November 3, 2012: Recently Russia conducted a well-publicized test in which a Pantsir-S1 anti-aircraft system shot down two cruise missiles launched from a Tu-95 bomber 800 kilometers away. The cruise missiles were heading for a building not far from where the Pantsir-S1 was parked. This test was meant to encourage countries that feel they might be attacked by cruise missiles to buy the Pantsir-S1. The United States has the most cruise missiles and has been the largest user of them for the last three decades. Many countries are developing air defense systems that can detect and destroy cruise missiles. The Tomahawk flies very close to the ground and is hard to spot using radar.
Pantsir-S1 entered service four years ago after more than a decade in development. Pantsir-S1 Development began in the 1990s, but was sporadic for nearly a decade because there was no money. Pantsir-S1 is a mobile system, each vehicle carries radar, two 30mm cannon, and twelve Tunguska missiles. The 90 kg (198 pound) Tunguska missile has a twenty kilometer range while the Pantsir-S1 radar has a 30 kilometer range. The missile can hit targets at up to 8,400 meters (26,000 feet) high. The 30mm cannon is effective up to 3,200 meters (10,000 feet). The vehicles used to carry all the Pantsir-S1 can vary, but the most common one used weighs 20 tons and has a crew of three. Each Pantsir-S1 vehicle costs about $15 million.
The most commonly used cruise missile in the world is the U.S. Tomahawk, which is currently used only on ships and submarines. The U.S. Navy has frequently used Tomahawks in combat. Most of these uses are publicized, but some are not. Several hundred Tomahawks were used against Libya last year.
The Tomahawk was introduced 29 years ago and over 6,000 have been manufactured so far. The U.S. Navy has fired over 2,000 in combat and over 500 for training and testing. The U.S. Navy has over 3,000 Tomahawks on its warships or in storage. The Tomahawk represents over half the cruise missiles in use. The others consist of over twenty different models from at least ten countries.
The current Tomahawk, officially known as the RGM-109E Block 4 Surface Ship Vertical Launched Tomahawk Land Attack Missile, weighs 1.2 tons, is six meters (18 feet) long, and has a range of 1,600 kilometers, getting there at a speed of 600-900 kilometers an hour, flying at an altitude of 17-32 meters (50-100 feet), and propelled by a jet engine generating only 600 pounds of thrust. Accuracy is on a par with JDAM (10 meters/31 feet). The Block 4 Tomahawk can be reprogrammed in flight to hit another target and carries a vidcam to allow a missile to check on prospective targets.
The Block 4s were recently upgraded so that they can hit moving targets. This is mainly intended to turn the Tomahawk into an anti-ship missile, although it can also hit moving land targets. The Tomahawk has been a primary land attack weapon for surface ships and submarines since the 1990s. The Block 3 entered service in 1994, but the Block 4 was a big upgrade a decade later, adding GPS and the ability to go after a different target while the missile was in flight.
The United States is developing a successor to the Tomahawk cruise missile that will be heavier (2.2 tons), have a longer range (2,000 kilometers), and a larger (one ton) warhead. The new missile will be stealthier and use a combination of guidance and targeting systems (to improve the chances of success). Price will probably be the key factor in whether this new missile ever enters service. The new Cruise Missile XR (for Extended Range) will probably cost at least twice as much as the current Tomahawk.
The Tomahawk, when it showed up in the 1980s, was one of the first modern UAVs, it just wasn't reusable. But UAVs that carry bombs and missiles and can be reused are going to provide competition for a new, $3 million, Cruise Missile XR.