Congress Plans to Boost the Tomahawk Missiles Fleet

All four Congressional defense committees have aligned to support an increase in Tomahawk missile production in 2015 and beyond.

FARNBOROUGH, England — All four Congressional defense committees have aligned to support an increase in Tomahawk missile production in 2015 and beyond.

Following suit with the House Armed Services Committee’s mark-up of the fiscal year 2015 defense bill, the Senate Appropriations Committee recently announced it hopes to add $82 million for Tomahawk production in 2015.

The move raises planned Tomahawk production for 2015 from 100 missiles to 196. The fiscal year 2015 budget proposal had called for 100 Tomahawk missiles to be produced in 2015 before stopping production in 2016 until re-certification in 2019.

The Congressional action paves the way for continued life, production and enhancements for the Tomahawk.

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, said Raytheon Tomahawk program director Roy Donelson here at the Farnborough International Airshow.

The missiles have a 30-year lifespan and a 15-year performance guarantee, so the inventory of Block IV missiles are slated to go through a re-certification process in 2018 and 2019.

The re-certification process for Block IV Tomahawks will offer the opportunity 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, Donelson explained.

With this in mind, Raytheon has been conducting ongoing recertification studies with the Navy to take up questions regarding upgrades and new technologies for the platform, Donelson said.

Along these lines, the fiscal year 2015 budget also adds $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, he added.

Donelson explained that a number of the current technological upgrade efforts are timed to coincide with the planned recertification of the inventory of 3,000 Block IV Tomahawk missiles.

Along with the advanced communications and navigation suite, which is planned to be ready by 2018 or 2019, Raytheon is also developing a new seeker, processor and warhead for the weapon.

“With a thirty year service life and a fifteen year warranty a lot of these systems will come back in 2018 and 2019 with all the upgrades. Tomahawk will be able to do autonomous and semi-autonomous operations in the future.  We’re looking at supersonic concepts and new payloads,” he said.

Among the new payloads is a new warhead called the Joint Multiple Effects Warhead System, or JMEWS. It was recently 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 reinforced concrete.

Donelson said that Raytheon is conducting JMEWS risk-reduction testing with the Navy and hopes to enter into a new development phase by next year.

Testing analyzed the ability of the programmable warhead to integrate onto the most advanced Block IV Tomahawk missile, a weapon which can loiter over targets, send back single frame images and change course in flight via a GPS guidance system.

Donelson explained that Raytheon is also 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, he added.

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.

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 by 2015, Donelson said.

Raytheon has invested $40 million thus far developing the new seeker and processor, and plans another captive carry test of the seeker in coming months, he added.

In service for 30 years and having been utilized in 20-years of operational combat, Tomahawks have been the focus of a number of incremental technological improvements ranging from navigation to targeting and data-link upgrades.

The weapons have been used for decades in combat. Roughly 800 tomahawks were fired in Operational Iraqi Freedom in 2003 and about 200 were used in Desert Storm, Donelson said.

In addition, more than 200 Tomahawks were fired in NATO action in Libya in 2011.

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.

About the Author

Kris Osborn
Kris Osborn is the managing editor of Scout Warrior.