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Tale of the Tomahawk

Remember Tomahawk? The low-flying missile launched from Navy cruisers, destroyers and submarines that was one of those new precision weapons of the first Gulf War and the main tool of counter-terrorism in the 1990's?

Nineteen years after its debut, the now little-used missile is still being manufactured, and that's good news for two Top Secret America contractors.

Lockheed Martin of Bethesda recently won a $16.6 million contract to continue its work on software that runs the Tomahawk. The deal could be worth $50.7 million if all four-option years are used.

As part of the contract, Lockheed said it would "provide systems engineering, software development, hardware support and management required to continue the system upgrades to address significant hardware, software and interoperability obsolescence issues."

Translation: its software computes the missile's route to strike targets.

Lockheed's been working on the Tomahawk program since 1999. As for the actual missile -- that's made by Raytheon. Earlier this year, Raytheon received $202.7 million to produce nearly 200 Tomahawks. Raytheon provided this promotional video (wmv) of its Tomahawk missile.

Why continue to build long-range cruise missiles in an era of "boots on the ground," when the weapon of choice these days is an actual soldier with eyes on target directing an airplane overhead or a missile-shooting drone?

We asked the Navy why the Tomahawk was in still in demand. Here's what the service said in an emailed response. "The contract with Lockheed is for software development and fielding to support the functions that the Tactical Tomahawk Weapons Control System perform," wrote a spokesperson for Mike Thumm, deputy program manager for Tomahawk Weapon Control Systems. "These include missile inventory control, processing and reporting, missile route planning, missile launch and control of the missile during its flight."

John Pike, a defense industry expert at, says the answer lies in possible future engagements: "We want to continue to be prepared to blow up China, Iran or North Korea or any other country that may need blowing up."

Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld testified before Congress in 2002 about converting four retiring Cold War submarines into Tomahawk shooting machines. Rumsfeld said the conversion represented "an emerging portfolio of transformational capabilities that should enable us to defend freedom in the dangerous century ahead."

The so-called "SSGN" conversion program, a multi-million dollar endeavor, is now complete and its showcase -- and little-used -- missile lives on.

By Dana Hedgpeth and William M. Arkin  |  August 30, 2010; 12:11 PM ET
 | Tags: Defense Contracting, Weapons  
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Next: Defense IT contracts could get the snip, as Obama administration cuts budgets


After reading many of the articles in this series I was surprised to see how far off base the authors got on this topic. The implication appears to be that, in the sense we continue to build Tomahawks, we are held captive by the evil Top Secret America, nee The Military Industrial Complex. It seems to me that it is a good thing we have not had to employ Tomahawk since OIF/OEF. It is equally a good thing that our defense and options for the use of force remains strengthen by the capabilities provided by such systems as Tomahawk. The authors appear to be making an arugument similar to one that plagued the Air Force's A-10-a aircraft designed for a very specific mission of down low, close air support against our Cold War nemesis; which pleasently, it is perfectly suited for our current battles. The Air Force fought hard to eliminate this capability because "it was not needed anymore". Given the A-10's sterling service in OEF/OIF, this arugument is silly sounding today isn't it? Equally silly is any argument that just because we have not had to employ a capability today we should eliminate it tomorrow hoping that we don't need it the day after tomorrow. I beg your indulgence to think of this in everyday terms most folks can understand. We maintain insurance on our homes, cars, etc against loss or damage that we hope will never occur. Without investment in that security the personal impact could be devestating should the unthinkable occur. As a taxpayer I would like to not spend so much on this "insurance"; however the consequences of unprepardness are unimaginable.

Posted by: BHaynie | August 31, 2010 8:24 AM | Report abuse

BHaynie hit the nail on the head. What does a newspaper reporter know about what's necessary for our armed forces? The article above states that the "weapon of choice" is "boots on the ground." Having our soldiers in the direct line of fire is never the military's first choice. Thanks to technology (developed by the evil military-industrial complex) we CAN use things like Tomahawk cruise missiles instead of sending this reporter's son or brother into the line of fire. Sometimes doing so makes sense, sometimes not.

Posted by: aDoDContractor | August 31, 2010 2:42 PM | Report abuse

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