Home » News & Analysis » WEST: U.S. Navy Anti-Ship Tomahawk Set for Surface Ships, Subs Starting in 2021

WEST: U.S. Navy Anti-Ship Tomahawk Set for Surface Ships, Subs Starting in 2021

USS Philippine Sea (CG-58) launches a Tomahawk cruise missile as seen from the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN-77) on Sept. 23, 2014. US Navy Photo

USS Philippine Sea (CG-58) launches a Tomahawk cruise missile as seen from the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN-77) on Sept. 23, 2014. US Navy Photo

SAN DIEGO – Any U.S. Navy ship or submarine capable of firing a Tomahawk Land Attack Missile (TLAM) could be armed with an 1000-nautical mile anti-ship cruise missile in less than a decade, service officials told USNI News on Wednesday during the West 2016 conference.

Included in the Fiscal Year 2017 budget request to Congress is a $434 million ask over the next five years to modify 245 Raytheon TLAMS with a maritime attack capability, Vice Adm. Joseph Mulloy, deputy chief of naval operations for integration of capabilities and resources, told USNI News in a Wednesday interview.

“It won’t be all the Tomahawks but a good number of them coming off the line will have it,” he said.
“It’s going for surface first and the submarines will encapsulate it.”

The budget moves follows a Naval Air Systems command (NAVAIR) proved a Block IV TLAM – a long range land attack weapon — could be guided into a moving maritime target during a test in early 2015.

The Navy had briefly fielded an anti-ship Tomahawk in the 1990s but the lower fidelity of contemporary sensors made the missile risky to use at long ranges for fear of hitting an unintended target.

Following the test, Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work called the prospect of a modified anti-ship Tomahawk, “a game changing capability.”

According to the plan laid out in the Navy budget (and blessed by big Pentagon) the maritime attack modified Tomahawk will enter the surface force in 2021 for live testing and then trickle out to every platform that can fire the missile – currently the Ticonderoga guided missile cruisers, Arleigh Burke guided missile destroyers the Navy’s attack submarine fleet (SSNs) and the four Ohio-class guided missile nuclear guided missile submarines (SSGNs).

The modification will be part of the Navy’s recertification and life extension of older Tomahawks, which – with new FY 2017 funding for new TLAMS – will be ultimately an inventory of 4,000 missiles.

When the service was programming the FY 2017 budget – which dipped three-and-a-half percent below 2016 projections – it told the Office of the Secretary of Defense it would like to have the capability but didn’t have the funds. OSD agreed and added the line item to the service’s budget, Mulloy said.

The move not only fits into the surface Navy’s ongoing distributed lethality philosophy that seeks to improve the offensive power of the service’s surface assets as quickly as finances allow but also adds a new weapon for submarines to take on surface threats.

Both the surface navy and the submarine force have had limited missile space to take on a myriad of threats and the Navy – until recently – had invested little into new ship-launched anti-surface missile efforts . But with the increasing speed of development of both China and Russia’s anti-surface weapons in the last several years, the ability to pierce the so-called anti-access aerial denial (A2/AD) bubbles designed to keep U.S. forces at arms length has become an increasing concern to the service.

“[Along with] our surface brothers and sisters, we got to get the long-range missile so we’re not held out by that A2/AD bubble and we have the stick to hit inside,” said Vice Adm. Joseph Tofalo, commander, Naval Submarine Forces (COMSUBFOR), said on Wednesday.
“We need to diversify the kinds of targets our missiles can hit to include the introduction of an anti-ship version of the Tomahawk missile.”

The Navy’s submarines previously fielded a sub-launched version of Boeing’s Harpoon anti-ship missile (UGM-84A) but retired the line in 1997. The introduction of the anti-ship TLAM would be the first anti-surface weapon in the sub force since the Harpoons left the fleet.

News of the maritime TLAM follows Secretary of Defense Ash Carter’s announcement of the development of an anti-surface mode of the super sonic Raytheon Standard Missile 6 anti-air weapon (AAW). Combined with the Tomahawk investment, the pair will be the first new anti-surface system the service has fielded in decades.

“There’s a lot of things that we can do to make smart investments now to continue to change the calculus of our potential adversaries so as we execute the strategy they’ll wake up and say, ‘We didn’t see that one coming’,” said Vice Adm. Thomas Rowden, commander U.S. Surface Forces Pacific (SURFPAC) said on Wednesday.

  • Ctrot

    I guess it’s a decent stop gap measure, other than it taking a decade to implement, but we need a faster anti-ship missile. I can’t see a subsonic Tomahawk having a lot of success vs a modern warship with close in defense systems.

