Tomahawk Cruise Missile Hits Moving Ship Target


The Navy is moving closer to having a sea-launched, anti-ship cruise missile able to change course in flight and hit moving ship targets from distances up to 1,000 miles, according to two recent Tomahawk Block IV tests at China Lake, California.

“The USS Kidd, one of our guided missile destroyers, launched a Tomahawk missile that changed course mid-flight and struck a moving ship after being queued by an aircraft,” Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work said in a recent speech at the U.S. Naval Institute. “Now, this is potentially game-changing capability for not a lot of cost. It’s a 1,000 mile anti-ship cruise missile. It can be used from practically our entire surface and submarine fleet.

The two tests, which involved firing Tomahawk Block IV missiles against land and sea targets, were conducted by the Navy and Raytheon at Naval Air Weapons Station, China Lake, Calif., in January of this year.

During the first test, a Tomahawk missile fired from the USS Kidd, a guided missile destroyer, and received real-time target information relayed from a surveillance aircraft to a weapons station at China Lake. Updated target information was related to the Tomahawk in flight before the missile then maneuvered and changed course from a pre-planned mission toward a new target, striking a moving ship on the water.

“This demonstration is the first step toward evolving Tomahawk with improved network capability and extends its reach from fixed and mobile to moving targets,” a statement from Raytheon said.

In the second test, the USS Kidd launched another Tomahawk Block IV missile on a “call-for-fire” mission in support of shore-based Marines, Raytheon officials said.

“Using GPS navigational updates, the missile performed a vertical dive to impact on San Nicolas Island, scoring a direct hit on the target designated by the Marines. The test provided valuable data for the Marine Expeditionary Force to evaluate and evolve their call for fire capability,” the statement said.

Work cited these tests and Tomahawk modernization as an example of how the U.S. can retain its technological edge amid a fast-changing global technological landscape.

“What happens if we take another step and just make an advanced seeker on the Tomahawk rather than building a new missile? We believe if we make decisions like that, that we will be able to outturn potential adversaries and maintain our technological superiority,” Work added.

In fact, Raytheon officials explained that they are working on new passive and active seeker technology for the Tomahawk which would even better enable the weapon to discriminate between targets and destroy moving targets.

A passive seeker can receive an electromagnetic signal and follow it, whereas an active seeker has the ability to send out or ping an electronic signal and bounce it off potential targets.

Raytheon is planning additional testing for its new seeker system on the weapon, which would allow it to separate legitimate from false targets while on-the-move, Raytheon officials said.

After additional lab testing, ground testing and flight testing, an integrate suite consisting of an active seeker, passive seeker and high-speed processor is slated to be ready this year.

Overall, Raytheon has delivered more than 3,000 Tomahawk Block IV missiles to the Navy. The missiles are expected to complete a 30-year service life after being re-certified at the 15-year mark. The inventory of Block IV missiles are slated to go through a re-certification process in 2018 and 2019.

Tomahawks have been upgraded numerous times over their years of service. The Block IV Tomahawk, in service since 2004, includes a two-way data link for in-flight re-targeting, terrain navigation, digital scene-matching cameras and a high-grade inertial navigation system, Raytheon officials explained.

The weapon is also capable of performing battle damage assessment missions by relaying images through a data link as well, they said.

The re-certification process for Block IV Tomahawks will provide occasion to implement a series of high-tech upgrades to the missile platform which improve the weapon’s lethality, guidance and ability to find and destroy moving targets, Raytheon officials explained.

With this in mind, Raytheon has been conducting ongoing re-certification studies with the Navy to take up key questions regarding upgrades and new technologies for the platform.

Along these lines, the fiscal year 2015 budget added $150 million for a new Tomahawk missile navigation and communications suite in order to better enable the weapon to operate in anti-access/area-denial environments. The enhanced communications suite is slated to be ready by 2018 or 2019, Raytheon officials said.

Raytheon and the Navy are also developing a new payload for the weapon involving a more-penetrating warhead called the Joint Multiple Effects Warhead System, or JMEWS. Previously sponsored by U.S. Central Command, the JMEWS would give the Tomahawk better bunker buster type effects — meaning it could enable the weapon to better penetrate hardened structures like concrete.

