Home » Aviation » Essay: Changing the Anti-Ship Cruise Missile Paradigm

Essay: Changing the Anti-Ship Cruise Missile Paradigm

A Harpoon missile is launched from the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Shiloh (CG-67) during a live-fire exercise on Sept. 15, 2014. US Navy Photo

A Harpoon missile is launched from the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Shiloh (CG-67) during a live-fire exercise on Sept. 15, 2014. US Navy Photo

During the Third Taiwan Strait Crisis (1995–96), United States naval dominance was demonstrated through the deployment of two carrier battle groups as a show of force within 100 miles of the Chinese mainland. Then-Secretary of Defense William Perry could state that while the Chinese “are a great military power, the premier—the strongest—military power in the Western Pacific is the United States.”

Since then, there has been a steady encroachment on the U.S. Navy’s maritime dominance through the development of technologically advanced and increasingly effective anti- ship cruise missiles (ASCM). While American forces have been focused on irregular warfare operations over the past decade, potential adversaries have forged ahead upgrading their naval offensive firepower.

Now a variety of longer-range and highly lethal missiles are fielded or in development for a number of navies, including those of China, India and Russia. China especially “views long range anti-ship cruise missiles as a key weapon . . . and is developing multiple advanced types”.

The proliferation of those weapons may be at a point where American naval forces could be significantly outgunned in a future surface engagement. The potential effect is considerable, conceivably preempting the ability of U.S. naval surface forces to fulfill a core mission of sea control or engage in other operations.

At a recent congressional hearing Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jon Greenert bluntly stated “[the] Navy remains challenged in this (anti-surface warfare) mission area due to both capability and capacity shortfalls.”

In response, and what can be viewed as a call to arms, the surface navy’s senior leadership has laid out a path to “reclaim dominance in the maritime domain with a shift to the offensive.” Focused on the restoration of the striking power of the U.S. surface fleet, the demand for action encompasses effective weapon capabilities, innovative employment concepts, and indeed, a new operational mindset to support that fundamental change. Responding to the urgency of the situation and with an eye toward the budget environment, the admirals propose to reach the objective in large part by optimizing the current force and that of the immediate future.

Thus the Navy needs to look no further than the current shipboard weapon load-out for a potentially effective and affordable anti-surface warfare (ASuW) option.

That weapon is the Raytheon Tomahawk Land Attack Missile (TLAM) Block IV missile, modernized and adapted for the maritime strike mission (henceforth referred to as Block IV MOD).

Expanding the Target Set

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

The Tomahawk Block IV missile is the latest variant in a steady progression of capability; incorporating mission planning, navigation and guidance, and command and control upgrades designed to improve weapon responsiveness and target flexibility. Launching from ranges out to 1,000 miles and armed with a 1,000-pound warhead, the Block IV is the Navy’s “kick down the door” weapon, attacking well defended high-value land targets.

Modernization of several key missile components is necessary in order to leverage Tomahawk’s inherent features, and effectively engage ships at sea. Extended range provides the shooter an operational sanctuary, but also requires over the horizon support through secure and effective communication links. The fact that combatants can move at up to 30 knots drives the need for onboard sensors to effectively “close the deal” against the intended target.

The complex operational environment that is the maritime battle space requires the ability to distinguish between warships and non-combatants, and effectively operate in the midst of sophisticated countermeasures. Thus the need for enhancements in system communication and data links, the addition of an advanced electronics system, and the incorporation of a terminal guidance seeker.

Block IV’s current capability as a “net enabled weapon” features a two-way satellite data link that allows the controller to switch targets during flight to pre-programmed alternate targets or redirect to a new objective. Data link modernization could be achieved through drop in replacement of the current communication links, or using other compatible locations on the missile (the size of the weapon provides ample real estate). High TRL (a level of DOD recognized level of technical maturity) spread spectrum waveforms are available to provide improved anti-jam and low probability of intercept performance.

Other communication modernization features offer the ability to support simultaneous over the horizon and local network communications for weapon control. Those improvements will also enable Block IV MOD to take advantage of significant intelligence surveillance reconnaissance and targeting (ISR&T) investment the Navy has made in platforms (i.e., the MQ-4B Triton and P-8A Poseidon), sensors and communication links.

By leveraging improvements in processing power and advanced sensor technologies, there are alternative and fairly mature terminal guidance seeker solutions available for incorporation in the weapon. Whether imaging infrared, or active millimeter wave radar, they all offer a degree of demonstrated capability against moving targets at sea. All-weather capability, automatic target recognition, simultaneously prosecution of multiple targets, and future growth potential are other features that could be incorporated into the terminal guidance capability, depending on cost and timeline requirements.

An advanced electronics system passively detecting an adversary’s electromagnetic radiations can be a critical enabler for hitting the intended objective. It can provide a correlating source of information for target identification. That may range from the initial detection of a hostile surface action group (SAG) to additional ship type information. In addition, the advanced electronics system may provide supporting target information via electromagnetic emissions in the midst of an adversary’s active countermeasures.

