Country of origin
Missile length (with booster)
Missile length (without booster)
Missile weight (with booster)
1 600 kg
Missile weight (without booster)
1 300 kg
130 - 750 kg
Many including conventional and nuclear (see below)
Guidance system (land attack)
GPS, inertial navigation system,
Guidance system (anti-ship)
active radar homing
Range of fire
up to 2 500 km
CEP (other models)
(originally General Dynamics) BGM-109 Tomahawk is without a doubt
the best-known and most combat-tested cruise missile in the West. It
carries a heavy payload over a very long distance, and can be
launched from a multitude of different platforms.
The earliest origins of the Tomahawk date back to 1971, when
the US Navy took an interest in submarine-launched cruise missiles
for the first time since the ill-fated Regulus of the 1950s. Two
possible approaches were studied; a large missile, similar in size
to an Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missile (SLBM) (like the cruise
missiles commonly used in Soviet submarines at the time), or a much
smaller missile that could potentially be launched from a torpedo
tube. In June of 1972, the Navy opted for only acquiring the smaller
of the two missiles, and in the following November an request for
proposals was for
this new weapon was issued to the defense industry. The program was
soon after designated Submarine Launched Cruise Missile (SLCM).
SLCM proposals were delivered over the next two years, and in
January of 1974, the Navy decided on a fly-off between prototypes of
the two most promising designs; the General Dynamics proposal, and
the LTV proposal, which were designated ZBGM-109 and ZBGM-110,
respectively. The fly-off took between the ZBGM-109 and ZBGM-110
took place in February of 1976, after which the ZBGM-109 was
declared the winner of the SLCM competition. The Navy also decided
that the new missile should be launched from surface ships as well;
because of this decision, SLCM was retroactively re-designated to be
an acronym for "Sea-Launched Cruise Missile". Now re-designated the
YBGM-109A, further development, testing, and refinement continued
into the early 1980s.
for the YBGM-109A changed considerably in January of 1977, when
President Jimmy Carter directed that the US Navy and US Air Force (USAF)
develop their parallel cruise missile programs using common
technology. The resulting Joint Cruise Missile Project (JCMP )
initiative saw the General Dynamics YBGM-109A and Boeing AGM-86 ALCM
both fitted with several major common systems, including the
Williams F107 turbofan engine, and the Douglas AN/DPW-23 TERCOM
Carter ordered the USAF and US Navy to evaluate an
air-launched version of the YBGM-109A as a possible alternative for
the AGM-86 in the air-launched role. However, this caused the
YBGM-109 series to rapidly lose commonality with both the YBGM-109A
and the AGM-86. Notably, the USAF models were re-engined with the
Teledyne CAE J402-CA-401 turbojet, while the Navy's air-launched
versions were drastically reduced in size and weight, fitted with
shorter noses, and given a sweep in the wings. None of the
air-launched models were favored by any of the services, out of
concern that the program was quickly becoming too complex and
expensive. Work on these sub-variants stopped in 1980, with the
USAF's selection of the
AGM-86B, and the Navy's cancellation of
their own air-launched models. For all intents and purposes, the
Tomahawk was once again a purely naval cruise missile.
The Tomahawk's development was not without its
controversies. The program's many delays, cost overruns, testing
failures, and scope creep earned it much criticism in both the press
and in Congress. However, others were more concerned with
operational issues surrounding the missile. It was noted in
particular by critics that the Tomahawk's TERCOM guidance had a
tendency to send the missile off course over "blank" areas on the
pre-programmed map, as it relied on a steady supply of distinctive
terrain geometry and landmarks across the entire route to find the
target area. The program office for the Tomahawk claimed they had
addressed this problem, but the missile's combat results in later
years suggest otherwise (see below). There were a number of false
starts as well; notably a 1978 demonstration made for Secretary of
Defense Harold Brown, in which the first missile's jet engine failed
to start, causing it to fall into the sea after flying less than a
The first surface ship launch of a Tomahawk occurred in March
of 1980, from the destroyer DD-976 Merrill. The first submarine
launch was made in the following June, from the SSN-665 Guitarro.