Tomahawk missiles weigh 3,500 pounds with a booster and can travel at subsonic speeds up to 550 miles per hour at ranges greater than 900 nautical miles. They are just over 18-feet long and have an 8-foot, 9-inch wingspan.

The Navy is in the early stages of conducting an analysis of alternatives exploring options for a next-generation land attack weapon. It remains unclear whether they will use next-generation, upgraded Tomahawks to meet this requirement or chose to develop a new system.

About the Author

Kris Osborn
Kris Osborn is the managing editor of Scout Warrior.
  • William_C1

    Didn’t they build a Tomahawk with anti-ship capability back in the 1980s? I suppose it’s a useful secondary capability for a missile but there are better AShMs out there with higher probabilities of getting past enemy CIWS.

  • Brian B. Mulholland

    That this is “game-changing” is a comment on the extent to which the Navy disarmed itself of long range firepower. (Aren’t there longer-ranged missiles in service with potentially hostile nations already?) And while the improvements sound valuable, and Raytheon is probably willing to compete on price to protect the Harpoon/Tomahawk franchise, the ability of the weapon to penetrate peer point defense systems on land and sea has to be a key issue, perhaps determinative. As systems like Iron Dome proliferate, any weapon designed without the penetration of good point defenses in mind is likely to be found wanting.

    • blight_

      Navy has never really divested long range anti-land firepower (Tomahawk), but I don’t think the Navy has ever really had long-range anti-sea power either. Most missiles topped out at 100-300 km.

      Harpoon: 120+ km?

  • Kostas

    Anti-ship missiles perform terminal evasive maneuvers to counter the effects of CIWS. I doubt the capabilities of Tomahawks in performing such maneuvers. Anti-Ship missile technology is something more complex than just a carrier of a warhead and a seeker.

    • blight_

      Tomahawk’s evasive abilities were probably specc’ed to the point of picking out appropriate terrain features to “hide” behind before making a rapid approach to target. But in the open ocean…who knows? It isn’t the fastest missile, which on paper may count against it.

      I wonder if cruise missiles can carry penaids (jammers, etc) to help increase their survival outcomes.

  • Lance

    Ok I always thought you can hit a Tank with one you can hit a boat.

    • t1oracle

      You couldn’t hit a tank with one before because they didn’t take mid course corrections. The flight path had to be programmed before launch.

  • Highguard

    Above comments sound right. Lethality, guidance and ability are not the issues with an MMT. Assuming they add various add’l seeker and G&C capability, Survivability to both CIWS and SR-AMD are the issues with MMT. This issue needs to be addressed anyhow since the Navy does need to ensure these 2K-lb class W/H CMs can attack harder land targets. Also, since RGM-109 is no longer in production, the inventory needs to be focused on hardened land targets while newer, more capable ASCMs come on line (L.RASM, NG-VLS, NSM, etc.). Enabling them with S/W upload flexibility and a JAGM-like seeker/sensor is a must for A2/AD whether they hit land or sea targets. Basically, helps Navy bridge the gap to Next Gen.

  • RojCowles

    Just wondering, hypothetically, how many Tomahawks in ready-launch cells the Navy could put within 1,000 miles of Taiwan in the event that China decided to invade. 100?, 500? 1000? if the US does a timed launch so 500+ Tomahawks simultaneously swarm a mixed group of warships and troop transports crossing the straits even if 50% get taken out by spoofing, CAP and CIWS that still seems like an awful lot of hi-ex coming in a several hundred miles per hour to comfortably deal with, not to mention follow on attacks on the (any?) survivors.

  • Auyong Ah Meng

    I wonder….once a bigger drone with very long loitering capability carrying one or a pair of these…any target anyway on planet earth is now within teeth and claws range of the tomahawk…brrrrrr…and that is just one biggy drone carrying these…lol

  • Artie Carstairs

    Truth: the US doesn’t have a single supersonic cruise missile in its arsenal. China, Russia and even India have many, and hypersonic missiles are nearing fielding as well. It’s the one area where we thoroughly and completely would get our asses kicked in a shooting war. And I can only assume Raytheon wiped the right buttholes.

