Why the US used Tomahawk missiles to target Syrian base

U.S. Navy(NEW YORK) -- In the span of just 30 minutes, the U.S. military launched 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at Syria from two Navy destroyers in the Mediterranean Sea.

An hour later, beginning around 8:45 p.m. ET Thursday, the missiles hit their targets at the Shayrat Air Base in Homs Province, where U.S. officials say President Bashar al-Assad’s regime deployed planes that carried out a chemical weapons attack on the Syrian people earlier this week.

Only one of the 59 missiles missed its target, a U.S. official told ABC News, although Russian officials appeared to dispute that, saying only 23 rockets hit the base.

The U.S. official said about 20 Syrian aircraft were destroyed in the process.

Based on the U.S. account, it appears to be an impressive level of accuracy -- just another reason why the Tomahawk was the weapon of choice for this operation.

About the Tomahawk

The Tomahawk is an intermediate-range, jet engine-powered missile that is launched from a ship or submarine. It flies at low levels, up to 1,500 miles at 550 mph and can carry up to a 1,000-pound conventional warhead or nuclear weapon.

With no pilot, its use ensures that U.S. military personnel aren’t put in harm’s way. The long and lean missile, standing 18-20 feet, simply finds its target using GPS coordinates.

But it doesn’t necessarily fly in a straight line. Rather, the U.S. Navy describes the path as “an evasive route” designed by “several mission-tailored guidance systems.”

For all its benefits, the Tomahawk doesn’t come cheap, with a nearly $1 million price tag for every missile. That means the U.S. spent about $59 million targeting the Syrian base last night alone.

Frequent use by the U.S. military

The Tomahawks were first used by the U.S. during the Gulf War in 1991, and they’ve been a mainstay of the military ever since.

It was the Tomahawk that was fired into Afghanistan and Sudan in 1998 in retaliation for the bombing of American embassies by Al-Qaeda.

The Tomahawk was again used to strike Afghanistan during the start of Operation Enduring Freedom in 2001 and Iraq during the invasion in 2003.

More recently, Tomahawks have been used inside Yemen, Libya and Syria.

In October, the U.S. destroyer USS Nitze launched Tomahawk missiles at three coastal radar sites in Yemen along the Red Sea in retaliation for missiles fired at the USS Mason and an Emirati ship.

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