In January of this year, the Navy successfully demonstrated the capability of the Block IV missile striking a moving maritime target. Although achieved in the context of a controlled event, it highlighted the “current capabilities of Tomahawk as a netted weapon . . .” and provides a glimpse of what “could be” with Block IV MOD in the ASuW mission.

Timeline and Cost

However, weapon capability is only part of the equation, and in today’s budgetary environment affordability issues often overshadow it. Major defense acquisition programs across the department continue to experience cost and schedule challenges, exacerbated by a cumbersome and often unresponsive acquisition process. Finally, growing and unforeseen operational demands continue to strain the DOD budget.

Yet despite the budget uncertainty there can be an executable and affordable path to a fielded Block IV MOD capability. The upcoming Block IV recertification process offers a scheduled structure to complete the specific upgrades without unnecessarily removing the weapons from inventory. It is conceivable that 1,200 weapons could be delivered to the Fleet by 2023, with the initial increment being provided as early as 2020.

Block IV is already fully integrated across the current cruiser, destroyer, and fast attack submarine force. The weapon infrastructure is established and supports mission planning, command and control, and multiple levels of logistics, including storage and handling. That means there would be 136 compatible surface and submarine combatants upon Block IV MOD reaching initial operational capability.

Tomahawk cruise missile launched from a MK 41 VLS tube on the USS Farragut (DDG-99) US Navy Photo

Tomahawk cruise missile launched from a MK 41 VLS tube on the USS Farragut (DDG-99) US Navy Photo

Furthermore, the weapon could be carried in any of the 96/122 vertical launch cells on DDG/CG class combatants respectively, and in the 40 cells of the fast attack submarines. Specific weapon loads are scenario dependent, but it would not be atypical for Tomahawks to make up 30 percent of the weapon composition. Such a ratio yields a sizeable number of long range ASuW weapons for a three-ship surface action group, while allowing for other weapons to support further mission tasking (such as anti-air warfare or missile defense).

Upgrades to an established weapon system with a supporting framework will translate into lower development, integration and training costs. The communication improvements and sensor additions are based on technologies that are mature, and in several cases operationally demonstrated. Modernization of the communication and electronics components are partially funded, reducing the additional outlay required. Significant development costs for mission planning, weapons control and logistics, which must be addressed by other weapon options, can be avoided with Block IV MOD. The 2012 Tomahawk Rapid Deployment Capability initiative (a maritime moving-target capability designed to provide a fielded weapon within 42 months), estimated at $180 million in development expenditures, provides a further basis for cost estimation.

Procurement funding would be for modification to existing weapons rather than purchasing new missiles. The costs therefore should be considerably less than those of a new weapon. Assume that weapon modifications are roughly one quarter the cost of a new round. Using the Tomahawk fly away unit cost, $184 million (PB16 Tomahawk procurement funding) could deliver approximately 650 weapons. These rough estimates suggest a sizeable weapon inventory could be available to the Fleet in the 2020+ timeframe, and for conceivably less than $400 million in total expenditures.

The expense of the Block IV MOD could be further offset through foreign military sales to allies and treaty partners. The U.K. Royal Navy’s Trafalgar and Astute-class submarines are Tomahawk capable, and there is possible weapon applicability for its new Type 26 class global combat ship. Italy and Poland are two other potential customers, as they consider weapon load-outs for their Type U212A submarines. Europe’s suddenly volatile security environment, including the emergence of “snap” Russian naval exercises, bolsters the value of Block IV MOD foreign sales beyond that of cost and affordability.

Other options may be hard pressed to provide a comparable capability in the envisioned timeframe, and for the approximate costs. The Navy’s Offensive Anti-Surface Warfare (OASuW) weapon program is one example. OASuW is to provide “. . . an offensive weapon system that can be air, surface and subsurface launched in the maritime battle space environment.”
OASuW Increment I (more commonly known as the Long-Range Anti-Ship missile [LRASM]) is an air-launch design weapon with an expected initial operational capability in late 2019. LRASM is an adaptation of the Air Force Joint Air to Surface Standoff Missile Extended Range (JASSM –ER), envisioned to attack heavily defended targets at long range.

LRASM currently is slated to be carried on the F/A-18EF (whose integration requirements are relatively simple in comparison with those of shipboard integration). The program is leveraging an “accelerated acquisition approach with streamlined governance” in order to minimize development time and ensure fielding by 2019. (The defense acquisition community has undertaken various initiatives in order to minimize delays and meet schedule, even so many programs continue to struggle with timeline requirements). Development costs currently total $1.1 billion. Those figures approach $1.3 billion when one factors in the cost of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency demonstration. While LRASM does provide a joint (B-1B compatible) air-launch capability, the surface requirement remains to be satisfied.

Lockheed Martin artist's conception of the Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM). Lockheed Martin Photo

Lockheed Martin artist’s conception of the Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM). Lockheed Martin Photo

The Navy has yet to determine the schedule and cost for the OASuW Increment II effort although the Precision Strike Weapons Development Program provides for the initial developmental of a multi mission, multi-platform long range strike capability.[3] The effort as stated is “focused on assessing, maturing and incorporating emergent technologies to determine the best path for the follow-on improved land/maritime strike capability effort.”

