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A History Of The Tomahawk In Combat


It is said that in a crisis one of the first questions asked by military leaders is “Where are the carriers?”  However, since the Tomahawk land attack missile was first used in combat during Operation Desert Storm, most military operations have really begun with strikes using these precision weapons launched from cruisers, destroyers and submarines.

The Tomahawk is an all-weather, long-range cruise missile capable of being launched from more than 140 U. S. Navy surface ships and submarines for land attack warfare. It can precisely strike high value or heavily defended land targets. All cruisers, destroyers and guided-missile and attack submarines are capable of using the system.

Here is a list of some of the combat operations in which the Tomahawk has figured prominently.

Jan. 17, 1991: At 1:30 a.m., nine ships in the Mediterranean, Arabian Gulf, and Red Sea fire the first of 122 Tomahawk cruise missiles at Iraqi targets during Operation Desert Storm. This marks the first combat launch of the Tomahawk. The guided-missile cruiser San Jacinto (CG 56) fires the first Tomahawk from the Red Sea, while the guided-missile cruiser Bunker Hill (CG 52) fires the first Tomahawk from the Arabian Gulf. By the end of the second day of the operation, ships and submarines had launched 216 Tomahawks against 17 Iraqi military leadership, electric, and oil targets. On day three of the operation, the fast attack submarines USS Louisville (SSN 724) and USS Pittsburgh (SSN 720) while submerged, fire the first submarine-launched Tomahawk cruise missiles in combat history.

Jan. 17, 1993: In response to Iraqi violations of the Middle East no-fly zone the guided-missile cruiser USS Cowpens (CG 53) and destroyers USS Hewitt (DD 966) and USS Stump (DD 978) steaming in the Arabian Gulf, and destroyer USS Caron (DD 970) in the Red Sea, launch 42 Tomahawks against targets in Iraq.

June 26, 1993: In what Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Colin L. Powell, described as a “proportionate” response to the Iraqi assassination plot against former President George H. W. Bush, his wife Barbara, two of their sons, and former Secretary of State James A. Baker III, the guided-missile cruiser USS Chancellorsville (CG 62) launches nine Tomahawks from the northern Arabian Gulf, and the destroyer USS Peterson (DD 969) fires 14 more missiles from the Red Sea, in a coordinated night attack against the Iraqi intelligence service headquarters building in Baghdad.


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Aug. 30, 1995: Three weeks after the end of the Croatian military’s successful Operation Storm, aircraft from the carrier Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) spearhead attacks against Bosnian Serb air defense missile sites, radar sites and communications facilities as part of the opening day of Operation Deliberate Force. The operation lasts until Sept. 20 and includes, among other operations, thirteen Tomahawk land attack missile strikes from the guided-missile cruiser USS Normandy (CG 60). In part as a result of the operation, the Bosnian Serb forces agree to enter peace negotiations that ultimately result in the Dayton Accords, ending the conflict in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Sept. 3, 1996: Operation Desert Strike begins in retaliation for the Aug. 31 dispatch by Saddam Hussein of 40,000 Iraqi Republican Guardsmen and regulars against Irbil, a Patriotic Union of Kurdistan town 48 miles east of Mosul. Desert Strike attacks Iraqi fixed surface-to-air missile sites and air defense command and control facilities in southern Iraq. The guided-missile cruiser USS Shiloh (CG 67) and the guided-missile destroyer USS Laboon (DDG 58) fire 14 Tomahawks. The next day, the destroyer USS Hewitt (DD 966), and the guided-missile destroyers USS Laboon (DDG 58) and USS Russell (DDG 59), and fast attack submarine USS Jefferson City (SSN 759) fire 17 more.

Aug. 20, 1998: Operation Infinite Reach (Resolute Response) begins with two simultaneous retaliatory raids in response to the twin al-Qaeda attacks on the embassies in East Africa on Aug. 7. The guided missile cruisers USS Cowpens (CG 63) and USS Shiloh (CG 67), destroyer USS Elliott (DD 967), guided-missile destroyer USS Milius (DDG 69), and fast attack submarine USS Columbia (SSN 771) fire 73 Tomahawks at the Zhawar Kili al-Badr terrorist training and support complex, 30 miles southwest of Khowst, Afghanistan. Meanwhile the destroyers USS Briscoe (DD 977) and USS Hayler (DD 997) steaming in the Red Sea launch six Tomahawks against the al-Shifa pharmaceutical plant near Khartoum, Sudan.

Dec. 16, 1998: With Iraqi President Saddam Hussein obstructing weapons inspections, the U.S. launches Operation Desert Fox, a series of sustained air strikes against Iraqi, chemical and biological weapons development facilities. Seven ships carrying Tomahawk cruise missiles, participate in the operation.

March 24, 1999: With the collapse of diplomatic efforts to counter Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro) President Slobodan Milosevic’s “cleansing” of ethnic Albanians from Kosovo, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) launches Operation Allied Force, with Navy surface ships and submarines launching Tomahawk cruise missiles.

Oct. 7, 2001: Operation Enduring Freedom begins when a U.S.-led coalition launched tomahawk missiles and air strikes against terrorist training camps and military installations.

Oct. 7-14, 2001: As the war in Afghanistan enters its second week, British and U.S. naval-launched Tomahawks attack seven target areas—two near Kandahar, one near the crucial crossroads of Mazār-e-Sharīf, and two around the capital of Kabul that collectively consisted of training facilities, surface-to-air missile storage sites, garrisons, and troop staging areas.

March 19, 2003: A coalition of nations launches Operation Iraqi Freedom which begins with Tomahawk strikes.

March 19, 2011: U.S. naval forces participate in a Tomahawk missile strike on Libya as part of Operation Odyssey Dawn designed to set the conditions for a coalition no-fly zone. The guided-missile destroyers USS Stout (DDG 55) and USS Barry (DDG 52), fast attack submarines USS Providence (SSN 719), USS Scranton (SSN 756) and the guided-missile submarine USS Florida (SSGN 728) participate in the strike.

Sept. 22, 2014: U.S. military forces and partner nations, including Bahrain, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, undertake military action against ISIL terrorists in Syria. The strikes include 47 Tomahawks launched from the guided-missile destroyer USS Arleigh Burke (DDG 61) and USS Philippine Sea (CG 58) operating from international waters in the Red Sea and North Arabian Gulf.

Oct. 12, 2016: The U.S. military strikes three radar sites in Houthi-controlled territory on Yemen’s Red Sea coast using Tomahawks launched from USS Nitze (DDG 94). The strikes target radar sites involved in the earlier missile launches threatening USS Mason (DDG 87) and other vessels operating in international waters in the Red Sea and the Bab al-Mandeb.

April 6/7, 2017: Most recently, at the direction of the President, U.S. forces conduct a cruise missile strike against a Syrian Air Force airfield.Surface Warfare Magazine

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