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Breaking-TLAM Warships Strike Al Qaeda

December 19, 2009

The guided-missile cruiser USS Chosin (CG 65).

The attack was against Al Qaeda training attacks in Yemen, and according to ABC News, from warships using Tomahawk land attack missiles:

On orders from President Barack Obama, the U.S. military launched cruise missiles early Thursday against two suspected al-Qaeda sites in Yemen, administration officials told ABC News in a report broadcast on ABC World News with Charles Gibson.

One of the targeted sites was a suspected al Qaeda training camp north of the capitol, Sanaa, and the second target was a location where officials said “an imminent attack against a U.S. asset was being planned.” The Yemen attacks by the U.S. military represent a major escalation of the Obama administration’s campaign against al Qaeda.

In his speech about added troops for Afghanistan earlier this month, President Obama made a brief reference to Yemen, saying, “Where al Qaeda and its allies attempt to establish a foothold — whether in Somalia or Yemen or elsewhere — they must be confronted by growing pressure and strong partnerships.”

Recall that recently we reported the US Navy, led by the guided missile cruiser USS Chosin was headed for Yemeni waters. This is an excellent example of the use of such warships in the power projection role, in absence of aircraft carriers. Bill Roggio has more details:

Since there were Reapers already available, not sure why we expended cruise missiles on the raid, but glad the Navy got in on the show. As we have said all week, these are the type of operations the admirals should plan for, and the use of missiles and UAVs are very cost effective and effective ways of deploying airpower

27 Comments leave one →
  1. Joe K. permalink
    December 21, 2009 12:39 am

    Mike, you jest.

  2. CBD permalink
    December 20, 2009 10:17 pm

    JDAMs still need to be brought on site. That has geopolitical implications that a self-guided missile does not trigger. It is a big difference (in the public perception) between the USN lobbing a few missiles at an apparent enemy camp and USAF/USN fighter-bombers completing the exact same mission. There’s something that seems more aggressive to many people about having a pilot pushing the button instead of a weapons officer on a destroyer.

    A UAV would be great (used in many previous similar strikes, including in Yemen), but we’re seriously low in the numbers and those assets are all being pushed to Af/Pak the moment they’re available. Otherwise, yea, better to use a drone…but this was a lot of firepower, it would have required several drones to carry enough munitions (in the current generation of drone capabilities).

  3. Tarl permalink
    December 20, 2009 7:37 pm

    Tarl-have to agree with Eric on this one. Say that this was a coordinated strike with Reapers and Tomahawks. No giant fleets and airwings, plus expensive logistics load. Just one ship, one missile, one plane, one target. Thats cost effectiveness you can’t beat! One million dollar missile lost sure, but the practicality and effectiveness is where the savings come in.

    You absolutely can beat the cost effectiveness of the TLAM. It does not cost nothing to put that ship or submarine on station. JDAMs – whether dropped from manned aircraft or UAVs – are 100 times less expensive per explosion. JDAMs are practical, effective, and cost far, far less.

    If this is really your new model of warfare, color me unimpressed.

  4. Mrs. Davis permalink
    December 20, 2009 12:41 pm

    Thank you all.

  5. Mike Burleson permalink*
    December 20, 2009 6:01 am

    I saw the Al Jazeera video. The amount of terrorist propaganda in that is breath-taking. But they view it (or sell it) as a racism issue.

  6. CBD permalink
    December 20, 2009 1:11 am

    Agreed on all counts. No thanks are expected for making you watch that one again.

    I think you might be right about the enclosed space and blast effects. It’s a pretty large explosion out of the TLAM warheads, especially when above ground. Enclosed spaces cause some odd effects.

    I remember several years back that the suicide bombings on Israeli buses were supposed to be much more severe in effect in the winter months, when all of the windows would be closed. I believe that there was some work done to modify the windows so that they would give way in case of an internal explosion, thus reducing the casualties experienced. The trauma doctors there had lots of experience with overpressure trauma…something we thankfully don’t see in US emergency departments.

    Officially, the US FAE inventory is limited:
    – Hellfire AGM-114N
    – SMAW-NE
    – MOAB (as mentioned, not bomber-friendly)
    – few, very old, unguided bombs (BLU-95 & 96, etc. Most were withdrawn from service in the 90s)
    – BLU-118/B

    The last of these seems to be the most likely weapon used, if any. It is the only large, air-launched FAE bomb (more like a warhead) that seems compatible with existing guidance kits. It has also been reportedly used several times in Afghanistan. All of these, however, arevery scary.

    Overall, for this canyon, a TLAM-E seems likely. Simple enough to arrange the strike, or even multiple simultaneous strikes. I guess we’ll find out in the coming days/weeks/months as more details emerge.

  7. D. E. Reddick permalink
    December 20, 2009 12:17 am


    Yeah, that definitely is the video. And it certainly is graphic. I’m not quite sure that I want to say thanks for aiding me in viewing it, again. Enemies struck, rendered, and slain, though…

    Notice the severe degree of blast damage. There appears to be a reinforced structure (steel I-beam supported roof; concrete with rebar? – I’m not sure) which was blasted sideways or backwards off its foundation. That appears at approximately 0:12 through 0:22 in the video.

