There are many sovereign entities at play in the conflict in Syria: Iran, Hezbollah, Russia, and to an extent China prop up the Assad regime, while the U.S., Turkey, Britain, France, Israel, and a mix of other actors support the rebels. While these countries and groups all have an agenda, and to an extent sway in the outcome of Syria's brutal conflict, there is only one object that will have the final say.
That weapon is the Tomahawk cruise missile.
The BGM-109, known commonly as the Tomahawk, has been used in each of America's official conflicts in the last 22 years. Using wings and a flight system, cruise missiles like the Tomahawk are designed to carry a heavy warhead at subsonic speeds over a significant distance. Originally developed by General Dynamics in the 70s, the 3,500 lb. 20 foot long Tomahawk missile is now manufactured by Raytheon, a large U.S. defense contractor. Each unit can cost anywhere from the mid-$500,000s to almost $1.5 million, depending on the chosen configuration, payload, and booster deployment. The missile's modular system allows it to carry a conventional or nuclear payload if needed.
(Image: FAS Military Analysis Network)
Since its inception the Tomahawk has assumed many forms, including air-to surface, land attack, and anti-ship variants. When launched, the missile flies low at close to 550 mph, with current versions allowing an operator to control the missile's speed on target. The newest Block IV Tomahawk can circle for hours before attacking its target, all the while beaming a picture back to commanders.
The current version can be deployed from the numerous surface and submarine ships that the U.S. has stationed right now in the Eastern Mediterranean. All U.S. Navy destroyers, cruisers, and attack submarines are equipped with the Tomahawk weapons system.
(Image: Navair News)
Remember "shock and awe," the term used to describe the opening of the Iraq War that the Bush administration liked to use so much? Those images played around the world were Tomahawk missiles striking Iraqi targets. It's believed that over 150 Tomahawks were fired by U.S. and NATO forces against former Libyan leader Moammar al-Gaddafi in 2011.
(Image: LA Progressive)
For more information there is extensive scholarship online about the Tomahawk's role in modern warfare. Tomahawk junkies can go on Raytheon's website and download desktop backgrounds, watch test videos, and flip through galleries to their heart's content.
Whatever course of action President Obama and allies decide on in Syria, you can bet the attack will begin with salvos of Tomahawk cruise missiles. What worries so many is what comes after the U.S. deploys this formidable weapon.