    How anybody could think the TLAM or Harpoon could be superior to the Russian “Shipwreck” or “Oniks” series supersonic cruise missiles is beyond me. They have better range, larger warheads AND are supersonic to boot!

  • sounder

    Take away GPS and these missiles become useless.

  • EdC

    I kind of assumed they had this capability already…..

  • John Moore

    How about reducing cost also?

  • Pat

    We need Tomahawks with a hypersonic terminal warhead capability. Once you get within X distance of a target, the warhead and terminal guidance system separates for the final high velocity push into the target.

  • MrCTC

    Amazing. The Navy achieves a big game-changing new capability with a preexisting weapon system, one that will provide the fleet with far greater anti-ship and tactical land support power, and most of the gadflies and doomsayers on the internet just dismiss it while expressing envy for obsolete or inflexible Russian gear.

    America is #1 in military technology, and that is not a boast. It’s a fact, and I would expect nothing less since this nation spends as much on its military as the rest of the world combined.

    Every USN submarine, destroyer, and cruiser, of which there are dozens, will soon have dozens of extreme long range anti-ship missiles. Our ships were already the best when anti-ship armament was minimal (4-8 short range Harpoons, if those were even mounted) and the ASuW work was left to carrier launched F/A-18s (which were also armed with Harpoons). Now the fleet will be way, way better, with more total firepower distributed throughout instead of condensed into a single carrier.

    Talking up missiles like Russian Shipwreck just because it’s supersonic is stupid. They’re big, exist in much smaller quantities than the Tomahawk, and are launched from aging surface ships with little ability to target them. Their launch platforms are outranged by airpower and most likely will never even find a carrier strike group on the open ocean.

    It doesn’t matter if the Tomahawk is subsonic. Most adversary navies have pitiful anti-air capability, and the Tomahawk is so damn numerous that you can just swarm opponents with it and oversaturate their defenses. Even the dreaded Russian Kirov battlecruiser (only one aging ship in service, which has to deploy with tugboats just in case it breaks down) is limited by two radar illuminators for its SAM systems. No way in hell it survives a swarm of 50 Tomahawks coming in from all four directions at once.

    Make no mistake about it, this is a big F’n deal for ASuW warfare.

  • MrCTC

    America is #1 in military technology, and that is not a boast. It’s a fact, and I would expect nothing less since this nation spends as much on its military as the rest of the world combined.

    Every USN submarine, destroyer, and cruiser, of which there are dozens, will soon have dozens of extreme long range anti-ship missiles. Our ships were already the best when anti-ship armament was minimal (4-8 short range Harpoons, if those were even mounted) and the ASuW work was left to carrier launched F/A-18s (which were also armed with Harpoons). Now the fleet will be way, way better, with more total firepower distributed throughout instead of condensed into a single carrier.

  • blight_

    I was kind of hoping that the Navy would consider going this route, and turn all of its missiles into multirole missiles. Not all DDG’s have Harpoons, so being able to sic Standards and TLAM’s from the cells based on need would be great. Standards when medium range, high speed missiles are required, Tomahawks for land and sea targets at range, but a slower missile with long time-to-hit and potentially less ability to evade enemy anti-missile systems.

  • Ken Badoian

    OK spend BIG bucks when we have other weapons systems in the pipeline that could do it cheaper. Out to 100 miles extended range naval rifles and so to be afloat rail gun (wonder what that range is?). Isn’t Tomahawks subsonic? Need super sonic, ramjet? and need it fast. For too long the Navy has neglected surface fire power and range for carrier and subsurface systems. The “chickens’ have come home to roost and band aid upgraded systems will not cut it. One thousand missiles OK but what happens when there one thousand and one targets. Thinking about $$$’s my I ask how much dose each Tomahawk cost plus the upgrades? Just asking. MMCS(SW)(SS) USN Ret.

    • blight_

      Export grade Russian missiles aren’t very long-legged. However, the Russians do have some interesting weapon systems, if Wikipedia numbers are to be believed. Their heaviest missiles are much larger than ours. Take the P-700 Granit, with a ~400 mile range (VLS, but ginormous tubes). Older Bazalts were external and not launched vertically, with a respectable 300 mile range. Klub-E variants are limited to ~300 km range (MTCR?), whereas the non-E variants have double the range. Oniks and Brahmos (export systems) are also ~300 km range, but I would bet the Russians have non-export Brahmos variants with excellent range.