If the Navy were to choose to adapt an air-launch design weapon for ship and submarine employment, the path will likely be neither simple nor inexpensive. DARPA has acknowledged the need to address long-lead development tasks, including modifications to the missile airframe, design of the booster separation system, and development of a new hybrid canister to accommodate the weapon. There are a range of other shipboard integration items to be addressed. These include weapons control, mission planning and AEGIS integration as well as multiple levels of testing (IM, development test, and operational test).

The cost and timeline required to incorporate the Tomahawk Block IV onboard the Ticonderogaclass and Arleigh Burke-class ships provides a potential example of what could be required for OASuW shipboard integration. Block IV, although a ship-launch design weapon, was significantly different from the Block III missile, and incurred substantial integration costs ($800M by some estimates) and two years of effort for each ship class. It is not unreasonable to expect expenditures to be even greater if the Navy chooses to adapt an air-launch weapon for shipboard use. Despite leveraging significant past investment, the service could still face the prospect of a billion dollar plus development program into the next decade.

Funding is also required to deliver a sufficient supply of weapons. The Combatant Commanders will want an inventory adequate for a number of deployed combatants from both the surface and submarine force. Presently the U.S. Navy maintains roughly one-third of the Fleet deployed, including some 50 ships in the Pacific area of operations. Current LRASM weapon procurement funding will deliver 138 rounds (88 of which are for the Navy) for $265 million. While that does not necessarily equate to the procurement costs of the Increment II missile, it provides an indication of the potential expenditure required for even a modest inventory of weapons.

The Effects of Long Range Lethality

The Navy should not pursue Block IV MOD just because of cost or timeline. The Navy should develop this weapon option because the potential implications of a 1,000-mile anti-ship cruise missile employed across the Fleet are broad and far reaching.

Tomahawk BLK IV cruise missile. US Navy Photo

Tomahawk Block IV cruise missile. US Navy Photo

Block IV MOD potentially changes the ASCM paradigm at multiple levels. Such a weapon provides the Combatant Commander with a credible, forward-deployed and ready force, without necessarily requiring the presence of a carrier strike group. A surface action group loaded with a complement of these weapons can serve as an effective deterrent, responsive to the multiple maritime flashpoints that characterize the foreseeable security environment. And if a crisis should escalate into a “come as you are fight,” a Block IV MOD equipped force provides a directly available and effectively lethal option. Viewed from the other perspective, the weapon should force a change in the calculus of the opposing force, no longer able to maneuver from the previous level of sanctuary.

Block IV MOD delivers the capability currently missing from the Navy’s ASuW portfolio, a long-range ship-launch weapon balancing the flexibility of naval air power and the access of the submarine force. The surface fleet will once again be able to operate independently against other naval forces when armed with an effective and survivable missile. As in land attack operations, the weapon brings a lethal “kick down the door” capability operating in conjunction with the strike and electronic attack elements of the carrier air wing. There are potential employment concepts to consider with the P-8A Poseidon, whose targeting sensors and weapons carriage are well complemented by the striking power of the Block IV MOD missile. And the weapon is uniquely posed to leverage the fast attack submarine fleet, already forward-deployed in an “anti-access/area denial“ environment, now able to launch from sanctuary against any hostile surface action group.

Finally, Block IV MOD retains its inherent long-range land-strike qualities and provides the joint force commander with a truly multi-mission weapon, simultaneously holding numerous and diverse targets at risk over a broad geographical expanse.


The Fleet initially requested a surface-launch maritime strike weapon to address the emerging anti-ship cruise missile threat nearly 10 years ago. In today’s volatile security environment, the requirement has only increased. Nonetheless, the service could still be a decade away from meeting the challenge. That need not be the case. The January 2015 demonstration provides a glimpse of what Tomahawk could provide in the maritime strike role. As Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work said, “. . . this is a potential game-changing capability for not a lot of cost.”

It is time for the Navy to act on that potential.

  • @NotRizzo

    A DDG or SSN would only have to be half way between Guam & Taipei to target the entire Taiwan Straight, or the same platform could target the entire South China Sea from Manila Harbor. Survivability is obviously always a concern, but A2/AD works both ways…even if being held at arms length by PLAN/PLAAF assets the USN retains the ability to sweep the seas clear within the first island chain.

  • NavySubNuke

    Given the slow speed and poor survivability of TLAMs I just don’t seem them as the answer in this debate. LRASM seems much more promising even though it will cost more. We still have another 10 – 12 years to get this right before China is ready to really move actively – hopefully we don’t waste this time upgrading inadequate existing systems with a few new lines of code and a few new stickers.

    • StealthFlyer

      LRASM will be more survivable, but still subsonic, like TLAMs. While LRASM will be a good first strike weapon, I expect the high cost will limit the number of LRASMs deployed. The low cost of modifying a large number of Block IV Tomahawks with an anti-ship capability rapidly gets long-range anti-ship reach across the fleet, adds numbers for a second wave of missiles against capital ships and for hitting ships without extensive air defenses, and adds a 2nd long-range capability after LRASM later (insurance in case of problems, delays, cyber attacks, etc and gives the enemy something else to worry about).

