Raytheon Technologies’ Missiles and Defense unit, longtime builder of the Tomahawk precision-strike standoff cruise missile, is recertifying the current inventory of Block IV missiles and upgrading them to a Block V designation. Raytheon is also working to develop new capabilities that will dramatically expand the Tomahawk mission.
Capable of hitting targets at a 1,000-mile range, the Tomahawk first was introduced in the 1970s. The U.S. Navy launched 288 Tomahawks in the 1991 Gulf War: 276 from surface ships and 12 from submarines. Since then, it has launched Tomahawks against targets in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Libya, and other countries.
The Block IV missile, also called the Tactical Tomahawk, was first fielded in 2004 and now is on board Ticonderoga -class cruisers, Arleigh Burke–class destroyers, and Zumwalt-class destroyers. The Ticos and Burkes launch Tomahawks through their Mk 41 vertical launch system (VLS); the Zumwalts will launch the missile through the Mk 57 VLS.
All the Navy’s attack submarines (SSNs) of the Los Angeles, Seawolf, and Virginia classes, as well as the Ohio-class ballistic-missile boats (SSGNs) are armed with Tomahawks. The missiles launch from submarines through both torpedo tubes and vertical-launch tubes. The Royal Navy’s Trafalgar- and Astute-class submarines also are armed with Tomahawks.
The missiles can be reprogrammed via satellite communications to strike any of 15 preplanned alternative targets. Tomahawks can also loiter over targets to provide battle-damage assessment.
The Navy requires recertification at the 15-year point in the Tomahawk’s planned 30-year service life. Delivery of Block IV missiles was completed within the past few years, and the newest Block IVs will remain in the fleet until their 15-year recertification. Following recertification as Block Vs, the missiles will go back to the fleet for the remainder of their service lives.
Raytheon delivered the first Block V missiles in March 2021. Work is underway on a new Block Va variant, the maritime strike Tomahawk (MST), and a Block Vb Tomahawk called the Joint Multiple Effects Warhead System (JMEWS).
Randy Kempton, Raytheon’s Tomahawk program manager, explains that the Block V recertification upgrades the communications and navigation functions that enhance the missile’s ability to receive in-flight target updates. Ultimately, the Tomahawk inventory will consist of (a) the “basic” Block V with the communication/navigation improvements; (b) the Block Va MST; and (c) the Block Vb JMEWS missile.
The Navy successfully tested the Block V in late 2020, when the destroyer USS Chafee (DDG-90) launched two missiles during an exercise off the California coast. The recertification work is well underway.
The Naval Sea Systems Command modified two Raytheon contracts for Tomahawk work in late October 2021, awarding $11 million to ensure compatibility of automated test equipment with the new Block V anti-jam GPS receiver, and $19.5 million to build, integrate, qualify, test, and field the seeker suites and subsystems that provide midcourse and terminal guidance for the Block Va MST.
Kempton says both the MST and JMEWS variants will have the basic Block V communication/navigation upgrades. Raytheon is developing a multimode seeker to enable the MST to attack moving targets at sea. The JMEWS variant will be armed with a new programmable warhead to enable it to strike a wider range of land targets.
Navy Tomahawk program manager Captain John Red says the MST will reach initial operational capability in 2024, and the JMEWS in 2027.
Raytheon builds the Tomahawks at its two Tucson, Arizona, sites, with additional work at the company’s facility in Camden, Arkansas, which performs the Block IV to Block V recertification. Williams International builds the Tomahawk engine. Other major suppliers are Ducommun, which provides electronic subassemblies, and Ball Aerospace, which provides the missile’s antennas and other subsystems.