (called UGM-109s), after being ejected by gas pressure (vertically via the VLS) or by water impulse (horizontally via the torpedo tube), a solid-fuel booster is ignited to propel the missile and guide it out of the water.[45]

After achieving flight, the missile's wings are unfolded for lift, the airscoop is exposed and the turbofan engine is employed for cruise flight. Over water, the Tomahawk uses inertial guidance or GPS to follow a preset course; once over land, the missile's guidance system is aided by terrain contour matching (TERCOM). Terminal guidance is provided by the Digital Scene Matching Area Correlation (DSMAC) system or GPS, producing a claimed circular error probable of about 10 meters.

The Tomahawk Weapon System consists of the missile, Theater Mission Planning Center (TMPC)/Afloat Planning System, and either the Tomahawk Weapon Control System (on surface ships) or Combat Control System (for submarines).

Several versions of control systems have been used, including:

  • v2 TWCS – Tomahawk Weapon Control System (1983), also known as "green screens", was based on an old tank computing system.
  • v3 ATWCS – Advanced Tomahawk Weapon Control System (1994), first Commercial Off the Shelf, uses HP-UX.
  • v4 TTWCS – Tactical Tomahawk Weapon Control System, (2003).
  • v5 TTWCS – Next Generation Tactical Tomahawk Weapon Control System. (2006)

On August 18, 2019, the United States Navy conducted a test flight of a Tomahawk missile launched from a ground-based version of the Mark 41 Vertical Launch System.[46] It was the United States' first acknowledged launch of a missile that would have violated the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, from which the Trump administration withdrew on August 2 after Russia broke it.[47]

The US Army has successfully launched a Tomahawk from the Typhon missile launcher.[48]


The TLAM-D contains 166 sub-munitions in 24 canisters: 22 canisters of seven each, and two canisters of six each to conform to the dimensions of the airframe. The sub-munitions are the same type of Combined Effects Munition bomblet used in large quantities by the U.S. Air Force with the CBU-87 Combined Effects Munition. The sub-munitions canisters are dispensed two at a time, one per side. The missile can perform up to five separate target segments which enables it to attack multiple targets. However, in order to achieve a sufficient density of coverage typically all 24 canisters are dispensed sequentially from back to front.


TERCOM – Terrain Contour Matching. A digital representation of an area of terrain is mapped based on digital terrain elevation data or stereo imagery. This map is then inserted into a TLAM mission which is then loaded onto the missile. When the missile is in flight it compares the stored map data with radar altimeter data collected as the missile overflies the map. Based on comparison results the missile's inertial navigation system is updated and the missile corrects its course. TERCOM was based on, and was a significant improvement on, "Fingerprint," a technology developed in 1964 for the SLAM.[citation needed]

DSMAC – Digital Scene Matching Area Correlation. A digitized image of an area is mapped and then inserted into a TLAM mission. During the flight the missile will verify that the images that it has stored correlates with the image it sees below itself. Based on comparison results the missile's inertial navigation system is updated and the missile corrects its course.

GPRS - The Tomahawk relies on the Global Positioning Recognition System as a guidance mechanism.

Operational history[edit]

Remnants of the turbofan engine of a Tomahawk allegedly shot down during the 1999 NATO bombing of Yugoslavia, on display at the Museum of Aviation in Belgrade, Serbia.

United States[edit]

Air Force[edit]

The Air Force is a former operator of the nuclear-armed version of the Tomahawk, the BGM-109G Gryphon.[49]


In November 2020, the U.S. Army selected the Tomahawk to fulfill its Mid-Range Capability (MRC), giving it a land-based long-range missile capable of striking ground and sea targets. The Army plans to use the Tomahawk alongside a ground-based SM-6 and field them by late 2023.[50]


Number of Tomahawk missiles fired
Operation Target country Year Number
Gulf War Iraq 1991-01-17 288
Part of Iraq disarmament Iraq 1993-01-17 46
Part of Iraq disarmament Iraq 1993-06-26 23
Operation Deliberate Force Bosnia-Herzegovina 1995-09-10 13
Part of Iraq disarmament Iraq 1996-09-03 44
Operation Infinite Reach Afghanistan / Sudan 1998-08-20 79
Operation Desert Fox Iraq 1998-12-16 325
NATO intervention in Yugoslavia Yugoslavia 1999-03-24 218
Operation Enduring Freedom Afghanistan 2001-10-07 50
2003 invasion of Iraq Iraq 2003-03-20 802
Dobley airstrike Somalia 2008-03-03 2
Against an Al-Qaeda training camp in Yemen Yemen 2009-12-17 2
2011 military intervention in Libya Libya 2011-03-19 124
Military intervention against ISIL Iraq 2014-09-23 47
In response to anti-ship missiles fired by Houthis in Yemen Yemen 2016-10-13 5
Shayrat missile strike Syria 2017-04-06 59
2018 bombing of Damascus and Homs Syria 2018-04-13 66
2024 missile strikes in Yemen Yemen 2024-01-11 80

Royal Navy[edit]

Royal Navy submarine HMS Astute fires a Tomahawk cruise missile in 2011

In 1995, the US agreed to sell 65 Tomahawks to the UK for torpedo-launch from their nuclear attack submarines. The first missiles were acquired and test-fired in November 1998; all Royal Navy fleet submarines are now Tomahawk capable, including the Astute-class.[80][81][82][83] The Kosovo War in 1999 saw the Swiftsure-class HMS Splendid become the first British submarine to fire the Tomahawk in combat. The UK subsequently bought 20 more Block III to replenish stocks.[84] The Royal Navy has since fired Tomahawks during the 2000s Afghanistan War, in Operation Telic as the British contribution to the 2003 Iraq War, and during Operation Ellamy in Libya in 2011.

