Last December, U.S. satellite images showed Syria’s chemical weapons factories were readying sarin nerve gas. Two weeks later, just as early reports of chemical attacks in rebel-controlled hot zones rolled in, the U.S. Navy re-upped a $254.6 million contract to buy Tomahawk Block IV cruise missiles from Raytheon Company (NYSE:RTN).
Now, those tubular, jet-powered missiles – each worth about $1.45 million – are aimed at Syria.
The Waltham, Mass., defense giant stands to make a killing – pun intended – if Congress greenlights President Barack Obama’s proposal to strike Syria in the coming weeks.
Already, the White House ordered 196 Tomahawks for fiscal 2013 – totaling about $320 million. It is requesting the same number for the next fiscal year, at a total cost of about $5 million, thanks to inflation and a shrinking supply chain, Politico reported.
A spokesman for Raytheon told International Business Times that the Department of Defense asked that all reporter inquiries about weapons that may be used in Syria be directed to the Pentagon.
The 20-foot-long missiles – used widely in Afghanistan, Iraq and, most recently, Libya – will likely garner Raytheon some extra sales to the Pentagon in the coming years, if, say, 100 are fired off at Syrian targets this year.
“It certainly gets some replacement business out of it,” William Hartung, an analyst at the Center for International Policy, told IBTimes. “But compared to the size of the company, it won’t be huge, especially given that the Pentagon budget has leveled off.”
Using the missiles won’t be without consequences, though.
As with the rest of the international community, Washington appears split on whether to bomb Syria, which allegedly used sarin nerve gas to slaughter more than 1,400 civilians in August, according to U.S. officials.
“If you look at what would be the likely strategic objectives of any campaign, like limiting civilian casualties or containing the scope of the conflict, or, for some, tipping the military balance in favor of the opposition,” Jeffrey Martini, a Middle East analyst at the Washington-based Rand Corporation, told IBTimes, “it doesn’t appear that any of the military options the U.S. has would be very effective.”
“It underscores the poor choices the Obama administration has,” he added.
Indeed, while Raytheon boasts about the Block IV missile’s accuracy, Hartung said the projectiles are responsible for some “failed strikes” on al-Qaeda operatives during President Bill Clinton’s administration.
“They’re not as accurate as some other ways of delivering warheads,” he said, hinting that using them could increase the possibility of killing civilians, which seems to be the antithesis of the West’s goals in a country stricken by two years of brutal civil war.
But because they are easily fired from air bases or submarines, they represent a low-risk option for U.S. forces.
And as criticism of Obama being a “reluctant warrior” (repeatedly, just scroll through this Google search) pours in, it's the choice that keeps U.S. personnel out of harm’s way.
He was similarly called a “reluctant warrior” when he committed U.S. missiles and warplanes to the opposition side in Libya two years ago, a decision which, as Michael Lewis said in Vanity Fair last year, was almost entirely his own.
If U.S. Air Force pilot Tyler Stark had died when his plane was shot down over Libya, history would likely judge Obama as an extension of his predecessor George W. Bush, whose presidency was marred by what most of the world perceived as war-mongering and stars-and-stripes-covered coffins.
Raytheon’s missiles, it seems, may be his safest option.
Alexander C. Kaufman is a reporter at the International Business Times covering companies, retail and media. He joined in May 2013. Previously, he was an editor of...