Congress recently rejected the White House’s attempt to kill off one of this country’s most storied missile technologies.
The Senate defense committee instead approved a 2015 draft bill adding nearly $80 million for production of Tomahawk cruise missiles. And earlier this year, the House Armed Services Committee passed a defense bill boosting Tomahawk production.
Congress’s enthusiasm for this missile system is in defiance of the White House, which tried to cut next year’s funding for the Tomahawk and completely strip its financing by 2016.
Legislators were smart to preserve the system. The Tomahawk missile is an essential technology for protecting Americans. But this fight is not over. Appropriations expire after one year. Lawmakers must continue to fight for the Tomahawk.
Tomahawk cruise missiles remain a mainstay of our forces. They have been fired more than 2,000 times in combat, including the 2011 NATO-led effort against Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.
But the White House wanted to shelve this system and gamble billions on an unproven replacement called the “Long Range Anti-Ship Missile” (LRASM).
Such speculative investments have a history of not panning out. The Pentagon spent $11 billion on the “Crusader,” which was supposed to be a next-generation howitzer. Instead, it ended up in the scrap heap after it turned out to be immobile and imprecise.
Then there was the “Comanche” helicopter, which included stealth technology. After plowing $7 billion into the project, the Army killed it.
The precursor to LRASM is not exactly confidence-inspiring. It grew out of the Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile, which began development in 1995. After numerous failed tests and costly refinements to the design, the missile finally made it into service in 2009.
Given this troubling record and today’s budgetary limits, it’s disturbing that the White House would want to go down the same road.
The plan to replace the Tomahawk also runs the risk of creating a gap in our missile capabilities. The old, proven system would have been shuttered. The replacement would almost certainly have suffered delays. And in the interim America’s military would be without a core defense technology.
Without a fully operational missile program, American interests would be far more vulnerable to attack. When considering a strike, our enemies know to expect a U.S. missile response. As a submarine-based system, the Tomahawk can deliver surprise attacks by remaining completely hidden until a missile is launched.
What’s more, missiles have none of the drawbacks of manned aircraft. Using manned aircraft to take out targets necessarily risks the lives of the air crew. The Tomahawk not only keeps American military personnel out of harm’s way; it delivers the same level of accuracy as manned aircraft at a lower cost.
And while drones might be effective against terrorists, they are no match for the defense systems of nations like Iran. As Gen. Mike Hostage, chief of the air service’s Air Combat Command, said last year, “Today … I couldn’t put [a Predator or Reaper] into the Strait of Hormuz without having to put airplanes there to protect it.”
By contrast, the Tomahawk was designed for heavily-defended targets, including integrated air defense systems.
Americans must remain vigilant against efforts to scrap what’s tried and true. As an older program, Tomahawk often finds itself on the chopping block during budget deliberations.
We need to focus on investments that offer high payoffs at relatively low cost and risk. Replenishing and upgrading our supply of Tomahawks is the best way to meet our requirements in an era of instability.
Andrew Garfield is a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, where he works on national security.