tomahawk explainer
Military analyst explains Tomahawk missiles
02:28 - Source: CNN
CNN  — 

US President Donald Trump ordered military strikes against Syria on Thursday in retaliation for a chemical weapons attack that killed dozens of civilians, including children.

Two US warships in the eastern Mediterranean launched 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at a Syrian government airbase, US officials said.

CNN’s military analysts said the Tomahawk was a good choice for this kind of attack.

“This is what the Tomahawk was made for. It gets in there low level and hits these fixed facilities with no risk to an air crew,” retired US Air Force Lt. Col. Rick Francona said.

Tomahawks are intermediate-range cruise missiles, meaning they have a range of about 800 miles (1,250 kilometers) to 1500 miles (2,500 kilometers).

They are fired from sea and travel relatively low to the ground and guided by an advanced navigation system, which means the US could target the airbase in Syria from afar.

“What’s important about the Tomahawks is that they just don’t necessarily go from point A to point B in a straight line. They will take kind of a circumnavigation route so they can’t be shot down,” retired US Army Maj. Gen. James “Spider” Marks said.

The US Navy guided-missile destroyer USS Barry launches a Tomahawk on March 29, 2011, from the Mediterranean Sea.

The missiles were first used by the United States in Operation Desert Storm and have been in operation ever since. The United Kingdom also has purchased Tomahawks from the United States.

The Tomahawk can be equipped with a 1,000-pound conventional warhead, the Navy says.

Though Tomahawks have the ability to carry a nuclear payload, policymakers have phased out the missiles’ nuclear role, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Missile Defense Project.

Navy test tomahawk missiles moving targets orig_00010302.jpg
See the U.S. Navy launch Tomahawk missile into ship
01:18 - Source: U.S. Navy

Though Tomahawks have been in service for years, newer versions have been equipped with better communication systems, among other things.

Each unit cost about $569,000 in 1999 dollars, according to the US Navy, – equivalent to about $832,000 today.