      • @NotRizzo

        Speed does not equal survivability. The key factor working against the PLAN is a lack of AEW or air cover in general, with just ship mounted radar what’s the detection range of a missile flying at ~15ft? Divide that by ~500 knots and you have a reaction time of seconds to detect, target and engage, and that’s only IF you’re radiating constantly, which of course is an open invitation for any and all ASCM/Torpedoes/etc anyone wants to throw your way. Making life even hard for the PLAN is that a salvo of Block IV MOD Tomahawks can fly a divergent flight pattern and attack en mass from all points, making tracking and engagement even harder.
        As long as the PLAN is forced to rely on PLAAF air cover they are at a huge ISR disadvantage that is leverage by the Block IV MOD, and do it in a procurement window that’s viable.

        • Foton

          The actual height above water of a sea skimming missile varies quite a bit. But you’d likely be looking at 17KM to 30 KM depending on the sea height of the observing radar and the missile altitude. If the target was picked up right away you’d have a minute or two.

          • @NotRizzo

            I think you mean 17 miles not KM, but at 17miles you’d have almost exactly 2 minutes, or 40 seconds at ~mach 3. This many seem like a huge difference, but it’s not a great one. Either is likely deadly for any combattant, which is why AEW is so integral to fleet survival.

          • Foton

            I did mean kilometers. The reason that I wrote such a short distance was due to the parameters I used. If I recall correctly I used an altitude of 5 meters for the missile and something like 7 meters for the radar height. This was for the 17 KM solution. AEW is certainly important.

          • @NotRizzo

            The search radar on a DDG (US or PLAN or JSDF, etc) are at least 50m above the deck, so perhaps 75m (it’s hard to find solid info on the superstructure height, deck height or total keel to mast distance.)

          • Foton

            I found some numbers for the early Arleigh Burke’s. The radar height is close to 23 meters. That would make a target visible at 25KM away at a 5M altitude. If a target was close to 13M in altitude, you’d be able to see it around 30KM away. An aircraft carrier is a whole other story.

          • Secundius

            @ Foton.

            In the case of the S-300, the Final Terminal Altitude is ~15.24-meters…

  • james

    First I’m a major fan of having TLAM fit this need. The one thing I wish the SWO community would do is address is how the ship/DESRONs will manage this “beyond the horizon” ability. As it stands right now there is a giant gap in who will do what and when. This ability is beyond the training of harpoon.

    • sferrin

      Very poor choice. It’s a 40 year old weapon and it shows.

    • StealthFlyer

      The Harpoon is limited now because the US Navy skipped upgrades for the last 30 years (while other navies are at least using Block II versions of the missile and newer launch systems). Upgrading the somewhat stealthy SLAM-ER version with longer range and updated seeker/electronics in the last decade would have provided a much more versatile missile for 22 CGs, 27 DDGs, and most SSNs that can carry Harpoon now.

      I agree Navy surface ships will have issues making use of the full range. Unless an enemy ship can be targeted by satellite, there will likely need to be some ISR asset within line-of-sight. If an SSN is the spotter, it can fire its own weapons. As far as I can find, no MH-60 has an unrefueled combat radius above 700 miles, so targeting an enemy ship 1000 miles away will be difficult. Plus, there have been many comments about how survivable Tomahawks are; a ship’s MH-60 will show up like a Christmas tree on an enemy’s radar compared to a Tomahawk. Even the larger MQ-8C Fire Scout can’t go 1000 miles. You’d need a vertically launched Predator-type UAV. Or a P-8, MQ-4B, F/A-18, E-2 etc from a land base or CVN would have to stay outside AAW missile range of enemy ships, which is getting longer and longer, as they are fairly easy to detect, too.

      • @NotRizzo

        PLAN lack indigenous air cover (or Airborne Early Warning) forcing them to either stay close to shore or sail blind. A E-3/2 or BAMs or P-8 can safely sit outside Chinese AAW range and provide weapons track to whoever needs it. In order to have any chance of intercepting an incoming ASCM they PLAN surface ships would have to run their radars 24/7 making them even easier to track and target – and from ranges far outside their radar detection range too.

  • Curtis Conway

    Make the adversary expend valuable costly ordinance taking out our less expensive, yet very effective, alternatives.

    ” …..Then-Secretary of Defense William Perry could state that while the Chinese “are a great military power, the premier—the strongest—military power in the Western Pacific is the United States.”

    This statement (although stating reality at the time) was ill conceived, and planted the seed for the course of action in the Chinese mindset we now live with today.

    Three technologies can deal with this ‘missile’ problem. Two are kinetic, and one is . . . Directed Energy (in whatever form), but that is well in the future. Guided artillery projectiles are less expensive than missiles, and guided rockets are providing lower cost yet effective solutions in many areas, on a variety of targets.

