(CNN) – The tomahawk is considered the world’s most advanced cruise missile. It’s been used in combat more than 2,000 times by the United States Navy from Syria to Sudan to Serbia.
All of the new tomahawks come out of one factory, in a city and state we’ve been asked not to reveal for security reasons. The 20 foot long missiles are manufactured by the Raytheon Company.
Kim Ernzen is one of Raytheon’s top missile executives; “This is the final configuration before it goes out the door to our customer. In this facility, is where we do the integration of the rocket motors and the warheads; what we call the “energetics elements” of the missiles. Other components and sub-assemblies come from our other factory located here, and then we do final assembly here, test it, fuel it, and get it ready to go out the door.”
(How soon will they go out the door?) Ernzen replied, “In the next couple of days.”
In this factory, 14 tomahawks are about to be shipped out. Workers here are performing what they call a “roll test” to make sure there is nothing loose inside the missile and that everything is connected properly. Raytheon’s contract with the Navy is for 196 missiles for this year.
Ernzen said, “A tomahawk can fly 1,000 plus miles, so it can get launched from a ship or submarine. It can go up and “loiter” as we call it where it can fly around in a figure 8 pattern.”
So in other words, once it’s sent off, if you want to change where it’s going, it “loiters” and can go in a circle, as you figure out. Ernzen said, “It does. It can be re-directed and rerouted to a specific target.”
The tomahawk has been around since the 1980’s, but this is the newest version of the missile, manufactured since 2004. It can be used for up to 30 year service life, and tomahawks that haven’t been used come back after 15 years for recertification and upgrades.
Ernzen said, “This is the rocket motor that launches it out of the vertical launch system. So it is what propels it out, so when you see the footage of a missile coming out of a ship, it is the plume that gets it out of the vertical launch. As you move up more towards the front, is the navigation, communications systems, and up here at the very end is the warhead, and it is 1,000 pound warhead.”
With their GPS guidance, the tomahawks can strike within mere feet of a target. They are launched from ships or submarines. Ernzen said, “If it comes from a submarine, it will then swim through the water, the rocket motor will take it up out of the water, and then will eventually get it up into the airplane mode, which is where it will fly, and perform its mission from there.”
(It swims and it flies?) Ernzen replied, “it swims and flies.”
The price tag per missile is about $1.1-million. Each tomahawk weighs about 3,500 pounds. So when 60 of them were fired toward Syria, that was about 210,000 pounds of fire power.
People who work here tell us this isn’t just a job. Ernzen said, “It is an honor to be able to work for the men and women in uniform, and to be able to supply them with a competitive advantage when they’re put in harm’s way. And that’s what we do, we make sure that they have an unfair advantage out in theatre.”
(That’s what you say, that this gives the U.S. military an unfair advantage?) Ernzen replied, “Absolutely. And we want to keep it that way.”
Tomahawk missiles can travel up to 1,500 miles. They were first used in Operation Desert Storm.