Navy Partnering Tomahawks and Small Drones as Hunter-Killers

We’ve known for a while that the newest versions of the Navy’s Tomahawk cruise missile can be rediriected in flight to hit moving targets but now the sea service is working to joining Tomahawks and small UAVs operated by special operations teams in a sort of hunter-killer combo. Basically, the SOF teams will use their small UAVs to spot and track enemies and send the targeting data from the UAV to a control center that can redirect the missiles whenever the target moves.

We have been doing a lot of work with Tomahawk and small [unmanned aerial systems], so we’ve been using small UASs” to target for the missiles, said Rear Adm. William Shannon III, program executive oficer for the Navy’s unmanned aircraft and strike weapons during the Navy League’s annual Sea, Air, Space conference in National Harbor, Md., this week. “We do about 10 to 15 test flight a year just to ensure the software upgrades are doing well and we also test [concepts of operations] with it. We’ve been doing work with  special forces, with Marine, with Navy, with Army and with British special forces. We’ve been using the small UASs to do targeting, we’ve shortened the time of flight with Tomahawk to make it more tactically relevant and it’s a networked weapon so we’re able to control it in flight. Last Novemeber, the British with their Astute Class submarine, launched a Tomahawk on the west coast as part of training and directed it into the training range at China Lake and redirected it from their [special operations] control center in London” while it was in flight.

He went on to plug the missile, saying that the more than 230 Tomahawks launched against Moammar Gadhafi’s forces in Libya ensured the NATO air campaign there was a success “because Tomahawk was there first and took out most of the air defense systems and most of the aircraft that were sitting on the airfields.”

  • STemplar

    Last Novemeber, the British with their Astute Class submarine, launched a Tomahawk on the west coast as part of training and directed it into the training range at China Lake and redirected it from their [special operations] control center in London”

    Read more:


  • LtKitty

    “Our Tomahawks will block out the sun.”

    Seriously, though, using UAVs in this matter is another great step towards integrating them into the military. I feel bad for whomever is on the receiving end of this system… its almost unfair and totally awesome.

    • elportonative77

      Totally agree. But it will also suck if we ever meet a peer enemy with the same or greater capabilities.

      • Anonymous

        We don’t wage war against those with advance capabilities…only against those that can’t shoot back against our planes and tanks.

        • Musson

          Tell that to Sadam Hussein. He had the 4th largest army in the world. And, more tanks than China.

        • jhm

          I wonder what the Coalition troops thought the odd projectiles hurled at them at over the speed of sound were. Poor Coalition tankers, those thuds from 125mm SABOT rounds must have been imagined…

    • Tad

      Well said. And US forces can already do the same type of “hand off” of control of drones, as well. I really like that it pushes control down to the level of the troops in the field.

  • Sgt_Buffy

    Love the image. Impact in 3… 2… 1…
    Aaaand that’s why you don’t mess with us. I can’t help but chuckle at those few who said that drones would never be of any military use.

  • Pat

    this would be great if we ever got into war with Iran…

  • Chuck

    The near vertical impact is impressive. Very useful in urban areas. Of course, going to altitude to dive makes it more vulnerable to SAMs. Great for taking out another Osama Bin Laden though.

    • 19E10

      Chuck, The “Terminal Pop-up” lasts less than 1 second. Not enough time for a SAM to engage.

      • EW3

        Sorry, a 1 second pop up that produces a nose down hit like this defies the laws of physics. The Soviets had and still have a few missiles that do a popup, but it’s a 30 second transition. And BTW - It’s a loser technique. Does not work.

        • 19E10

          EW3, I’m not fully versed in the laws of physics. I based my comment on a live video feed during the short Desert Fox engagement. Someone had a camera in a hotel room looking towards downtown Baghdad. An orange dot passed by (I assume it was a TLAM or SLAMER) and headed into the distance. It did an abrupt upward pitch and then dropped straight into a large building. The building appeared to jump several feet into the air and then collapse (It was later identified as a missle production facility).

          • 19E10

            Watch Russian S-300/400 videos on you tube. You’ll see that modern missles can change direction very quickly.

  • Lance

    Looks like awesome concept hope they get it to work. I hope they do upgraded the Tomahawk and make them alot more stealthy in the near future.

    • jhm

      Stealthy? Can tactical missile batteries target them? Just asking? I’ve always wondered about that… Could someone help me out here? Otherwise these tomahawks are gonna be every American enemies bane hahahaha

      • billyg

        In the First Gulf War, US Patriot Missile Batteries were shooting down Iraqi SCUD missiles. So, it is possible, but it is still difficult.

        • Jay

          SCUD is ballistic missile, TLAM is cruise

    • STemplar


  • A. Nonymous

    It’s certainly a nice capability to have, but I can’t imagine it being used except in very unique circumstances. It seems prohibitively expensive compared to simply using an armed UAV to deliver a small guided bomb or missile

  • Mitch S.

    Hmm, how do you fly something from the west coast to China lake without flying through civilian airspace?
    Isn’t the Tomahawk really a form of UAV and UAVs have not been permitted in civie airspace?
    I think it would be cool to see a (friendly) Tomahawk streak by but I think a lot of others might be freaked.

    • FormerDirtDart

      There are numerous approved flight corridors throughout the country that are in place to allow the military to conduct weapons tests.

      • blight_

        Checking the aviation sectionals on China Lake

        • Guest

          Yes, there are many MOAs and corridors that can be opened up in coordination with the FAA (like the IR200) to connect the Sea Range to the China Lake complex. Live warheads shot on the Sea Range won’t be flown over populations but impact at San Clemente Island.

    • DGR

      Its easy, you fire it and radio in “my bad, but we just accidently launched a cruise missle on heading ……… y’all might want to vacat the area.”

    • L Sargent

      There is airspace from the coast to China Lake that is deemed military airspace only….

  • EW3

    Wonder if in the near future we could develop a short range (200 miles) version of a Tomahawk with a smaller warhead, say 250 lbs.
    If possible we might stuff 2 of them in the same VLS tube as the current version. 1000 mile capability is useful, but not all the time. (although the fuel blowing up adds to the effect of the warhead)
    Or perhaps a short range tomahawk with two warheads.

    • Jay

      Long range also means long flight time. With the new TLAMs that means long loiter time.

      Imagine a specops team doing their work with a half dozen TLAMs loitering around ready to come down where directed. ooooo

      • DGR

        It would be cheaper to have drones orbiting on standby dropping less expensive JDAMS. These cruise missles aint cheap, something north of a million a pop (last I checked). But ya good concept, just expensive as hell (not to mention you are now forces to use em eventually once you fire them).

        • AL-Bob

          The end game here is enhancing the newer smaller-vessel Navy power projection game-plan. I see a destroyer with a dozen long range targeting drones and long range tomahawks in a major flareup (Taiwan) defeating a Chinese battle-group, not necessarily sinking but disabling enough of the force so that they are rendered ineffective. This would be the ultimate force projection; an unapproachable small ship with high lethality. Remember- the Chinese are aware of the potential of carrier battle-groups and are actively pursuing means of defeating such a group in their local theater.

  • Rohan

    Awesome…….I just love it :p

  • Dhunt

    That picture is priceless.

  • DERP