    The US Navy should develop and field surface combatant platforms that are more concerned with how much fuel they have, than how many bullets, rockets and missiles they can expend. Directed energy is the ultimate answer, and the platforms have to be ready to support that capability.

    “……Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jon Greenert bluntly stated “[the] Navy remains challenged in this (anti-surface warfare) mission area due to both capability and capacity shortfalls.”

    So what has the US Navy done? First emasculated, then parked the most cost effective surface combatant platform the FFG-7s. What are we to do now?

    The 5” naval artillery format provides a lot that can be made better. The Small Diameter Bomb (SDB) Program has shown significant range capability on an un-powered weapon dropped from the air. This same technology (pop out wings) can be incorporated in the 5” naval artillery round to extend range in and of itself, and add a rocket boost to get it further out on the threat vector towards its target. Multiple seekers can be incorporated into the round, including IR, RF and other areas of the EM spectrum. One version could go after targets as soon as it leaves the barrel on its way up.

    Guided rockets need new motors that burn longer that increase speed and range. I would think some of this technology, incorporated on the 5” ZUNI Rocket, would be readily apparent. Now let’s see . . . 5” artillery and . . . 5” ZUNI, do we see a common denominator here, for common development? The Spec will be for the most demanding environment, and the less so, should be relatively easy. Both projects are under the same hat for program management.

    These two items will bring the cost of ASuW within the 100 mile arc down considerably. The article seems to push the solution industry is already selling, Net-enable Tomahawk Land Attack Cruise Missile going after surface targets. I would propose making this platform a truck to haul SDBs, or powerless versions of the modified Zuni, or guided artillery rounds, to the target for pop-up delivery. The Net-enabled function will come in handy.

    This solution provides upgraded weapons for all primary delivery methods that already exist, and expand the capability of others that are to be improved, or yet to exist. Target discrimination is in the filters in the seeker technology, most of which already exist.

    Don’t get me wrong, the Tactical Tomahawk is things we were talking about 40 years ago. I’m surprised it is not already here. How much does that shot cost compared to the powered and guided artillery, or longer range more capable seeker rocket, in the end analysis? This development brings three new things to the table (guided long range artillery, more capable longer range smart rockets, and a truck to deliver them as an alternative delivery method). The TACTOM brings one expensive solution.

    We like LRASM, JASSM-ER, and the Norwegian manufactured Naval StrikeMissile (NSM), and other OASuW weapons. However, all near term items should be ‘bolt on’ (like NSM), or coming out of an existing facility already on the ship with software changes (TACTOM). However, the medium-long term solution, in this more ‘cost conscious’ environment, should be COST EFFECTIVE across the greatest variety of surface combatants.

  • sferrin

    Again? I guess it’s toe the party line or get your posts deleted eh? Not very mature IMO. Let me just reiterate: Tomahawk is a horrible choice for many obvious reasons; the least of which it’s not survivable. It has niether speed nor stealth on its side. Even Saddam was shooting them down in Desert Storm. LRASM is being developed for both air and surface launch (unlike what the article would have one believe).

    • Pat Patterson

      He didn’t shoot down very many. Slow speed is the killer. if it only goes say 600 mph with a range of 1200 miles it would still take 2 hours to reach a target.

      • @NotRizzo

        This was why the USN killed the Anti-Ship version of the Tomahawk back in the 90s, they couldn’t reliably provide mid-course guidance over such an extended time/distance. Obviously that’s not a problem now, so being able to target a PLAN destroyer in the Taiwan Straights while sitting in Yokosuka harbor or the entirety of the South China Sea from Manilla bay has real appeal…

    • @NotRizzo

      Do we have confirmed reports of tomahawks being downed in ’91? I’m dubious.

  • Marjus Plaku

    Man, targeting, targeting, targeting! In wartime USN ships will be INCREDIBLY difficult for China to find, fix and track, especially out past the first island chain. However, coast bound Chinese aircraft, ships and boats will be much easier to find, fix and target. Who cares if your missile goes 3000000 miles an hour and has a 3000000 lb warhead when it cant be fired at anything because no senor or platform either exists (has been destroyed) or is ineffective (can’t find anything). And sending out droves of radiating airplanes and ships into the unknown and highly defend first island chain is suicidal. We have more missiles than China has platforms so that is not a worry. Ballistic missiles are not a game changer. We have them too and they run out. The amount of tonnage that China can deliver on all of their ballistic missiles the USAF alone can drop in one hour in a massive and sustained air campaign.

  • Hugh

    Missiles need to be highly supersonic in the attack phase to reduce reaction time, and satellite target identification and in-course guidance needs to be survivable.

    • @NotRizzo

      The reaction time you gain from the increased speed is lost by making the missile more easily detectable. A small, subsonic sea skimmer will in most scenarios be harder to detect against waves/clutter than a larger, supersonic one that lights up all kinds of detection equipment.
      Either way, for the PLAN without AEW or aircover they detection range & reaction time is going to be so short even a small salvo will have a large number of leakers, never mind that the USN/USAF could likely put more missiles on target than the PLAN has interceptors….