Production had already been underway for some time, and
developmental testing was finally concluded in early 1983; in March
of that year, the US Navy formally declared the BGM-109 Tomahawk
The Tomahawk is designed to be launched from ships and
ground-based launchers (BGM designation), submarines (UGM
designation), and aircraft (AGM designation). For the sake of
simplicity, these Tomahawk variants will all be described as
"BGM-109s" in this article. Also note that the submarine and surface
ship launched versions are all basically the same, while the
BGM-109G differs only in having a different nuclear warhead from the
BGM-109A. The AGM-109 series did not enter service, the USAF opting
instead for the AGM-86 ALCM.
The form of the BGM-109 Tomahawk is very simple, with a long,
tubular fuselage, dome-like nose, small, crucifix-shaped stabilizer
fins on the tail, and two small (almost fin-like) wings in the
mid-section. A small protruding airscoop on the aft underside
provides an air feed for the engine. Late-model Tomahawks no longer
have a protruding airscoop, and have three small rhombus-shaped fins
in a triangular pattern instead of the crucifix on earlier models.
Prior to launch, the wings are recessed inside the fuselage, and the
stabilizers fins (which are wrapped around the fuselage prior to
launch) spring straight. A small, cylindrical rocket booster module
on the tail of the missile lifts it into the air and propels it to
flight speed, whereupon it is jettisoned as the engine starts. The
submarine-launched models are also wrapped in a torpedo-like casing
with a rocket booster on the aft end, which are jettisoned as the
missiles ascends from the water.
All operational Tomahawk variants are launched using an
Atlantic Research MK 106 solid-propellant rocket booster, which
produces 26.7kN (6 000 lbs) of thrust for 12 seconds. When the booster
runs out of fuel, the Tomahawk is propelled though the rest of its
flight by a Williams F107 turbofan engine. Designed expressly for
powering cruise missiles, the F107 is also propelled by a special,
high-density aviation turbine fuel that withstands harsh weather,
rough handling, and long-term storage better than more conventional
jet fuels. Most Tomahawks are powered by the F107-WR-400 engine with
2.7kN (600 lbs) of thrust, while later models are powered by the
improved F107-WR-402 with 3.1kN (700 lbs) of thrust. These are both
relatively reliable engines, as demonstrate by the fact that during
Operation Desert Storm, only 19 of approximately 300 attempted
launches ended in failure.
While a wide array of details regarding the Tomahawk's many
guidance features have been described, it in fact uses only two
methods of guidance; either terrain-following radar, or active radar
The land attack models use terrain-following radar, along
with two additional functions which at the time of the missile's
debut were quite novel. The first of these is TERrain
COntour Matching (TERCOM), which uses three-dimensional imagery to form a
clearer picture of the terrain the missile is meant to follow (thus
greatly reducing the chances of the missile going off-course), and
also to allow it to weave its way through vertical terrain (e.g.,
between the peaks of a mountain range) if necessary. The second of
these features is Digital Scene Matching Area Correlation (DSMAC),
which compares pre-programmed digital radar images of the flight
path and/or target location to the images gathered from what the
high-resolution terrain-following radar can "see".
The land attack Tomahawks also employ Inertial
Navigation System (INS) to assist in their
guidance, and models introduced since the mid-1990s also include
GPS. These have improved the missile's handling and accuracy,
although it still demonstrates some tendency to veer off-course
under some conditions.
The anti-ship model, the BGM-109B, is the only variant of the
Tomahawk that uses active radar homing guidance. This guidance
method requires no pre-programming prior to launch (the
terrain-following models need to be preprogrammed to fly on a fixed
course, along with data on all the terrain below it), as it is "fire
and forget"; meaning the launch platform points the BGM-109B in the
direction of the target, launches it, and the missile is autonomous
throughout the rest of its flight.
The warheads used in the Tomahawk are even more diverse. The
original BMG-109A and the BGM-109G were armed with nuclear warheads,
but these are no longer in service. The W80 warhead used in the
BGM-109A weighs 130 kg, and has a variable yield of between 5 kT and
150 kT. The W84 warhead used in the BGM-109G was broadly similar, but
was heavier at 176 kg, and had a variable yield of 0.2 kT to 150 kT.