    • @USS_Fallujah

      It’s important to remember that the AAW threat and defensive capabilities of USN ships is not the same as our peer adversaries, for instance the PLAN has little or no AEW capability once off-shore. Therefore, the response time to a high-subsonic sea skimmer is 35-40 seconds, and that’s only if they are illuminating 24/7 (which eases tracking, opening the PLAN surface group open to a whole myriad of dangers, chief among them SSNs). This also means that any PLAN ships must operate in a surface group with robust AAW capability, or risk getting picked off individually with no opportunity to shoot back.
      The biggest advantage of all is this allows the USN to put at risk any PLAN ship at sea from almost complete safety, as even if the DF-21D is as capable as advertised (and feared) the USN surface ships (and never mind the SSNs) can still engage PLAN ships from outside the ASBM A2/AD umbrella (assuming you have the ISR assets in place to give you a target track, of course).

      • Rick Grable

        Would be a good first strike weapon!

    • Ken N

      While supersonic ASM’s decrease the targets response time, supersonic missiles are very hot and present a glowing target for tracking radars and interceptors…

      • Ctrot

        Heat only matters to infrared sensors, not radar. Infrared detection is line of sight, same as most radar, so a supersonic anti-ship missile flying mere feet above the waves will cover the LOS distance from the horizon to the ship in seconds.

        • Ken N

          True..but the point I was trying to get at was that there are trade offs going supersonic. The Navy feels a stealthy LRASM that can loiter and maneuver around threats is a deadlier missile then one that can go supersonic.

          • sferrin

            Because 1. they already have it, and 2. the US has had a notable lack of success in developing a supersonic air-breather since they all but abandoned them back in the late 70s. They don’t think a subsonic missile is better – it’s all they’ve got. They were going to follow up LRASM-A with LRASM-B (based on the late 70s ASALM) and went, “whoa, too hard”, and cancelled it.

        • @USS_Fallujah

          “supersonic anti-ship missile flying mere feet above the waves” this really doesn’t work, the faster you go the higher you need to fly in order to maintain controlled flight. A missile travelling at 600mph can safely fly from 15-25m, if you triple the speed you have to also increase the altitude or as the speed degrades the control surfaces effectiveness you run a significantly higher probability of catching water.

          • Roberts150

            It’s not just the speed, but the combination of speed plus 10+g terminal maneuvers that make the supersonic missiles difficult, but not impossible, to intercept.

          • @USS_Fallujah

            It’s important to remember that a 10g maneuver by an incoming ASCM isn’t nearly as helpful as it sounds, first of all from the targets perspective you aren’t changing location significantly because the missile is necessarily flying at the target. Second, a high g maneuver like that bleeds significant velocity, potentially making intercept easier. Finally, and this is the real kicker, since the incoming missile is “dumb” it can’t determine when best to perform the evasive maneuver. Also, how many of these 10g turns is your missile planning to make, remember that with a system like Aegis/NIFC-CA the ASCM is in the engagement envelope for up to 250m.

          • sferrin

            This is incorrect. Antiship missiles regularly fly MUCH lower.

          • @USS_Fallujah

            Some are advertises as such, but many like the Sizzler fly low and slow for the bulk of their flight platform then “sprint” to the target for 25-30m – and dont do so under 100 ft.

          • sferrin

            Apparently posts with links in them get deleted. There are numerous videos on you tube of antiship missiles flying under 100 feet. Just check Youtube for videos on Exocet, Harpoon, or Otomat. There’s a video out there of Kormorant being shot down by Sea Sparrow, also well under 100 feet. There’s a video of a supersonic Vandal antiship missile target flying Mach 2 at 15 feet. There’s video of Taiwan’s new supersonic antiship missile flying so low it actually disturbs the water on it’s way to the target. It goes on and on and on. So you are demonstrably incorrect.

          • @USS_Fallujah

            I never said a high subsonic ASCM couldn’t fly below 100ft, but your argument is that your claim about supersonic ASCMs must be true because someone posted a youtube video (that you can’t share)? I saw a video of a DF-21D sinking a US Aircraft Carrier on youtube. Doesn’t make it real.

    • James Bowen

      Absolutely. Couldn’t agree more strongly.

  • This was once the case…but it was scrapped.

  • Bill

    2021? Everything we do now takes soooo long. Hope we don’t have to fight before then.

  • peterjohn936

    It makes a lot of sense in that it is a good reliable platform that is mass produced and relatively inexpensive.

    • sferrin

      And makes little sense as it will be ineffective and impede the development of an actually effective antiship missile.

      • peterjohn936

        I am not a big fan of not buying what you need today because you are waiting for something new. I am also not a big fan of weapon systems that are so expensive that you can’t afford to buy enough to adequately arm your military.

  • SierraSierraQuebec

    Wow. I assumed decades ago that when conventional Tomahawks were first deployed that the terrain following radar had ship targeting modes and that anti-shipping was the primary albeit never needed role of the missiles. And now they want to take five years just to begin fielding???

    • JRW

      Can terrain-following radar have an anti-shipping mode? Would the orientation of the antenna matter? Also, as noted above, the original role was land attack, and anti-shipping was a subsequent variant.