  • vincedc

    This is like Boeing trying to find a market for it’s F/A-18s. A great airframe in its day, but it is time to move on. The Tomahawk did it’s job, and we can still milk a few incremental improvements to the basic design, but basically, it is time to upgrade our technology.

    • @NotRizzo

      They certainly are looking to capture a share of future USN ASCM purchases, but (so far) this is not a move to end the LRASM program, but to provide a cheaper, longer range and more easily adapted asset to bridge the SuWA gap in the short term, and provide a slighly different capability (ie range) that what the LRASM will provide (unclassified reports have LRASM range at about half of the Tomahawk).

  • James Bowen

    We are now seeing the long term consequences of short term thinking. We have been so arrogant about our supposed superiority at sea compared to any other nation, and now our neglect of the fleet is coming home to roost. We need to do a lot better than the Tomahawk for an anti-ship missile. We need something with both speed and punch. The Tomahawk doesn’t have the former and is only mediocre with regard to the latter.

    • @NotRizzo

      How much punch do you want? A 1,000lb warhead is going to ruin anyone’s day. (by way of comparison a MK-48 warhead is only 650lbs, though you’ll do more damage exploding under the keel, obviously).

      • James Bowen

        The punch is better for a Tomahawk than a Harpoon, yes, but I am thinking more along the lines of something like the SS(N)-19 Shipwreck.

        • @NotRizzo

          Warhead on a SS-N-19 is (reportedly) 1,653 lb, but the missile itself is 33ft long and about 15,000lbs. Compare that with a Tomahawk of 18ft and 3,000lbs. The Shipwrech has about twice the speed, but also range of only 600 km (vs 1,700 km for a Tomahawk) so you’re getting half again the punch inexchange for 5 times the weight (and the speed of course) and 1/3 the range. Not a good exhange IMO (the mission kill of 1.6k vs 1k HE is marginal)

          • James Bowen

            A missile with a 1600+ pound warhead traveling at Mach 2+ is going to do a lot more damage than a slow missile with a 1000 pound warhead.

          • @NotRizzo

            Not really. The difference in blast force from the velocity of the missile body is miniscule compared to the force of the HE warhead, and though 1.6k is bigger than 1.0k we’re still talking about a mission kill.

          • @NotRizzo

            Any you really miss that the tradeoffs for the larger warhead and speed equals significantly reduced range and a loss of available platforms to fire it. The Block IV MOD Tomahawk is far from a perfect solution, but it fits the role needed for the USN very well, especially when augmented by other ASCM options that will come on line later (LRASM & NSM), though in truth the real power of the USN to eliminate enemy surface ships is with SSN torpedoes and F/A-18 launched Harpoons/NSMs.

          • James Bowen

            It might be a good stopgap weapon, yes, but in the long run it likely won’t be able to compete in range with ASBM’s and aircraft. Also, its slow speed renders in vulnerable to SAM’s.

          • @NotRizzo

            Let’s not get too far ahead on ASBMs since even the Chinese have no idea how effective it will be, since they’ve never actually tested it at sea or vs moving targets. The kill chain issue of a 1,500km (less than the 1k mile range of a Tomahawk BTW!) weapon system with PLAN ISR capabilities makes using this highly problematic, and that doens’t even get into the issue of operating a maneuvering warhead and terminal guidance, which either mean firing “blind” of mid-course (if you still have a target solution) or slowing down significantly to operate a seeker and maneuver (making it vulnerable to intercept).
            Point is the AS Tomahawk allows USN commanders to target PLAN ships from beyond or the very edge of PLA detection and engagement range.

          • James Bowen

            I agree that it is not known how effective the ASBM will be. However, we do know that in the long run tactical cruise missiles like anti-ship missiles cannot compete in range with ballistic missiles and aircraft. The Tomahawk might have a long range compared to other tactical missiles, but its slow speed leaves it very vulnerable to shipboard air defense systems. Surface clashes are almost by definition short range encounters, and other weapon performance characteristics should not be sacrificed for range.

          • @NotRizzo

            Disagree completely. As you can read above the Tomahawk has a greater range than the DF-21D and a ballistic trajectory has huge dissadvantages I also listed.
            As for the survivability of the Tomahawk, I’m highly dubious of the PLAN ability to intercept low flying ASCMs (regardless of their speed) without airborne early warning. If your reaction time is dictated by the range of your onboard radars your response time is going to be frighteningly short anyway. Another issue is that to have any chance to defend yourself you’d have to have your search radars on 24/7, which makes tracking a synch and invites all other kinds of trouble your way.
            IMO speed is highly overrated in survivability as it makes detection easier for the defender, in many scenarios you’d have less reaction time trying to detect a slower moving sea skimmer getting lost in wave clutter.

