The Tomahawk is among the most widely used and effective conventional weapons in the US arsenal, especially since we began covertly launching them from the safety of submerged submarines during the Cold War. Recently, Raytheon debuted the latest upgrades to its newest generation of Tomahawks—cruise missiles smarter and more adaptable than ever before.
Originally introduced in the 1970s, the Raytheon BGM-109 Tomahawk is a long-range, all-weather, subsonic cruise missile designed as a medium to long-range, low-altitude missile capable of being launched from both land and submarine platforms. Running $569,000 a piece (that's a steal), these 18 foot-long, 3,500 pound missiles pack a 1,000 pound warhead containing either nuclear material, conventional high-explosives, or a submunitions dispenser that spreads 166 combined-effects bomblets.
These missiles utilize both a solid-fuel rocket as well as a turbofan engine to hit speeds of 550 mph with a range of 700 nautical miles. Or, at least, that's what they were capable of until 2004, when the new Block IV made its debut.
"This is not the Tomahawk of the past," said Roy Donelson, Raytheon Tomahawk program director in a press statement. "Today's Tomahawk Block IV is a mature, highly advanced, intelligent weapon we are modernizing. Tomahawk helps to preserve freedom around the globe and continues to be the nation's weapon of choice."
The Block IV Tomahawks are the smartest cruise missiles yet. They incorporate a two-way data link, allowing it to be remotely piloted like a UAV and guided towards its target from any of its on-board sensors. That link also allows the missile to collect and transmit real-time reconnaissance data, in the form of single frame images, while it's en route to ruining somebody's week. What's more, each Tomahawk is equipped with a jam-resistant GPS receiver allowing it to loiter over targets and be actively re-targeted while in-flight.
Launched from either a sub's VLS (vertical launch system) or ejected from its horizontal torpedo tubes, the missile will exit the water, ignite a solid-fuel booster rocket that launches it airborne. After a few seconds , the booster exhausts its fuel supply and the missile transitions to cruise mode—unfurling its wings and switching power to its on-board, 610 lbf turbofan engine (that's nearly as powerful as the one aboard the X-36). Depending on the terrain, the missile will use either GPS for navigation in sea skim mode—a low-altitude flight over the waves at high subsonic speeds—or its Terrain Contour Matching (TERCOM) over land. Either way, the Block IV's have a range of 900 nmi (1,000 miles)—two hundred more than their predecessors—while maintaining their accuracy of a 10 meter range.