U.S. Sends Tomahawk Missile Filled Subs to Western Pacific

A lot of messaging going on in the Western Pacific, by both sides. We’ve pointed to the recent China’s PLA Navy live fire exercises in the East China Sea.

Now, we learn from Time’s Mark Thompson that three former strategic missile submarines converted to carry Tomahawk cruise missiles (SSGNs) ¬†surfaced on the same day, June 28, in the Philippine’s Subic Bay, in Pusan, South Korea and at the naval base on Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean. Each converted boomer holds up to 154 Tomahawk cruise missiles.

As Thompson writes, the alarm bells must have sounded that day in Beijing:

“In all, the Chinese military awoke to find as many as 462 new Tomahawks deployed by the U.S. in its neighborhood. “There’s been a decision to bolster our forces in the Pacific,” says Bonnie Glaser, a China expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “There is no doubt that China will stand up and take notice.”

Of course U.S. officials denied that any messaging was intended, but they did make sure news of the SSGN deployments showed up in the Hong Kong based South China Morning Post, on July 4; the same day some analysts expected China to test its DF-21D anti-ship ballistic missile.

RIMPAC, the “Rim of the Pacific” war games also began on Wednesday off Hawaii. For all the attention focused on the Levant and the Gulf, its good to see these encouraging signs that at least some in the military understand that the real strategic competition of this century will play out in the Western Pacific.

Don’t miss Craig Hooper’s excellent post on how to turn the Navy’s surface ships into conventional missile carrying strike ships equivalent to the SSGNs.

— Greg Grant

  • Bob

    This will spur the Chicoms to increase the effectiveness and size of their blue water navy. Also, to increase the size and effectiveness of their attack submarine force. Not to mention that there are now ways to counter tomahawk missles. How much of a threat does 400 odd missles with convential HE warhead represent. We dropped tens of thousands of tons of HE on Japan and Germany and the war continued. How many thousands of tons of HE did we drop on N. Viet Nam, and they won the war. I am sure that the Chicoms design their ships to be able to absorb hits from several tomahawk missles and still be able to steam and fight. This article smacks of feel good propaganda.

    • Greg

      You are clueless why do you even post? First off the Tomahawk is a land attack missile not ash cruise missile. They are working on turning it into an anti ship missile. Next even if it was an anti-ship missile

      • Greg

        Sorry my browser messed up, what i was saying was even if it was an antiship missile, it has a 1000lb warhead, far larger then most anti-ship missiles. It is double the size of the harpoons warhead.

      • Bob

        We are going to rain tomahawks down on China??? I don’t think so. Therefore it is an empty threat. I doubt if we are going to nuke them either.

        • Greg

          Bob I don’t get your point. Yes we can saturate a target with tomahawks. Why can’t we, give me one physical reason why we CAN’T. I’m not saying that we are going to or should, but this works 2 ways. If they can saturate our defenses, why can’t we saturate theirs. Furthermore, no comment from you on their ships taking the hit. Are you a Chinese agent?

        • tenn Slim

          No Bob
          We are not going to rain death an destruction on China. The entire usefulness of showing the Arms, the Flag is to announce our VIABLE PRESENCE on the Globe. If we followed the weakneed advice of the Left, we would be a fifth rate world class non participant in any trade, commerce or simple folk art.
          Semper Fi

    • STemplar

      You’re posts smack of pointless inflammatory forum trolling and I wish the host of the site would drop well placed banning warhead on your account.

    • Mr_GoodKat

      You are comparing a modern SSBN’s capabilities (precision guided, stealth, underwater, nuclear warheads, 1000nm range, etc.) to WWII and Viet Nam air tactics dropping dumb bombs… No point in continuing this retarded discussion…

    • Nate

      You make an interesting point but the comparison is off. You can’t compare explosive tonnage because the tomahawks can be applied with such accurate precision–all those carpet bombings of the last century were necessary because they had a difficult time getting them within a mile or so of where they wanted to hit.

    • Joe

      The Tomahawk BG-109 Missile carries a 1,000 lb. warhead, (or a 200 kiloton nuclear). Very few ships can survive a hit from a 1,000 warhead, let alone keep fighting. Most ships today are what we would call “thin skin”, unlike the Battleships and Cruisers of the past, which could absorb a hit with their heavy armor. A Tomahawk will wreck any frigate, destroyer, cruiser, etc., cause wide spread fires, kill hundreds, and send it to the bottom.

    • Rcw

      I thought that you were smart until you started to write, stay with Yahoo, it is more your speed

    • Easy

      Big difference when every shot is a direct hit.

    • torps USN (ss) ret.

      the tomahawks are guided and can hit in specific places where the old dumb bombs and the first generation guided couldn’t come close to what todays’ can do. I’m sure there’s more targets than just ships for those tomahawks. They can raise hell with buildings,tanks,and many other targets besides ships.
      Torps USN (ss) retired

    • Tenn Slim

      Well Bob
      Shucks, we might as well scrap the Tomahawks, the USS NNNN and just go home. No use in being involved in Global Politicts, No use in showing the Flag. All just miserably useless. Just like all the Lefties.
      Semper Fi

    • Kye

      Have to agree with Bob 100%. This article is tainted with ” feel good propaganda”. The problem is, we get believing our own propaganda. The fact is, 462 missiles is not hardly enough to stop the Chinese. It is all for show and nothing more. Secondly, the Chinese have been planning for years how to neutralize our navy if it ever got into the straits between the mainland and Taiwan. The entire distance is saturated with predeployed sonobouys, radar coverage, remote sensing satellites, and remotely operated torpedo stations. Our subs might be able to run the straits, but not without consequences. Besides, we are at the point where we can’t even manage a war in Afghanistan. How do you think we would ever manage a war with China? Last of all, hostile relations between China and the US are nowhere likewhat they were in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Despite all the silly old Cold War rhetoric we have been fed all these years and still insist on believing, China happens to be our largest trading partner, political relationships are better than what you think. So, it is not very likely we would go to war against them.