    Either that narrow canyon confined and focused the effect of a TLAM-E unitary warhead or else something different was used. I wonder if a B-1 or B-2 might have dropped an FAE device on that particular location? The amount of overpressure blast damage does cause me to wonder about this as an option to how this was done (although the confined topographic space of that canyon would make even light artillery such as 105 mm howitzer or 120 mm mortar rounds unusually devastating). Is there an FAE small enough to fit in such a bomber airframe (not the usual cargo aircraft)? Just wondering – I’m sure it was a TLAM strike, but I do wonder…

  8. CBD permalink
    December 19, 2009 11:06 pm

    Apologies for the haphazard link html work…

  9. CBD permalink
    December 19, 2009 11:03 pm

    I commented (with a bit more research) over at Eric’s blog (Link).

    Given the description of the other attack (where planning against ‘a US asset’ was described as being underway at the time of the strike) seems to support the idea of an attack on a building (TLAM-C/E territory). Your idea about the combination of the blast effects and submunitions would certainly make sense.

    The one crater they showed (Al Jazeera) looked too limited to be the result of one of the large unitary warheads and looks more like a secondary explosion (the fence seems rather intact, at 4s in you can see the fence blown outwards from below, rather than being crushed from above), perhaps a small ammunition storage site went up?

    The scene of the shredded huts (20s in) seems to show a shrapnel pattern on the corrugated metal sections. Perhaps I’m looking too hard, though.

    BTW, is this the video you’re talking about? That certainly looks like a serious blast effect (TLAM-C/E, as you said, and in multiples). You can see the sides of a car collapsed in and all of the windows completely demolished.

    P.S. Did anyone else notice that the Al Jazeera video said “as these images show” with regards to women and children being among the casualties, but no bodies of women or children were seen? Not to say it isn’t true, but…

  10. December 19, 2009 11:02 pm

    Hello D. E. Reddick,

    is this the video you are looking for?:


  11. D. E. Reddick permalink
    December 19, 2009 10:27 pm


    The Al Jazeera video that I previously provided does appear to display more footage of the missile wreckage than those short clips provided in the ABC News video. It might be easier to recognize and identify what was used in the strike with that particular video. It certainly doesn’t appear to be anything with as small a diameter as a Hellfire or any other similarly small missile.

    As to which version of TLAM was used, we don’t really know how many were fired. Perhaps a TLAM-E strike was followed by a TLAM-D strike at one or both sites. A one-two punch, so to speak. Different warheads delivered in timed sequences might prove to be more effective in reducing the target to what was visible in that Arabic language video that I cannot find this evening (after viewing it last evening, I believe). It was stark and the destruction displayed was dramatic (the cliff sides of the canyon may have enhanced blast effects, I suspect). Who knows?

  12. CBD permalink
    December 19, 2009 10:08 pm

    It certainly does not inspire much confidence. Honestly, I don’t see why you couldn’t put the package on any vessel that met the basic engineering requirements (crane or launch ramp for the USV and UUVs, spots for 2 MH-60, and reserve space for the other equipment). It would make sense to place some of these on an LPD/LSD and, if the package is successful, LHAs, LHDs and CVNs. There’s little reason for the LCS to be the exclusive platform for the MCM package as they have it configured. NP.

    I agree with your suggestion of the TLAM-D. The ABC news report clip shows rather large chunks of what appear to be the guidance system (1:43, 1:46) as well as part of the mid-body(1:48),* which makes sense if the missile was dispensing submunitions over an area target (34s into this video)…but that would mean a Block III.

    The Block IV (aka TLAM-E) appears to only have the unitary warhead from the Block III TLAM-C. But as Eric noted, the Block IV would be easier to put on target…

    *- Identification base on image found here.

  13. D. E. Reddick permalink
    December 19, 2009 8:44 pm

    Mrs. Davis,

    I can’t recall where I viewed it. I just tried finding it and all I got out of the effort was some sorry website reaching out and fragging my Firefox browser (blink – gone). I’m still re-opening windows and tabs from that incident. I’ll try to find it, again – but not until I’m finished getting all other things back up, open, and accessible.

    That particular video was graphic in showing bodies amidst the rubble of what had been a settlement in a canyon. One image shown two or three times was that of a folded human thigh, knee, and calf sticking up from the rubble. Another portion of the video shows a naked torso partly buried underneath mud bricks or rocks. Many individuals are shown walking around and staring at the leveled site. The amount and degree of destruction makes me think that it was a TLAM-D which struck that particular site.

  14. Chuck Hill permalink
    December 19, 2009 7:48 pm

    CBD, Thanks for the info.

  15. Chuck Hill permalink
    December 19, 2009 7:47 pm

    27 would make more sense, but as you say, does not inspire confidence.

    Would love to see some other assets be able to take the modules on board, ie container ships or even use from shore. We may need some MCM in US ports that would not require either speed or deployment from a warship.

