Tomahawk Block IV Cruise Missiles: Extending the Range; Extending the Longevity

Worries about the Tomahawk and Harpoon cruise missile obsolescence appear to have been slightly premature.

A test on January 27 saw a Tomahawk fired from the USS Kidd (DDG-100) receive mid-course guidance from an F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and strike a moving target off of the California coast. The current range for the Block IV missiles is over 1,000 nautical miles (1,150 miles) and would give the Navy a ship killing missile with a range advantage over every other ASM (anti-ship missile) currently in existence.

For comparison, the Harpoon missile – for years the Navy’s standard anti-ship missile – has a range of approximately 80 miles. The Tomahawk also carries a warhead twice the size of the Harpoon and fits in standard VLS (vertical launch system) cells. It is carried on surface ships, submarines and aircraft.

“This is a significant accomplishment,” said Capt. Joe Mauser, Tomahawk Weapons System (PMA-280) program manager, in an interview. “It demonstrates the viability of long-range communications for position updates of moving targets. This success further demonstrates the existing capability of Tomahawk as a netted weapon, and in doing so, extends its reach beyond fixed and re-locatable points to moving targets.”

A Tomahawk cruise missile hits a moving maritime target Jan. 27 after being launched from the USS Kidd (DDG-100) near San Nicolas Island in California. US Navy Photo.
A Tomahawk cruise missile hits a moving maritime target Jan. 27 after being launched from the USS Kidd (DDG-100) near San Nicolas Island in California. US Navy Photo.

By creating a guidance system that can be attached to the Tomahawk missile that allows course changes and external guidance, the worries about the situation around the target changing during the flight time of the missile have been mitigated. Targeting information can be updated during the flight, and a “local” observer can ensure that the missile retains its target no matter how the situation changes.

During the late-80s the Navy experimented with using the Tomahawk in an anti-ship role with the Tomahawk Anti-Ship Missile (TASM), but the slow speed of the subsonic cruise missile meant that the target information could have changed dramatically during the flight.

“[TASM] 200-nautical-mile-plus range was so long that the navy of those days lacked sufficient surveillance assets to guide the TASM to its target,” wrote James Holmes for The Diplomat. “Since the bird was subsonic, furthermore, its flight time was so long that the target might move out of the way, foiling the engagement attempt. The navy leadership eventually deemed the danger of hitting friendly or neutral vessels unacceptable.”

With those problems solved, the Navy has a replacement for its aging Harpoon missile, which hasn’t even been deployed on newer destroyers and it actually gives the upgraded LCS a potential over-the-horizon anti-ship weapon which would improve that ship’s survivability.

Without having to redesign the launchers and guidance systems on the ships, planes and submarines that Tomahawk is currently deployed on, the Block IV upgrade will, once testing is complete, make our platforms much  deadlier without a lengthy and costly overhaul period.

A win-win for the Navy currently running into budget shortfalls and technology problems with ships, subs and aircraft.

Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.

Matt Towns
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Matt Towns

Matt is a former military journalist who spent 10 years in the US Navy. He served in various posts during his career, including a couple of deployments on the USS Valley Forge (CG-50). After leaving the Navy, he worked in management for a number of years before opening his own businesses. He ran those businesses until 2012 when he chose to leave the retail industry and return to writing. Matt currently works as a freelance writer, contributing to the US Patriot blog and other websites about political affairs, military activities and sailing.
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1 thought on “Tomahawk Block IV Cruise Missiles: Extending the Range; Extending the Longevity

  1. Nice that we can expect Tomahawk to avoid hitting our own shipping. Not so nice that it is bog slow and therefore easy pickings for most nations’ current defensive weaponry. All that US carriers may take comfort in is the Russian economy’s chronic inability to fund Granit and subsequent supersonic autonomous attack weaponry. And with our rich adversaries China, neutral clients like India, not to mention the treasonous Kerry ransom to Iran, their needed capital is probably in the pipeline.

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