The Tomahawk missile program—known as “the world’s most advanced cruise missile”—is set to be cut by $128 million under Obama’s fiscal year 2015 budget proposal and completely eliminated by fiscal year 2016, according to budget documents released by the Navy.
In addition to the monetary cuts to the program, the number of actual Tomahawk missiles acquired by the United States would drop significantly—from 196 last year to just 100 in 2015. The number will then drop to zero in 2016.
The proposed elimination of these missile programs came as a shock to lawmakers and military experts, who warned ending cutting these missiles would significantly erode America’s ability to deter enemy forces.
“The administration’s proposed budget dramatically under-resources our investments in munitions and leaves the Defense Department with dangerous gaps in key areas, like Tomahawk and Hellfire missiles,” said Rep. Randy Forbes (R., Va.), a member of House Armed Services Committee.
“Increasing our investment in munitions and retaining our technological edge in research and development should be a key component of any serious defense strategy,” he said.
The U.S. Navy relied heavily on them during the 2011 military incursion into Libya, where some 220 Tomahawks were used during the fight.
Nearly 100 of these missiles are used each year on average, meaning that the sharp cuts will cause the Tomahawk stock to be completely depleted by around 2018. This is particularly concerning to defense experts because the Pentagon does not have a replacement missile ready to take the Tomahawk’s place.
“It doesn’t make sense,” said Seth Cropsey, director of the Hudson Institute’s Center for American Seapower. “This really moves the U.S. away from a position of influence and military dominance.”
Cropsey said that if someone were trying to “reduce the U.S. ability to shape events” in the world, “they couldn’t find a better way than depriving the U.S. fleet of Tomahawks. It’s breathtaking.”
The Navy has used various incarnations of the Tomahawk with great success over the past 30 years, employing them during Desert Storm and its battle zones from Iraq and Afghanistan to the Balkans.
While the military as a whole is seeing its budgets reduced and equipment scaled back, the Tomahawk cuts do not appear to be due to a lack of funds.
The administration seems to be taking the millions typically spent on the Tomahawk program and investing it in an experimental missile program that experts say will not be battle ready for at least 10 years.
“It is definitely short-sighted given the value of the Tomahawk as a workhorse,” said Mackenzie Eaglen, a former Pentagon staffer who analyzes military readiness. “The opening days of the U.S. lead-from-behind, ‘no-fly zone’ operation over Libya showcased how important this inventory of weapons is still today.”