Raytheon’s Tomahawk is arguably one of the U.S. Navy’s most storied
and well-employed weapons systems. Over
2,000 missiles have been launched in combat in seven or so countries since 1991 with another 500
successful operational tests launches. The Navy recently ordered 361 of the latest variant (BLK IV)
at a cost just short of $1 million apiece, so clearly the
weapon is valued by the Combatant Commanders.
While the Navy has enjoyed strong success with this strike weapon, our surface-based ASuW capabilities have atrophied. The subsonic LRASM-A (the supersonic LRASM-B was canceled in January 2012) in development by DARPA offers promise, but will not see fleet service for quite some time, if ever. SWOs old enough to have served in the 1980s and 1990s aboard ABL or VLS-equipped ships will remember the RGM-109B, or Tomahawk Antiship Missile (TASM). The problem with this fire-and-forget weapon was that we had no good way to cue and target the missile. As a young TLAM engagement officer, I recall that doctrine for its employment was rather squishy and we tended to either wish away or just ignore the over-the-horizon targeting problem which would be required to successfully employ this missile at its maximum range of more than 200 NM, especially if neutral shipping was present. Complicating the targeting problem was the weapon’s early 70’s era Harpoon active radar seeker and subsonic speed, which would enable an enemy ship traveling at thirty knots to move more than twelve miles from when the TASM was launched. Because of these limitations, the TASM was withdrawn from the fleet later in the 1990s. Many of the TASMs in storage were modified to the BLK III version to meet the growing demand for strike weapons.
The requirement for a surface-based launch range ASuW capability has recently reemerged. NAVAIR has awarded Raytheon a contract to update the BLK IV Tactical Tomahawk with maritime interdiction capabilities to be deployed by 2015. This upgrade will be a tremendous step up from the old TASM in targeting and takes on the BLK IV’s 900 NM range. As a point of comparison to other long range anti-ship missiles, the subsonic Russian 3M-54 Klub ranges about 1350 NM while the new Indian BrahMos travels about the 160 NM, but at the blazing speed of Mach 2.8.
As seen in Raytheon's recently released concept video above, the new "TASM" will use advanced targeting features including ESM and an Active Electronically Scanned Millimeter wave radar seeker. More important is the two-way UHF SATCOM data link which will allow for cueing and updated tracking of targets in conjunction with naval drones, manned ISR, or SOF during the missile's long flight. These improvements will mitigate some of the challenges in firing the missiles over-the-horizon, especially against targets in crowded litoral seas. Also critical is the flexibility of these missiles to still be employed in their traditional strike mission, saving space in surface and sub VLS magazines. Now is the time to start developing the operational concepts and experimenting with TTPs for employment of these missiles.