The BGM-109B is armed with a 750 kg WDU-36/B unitary warhead,
which is also used in current models of the BGM-109C. In current
models, this is a generic HE-FRAG warhead, but the early models of
the BGM-109C were armed with what is known as a "Bullpup" warhead.
The 450 kg WDU-25/B "Bullpup B" is similar to an HE-FRAG warhead in
principle, but relies much more heavily in a downward-direct
directed fan of pre-formed shrapnel to destroy its target, making
it a sort of a "flying claymore mine". The WDU-36/B is designed to
be used against ships and hard targets on land (such as bunkers and
hardened aircraft shelters), though its fragmentation effect also
makes it effective against soft targets. The WDU-25/B "Bullpup B" is
tailored to destroy soft targets, like wooden structures and parked
aircraft; it is not effective against most hard targets.
The subsequent BGM-109D was re-armed with a new warhead,
containing 166 BLU-97/B Combined Effects Bomblet (CEB) submunitions,
which can be scattered across a wide area to destroy numerous soft
targets. These grenade-like 1.54 kg munitions contain 287 g of
explosive filler (it was originally Cyclotol, but was replaced by
PBXN-107 in later examples, due to its improved power and
insensitivity). It is also worth noting that the BLU-97/B submunitions are the same ordnance delivered by the CBU-87 Combined Effects Munition
(CEM) cluster bomb, as well as the AGM-154A
Joint Standoff Weapon and AGM-137 TSSAM air-launched missiles;
giving the BGM-109D a common munition no doubt reduced the cost,
complexity, and duration of its development.
The combat debut of the Tomahawk was during Operation Desert
Storm, in which 290 missiles were successfully launched in 307
attempts. Numerous high value point and area targets were destroyed
by these missiles, including command centers, radar stations,
runways, aircraft shelters, supply dumps, and power stations.
However, while the Tomahawk earned great fame in the media for these
results, further inquiries into the missile's performance during the
war yielded more sobering findings. The relatively flat and
featureless terrain typical of the Arabian Desert had apparently
proven the critics' predictions accurate; the GAO had found in
"Operation Desert Storm: An Analysis of the Air Campaign"
(GAO/NSAID-97-134) that nearly half of all Tomahawks went off-course
and landed well outside their target areas. Iraqi officials had also
noted to the press that while some cruise missiles had struck
pinpoint targets of high value, others had landed in swimming pools,
vacant lots, and other areas devoid of targets.
The next employment of the Tomahawk in combat was during
Operation Deliberate Force in 1995, although only 13 missiles were
used in this conflict against a single communications center.
Some 75 Tomahawks were launched into Afghanistan and Sudan in
August of 1998 in retaliation for attacks against the US embassies
in Kenya and Tanzania. The targets were destroyed, though the
attacks were not successful; the intelligence reports that the
factory in Sudan was producing chemical weapons turned out to be
false, while the timing of the attacks on terrorist training camps
in Afghanistan was off, allowing key targets (including the infamous
Osama bin Laden) to slip away. Moreover, several missiles once again
went off-course, landing in locations outside the target areas, and
several ended up being captured intact.
During Operation Desert Fox in December of 1998, 330
Tomahawks were launched into Iraq over a four-day period --- more
missiles than were launched during Operation Desert Storm, over a
substantially shorter duration. Once again, the Tomahawk's results
were mixed; most landed on-target, but many others had once again
gone off-course. Notably, one errant Tomahawk landed in a
neighborhood in the Al-Kadhimiah of Baghdad, killing 27 civilians
and wounding 37 more.
The Tomahawk was also employed in numerous other combat
operations in Iraq throughout the 1990s as well, notably in an
attack on Iraqi southern air defenses on September 3rd 1996.
At least 218 Tomahawks were launched in support of Operation
Allied Force in 1999, where they were directed against strategic
targets inside Kosovo. Though most of the missiles destroyed their
targets, a few missiles still went off-course, or failed to explode.
In by far the most infamous mishap, three Tomahawks accidentally hit
the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade (though in this case, it wasn't a
guidance issue, but rather because the US Navy had misjudged the
height and location of the embassy building). The attacks were also
noted to have completely expended the entire US Tomahawk inventory
for the European theater.