  16. CBD permalink
    December 19, 2009 7:39 pm

    I believe there were plans to have two per module. 2/module would mean 27 mine hunting systems available. We recently had 26 mine hunters available to the fleet. We decommissioned and gave away 12 (MHCs) in 2006-7 and 4 more (MCMs) are kept in reserve in anticipation of the LCS being magically ready to deploy in 2008 (possibly to drive the program forward by making alternate mine hunting assets scarce). Thus far we’ve reduced our active MCM fleet from 24 to 8…with a surge capacity to 12. If we need to use these assets in the next 5 years, what options are available?

    Assuming that one of those 27 MCM payloads is a ‘spare’ to accommodate broken or damaged items, we’ve gained very little in the way of deployable mine-hunting assets. If more than one ‘spare’ is needed, we’re actually losing assets (since the MCM vessels are due to be retired as the LCS force is built up). In a shooting war, where many LCSes may be needed for other roles (like sub hunting), how willing will commanders be to give up sub hunters in favor of mine hunters?

    I dug into the LCS MCM package a few days ago. Each LCS with MCM is supposed to have a much greater capability than an old MCM or MHC vessel, but almost all of the assets are off-ship…and LCS-1 doesn’t seem to have the capacity to take this full system (difficulty stowing enough helicopters and VTUAVs).

  17. Chuck Hill permalink
    December 19, 2009 6:20 pm

    Following the link CBD provided to here:

    It states that they now intend to purchase 54 remotely operated mini-subs for the Mine Warfare modules verses 108 when they were planning on buying them for both the mine warfare and the ASW modules. This suggests they are planning on 54 modules of each type. This seems like overkill. If we assume that the LCS can only handle one module at a time, it means that only a third of the module will be in use at any one time, and that we are prepared to equip all the LCSs for only one mission.

    My guess would have been that were buying 35-40 of each type.

  18. Mrs. Davis permalink
    December 19, 2009 5:43 pm

    Any chance of a link to that video?

  19. Mike Burleson permalink*
    December 19, 2009 3:40 pm

    Reporters getting it wrong? Surely you jest! LOL

  20. D. E. Reddick permalink
    December 19, 2009 3:37 pm


    I viewed a video which showed an entire canyon having been laid waste as a consequence of these missile strikes. Hellfires cannot do that amount of damage, even if fired in volley fashion (except by a flight of AH-64 Apaches or similarly armed aircraft). And that informative Al Jazeera video does show what appears to be the airframe of a cruise missile (or something similarly moderately large). I am guessing that some reporter got the details wrong. I believe one instance of reporting that the strike was by air-launched cruise missiles was in that original ABC News report.

  21. Mike Burleson permalink*
    December 19, 2009 3:25 pm

    I had heard that there were no more ALCM in use, and though not very clear Wikipedia suggests they are only being used for the nuclear mission. If these missiles weren’t launched from the sea then the Arabs must be mistaking cruise missiles for Hellfires launched from Reapers.

  22. D. E. Reddick permalink
    December 19, 2009 3:18 pm

    Some news reports have stated that the strike was carried out by air-launched cruise missiles rather than ship-launched TLAMs. There is a video from the English language version of Al Jazeera which shows what appear to be missile parts and even a partial airframe. Until we learn what has actually occurred, then perhaps a knowledgeable reader might be able to identify what was videoed. That Al Jazeera video is embedded in the first of the following links. The other three links provided are from western news sources.

    ‘US aided’ deadly Yemen raids

    U.S. helped Yemen with hardware, intelligence: report

    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States gave military hardware, intelligence and other support to Yemeni forces who raided suspected al Qaeda hide-outs this week, the New York Times reported on Saturday.

    U.S. helps Yemen in attacks against suspected al-Qaeda targets

    Yemen Says Strikes Against Qaeda Bases Killed 34

  23. Mike Burleson permalink*
    December 19, 2009 3:15 pm

    Tarl-have to agree with Eric on this one. Say that this was a coordinated strike with Reapers and Tomahawks. No giant fleets and airwings, plus expensive logistics load. Just one ship, one missile, one plane, one target. Thats cost effectiveness you can’t beat! One million dollar missile lost sure, but the practicality and effectiveness is where the savings come in.

    You don’t stretch your fleet thin or announce to the world you are coming, and don’t take up 1/10 of your fighting fleet to drop one bomb on one target.

  24. December 19, 2009 2:56 pm

    My vote would be the Block IV Tomahawk which is more net-friendly. It can be retargeted on the fly. If you follow the recent and past tests of the Tomahawk Block IV, it is a special forces team that calls in the status of the target along with updates to some command post somewhere which in-turn passes it to the Tomahawk IV in-flight.

    Depends on what kind of target they had to take down, how time sensitive it was what air assets were available in what location and so on.

  25. CBD permalink
    December 19, 2009 10:45 am

    Other news: Springboarder has news on the LCS program: LCS-2 Accepted, Mine Mission Module elements over cost and underperforming. Link.

  26. Tarl permalink
    December 19, 2009 10:38 am

    So we launched $2 million cruise missiles (and how many did we fire – 10? 20?) against a bunch of guys in tents. What were you saying about economic asymmetric warfare that does not favor us?

    Talk about “breaking windows with guineas”…


  1. U.S. Navy Tomahawk Strike in Yemen « ELP Defens(c)e Blog

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