          • James Bowen

            As I recall, the Chinese have Aegis-like combat systems, including phased array radars, on some of their more modern ships. That tells me that their air defense systems are as good as anyone else’s. I would be interested to see the results of tests to this effect (I am not aware of any), but my guess is that a Tomahawk is probably a sitting duck against such a system. It is far harder to defend against a supersonic cruise missile than it is a subsonic one. In any event, we are not going to defeat an anti-access/area denial strategy simply by having a single missile that at the moment happens to have a longer range than some of the systems upon which anti-access/area denial depends. Surface clashes, even with missiles (i.e. Port Said, Praying Mantis) have always been relatively short range affairs.

          • @NotRizzo

            I wouldn’t put too much credence into the ability of a PLAN system based on it’s appearance. Having a AESA doesn’t make a combat system any more than having a rocket motor makes a ASCM.
            As I stated before a slower moving ASCM often has the advantage over supersonic one in remaining undetected, they key is reaction time. With a ~100ft superstucture and a 15ft flight profile you have an approximate 120s reaction time from radar horizon to impact for a Tomahawk vs 40s for something like a Sizzer (mach 3 terminal boost speed), but every second between crossing the radar horizon and detection is a huge slide of the advantage scale toward to the slower weapon.
            Finally, I’m not advocating the Block IV MOD as an end-all/be-all AS weapon, but it does give USN command a significant engagement advantage over potential PLAN/Russian opponents, as you are forced (or fooled) into a closer engagement then having a more robust ASCM system in your arsenal is certainly desirable, thus the need to develop the LRASM, NRM and Harpoon-ER.
            Still, the heart of USN anti-ship strategy remains using large numbers of carrier aircraft carrying multiple ASCMs each to overwhelm a defender. One CAW alpha strike can put more Harpoons (or HARM) on target than the escorts have interceptors (plus the advantage of bringing along your own EW platforms).

          • James Bowen

            It is prudent to assume that they do have effective combat systems and that if whatever bugs they have in them will be ironed out. History has not been kind to those who assume qualitative advantages.

            Also, I would not counting on having the carriers around to launch those airstrikes. They are solely dependent on the F-18, which is a jack of all trades master of none aircraft, again the missiles they currently carry are pathetically weak compared to the missiles our potential adversaries have, and most decisively the carriers themselves are sitting ducks to submarine attack.

          • @NotRizzo

            I’m amazed at how often measurements get mixed up in covering military equipment. The range of a DF-21D is (reportedly) 1,500 KM, which is ~930 miles or 819 nautical miles. The range of a Block IV tomahaw is (reportedly) 900 nm, 1,000 miles or 1,700km – so the Tomahawk DOES outdistance a ASBM!
            FYI the talk of the ASBM as a A2/AD game changer is overdone too, a F-35C has a (reportedly) internal fuel, unrefueled combat radius of 1,130km so with drop tanks and one airborne refueling you have a combat radius at least 1,400km and a 2nd tanking (gassing up twice within ~1,000km of your target – which is touchy, true) gives you a max combat radius of around 3,000km (or 1800 miles), and that doesn’t even count the range of the standoff weapons the plane would be carrying, since dropping bombs is a bad way to do business in any contested airspace (this also doesn’t include much loiter time, but my point still stands).

          • James Bowen

            The best way to ensure a mission kill is with an actual kill. We need weapons that will sink ships, not merely damage them, and a missile with much greater speed is more likely to penetrate a hull more deeply, thereby increasing the damage that the exploding warhead will cause. The U.S. Navy, with the exception of the Mark 48 and Mark 48 ADCAP torpedoes, has for far too long neglected firepower.

          • @NotRizzo

            1k, 1.6k, .8mach 1.6m, either way almost any combatant short of a CV/CVN is out of the fight and likely under the waves, so IMO the cost paid in size and range to achieve that isn’t worth it.

          • James Bowen

            The combination of power and speed is more important than range, and I don’t see why size is a concern (it would mean having to resdesign our launchers, which is not a great technical challenge). Just as the Army re-discovered the value of armor plating in recent wars, fleets involved in hypothetical future wars at sea are likely to as well, meaning we need warheads significantly larger than 1000 pounds for missiles.

          • @NotRizzo

            Let’s agree to disagree, but size & weight IS a huge issue aboard ship, and makes airborne lauch from anything smaller than a B-1 or -52 impossible. LRASM is going to be air capable, though the Tomahawk is (for now) not. Size differential isn’t huge so maybe that’s somethign the USN/USAF will look toward sometime later (integration will be an issue, obviously). Mostly I have to strongly disagree that range isn’t an issue, the whole point is to allow interdiction at ranges outside the Chinese (or Russian for that matter) A2/AD engagement envelope. If you have to get within 388 mi (reported max range of the SS-N-19 Shipwreck) you’ve already lost.

          • James Bowen

            I didn’t say range isn’t an issue, I said that power and speed are more important. The Russians have no problem deploying big missiles on their ships, and if they can do it so can we. Also, anti-ship missiles, in general, are not going to outrange ballistic missiles. That is a race that tactical cruise missiles are going to lose.