Another 50 Tomahawks were launched in October of 2001, in
support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Once again, Tomahawk attacks
proved controversial, as numerous civilians were killed and injured
in the crossfire, in some cases by missiles that went off-course. In
a few cases, missiles were directed at such targets as the UN
de-mining headquarters, the only operational civilian radio station
in the country, and even a shortwave radio tower that had been
abandoned for a decade (though attacks these were most likely the
result of intelligence errors).
The most extensive use of Tomahawks in a single war to date
came in 2003, during the Invasion of Iraq, in which 802 Tomahawks
were launched into that country. Despite the additional guidance
technology that the Tomahawk fleet had been updated with, the
results were no better than during Desert Storm, as a large
percentage of the missiles again landed in the wrong areas --- some
even fell in Turkey, Syria, Iran, and Saudi Arabia.
More recently, a number of Tomahawks were launched into Libya
in 2011, and into Syria in 2014. It was noted by a retired US Navy
Admiral in a television interview that the Tomahawk was not only
accurate enough to destroy a specific building in Damascus if
required, but also that the Navy could even choose which window for
it to enter the building through; though while the Tomahawk has
indeed proven itself to be that accurate time and again, its
ability to *locate* its target still leaves something to be
The only current operators of the Tomahawk are the United
Kingdom and the United States. Several foreign militaries (primarily
NATO countries) have outfitted their submarines to be able to launch
the UGM-109 series Tomahawks, and some have even launched them with
US assistance and supervision in exercises, but to date none have
been supplied to other nations beyond this capacity. Poland has also
recently expressed interest in the Tomahawk.
The future of the BGM-109 Tomahawk
cruise missile is shrouded
in uncertainty. Half of the production total have already been
expended in combat and training, and in 2014 it was decided to
gradually end its production starting in 2016. It is very unlikely
that the Tomahawk will proliferate to any other nations, given the
age of the system, a wide range of new competing cruise missiles on
the market, and the political red tape that would be involved in
further foreign sales. As of 2015, approximately 4 000 operational
Tomahawks remain, with 3 500 in the US inventory, and the rest
belonging to the Royal Navy.
The US Navy expects a replacement for the Tomahawk to enter
service in the mid-2020s, but as of 2015, this new missile hasn't
even been designed. The Tomahawks themselves will likely remain in
service into the 2030s, barring unforeseen events.
Technology demonstration missiles for the SLCM. The definitive
examples were functional weapons.
YBGM-109A: Prototypes of the SLCM, and by extension the
BGM-109A TLAM-A: Original land attack model, armed with a W80
nuclear warhead. No longer in service.
BGM-109B TASM: Anti-ship version armed with a WDU-25/B HE-FRAG
BGM-109C TLAM-C: Land attack version armed with a unitary
warhead. Early models had Bullpup warheads.
BGM-109D TLAM-D: Land attack version armed with a submunition
BGM-109E TLAM Block IV: Improved BGM-109C. Dispenses 166
BLU-97/B CEB (Combined Effects Bomblet) submunitions.
BGM-109F: Submunition-dispensing model for attacking
airfields. Did not enter service.
BGM-109G Gryphon: Ground-launched model for the US Army, with
a W84 nuclear warhead. Also known as the GLCM (Ground-Launched
Cruise Missile). No longer in service.
AGM-109C: Air-launched version armed with a WDU-25/B HE-FRAG
warhead, for the USAF. Did not enter service.
AGM-109I: Air-launched dual-purpose (land attack and
anti-ship) variant armed with a WDU-25/B HE-FRAG warhead, for use on
US Navy carrier-based aircraft. Did not enter service.
AGM-109J: Air-launched AGM-109C for use on US Navy
carrier-based aircraft. Did not enter service.
AGM-109K: Air-launched infrared guided land attack version
for the USAF, armed with a WDU-25/B HE-FRAG warhead. Did not enter
AGM-109L: Navalised AGM-109K for use on US Navy carrier-based
aircraft. Did not enter service.
RGM-109. Designation for ship-launched versions of the
UGM-109. Designation for submarine-launched versions of the
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