The Navy is moving closer to having a sea-launched, anti-ship cruise missile able to change course in flight and hit moving ship targets from distances up to 1,000 miles, according to two recent Tomahawk Block IV tests at China Lake, California.
“The USS Kidd, one of our guided missile destroyers, launched a Tomahawk missile that changed course mid-flight and struck a moving ship after being queued by an aircraft,” Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work said in a recent speech at the U.S. Naval Institute. “Now, this is potentially game-changing capability for not a lot of cost. It's a 1,000 mile anti-ship cruise missile. It can be used from practically our entire surface and submarine fleet.
The two tests, which involved firing Tomahawk Block IV missiles against land and sea targets, were conducted by the Navy and Raytheon at Naval Air Weapons Station, China Lake, Calif., in January of this year.
During the first test, a Tomahawk missile fired from the USS Kidd, a guided missile destroyer, and received real-time target information relayed from a surveillance aircraft to a weapons station at China Lake. Updated target information was related to the Tomahawk in flight before the missile then maneuvered and changed course from a pre-planned mission toward a new target, striking a moving ship on the water.
“This demonstration is the first step toward evolving Tomahawk with improved network capability and extends its reach from fixed and mobile to moving targets,” a statement from Raytheon said.
In the second test, the USS Kidd launched another Tomahawk Block IV missile on a "call-for-fire" mission in support of shore-based Marines, Raytheon officials said.
“Using GPS navigational updates, the missile performed a vertical dive to impact on San Nicolas Island, scoring a direct hit on the target designated by the Marines. The test provided valuable data for the Marine Expeditionary Force to evaluate and evolve their call for fire capability,” the statement said.
Work cited these tests and Tomahawk modernization as an example of how the U.S. can retain its technological edge amid a fast-changing global technological landscape.
“What happens if we take another step and just make an advanced seeker on the Tomahawk rather than building a new missile? We believe if we make decisions like that, that we will be able to outturn potential adversaries and maintain our technological superiority,” Work added.
In fact, Raytheon officials explained that they are working on new passive and active seeker technology for the Tomahawk which would even better enable the weapon to discriminate between targets and destroy moving targets.
A passive seeker can receive an electromagnetic signal and follow it, whereas an active seeker has the ability to send out or ping an electronic signal and bounce it off potential targets.
Raytheon is planning additional testing for its new seeker system on the weapon, which would allow it to separate legitimate from false targets while on-the-move, Raytheon officials said.
After additional lab testing, ground testing and flight testing, an integrate suite consisting of an active seeker, passive seeker and high-speed processor is slated to be ready this year.
Overall, Raytheon has delivered more than 3,000 Tomahawk Block IV missiles to the Navy. The missiles are expected to complete a 30-year service life after being re-certified at the 15-year mark. The inventory of Block IV missiles are slated to go through a re-certification process in 2018 and 2019.
Tomahawks have been upgraded numerous times over their years of service. The Block IV Tomahawk, in service since 2004, includes a two-way data link for in-flight re-targeting, terrain navigation, digital scene-matching cameras and a high-grade inertial navigation system, Raytheon officials explained.
The weapon is also capable of performing battle damage assessment missions by relaying images through a data link as well, they said.
The re-certification process for Block IV Tomahawks will provide occasion to implement a series of high-tech upgrades to the missile platform which improve the weapon’s lethality, guidance and ability to find and destroy moving targets, Raytheon officials explained.
With this in mind, Raytheon has been conducting ongoing re-certification studies with the Navy to take up key questions regarding upgrades and new technologies for the platform.
Along these lines, the fiscal year 2015 budget added $150 million for a new Tomahawk missile navigation and communications suite in order to better enable the weapon to operate in anti-access/area-denial environments. The enhanced communications suite is slated to be ready by 2018 or 2019, Raytheon officials said.
Raytheon and the Navy are also developing a new payload for the weapon involving a more-penetrating warhead called the Joint Multiple Effects Warhead System, or JMEWS. Previously sponsored by U.S. Central Command, the JMEWS would give the Tomahawk better bunker buster type effects — meaning it could enable the weapon to better penetrate hardened structures like concrete.
Tomahawk missiles weigh 3,500 pounds with a booster and can travel at subsonic speeds up to 550 miles per hour at ranges greater than 900 nautical miles. They are just over 18-feet long and have an 8-foot, 9-inch wingspan.
The Navy is in the early stages of conducting an analysis of alternatives exploring options for a next-generation land attack weapon. It remains unclear whether they will use next-generation, upgraded Tomahawks to meet this requirement or chose to develop a new system.