After six years of the United States resisting an attack on the Syrian government and its military installations, President Trump ordered a strike Thursday at an air force base in the west of the country. It was in retaliation to the use of what appears to be the banned chemical weapon sarin on rebels and civilians earlier this week, an attack that killed 70 and injured at least 100. In response, 59 missiles were launched from two U.S. destroyers in the Mediterranean Sea. So, what does a Tomahawk missile look like? The Department of Defense actually released a video of the launch.
Tomahawk missiles are a "mainstay weapon when the Pentagon wants to attack from a safe distance," The Washington Post explained. They have been in existence for decades but became a weapon of choice during the 1991 Gulf War. As The Post stated, the great thing about a Tomahawk militarily is that there doesn't need to be a pilot near the target. In other words, there's no need to risk your own people in the attack. Instead, the missile can be fired from 1,000 miles away — in this case on the decks of the USS Porter and USS Ross.
As you can see in the video, the missile is shot from the deck of the destroyer (in this case at night, since the strike happened prior to 5 a.m. in Syria). Because of the dark sky, it's hard to make out much more than the flash of light and smoke from its trail. What you can't see here is that the weapon is about 18 to 20 feet long and shaped a lot like a little airplane. It has wings on the side and stabilizers in the back. That's in part because it needs to navigate to the target — and not in a straight line to avoid being shot down.
Missiles fired from a plane can carry a heavier load, but in this case, that was not necessary. The target was Syrian airplanes, a relatively easy thing to hit. "This is what the Tomahawk was made for. It gets in there low level and hits these fixed facilities with no risk to an air crew," retired US Air Force Lt. Col. Rick Francona told CNN.
The other thing to know about the Tomahawk is the cost. Just one would likely have a sticker price of somewhere between $832,000 and $1.59 million. According to the Australian website Nine, that would put the strike's total cost at around $94 million, given the higher end of the range. That has not inhibited their use. The last time they were used by the United States (America also sell them to allies) was in Yemen in October in response to a missile attack from Houthi rebels on U.S. ships.
According to the Defense Department, it was a success. "Initial indications are that this strike has severely damaged or destroyed Syrian aircraft and support infrastructure and equipment at Shayrat Airfield, reducing the Syrian Government's ability to deliver chemical weapons," the DoD said in a statement.
This marks a large-scale change to U.S. policy — the greater effects of which remain to be seen.