the gulf war
homeoral historywar storiesweaponsmapsdiscussion

trainor on the tomahawk

Q: What's the problem with the guidance system of the Tomahawks?

Trainor: The Tomahawk missile was a cruise missile. And it was designed to follow specific terrain features. With using satellite photography we would get the picture of the ground and this would be digitized in a form that could go into a computer that would be in the Tomahawk missile, so that when the Tomahawk was fired it simply would match what was in its program with the terrain features on the ground and follow it like a roadmap to its target. Now the problem in the Gulf War was that the desert region over in Kuwait and in Iraq was so flat that there were very few signposts. So what the Navy did was make use of the programming that went over Iran, where there were mountains, the Zagros Mountains, which gave a very clear identifying signal. And they had programmed the missiles over the Zagros Mountains long before the Iraqi crisis. This was the route that the Tomahawk missiles were going to take when they went into the Soviet Union if there had been a war with the Soviet Union. So they simply took that and modified it so that when the missiles were halfway up the Zagros Mountains on the course to the Soviet Union they'd make a left turn and go the east towards Baghdad. So in that sense all they had to digitize was the space between where the left turn took place and Baghdad. And that's what they did and that's the way the missiles were fired.

home · oral history · war stories · weapons · maps · chronology
tapes & transcripts 
FRONTLINE · wgbh · pbs online

web site copyright 1995-2014 WGBH educational foundation



Losing IraqJuly 29th