      At the end of the day, we want missiles to hit their ships. High speed is one way to ensure more missiles hit. As are alternatives like reduced cross section and low altitude flight with cooler engines to reduce detection range. If our missiles aren’t as fast as theirs, we need to be hitting them from outside range of their systems, or the ability to defeat their missiles in flight (which is tougher).

      The Navy needs to run the simulations. If you put a force with detection range A and weapons B with range C against force with detection range A*, weapons B* with range C*, who wins? If the Navy can get a few volleys with slower TLAMs in against the Russians, will they defeat the Russians before they can close in with faster missiles? And of course, if those missiles have nukes…

      To summarize: Tomahawk would have twice the range of any Russian missile system.

  • Mastro63

    “changed course mid-flight and struck a moving ship after being queued by an aircraft,” N”

    How far away is the plane? If close - 20 miles- it rather defeats the purpose?

  • Big-Dean

    But I would imagine that Tomahawk will not be deployed alone, I’m sure the Navy will utilize a left hook and right punch (the Tomahawk) strategy.

    The Tomahawk is the ship killer but the “other” assets will be the sand in their eyes.

  • Chris

    I think you’ll find the missile was ‘cued’ by an aircraft, rather than ‘queued’.

  • Jeremy

    This is good news. As the Royal Navy also uses the Tomahawk, and given our nations’ close military alliance and shared interests in this dangerous world, its deployment on RN subs will make this a force multiplier for America and Britain.

  • Biggles

    Iraq managed to shoot down several tomahawks using uneducated conscripts in manually sighted AAA mounts. We need a supersonic missile.

    • Brian B. Mulholland

      Given the number of Tomahawks fired, that’s not too surprising, but I’d bet that all the missile kills were made in daylight on high-deflection shots and in heavily defended areas, probably Baghdad. I’d be surprised if any Tomahawks were shot down by a gun crew in a head-on, zero deflection context, as would be the case if a warship’s gun crew were defending the ship. Do we have any specifics on the circumstances of the shootdowns?

    • blight_

      I doubt that TLAM has the capability to evade in response to being attacked. They’ll just fly a path programmed to avoid certain obstacles, regardless of reality on the ground.

  • Patriot on a String

    “Real Time Network Data” allows every aircraft (all branches) all ships and all vehicle mounted platforms correlate data egress to shared multi-point process points. The data is not locked to onsite users alone. This technology will allow any branch operator to redirect and change “Target Priority” of any inbound inflight tomahawk that is not locked in as priority code ‘Alpha’. An Artillery Command Post for the Army can redirect an inbound Tomahawk to a ground target effectively taking command from a Naval Launch Platform to hit an enemy Aircraft that appeared in the area of operation after it was launched that is more of a threat than the original target… AWACS are no longer needed as they are primary threats in a nation on nation war… Data and control across a secure and unobstructed network of shared data across platforms puts the U.S. ahead of the game. Instead of people complaining about waste in DOD there are so many tomahawks the cost to decommission them would cost more than a replacement platform in the same volume.

  • Bob

    This is 30 years overdue. The idea has been suppressed by carrier Admirals knowing that it makes big fleets outdated. Next step, put 8 tomahawks on an F-18, then you double the range, or allow closer shots. Next step, put 30 Tomahawks in a modified Navy C-40 (B-737) and use it as a sea control naval bomber teamed with P-8s and E737 Wedgetails. Details here, or for shore attack.

  • BlackOwl18E

    The Tomahawk cruise missile’s utility is in the fact that it’s relatively cheap and we have plenty of them. Overall, not really much of a threat to a modern warship with air defense missiles, but it could be useful for killing a lot of the cheap or old stuff one of our enemies my use against us.