In April 2004, the UK and US governments reached an agreement for the British to buy 64 of the new generation of Tomahawk missile—the Block IV or TacTom missile.[85] It entered service with the Royal Navy on 27 March 2008, three months ahead of schedule.[86] In July 2014 the US approved the sale to the UK of a further 65 submarine-launched Block IV's at a cost of US$140m including spares and support;[87] as of 2011 the Block III missiles were on British books at £1.1m and the Block IV at £0.87m including VAT.[88]

The Sylver Vertical Launching System on the new Type 45 destroyer is claimed by its manufacturers to have the capability to fire the Tomahawk, although the A50 launcher carried by the Type 45 is too short for the weapon (the longer A70 silo would be required). Nevertheless, the Type 45 has been designed with weight and space margin for a strike-length Mk41 or Sylver A70 silo to be retrofitted, allowing Type 45 to use the TLAM Block IV if required. Both the new Type 26 frigates and the Type 31 frigate will be filled with strike-length Mk41 VLS.[89]

In June 2022, the UK announced it would be upgrading its Tomahawk cruise missiles to Block V standard through a £265 million contract with the US government. The missiles will be upgraded from 2024.[90]

Royal Canadian Navy[edit]

According to infographics released by Royal Canadian Navy, the new River-class destroyers will be equipped with the missile.[91][92]

Royal Australian Navy[edit]

In September 2021, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that Australia would acquire Tomahawks for the Royal Australian Navy's Hobart-class air warfare destroyers.[93] In March 2023, the US State Department approved a Foreign Military Sale to sell Australia of up 200 Block V and up to 20 Block IV missiles worth an estimated $US895 million.[94] The sale was approved by the United States State Department for $250 million USD on 11 January 2024.[95]


The Japanese government is negotiating with the U.S. government to purchase U.S.-made Tomahawk cruise missiles for attacking enemy bases and counterattack purposes.[96] The Japanese government decided to purchase the Tomahawk cruise missile before their domestic improved range "Type 12 Surface-to-Ship Missile" start full-scale operation.[97] Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced Japan will be buying 400 Tomahawk missiles.[98][99][100] They which will be deployed in fiscal year 2026-27 and will serve as a bridge until the deployment of indigenous missiles like the extended range Type 12 Surface-to-Ship Missile and the Hyper Velocity Gliding Projectile.[101]

The United States Defense Security and Cooperation Agency announced on 17 November 2023 that the US State Department had approved a possible sale of up to 200 RGM-109E Tomahawk Block IV and up to 200 RGM-109E Tomahawk Block V LACMs to Japan for an estimated US$2.35 billion.[99]

The Netherlands[edit]

After initial interest and planning (2005), the Dutch Ministry of Defence in 2023 confirmed ordering the ship launched- and submarine launched versions of the Tomahawk to be installed on both existing as well as future frigates & submarines. The order was subsequently cancelled in 2007.

In 2022 plans for acquiring long-range and precision-guided weapon systems for the frigates and submarines of The Royal Netherlands Navy are announced as part of the Strategic Defence Review 2022, Tomahawk is considered a serious contender.[102][103] In March 2023, the commander of the Royal Netherlands Navy announced in a column that the project to acquire maritime strike capability had been approved by the Ministry of Defence, and would include both the De Zeven Provinciën-class frigates and the Walrus-class submarines. While initially no announcement on missile type was made, the Tomahawk was confirmed as the frigates and submarines are equipped with US-standard Mark 41 Vertical Launching System, and torpedo tubes suited for launching UGM-109 Tomahawk respectively.[104][105] In April 2023, the Netherlands Ministry of Defence announced the procurement of Tomahawk missiles.[106]

Other users[edit]

Spain (2002 and 2005) was interested in acquiring the Tomahawk system, but the order was later cancelled in 2009.[107][108]

In 2009, the Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States stated that Japan would be concerned if the TLAM-N were retired, but the government of Japan has denied that it had expressed any such view.[109]

The SLCM version of the Popeye was developed by Israel after the US government under the Clinton administration refused an Israeli request in 2000 to purchase Tomahawk SLCMs because of international Missile Technology Control Regime proliferation rules.[110]

As of March 12, 2015, Poland has expressed interest in purchasing long-range Tomahawk missiles for its future submarines.[111]


Map with Tomahawk operators in blue

Current operators[edit]

 United Kingdom
 United States

Future operators[edit]


See also[edit]


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