The Trump administration launched its first major military operation on Thursday, firing 59 Tomahawk missiles against a Syrian government airbase in response to a chemical attack that left at least 100 people dead in the war-torn country earlier this week.
The long-range cruise missiles have been used by the U.S. military since the Persian Gulf War and each missile typically carries a 1,000-pound warhead that can cause extensive damage and even decimate entire buildings.
Tomahawks have become a U.S. favorite as the missiles can be launched from ships or submarines and fly into heavily defended areas more than 1,000 miles away and still maintain precision. U.S. forces and sailors can thereby be kept out of harm’s way without jeopardizing the impact.
A two-way satellite data link embedded in each Tomahawk allows the missile to be retargeted in flight if necessary, according to Raytheon, the missile’s Massachusetts-based manufacturer. The GPS-enabled missile has been used over 2,000 times in combat since it was first introduced in the 1970s.
During the NATO-led military effort against Libya in 2011, Tomahawks played an instrumental role, with one submarine successfully firing nearly 100 missiles at a range of targets within a few days.
The U.S. Navy is continuously working on updating the Tomahawk. A new sleeker model is actively being developed for the military to be able to hit targets at sea or on land in darkness and all kinds of weather.
Thursday’s strikes were launched from two Navy ships stationed in the Mediterranean Sea and targeted the Ash Sha’irat airfield in western Syria.
The impact of the unexpected strike was not immediately known, but U.S. officials told NBC News the missiles struck aircrafts and infrastructure, not people.
Speaking from his Mar-a-Lago estate, President Trump said the strike was justified because President Assad has for years refused to stop using “deadly chemical weapons,” possibly sarin, against his own people.