    • Reality

      Best way to deal with the Tomahawk from the American perspective, since part of its removal I thought was that it was not evasive and in a sea environment, (once the wave clutter is gone as an obstacle, it was much easier to shoot down) is that it may come in in large waves, but also have it come in with a wave of MALD’s to entirely confuse and disrupt the enemy air defenses and commit them to expending their entire set of ordnance. MALD’s can appear as Tomahawks or carry dammers. I thought Tomahawks were down to 600 grand or so these days, MALD’s hopefully cheaper than that.

      • breezxe

        You way over-estimated the capabilities of Tomahawks. Don’t confuse what you see in the movies and what the US actually has in reality. Tomahawks are barely effectively against defenseless small 3rd world countries, and practically a waste of money against militarily competent countries like Vietnam.

  • oblatt23

    This must be one of those hilarious April fools jokes.

    >In fact, Raytheon officials explained that they are working on new passive and active seeker technology for the Tomahawk which would even better enable the weapon to discriminate between targets and destroy moving targets.

    >A passive seeker can receive an electromagnetic signal and follow it, whereas an active seeker has the ability to send out or ping an electronic signal and bounce it off potential targets.

    Wow radar is so neat.

    In other news from 1981 Ronald Reagan was just elected President.

  • Nick9876

    Reduce its frontal RCS and put a jammer in it.

  • oblatt23

    Bear in mind that the F-35s anti-ship weapon is a glide bomb - about the only thing easier to shoot down than a tomahawk.

    When it comes to weaponry the USN is completely outclassed. And there is a good reason for that - platforms make much more money for contractors then weapons.

  • rob

    close shave…

  • John S

    When it is perfected, the Chinese will have it in their arsenal in a month. We can’t keep anything secret anymore.

  • JimmyD

    Remember the “Ohio” SSGN carries 154 Tomahawks. And we have four of them in the Pacific. Math says 616 missiles if you wanted a serious salvo.

  • flires

    The part with “queued by an aircraft” breaks down the whole concept: how is that aircraft going to survive in proximity to a naval target to be able to guide that missile? Minor details, I guess…

  • Patriot on a String

    “Queued by an Aircraft” yes and the aircraft pilot is not even involved… Guess me explaining the new Network Capabilities are that ALL aircraft, ships, mobile systems, and individual soldier systems communicate Real Time…. All the threats in the Sensors, Radars, etc…. Are accessible at the same time by an unlimited number of operators and can be used to control the tomahawk, drones, smart munitions… This is old news… So a guy in Utah using the data uplink in an F-18 can redirect a tomahawk to target… Also there are smart HyperRAM warheads already in the Tomahawk arsenal that when ship radar is detected fires from the main body of the Tomahawk to penetrate antiship missile defenses… Realize that this Public Update is probably 15 years old..

  • Kenneth Dunipace

    “….being queued by an aircraft….” do you think they may have meant “cued”? It wouldn’t make much tactical sense to queue missiles.

  • Brian B. Mulholland

    flires, the line of sight you enjoy from 30,000 feet would be on the order of 200+ miles. An aircraft or UAV used for cuing a weapon doesn’t necessarily have to come close to the potential target to do so, and might - if the aircraft or UAV is stealthy - be able to detect a target and cue a missile without itself being detected. How many civilian ships utilize AESA radars? How many use radars in X or S - bands at all? How many communicate with well-encrypted signals? … enter the RQ-180.


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  • Zspoiler

    What else is new.

  • Bill in Lexington,NC

    Ya know, for the price of a single Tomahawk:
    * we could send several people through college — full ride with stipend — all the way through their doctoral dissertation.
    * we could close the southern border for a couple years. Tight.
    * we could turn an ordinary school district into a “small town MIT”.
    * we could hire, train and equip a hundred police officers — and end the practice of one cop per squad car which leads to a more frequent need to use deadly force.
    * we could build, staff, equip and supply twenty homeless shelters and provide training and job placement for those driven from their homes.
    * we could (fill in the blank)

    There are lots of things we could do that would do more for the safety and prosperity of our nation than making something 1,000 miles away blow up.

    And that’s just for a price of a single Tomahawk … imagine what we could do if we lightened every vessel by exactly one Tomahawk. We might even be able to begin fixing our broken, violent, cities (hint: it starts in the schools and continues with making it easier to start a small business or to grow a small business into a mid-sized one).