WASHINGTON—In the first 12 days of the war in Iraq, the United States shot off nearly one-quarter of all the Tomahawk missiles ever built, a pace that clearly cannot continue, especially if a large stock of missiles is to be held in reserve for potential conflicts in other parts of the world.
Stocks of precision-guided weapons, including the cheap but effective Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM), remain plentiful, U.S. officials say. But the military is also expending them at a rapid rate.
Army Maj. Gen. Stanley McChrystal on Monday said about 700 Tomahawks were among about 8,000 precision-guided weapons that the U.S. military had used since the start of the war.
The Tomahawk is a satellite-guided cruise missile fired at long range from ships and submarines. It is most effective in the opening stages of warfare when an enemy has strong air defenses. It has been widely employed by the Navy to strike precise targets in Baghdad, such as those on the opening night strikes against Saddam Hussein and other leaders.
The Raytheon Corp., which manufactured about 3,000 Tomahawks in Tucson, Ariz., quit building new ones in 1999. The production line is set up to refit some older models with up-to-date hardware. A more advanced model is to be built starting next year.
After firing "several hundred" Tomahawks in the first few nights of the war, the Navy is now using 15 to 30 a day, said Rear Adm. Stephen R. Pietropaoli, the chief Navy spokesman at the Pentagon.
"We're at a phase of the war where massive waves are unlikely—but still possible," he said.
Military analysts at GlobalSecurity.org, a Washington research group, estimate the Pentagon had about 2,000 Tomahawks before the war.
"The longer the war goes on, they are going to have to be increasingly careful in their choice of munitions," said John Pike, the GlobalSecurity.org president.
The Pentagon spent the last decade planning, if the need arose, to fight nearly simultaneous wars in the Middle East and the Korean Peninsula.
"You would have to assume that half of the valuable Tomahawks had `North Korea' written on them, and half had `Iraq' written on them, with a few left over for somewhere else," Pike said.
The good news for military supply planners is that, as the war in Iraq progresses, the need for Tomahawks should be lessened. The more the United States blasts apart Iraq's radar and anti-aircraft systems, the less it will need to use a weapon designed for targets in areas with formidable air defenses.
"The (Tomahawk) is just one of a very large variety of weapons that we have," said Robert Sherman, a weapons expert with the Federation of American Scientists. "I expect that as the war goes on, the effectiveness of the Iraq air defenses will go down, which means that the JDAM will become more useful."
New Tomahawks would cost about $1.4 million each, Raytheon estimates. The JDAM, a satellite-guidance kit that fits onto the tail of a regular bomb dropped by an airplane, costs about $20,000.
A senior military official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Monday the United States has about 30,000 JDAMs in stock and that the Boeing Corp. was making about 2,500 per month.
Col. Art Haubold, an Air Force spokesman, said: "I can tell you, we certainly have enough munitions to do the job in Iraq. To my knowledge, we don't have any shortages. Right now, that's not a cause for concern."
The United States has used two-thirds the number of precision-guided weapons it used in Afghanistan from October 2001 to spring 2002.
Anthony Cordesman, a scholar at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, estimated in August that 12,500 such weapons had been used in Afghanistan, compared to 8,050 in the Serbia-Kosovo campaign and 20,450 in the first Gulf War.
(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.