Middle East Turmoil

Syria conflict: The hardware the military will use to strike

Image Source: US Navy

With the looming threat of a military intervention in Syria, investors are focusing more intensely on defense related stocks. Given the expectations of a quick, tactical strike, the most attention is being paid to those companies who specialize in longer-range weapons and ordnance, like the cruise missile.

Cruise missiles have been used by the U.S. military in every major campaign going back to Operation Desert Storm in 1991. One name has become synonymous with the weapon: Raytheon's Tomahawk.

U.S. Navy documents suggest that each Tomahawk would cost about $1.6 million. (The Navy orders about 196 of the missiles a year).

Raytheon shares have performed well so far in 2013, having gained nearly 30%. That handily beats the 15% return of the S&P 500 during that same time span. That strong move to the upside is one of the big reasons why earlier this week, analysts at Stifel Nicolaus downgraded the stock to "hold" on valuation.

Bank of America Merrill Lynch Analyst Ron Epstein said this week that Raytheon was particularly sensitive to Syria headlines — even though the Tomahawk only accounts of 1% of its total sales,investors may play near-term thematic trades given the ongoing situation.

The run-up in valuation isn't unique to Raytheon, though. Other companies in the industry have also performed well. General Dynamics has narrowly outperformed the broader S&P 500, up 16%. Their Electric Boat unit makes a variety of attack submarines.

Then, there's United Technologies, whose Sikorsky Aircraft unit makes Blackhawk helicopters. Those shares have risen by 19% this year. Shares of Boeing and Lockheed Martin are both up over 30% during that same time frame.

The question then becomes whether many of these stocks have already had their near term upside priced in, or if there could be more upside momentum depending on the catalyst.

Read on for more on the defense contractors whose products could be used in the coming days in the Middle East.

—By Dominic Chu and Mark Richards

Follow Dom at @TheDomino

Raytheon – Tomahawk cruise missiles

Raytheon's cruise missile Tomahawk.
Source: Raytheon

Raytheon's Tomahawk Block IV can circle for hours, shift course on command and beam a picture of its target to controllers halfway around the world. More than 2,000 have been fired in combat, including the 90 used during the Libyan conflict in 2011.

United Technologies – Sikorsky Black Hawk helicopter

United Technologies Corp's Black Hawk helicopter S-70i
Image source: United Technologies Corp

More than 25 different countries use United Technologies' Black Hawk, various versions of which have been flying for 30 years. More than 2,300 of them are in service around the world.

General Dynamics – submarines

General Dynamics' submarine Ohio class
Source: General Dynamics

General Dynamics' Electric Boat unit has been designing and building submarines since 1900, beginning with USS Holland, the U.S. Navy's first commissioned undersea warship.

Huntington Ingalls – Navy warships

Ingalls Shipbuilding's guided-missile destroyer USS William P. Lawrence
Image source: Ingalls Shipbuilding

Huntington Ingalls designs, build and maintain ships for the U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard at Ingalls Shipbuilding and Newport News Shipbuilding.

Boeing – airborne warning and control systems (AWACS)

Boeing's airborne warning and control systems.
Image source: Boeing

The Boeing E-3 707 AWACS is the standard plane for airborne early warning and control systems, best known for its prominent top-mounted dish.