The Tomahawk Game Changer

article top
Photo: Reuters
Photo: Reuters

By Mike Roller – American troops are back in Iraq. About 500 have been assigned to protect the U.S. embassy and Baghdad’s airport; the remainder are assessing the state of the fight between Iraq’s government and rebels from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

With U.S. troops potentially in harm’s way once again, it’s worth remembering how we’ve protected them in Iraq in the past.


I am a veteran of the 1991 Gulf War, when Iraq had the fourth-largest army in the world and the United States Army wasn’t even in the top ten. The Iraqi forces that invaded Kuwait were experienced combat veterans, fresh from an eight-year war with Iran. America’s military, on the other hand, had not fought a full-scale combat operation since Vietnam.

With that backdrop, the nightly news warned that America would suffer tens of thousands of casualties if we engaged this superior foe. Much of America’s media assumed we were about to repeat the “quagmire” of Vietnam.

What no one realized at the time was that the Tomahawk Cruise Missile would set the stage for one of the quickest and most lopsided victories in the history of warfare — a victory which was sealed in the opening hour of the first night.

During that hour, hundreds of Tomahawks were launched, knocking out Iraq’s command and control. Prior to the Gulf War, wars concentrated action along the front lines where the two forces faced off with headquarters commanding and controlling from behind. The losing side would hear explosions getting closer to their headquarters until it was overrun by an advancing enemy or they surrendered.

Tomahawk changed that. In every military conflict where Tomahawk has led the start of hostilities, our enemy’s headquarters have been first to experience the explosions of war as Tomahawks destroy their Command and Control assets.

Communications are first to go because there can be no control without them. Since our enemies tend to be totalitarian, their militaries are especially vulnerable since their tactical leadership dares not make decisions without orders.

Without central communications from their military leaders, supplies never left their stockpiles. Iraqi troops were left to huddle in the desert without direction, encouragement, or reliable re-supplies of food, water, and medicine.

Tomahawk’s barrage made it impossible for Iraq’s military command structure to recover. Not surprisingly, well over a million troops either fled or surrendered. The remaining Iraqi troops suffered huge losses.

What did this mean for American and allied troops? You can measure it in bullets — or rather, bullets never fired. Assuming each Iraqi soldier started with 100 rounds of ammunition, then about 100 million rounds were never fired at our troops as a result of Tomahawk’s early barrages. Likewise, millions of rounds were not fired against Iraqi forces either.

American forces endured fewer than 150 battle-related deaths in Operation Desert Storm. Our allies suffered fewer than 100 battle-related deaths combined. It is no exaggeration to say that Tomahawk’s unique capabilities saved the lives and limbs of tens of thousands of American and allied soldiers and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi soldiers.

I have dedicated my post-war career to the Tomahawk project because I am dedicated to safeguarding the next generation of American soldiers. Since 1991, Tomahawk has evolved to become more precise and more adaptable, and it remains the nation’s weapon of choice for first strike. It is not hard to see why.

Mike Roller is a Navy Veteran currently serving the Tomahawk Cruise Missile as a Systems Engineer and Tomahawk Weapon Systems Ship and Submarine Integrator for Raytheon Missile Systems.