“Since its combat debut in the 1991 Persian Gulf War, the ship or sub-launched BGM-109s (as it was originally known) has been used in every major U.S. air campaign ever since.”
WHILE OFTEN CONSIDERED on the ‘cutting-edge’ of America’s arsenal, the Raytheon Tomahawk is actually something of a workhorse with a 40-year history dating back to the Cold War.
The one-and-a-half ton, turbo-jet-powered flying bomb was originally designed to penetrate Soviet airspace at treetop level to deliver either nuclear or conventional warheads with near pinpoint accuracy.
Since its combat debut in the 1991 Persian Gulf War, the ship or sub-launched BGM-109s (as it was originally known) has been used in every major U.S. air campaign since. In all, more than 2,000 have been fired in anger. Here’s a breakdown:
• An estimated 280 missiles struck targets throughout Iraq during Desert Storm. In fact, among the first blows to land on Saddam’s military were from cruise missiles launched by U.S. Navy subs and surface vessels.
• Two years later, 23 Tomahawks pounded the headquarters of the Iraqi secret service in Baghdad. President Bill Clinton ordered the attack following revelations that the Ba’athist dictator had ordered his agents to assassinate George Bush Sr. while he was visiting Kuwait City.
• Another 44 missiles were launched to support the Kurdish uprising in northern Iraq in 1996.
• In 1998, a total of 50 were used along with massive air strikes in response to Iraq’s defiance of UN resolutions banning the procurement of weapons of mass destruction. The three-day campaign, codenamed Operation Desert Fox, killed as many as 2,000 Iraqis and ended Baghdad’s nuclear and chemical warfare ambitions.
• More Tomahawks were fired into Iraq during the opening round of the 2003 U.S.-led Iraqi invasion than were expended in all other previous American air operations since 1991 combined — a staggering 725 missiles bombarded the country during the controversial “shock and awe” campaign. Live video of the missiles slamming into the capital horrified and outraged much of the world.
• And that wasn’t the only time Washington’s ‘Tomahawk diplomacy’ would draw fire from the international community. In 1998, The Clinton Administration launched 75 of the weapons at Sudan and Afghanistan following the deadly Aug. 7, 1998 al Qaeda bombing of two U.S. embassies in east Africa. In addition to hitting terrorist training camps in Afghanistan, the Pentagon targeted a suspected chemical weapons plant in Khartoum; it turned out to be a civilian pharmaceutical factory. The blunder that drew worldwide condemnation.
• More recently, a 2009 strike at terrorist targets in Yemen resulted in the deaths of more than 50 civilians.
• American Tomahawks were also used against targets in Bosnia in 1995, Serbia in 1999 as well as Libya in 2011.
Here are some other essential facts about the Tomahawk cruise missile.
EACH 20-FOOT LONG MISSILE comes in its own pressurized canister that can be fired from vertical launch tubes on surface vessels or submarine torpedo tubes. When triggered, a solid booster rocket hurtles the weapon skyward for about seven seconds, at which point, stabilizing fins deploy and the system’s 120-pound turbofan engine is activated. The Tomahawk then levels off and travels towards its target at 550 mph (890 km/h). It has a maximum range of 1,500 miles (2,500 km) and can deliver a W80 150 kiloton nuclear bomb or a 1,000-lb. conventional warhead to within 30 feet of its designated target. 
THE TOMAHAWK HAS SPAWNED a dizzying array of variants including an air-launched version, a model that showers enemy installations with tiny exploding sub-munitions, the now defunct GLCM, a mobile weapon that can be fired from a truck, and a radar-guided anti-shipping missile. In recent years, the Pentagon has also tested Tomahawks that can home in on enemy radar systems, a special version armed with a bunker buster warhead, and an improved guidance system that can track and destroy moving vehicles. Another variety, known as the “Tactical Tomahawk”, can reportedly loiter over a battlefield for hours before being assigned a target to destroy. The U.S. military is also considering upgrading the missile with ramjet technology allowing the weapon to travel at speeds approaching Mach 3.
ORIGINALLY, THE TOMAHAWK GUIDANCE SYSTEM relied on a advanced terrain-following radar. Using the technology, an onboard computer could compare ground imagery collected in realtime against a high-res map stored in memory to pinpoint the weapon’s precise position and guide it to the target. Upgraded versions in the 1990s were outfitted with GPS systems, while even newer models now draw location data from friendly aircraft, UAVs and other vehicles.
CRITICS OF THE TOMAHAWK have long pointed out that the weapons are unfeasibly expensive. It’s been estimated that each missile costs up to $1.4 million  – the rough equivalent of 56 JDAMS GPS-guided smart bombs – however, the U.S. Navy puts the cost per unit at just under $600,000. Defenders of the system are quick to point out that Tomahawks are far safer (and therefore ultimately cheaper) to the alternative: Exposing highly trained pilots and their multi-million dollar warplanes to the hazards of combat.
TOMAHAWKS WERE INITIALLY DEVELOPED by McDonnell Douglas; Raytheon currently supplies them. The company, which mass produces the Block IV version of the weapon, uses components from 100 suppliers in two-dozen U.S. states. 
THE UNITED STATES IS NOT THE ONLY user of the Tomahawk. The weapons are also in the inventory of Great Britain. Netherlands and Spain sought to acquire the weapon in recent years, but no deals were inked.
THE AMERICAN MILITARY CURRENTLY HAS an estimated 3,500 Tomahawk cruise missiles in its inventory worth an estimated $2.5 billion.  Production of the weapon is slated to end next year, with a successor system expected to replace it sometime in the mid 2020s. When the last of the Tomahawks are finally retired, the system will have been in existence for more than 50 years.