Last week PAI released a new report detailing the defense industry ties of analysts and think tanks who commented on military intervention in Syria. The report profiled 22 commentators and seven think tanks, paying special attention to Stephen Hadley, former national security adviser to George W. Bush, who now serves as a director for Raytheon, the weapons manufacturer that makes the Tomahawk cruise missiles that were widely cited as a weapon of choice in a potential strike in Syria.
Through the seemingly endless and redundant debates around intervention in Syria the Tomahawk cruise missile enjoyed a level of media attention that would strike envy in the heart of any high-profile Washington hawk.
“I’m thinking a pretty significant initial wave” of several hundred Tomahawks “and an assessment period and maybe a second wave if we don’t think we accomplished the destruction we wanted to,” said Jeffrey White, a former Defense Intelligence Agency analyst who’s now a defense fellow with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
The most likely military action would be to launch Tomahawk cruise missiles off U.S. warships in the Mediterranean Sea.
The Tomahawk cruise missiles being readied for possible use against Syrian government targets date back to the Cold War, but the new generation of the low-flying weapons has capabilities that Ronald Reagan’s generals could only imagine.
The weapon of choice is the Tomahawk cruise missile aboard four Navy destroyers in the eastern Mediterranean.
A U.S. attack on Syria could translate into big bucks for defense giant Raytheon, which makes the Tomahawk cruise missile that’s said to be President Barack Obama’s weapon of choice.
How did Raytheon’s Tomahawk become the military branding equivalent of a Band Aid? Does it live up to the hype? Does it need to?
The Tomahawk made its debut in 1991 during Operation Desert Storm and has since been in service in most major conflicts including Afghanistan in 2001, Iraq in 2003, and Libya in 2011. Yet, following Operation Desert Storm, a secret four year investigation by the United States General Accounting Office (Now the Government Accountability Office) called the Tomahawk’s accuracy into question. The GAO detailed a variety of failures marked as successes including “no shows” and missiles that made it to the target only to strike outside of an effective area leading to a far lower success rate than that which was reported by the Department of Defense.
The New York Times reported that the GAO’s report was so scathing that the Pentagon reportedly intended to keep it classified but eventually released it with the relevant numbers redacted.
“The Pentagon censored the report’s major findings on the Tomahawk attack missile, which said the missiles ”were initially believed to be extremely successful in hitting — and therefore damaging — their targets.” ”However,” it said, ”subsequent intensive analysis shows that the hit rate was (text deleted) percent.”
With this early scandal how did the Tomahawk missile system become such a media darling?
There is, of course, the usual cocktail of campaign donations and lobbying. According to the Center for Responsive Politics Raytheon has spent over $17 million on campaign contributions since 1990 (including $90,000 to President Obama) and an impressive $77.7 million on lobbying since 1988, totaling nearly $95 million. That’s roughly the equivalent of 86 of the $1.1 million a pop Tomahawk missiles. By comparison the United States purchases a minimum of 196 missiles per year just to maintain its stockpile level. Not a bad return on investment.
But the best ROI may be in consistent image management. Raytheon’s website focuses on the Tomahawk’s flexibility, precision, and “minimal collateral damage”. Sound familiar? Raytheon directors were cited in nearly every media medium and talking points from Raytheon funded think tank the Institute for the Study of War were trotted out in congressional hearings.
Former National Security Advisor and current Raytheon Director and Public Affairs Committee Chair, Stephen Hadley advocated “limited” strikes in his Washington Post Op-Ed and conveyed a similar message in interviews with Bloomberg TV, MSNBC, and CNN.
Christopher Harmer, a senior naval analyst at the Institute for the Study of War, released a on the use of Tomahawk missiles for a “surgical” strike. Raytheon is a member of ISW’s Corporate Council. Senator John McCain touted the study as confirmation that such a strike would be quick and relatively painless.
In July, Harmer authored a widely-circulated study showing how the U.S. could degrade key Syrian military installations on the cheap with virtually no risk to U.S. personnel. “It could be done quickly, easily, with no risk whatsoever to American personnel, and a relatively minor cost,” said Harmer. One of the study’s proposals was cruise missile strikes from what are known as TLAMs (Tomahawk land attack missiles) fired from naval vessels in the Mediterranean.
Thanks to this image echo chamber Tomahawk missile systems are synonymous with easy, low damage, limited strikes, leading pundits to blithely quip about “scattering cruise missiles around” or belittle concerns about military engagement as “just a couple of cruise missiles.”
If there is any remaining doubt about the effectiveness of this level of branding exposure, one must look no further than Raytheon’s (NYSE: RTN) stock performance compared to the Dow Jones Industrial Average over the last three months. Indeed over the course of Syria deliberations Raytheon’s stock rocketed 50% to an all time high before a single missile was fired. The debate is over but the stock continues to soar. With such a crisply manicured image backed by an array of analysts and think tanks it’s hard to know what could bring it down.