the Tomahawk cruise missile and the guided missile destroyers that carry it

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the command, information and control centre in an Aegis guided missile destroyer - sort of nest of operators who control the computers which control the weapon systems the stars and stripes schematic of a Tomahawk cruise missile

improvements in the latest version called Block III nuclear and conventional warheads

A cruise missile is a pilotless aircraft carrying explosives, which can be flown to the enemy and there exploded. The missile is usually subsonic and slow and so can be shot down by antiaircraft fire. It is more like a model aircraft than a missile. It is also relatively cheap and so many countries can afford to build them. The first example of a cruise missile was the German V1 which Adolf Hitler used against Britain at the end of the second world war in 1944-45. It had a rocket engine but flew like an airplane and was aimed and after some time the engine switched off and the V1 fell and exploded. It was nicknamed the doodle bug. Modern cruise missiles have guidance or systems for steering and so are more accurate. There are many different types but the most widespread is the American Tomahawk. It has many versions and has dropped in price from over two million dollars to about five hundred thousand US dollars each.

Tomahawk cruise missiles in flight
missile in the factory blue sky 1 missile flying over the mountains missile in flight 3 red missile

nuclear weapon The Tomahawk was originally developed as a nuclear weapon to be land launched from Europe alongside the Pershing II missile to counter the SS20 nuclear missiles from the Soviet union and eastern Europe during the cold war era. the wd80-0 nuclear weapon loading the wd80-0 into a tomahawk missile They were to be launched from mobile multiple launchers mounted on the back of large trucks which were shuffled around to confuse the enemy. They were low flying at an altitude of only one or two hundred feet and so could not be detected by the radar systems of the day. But, as Jasper Carat pointed out, surely somebody in east Germany or the Ukraine would hear and see these low flying aircraft buzzing overhead and would telephone Moscow to let the Kremlin know that these missiles were on the way. There was great concern in England that Greenham Common, which had been public land leased to the RAF for the duration of the war, had been appropriated by the United States as a cruise missile launching facility. Neither the local people nor their politicians would have a say in the launching of these missiles. The Europeans took offense at becoming increased nuclear targets after a remark by president Ronald Reagan that a nuclear war could be confined to Europe. the vertical launching system - 32 in the stern (front). Click here for more photos of the launching systems

The land launchers were gradually withdrawn and replaced by air and sea launchers. The B52 bomber can launch Tomahawk missiles. Submarines can launch Tomahawk missiles from their torpedo tubes, while some submarines also have vertical launching systems similar to the surface ships. Ships can launch Tomahawk missiles from vertical launching tubes now fitted to most destroyers. They are fitted with rocket motors which propel them vertically from the tube. After 12 seconds the rear end containing the rocket motor falls away and propulsion is provided by the jet engine all the way to the target. During the Gulf war several missiles fell into the sea when their jet engines failed to start after their rocket motors separated. The missiles are delivered to the navy as an all up round, which means that they are housed in a tube which is inserted into the vertical launching system and which serves both for storage and for launching, so that the sailors never get to see or handle a missile. It is programmed and fired from a weapons console in the command and control centre.
Firing the weapon
front launch from a Spruance class destroyer rear launch from a Spruance class destroyer aerial view of a rear launch from a Spruance class destroyer front launch from USS Mitscher DDG57 - notice the crowds of sailors lining the rails looking forwards
a rare photo of a missile being fired from a Spruance class destroyer taken by a remote camera mounted on the bow

In 1992 president George Bush removed all nuclear warheads from Tomahawk cruise missiles. The missile can carry a 200 kiloton nuclear warhead called the W-80, that is ten times the explosive force of fat man, the uranium bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945, yet small enough to fit on a Tomahawk missile. The secret is how do you build an atomic bomb small enough to fit on a tomahawk missile. The Los Alamos implosion system used on fat man has been declassified because everybody now knows how to build one. The constructor will probably kill himself with radiation in the process and there is a good chance of a premature detonation. Fat man is a large round sphere with a diameter of about ten feet. The Tomahawk missile has a diameter of about 20.4 inches. A few years ago a Chinaman named LEE WEN HO working at the Los Alamos laboratories was arrested for telling the Chinese how to do it. So many people now know. a hit on target

Since then, Tomahawk missiles have been rearmed with conventional warheads. They have been used extensively against Iraq and in Bosnia. They have short range of only 700 miles and a small payload of only 700 pounds of PBXN 107 explosive. But they do save pilot lives since they are unmanned.

