New details on hyped Tomahawk missile reveal holes in Raytheon’s message

In September PAI released a report detailing the defense industry ties of commentators and think tanks who were active in debating intervention in Syria, including former national security adviser, Stephen Hadley. We found that Hadley, now a director at Raytheon, one of the US’s largest defense contractors and the manufacturer of the popular Tomahawk cruise missile, did not disclose his industry ties when making the media rounds on CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, and Bloomberg TV, as an expert on defense and security.

During our investigation we noticed the repetitive language used to describe Raytheon’s Tomahawk cruise missile, which was widely accepted as the most popular choice of armament for such an engagement. Repeatedly characterized as smart, precise, and low-damage (meaning fewer innocent casualties), the Tomahawk is painted as both sophisticated and effective. This observation sparked a quick post on the troubled history of the Tomahawk, Raytheon’s investment in lobbying congress, and the media’s odd fascination with the weapon, and a short video of commentators discussing engagement tactics and specifically, the Tomahawk cruise missile. It is worth noting how this weapon’s characteristics inspire strikingly blithe commentary from former officials who seem to forget that the Tomahawk is a weapon, not something you “scatter around” like confetti.

Recently, a defense policy news site, received new information on the limitations of the Tomahawk Block IV. The lauded sophistication of the Tomahawk hinges on its loitering capability, which allows it to linger in an area and transmit information about a target before ultimately blowing something apart. This is intended to prevent unnecessary collateral damage, the weapon’s other main talking point, by rerouting to alternate or more critical targets while in flight if the original target is abandoned. From

The Syrian crisis thrust the weapon back into the media spotlight. On Aug. 27, Bloomberg News reported the newest version “can loiter over an area for hours, beam target images and battle damage assessments to commanders and be programmed to attack new stationary targets while overhead.” On Aug. 30, NBC News reported it “has capabilities that Ronald Reagan’s generals could only imagine,” adding the missiles can “loiter over an area and wait for their targets to pop up.” On Aug. 31, CNN reported Block IV “can loiter over targets, circling for hours, and can be reprogrammed mid-flight, instantly changing course.” The Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, both funded by Congress, ran similar stories quoting Raytheon’s online description of the weapon.

However, according to InsideDefense’s sources not only does the Tomahawk’s loitering capability have serious limits, it has also never been used in a real-life situation, which went unreported as folks endorsed the weapon along with intervention in Syria. InsideDefense interviewed Admiral Jonathan Greenert, Chief of Naval Operations, on the Tomahawk’s real-world capabilities:

The next day, asked Greenert in a brief interview whether the loitering capability had ever been used in real-world operations. Greenert said he thought so, but was unsure and referred the question to his staff. “I want to tell you [the loitering feature] has been used, but I don’t know precisely where,” he said. “The Block IV has been in our inventory for many years. See, the issue becomes we may have launched a Block IV at a target in the past — but did we use the feature? And that’s the part I think we have to go research . . . because I don’t want to mislead you.” The Navy later declined to provide an on-the-record answer. But a defense official, on condition of anonymity, confirmed the loitering capability had never been used in real-world operations. Block IV missiles, however, have been launched by the fleet — for instance, against Libya in 2011 in Operation Odyssey Dawn.

When approached with this inquiry, Raytheon’s spokeswoman provided an expected dodge:

Asked to comment on why the loitering capability had not been used in real-world operations, Raytheon spokeswoman Holly Caldwell said, “Loitering operations take planning and coordination, which is sometimes difficult in dynamic operations.”

Raytheon’s spin is to be expected given that the US Government purchases a minimum of 196 Tomahawk missiles annually just to maintain the military’s stockpile. However, if the promised features of the Tomahawk Block IV are not proven, how did they become generally accepted facts?

As I noted in “For Tomahawk Missiles, Image is Everything,” while Raytheon spent over $17 million in campaign donations since 1990 and $77.7 million in lobbying since 1988, the company’s best return on investment comes from strong messaging and big name directors. In his September Washington Post Op-Ed, Stephen Hadley advocated “limited” strikes in Syria but did not disclose his ties to the company synonymous with such a strike. From our report, “Conflicts of Interest in the Syria Debate“:

In each case, Hadley’s audience was not informed that he serves as a director of Raytheon, the weapons manufacturer that makes the Tomahawk cruise missiles that were widely cited as a weapon of choice in a potential strike against Syria. Hadley earns $128,500 in annual cash compensation from the company and chairs its public affairs committee. He also owns 11,477 shares of Raytheon stock, which traded at all-time highs during the Syria debate ($77.65 on August 23, making Hadley’s share’s worth $891,189). Despite this financial stake, Hadley was presented to his audience as an experienced, independent national security expert.

While it is unlikely that the Tomahawk’s limitations will receive the same media repetition as Raytheon’s finely honed talking points, let’s hope this love affair gets a cold shower.