  • Refguy

    Wasn’t Tomahawk originally an anti-ship missile? TLAM is an acronym for Tomahawk Land Attack Missile to distinguish it from the original anti-ship mission. Presumably, targeting will be better now.

    • sferrin

      No. Tomahawk was a surface to surface missile from the get go and originally lost out to the AGM-86 ALCM in the air launched role. After that the USN adopted it. MUCH after that they built an antiship missile variant and then withdrew them.

    • Ken N

      The original anti-ship tomahawk was withdrawn because when launched it could just as easily hit a friendly oil tanker rather than a warship. The sensor technology at the time just wasn’t up to par.

      • Refguy

        That confirms what I remember. For a while, the Navy was considering a data link that would allow an aircraft to provide target updates to TASM; that program didn’t go anywhere. There were technical problems, the Soviet Union broke up and the remaining surface threats weren’t serious enough to justify a long-range anti-ship missile.

  • jeffrey exposito

    Fielding the anti ship Tomahawk by 2021 is way too long. This weapon is needed much sooner to fill the void of the lack of a long range anti ship missile in the US arsenal. With the way things are going in the SCS the US could easily find itself in a shooting war with China before then.

    • MA

      I posted before I read your comment, sorry. I agree with you 110%

    • Gltan


  • MA

    An existing missile and still four years? Can’t they put this on a war footing priority? China or Russia could escalate a situation and the fighting over with before then

  • Marjus

    I could be wrong but I think they are getting a few hundred next year, the way the article states it, and by 2021 will have converted almost the entire stock of 4K missiles and fitted them unto every platform capable of firing them.

    Also the subsonic thing, doesn’t really matter. If I launch 8 missiles at a single ship coordinating a simultaneous terminal multi axis attack, a good portion of them will get through. And at 1,000LB a warhead, it only takes one to cripple a ship.

  • FWGuy

    With the LRASM ready for production why wouldn’t the Navy buy a stealthy cruise missile, the main draw-back to TLAM is that it is very non-stealthy and should be easily picked up by ship radar systems. If you are going to use a slow sub-sonic missile then its needs to have anti-radar capabilities. China & Russia all have point-defense systems for their ships.
    USAF is purchasing 90 LRASM under the DARPA development program for the missile. I don’t understand why the this missile is not being considered by the Navy too? LM has already shown it can be launched from a VLS using a ASROC booster motor. I understand wanting to make use of existing assets, but a better anti-ship missile is needed.
    Also, a better missile with a terminal phase that is supersonic to hypersonic is needed to just keep up with what’s already been fielded by: Russia, China, India. The USA is falling far behind in missile development and has been relying to much on past laurels.

    • Ken N

      LRASM is still in development. The 90 “LRASM’s” you mentioned were an emergency buy that probably don’t have all the capabilities of the finished product. (I also think they can only be launched from B-1 bombers)

  • michael aller

    We should offer this Cruise Missile to Japan to off set the growing power of the Chinese Navy.

  • Secundius

    The Original “Standard Missile Number One” or (SM-1) was designed as an Surface-to-Air (SAM) Missile. That Targeted it’s Target by the Radar Emissions it Transmitted. Then in Vietnam, it was Given the Role in the “Wild Weasel” Program. SAME THING, Different Application. Instead of a Moving Target in a 3-Dimensional Space, a Standing Target in 2-Dimensional Space. Radar Emissions, is RADAR EMISSIONS. The Missile DIDN’T know the Difference, or EVEN cared…

  • vegass04 .

    I just don’t see this as a game changing. These subsonic non stealthy Tomahawk missiles simply can’t punch through a modern defense that a near peer surface ship fields. A simple Kashtan type CWIS would have no problem shooting these down. Supersonic and stealthy, that’s what we need, and we need it in the next 10 years, and these bozos expect to field the anti ship Tomahawk in 2021..WTF?? They need 5 years to implement a 30 year old design missile that’s been tried and tested million of times.

    • LandShark

      The rich don’t have any skin in the game so their profits supersede our anti shipping missile lethality. When their sons and daughter are forward deployed watch how fast we catch up…

    • Matt Bowyer

      One Tomahawk might well be manageable, but one of the advantages of Tomahawk is that it’s (relatively) inexpensive. Fire a swarm of them at a target and it could be a very different story…

  • Sam Pensive

    the video shows a hit on a ship.
    seems tested to me to that mission.
    why wait to 2020?
    another comment or two.
    we handle these shipping containers.
    they are fairly robust as steel goes.
    interesting the TACTOM went through the
    target and out the other side with minimal damage
    to the missile itself.
    as a tactic, i might have a small swarm of them shot with
    differing approach solutions top stern bow and such to
    give the CWIS more trouble on target acquisition and response.
    if the TACTOM is as rugged as the example shows i’d
    prefer a stern or bow entry to allow the minimally damaged
    missile a chance to penetrate further into the target before
    it’s warhead detonates. (assume it has one).