Nick Connor

The abrupt nature of the cancellation of this program and lack of courteous consultation sends the wrong message to US allies, who are looking to co-operate with the US on future programs. Eastern European countries, India and South-East Asian countries all want the certainty of an alliance with the US. Yet, they will be forced into reexamining their partnerships when they fully understand the implications of the US Administration’s cancelation of the Tomahawk program. However, they may reconsider their options when they realize that the costly weapons system that they are buying into could be cancelled at a moment’s notice. Additionally, these countries are only capable—financially and structurally—of adsorbing one or two large ticket defense purchases per economic cycle, so they must carefully consider which weapons systems are more likely to last for 10 to 15 years.

Halting the Tomahawk missile program could also have severe unintended consequences to the US defense industry. Just as the very effective, battle tested Tomahawk is being defunded, countries like India, Russia and Israel are looking to sell their own cruise missiles to many Asian, African and Middle Eastern customers. Particularly, the Indian cruise missile called BrahMos that is being readied for a large number of export orders, with projected sales as high as $13 billion. Yet the very failings of the BrahMos—lack of industrial capacity, no battlefield testing, large size and relative complexity—are all comparative advantages that the Tomahawk program retains.

If the US defense establishment believes that it is finished with the Tomahawk program, then it would be a prime weapons platform for export. This would allow a capital injection into the program while also allowing the US to cement alliances, and also create and expand upon new markets. Further, the export of the Tomahawk would be symbolic, representing a bond between the US and the buyer nation. This relationship would have further benefits, especially in South-East Asia, engendering a greater sense of stability and certainty amongst counties that are concerned about the rise of China.

Ultimately, defunding Tomahawk creates a worrying gap in US capabilities that no known replacement has the ability to fill in the near future. The abrupt and covert cancellation of this successful program embarrassed allies and will cost them a considerable amount of money, as they will now have to seek viable replacements. Ending the Tomahawk program sends the wrong signal to friends and allies seeking the certainty of defense cooperation with the US.

Finally, the lack of strategic insight by US defense officials means a tried and tested weapon with a strong industrial base will be shelved. All in all, the US’ decision to cancel the Tomahawk cruise missile program is a shortsighted, strategic mistake that has very real world implications beyond the US’ borders.

Nick Connor

Nicholas Connor is a independent national security and international affairs expert based in London. He is a former researcher for the Heritage Foundation's Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom and currently serves as a consultant for several private intelligence companies.