WashingtonPost.com Navigation Bar
Fog of War Analysis War Goals Airstrikes Resources Front Page


Anti-aircraft fire lights Baghdad skies as U.S. warplanes strike targets early Jan. 17, 1991, the beginning of the Persian Gulf War. (AP Photo)
 The U.S. Navy's Tomahawk Cruise Missiles and the Air Force Stealth F-117A jet fighters were America's primary weapons for the strategic air campaign against Iraq during the Gulf War. With the missiles hitting targets during the day and the jet fighters flying by night, both dominated all attack missions in downtown Baghdad and became symbols of America's high-tech military during Desert Storm.



The Stealth jet fighter's claim to fame is its covert capability. Related to the bigger and costlier B-2 bomber, each $45 million Stealth jet fighter avoids radar detection thanks to a coat of special paint that deflects radar signals and a smooth body devoid of right angles a radar might easily detect.

The aircraft remained hidden from public view until its fighting debut during the U.S. invasion of Panama in 1989, eight years after its first flight.

In the opening days of Desert Storm, an F-117 of the Air Force's 37th Tactical Fighter Wing dropped a 2,000-pound bomb through the tower of a building in Baghdad.

Engines: Two internal engines (General Electric F404), power this single-pilot aircraft; each engine has an exhaust system that expels a thin, wide flame that mixes with cool air and is difficult to detect.
Weapons: Stored internally in two bays, from which various missiles and bombs can be launched.
Primary function: Fighter/attack
Contractor: Lockheed Aeronautical Systems Co.
Length: 65 feet, 11 inches (20.3 meters)
Height: 12 feet, 5 inches (3.8 meters)
Weight: 52,500 pounds (23,625 kilograms)
Wingspan: 43 feet, 4 inches (13.3 meters)
Speed: High subsonic
Range: Unlimited with air refueling
Armament: Internal weapons carriage
Source: U.S. Air Force



The Navy's Tomahawk cruise missile was nicknamed the "smart" weapon – a term given to laser-guided, precision weapons. It was promoted as a highly accurate, difficult-to-detect weapon that could be launched from air, land or sea, miles away from the target.

The Gulf War marked the first time the missiles were used in combat. Critics say the bombs did little damage, were too costly and were not as precise as claimed by the Pentagon.

Earlier this year, as the United States considered going to war again over Iraq's noncompliance with weapons inspections, Navy officials announced improvements to the cruise missiles, including better accuracy and an ability to receive targeting instructions in minutes rather than hours.

U.S. Navy

How it works
The missile is launched from submarines or ships.

After launch, a solid propellant accelerates the missile until a small turbofan engine takes over for the cruise portion of flight.

It has a guidance system with components that make course corrections for pinpoint accuracy. To determine the missile's location, one component compares terrain with satellite photographs of Earth stored in on-board computers. Another component receives data from satellites that provide guidance.

The Tomahawk is difficult to detect because of its small profile on radar, low-altitude flight and turbofan engine, which gives off little heat that can be picked up by infrared detectors.

Contractor: Hughes Aircraft Co.
Cost per unit: $1 million
Length: 18 feet, 3 inches
Weight: 2,630 pounds
Range: For land attack, 690 miles
Speed: 550 mph
Warhead: 1,000 pounds
Source: Department of Defense and The Washington Post

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post

Back to the top

Navigation Bar