The destroyers that can fire the Tomahawk Cruise missile

USS Hewitt DD955 - a Spruance class destroyer, now decommissioned USS Curtis Wilbur DDG54 - an Arleigh Burke class destroyer USS Cole DDG67- an Arleigh Burke class destroyer

The latest class of guided missile destroyers are called the Arleigh Burke class. Named for the Navy's most famous destroyer squadron combat commander and three-time Chief of Naval Operations, the Arleigh Burke was commissioned July 4, 1991. They all carry the Aegis combat system and the SPY-lD, multi-function phased array radar, a 3 dimensional radar system, which can look in all directions at the same time. These destroyers also have a reduced radar signature by avoiding square corners which might serve as radar reflectors. All surfaces are sloped and many are coated with absorbent foam so that the vessel appears on radar no larger than a fishing boat. USS Arleigh Burke DDG51 - click here for more about destroyers other destroyer weapons They have a landing platform and refueling facilities for a helicopter but lack the hanger as on the Spruance class. Lack of a hanger and a lack of a second gun aft allows space for a larger rear vertical launching system. They have two vertical launching systems, one in the front with 64 tubes and one at the rear with 32 tubes. Both systems lose 3 tubes to an internal crane system giving a total of 90 missiles stored in their tubes. There are no reloads. One of the first of this class was the USS Cole, which was attacked by customs officers, disguised as terrorists, who came alongside in Aden on a boat packed with explosives, shouted Allah Akbar or God is great and blew themselves up. USS Spruance DD963 model of the USS Spruance DD963. Notice the on off switch beside the rear gun

The older Spruance class of destroyers have been fitted with one vertical launching system of 32 tubes in the front and another system of 32 tubes at the rear. Because they carry a helicopter and a hanger for it there is not room for a 64 tube launcher at the aft as on the later Arleigh Burke class. They also carry the Sea Sparrow anti-ship missile fired from angled launching tubes. The Sea Sparrow II will launch from the vertical launching system. The Spruance class has two naval guns with a range of 15 miles!. It also has two radio masts. The Arleigh Burke class has only one gun and one radio mast. 5"/54 caliber Mk-45 (lightweight gun) firing

All these guided missile destroyers are powered by gas turbine engines originally designed for the DC10 aircraft rather than diesels. They use aircraft fuel and fly along at a secret top speed known to be in excess of 33 knots. Being very long and slim they do suffer from severe role. About 40 degrees of role outside of Pearl harbour in Hawaii is typical. The bridge is fitted with one or two steel ropes from one side to the other to give the crew something to hold on to. TERCOM and DSMAC

The Tomahawk missile has been redesigned many times over its life in the last 15 years. The biggest improvements are to its navigation systems. The original system was TERCOM which measured the distance to the ground below while flying at a constant altitude and then hunted left or right if the reading did not match the value stored internally. This system relied on an aircraft flying the same course earlier and making the readings, not always possible. The replacement system was DSMAC which stored a complete map of the area over which the missile was flying. The radar could also look sideways. The latest system uses the global positioning satellites available to all and so the missile always knows exactly where it is. Remember that space shuttle mission to map the planet? There must be yet another system to navigate Tomahawk missiles.

The next generation of Tomahawk missiles will cost less and have more options. A price of one million dollars (or pounds) each is being quoted while standardisation can reduce that to five hundred thousand dollars. Instead of just being fired off and hitting the target, they will be able to loiter and wait for the go signal while sending back information to the commander. This is the way most attacks are organised in a war today.

Ther is much concern that the Russians have sold to the Iraqis equipment to jam the global positioning satellite system. This could affect many precision weapons systems.

This page is getting more hits since the start of the second gulf war. Good luck to our armed forces. May victory be swift. It is hoped to add more photos of the tomahawk vertical launch tubes taken on board the guided missile destroyers.

Since the tomahawk missile is supplied to the destroyer as an all up round most of the crew have never seen a tomahawk missile. Now they can see the launchings, but from the mid deck and not from the front deck. Only a camera mounted in the bow of the ship can see the action on the front deck. Interestingly the tv shots are always of launches from the front tubes. We see the rocket motors but usually not the transition to the jet engines,which ignite after the rocket motors are finished.

Interestingly the captain now talks about a substantial inventory of tomahawk missiles, which must indicate a capacity of more than the 32 + 64 -6 = 90 cruise missiles stored in the tubes. There must now be a facility to carry reloads for the tubes which can be done at sea.

There is one famous photo showing the front launch tubes with the trap doors nearly all open except one. The missile appears to have been fired through a closed door and the door has a hole in it!

Page updated on June 3rd. 2017  the Russian cruise missile now sold to the Indian navy as the KLUB (SS-N-27) ASCM or Harpoonsky
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