          • @NotRizzo

            Following the russian’s lead on naval design is not a recipe for success – and even they are moving to smaller ASCMs w/ much smaller warheads.
            Also, A2/AD doesn’t just mean ballistic missiles, it’s SSKs, ground based bombers & fighter as well a surface ship (and eventually enemy CVs), being able to reach any surface assets from the edge (or completely outside) of these platforms ISR assets or weapons range is a huge advantage to the USN.

          • James Bowen

            In many respects Russian designs of surface ships have been superior to ours. That has certainly been the case with offensive weaponry (our defensive weaponry might be superior). Range of anti-ship missiles is not an issue when considering subs and aircraft, which are threats the fleet would likely encounter before meeting surface ships (especially aircraft). Therefore, range is not as important as speed and power when it comes to anti-ship missiles.

          • @NotRizzo


          • James Bowen

            How so? If we are already outranged by aircraft, sacrificing power for range in anti-surface weaponry costs us more than it buys.

          • @NotRizzo

            Surface launched ASCMs need range more than speed/warhead because they don’t have the benefit of an aircraft’s range. If you have to get within 300m of your enemy you’re already at a huge disadvantage. On the other hand if you can target enemy ships at sea without forcing yourself into range of enemy shore based aircraft you have a huge advantage.
            But whatever, we’ve exhausted this conversation. Moving on….

          • James Bowen

            Tactical cruise missiles are not going to outrange aircraft or ballistic missiles. That is a race which aircraft or ballistic missiles will win. Surface combat is almost by definition a close-range phenomenon, and there is not much of a point then to sacrificing power and speed for range.

          • @NotRizzo

            The whole point of the Anti-Ship version of the tomahawk is that it does have the ability to outrange most aircraft or ballistic missiles (or at least come close), a 1k mile range means your ouside the unrefueled combat radius of any seaborne aircraft and most landbased if you’re firing at ships at sea, not in harbor. It’s far from a perfect weapon, but it’s a very nice option to have.

      • James B.

        We also need seekers that are smart enough to attack critical parts of the ship. A 100lb explosion on the bridge of most ships will be as destructive to the ship as a combat asset as 500lbs hitting the side of the hull. The 650lbs of a Mk 48 is so terrifying because any underwater damage threatens the buoyancy of a ship, but cruise missiles have managed to hit many ships in non-critical places, wasting most of their effect.

  • A clumsy ad for Raytheon does not measure up to USNI’s standards. Its reception in the comments section is justified, and tells you all you need to know.

    A serious look that included weapon timelines, mission requirements, and platforms would probably conclude that there’s a place for the new Tomahawks. But it’s also forced to conclude that there won’t be a single offensive solution, and that changes to the defensive side are part of the response.

  • Jose Soto

    The deterrence capability of the ASCM weapons system has “real appeal”

  • Earl Tower

    I think a return of the long range antiship Tomahawk will add some interesting capacities back to the surface fleet, but is nothing more than a bandaid for the overall problem.

  • Phillip Moore

    If you want a leap capability, we should be working on ASBMs launched from ships — i.e. rapid response. If you want something that can work effectively in small numbers and has lower risk albeit longer timeline to time on top — buy LRASM. If we want a force multiplier, that will require large numbers to be effective in the limited circumstances when we need them, modify TLAM. Question is, how much of the investment in TLAM would be just a bandaid and how long would a modified TLAM remain effective at maritime strike? How long will the established TLAM link remain effective vs LRASM’s link?

    • @NotRizzo

      Interesting that few mention or discuss what seaker head (or heads) will eventually be added to the Block IV MOD Tomahawk, if the same type of IR/EM seekers that are being developed for the LRASM can be fitted to these then it adds a whole different dimention to the strike capability, once the inbound lights up an active seeker to find, identify and target it’s immediately detected, a passive seeker means only the defenders shipboard radar (lack of legit AEW capability is a huge dissadvantage for Russian or PLAN surface ships) can be relied upon to detect the sea skimmer (meaning a very small detection and engagment envelope). Getting to that position means having solid ISR and datalink security (which is not a given, obviously), but it does dramatically increase the survivability of the ASCM.

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  • James B.

    There is lots of hemming and hawing over missile ranges, speeds, stealth, etc., but not much talk of seeker precision. Many of the warships that have survived missile hits did so because the missiles hit them in non-vital areas; increasing the likelihood that our missiles will hit critical areas would be more valuable than increasing warhead sizes.

    Based on technology already available, we could field a multi-mode seeker (designed as part of a modular family) with active and passive radar, and an imaging IR seeker, and the seeker would have pre-loaded threat ship profiles, so it could identify a target’s sensors, weapons, bridge/CIC, or other priority targets. These seekers would be very hard to decoy, and one hit would be a mission kill, though unlikely to sink the target.

    Such highly precise seekers could also be programmed to ignore certain ships, preventing the waste of missiles into an already-crippled target. Absent massive flooding or magazine explosions, ships can take a long time to sink. Once the high-end missiles had hobbled their targets, then “economy” missiles, of the same modular family, but with cheap seekers and larger warheads, could be sent in to cause more permanent damage.

    • Foton

      You’re right about a missile being able to discriminate what area to strike on a ship is important. This technology is currently available.

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