  • Marvel

    That was a silly post. It is a symbol. Besides, many ships can take a hit from a couple missile and survive, albeit with reduced capability. And remember, and correct me if I am wrong, the tomahawk carries a far larger warhead than most anti-ship missiles.

    • Project Thor

      Tomahawks are only good against stationary targets… aka Carrier Killer launch sites.

      *although we always have something up our sleeves*

    • Marty

      takes 3 harpoons to sink a carrier….the tasm’s probably only 2, but they have been phased out.

    • Joe

      The French Exocet Missile that sunk the British Destroyer Sheffield carried a 320 lb. warhead, 1/3 that of what Tomahawk carries. The Sheffield burned, foundered, listed, and sunk, from 1 hit.

  • JSCS

    Isn’t this the sort of effort Teddy implied when he said “Speak softly but carry a big stick”? Seems apropos to this day.

    • bleh

      Yeah, I love it. Their 4th of July test was a pretty big fsck you but releasing an official statement just makes you look weak.

      OTOH, what’s better than to answer their anti-carrier maneuver with cruise missile carrying subs. =)

      But I’d really been interested in the bigger implications. Does this mean that the Navy’s pretty much given up on the idea of using their carriers aggressively in the event of a crisis? They are big targets, ridiculously expensive, almost impossible to replace at useful timescales. And one going down could exceed the casualties of the Iraq war (probably one big reason for the Chinese flechette warhead).

  • Max

    I wouldn’t assume that today’s Tomahawks are the same as the one deployed in the ’80s. It is easy to add software upgrades to change the flight profile (such as flying closer to the water to make it difficult to detect and shoot down or change attack angles etc) without anyone being the wiser.

  • Mastro

    I imagine the sub at Diego Garcia is more geared towards the Middle East (Iran?) than China.

    Wouldn’t the Korean visit have a bit more to do with – Korea? They DID just sink a ship there- right?

    That leaves one sub- big deal.

    I think they are trying to make a story out of little to nothing.

  • Byron Skinner

    Good Morning Folks,

    Good post greg. The SSM is currently one of the USN’s favorites, it has demonstrated more roles it can play besides the LACM. I’m hearing that the USN is getting ready to convert four more “Boomers” to SSM’s, treaty or not.


    Byron Skinner

  • Gman

    Uh, wasn’t the T-ASM the anti ship variant of the Tomahawk WAY back in the 80’s?

    • Mastro

      Sure they could. I guess they could enter the Persian Gulf and attack Turkey.

      It just seems a bit of a stretch- certainly we have TLAMS set aside for Iran/Afghanistan?

  • Submarines will be the linchpin of our defense policy regarding China, and will make or break any short-term conflict.

  • Tim

    Surely, the Tomahawks are free to hit China’s “secret” naval bay on Hainan Island, home of their southern fleet and a majority of their modern subs, including the Type 093 – 095. Taking out land-based naval assets will deny their navy from reaching far out to the blue yonder. Unlike the US Navy, the PLAN does not have overseas bases… yet.

    However, I believe this is just a counter gesture to what the PLAN has been publicizing about their hyped up “carrier killer” super missile to be test-launched on July 4th. (Coincidently, silence on the PLAN regarding this test means it’s a dud.) Way to go the US Navy!!!

  • STemplar

    The tomahawks are free to hit pretty much whatever they want. I think that’s the point of popping 400+ to the surface in one day, to show China we don’t even need our carriers to cripple their options. This, with the VLS article paints an ugly picture for the Chinese l would think.

  • Byron Skinner

    Good Afternoon Folks,

    I don’t know what all the chatter about the Tomahawk is about. This was a demonstration to China. Those three SSM’s could just as easily have been three SSBM’s with 72 MIRV’ed Trident D 5’s. China knows this. He** maybe they were in the neighborhood but didn’t show themselves, we’ll never know.

    I would think that this event clearly shows that the USN can conduct submarine operations in the littoral waters. All the cr** about the US nuclear boats not being able to operate in the “Green” water should be put to rest now.

    The interesting unspoken item about Greg’s article is that the USN did this in the middle of a big well advertised Chinese navel exercise, that was suppose to intimidate its neighbors.

    Fair is far I guess, this appears to be payback for the Song that surfaced near the USS Kitty Hawk. By the way where was that vast Chinese submarine armada that the right wingers and the peculiar institution of winger tanks have been losing sleep about over for years.

    Byron Skinner

    • Oblat

      Bit of a difference between surfacing undetected in the middle of a task group and surfacing 1000 miles away in another ocean.

      Looks more like a slow day in the the navy’s PR department

  • Howe

    If we truly want to hurt China….We could make our economy grow if we have most of our items made in the USA, instead of China. This will make the US stronger, while ripping the guts out of China. and Communism will crawl back into its hole.

    • Chops

      True–but that would benefit the American people –we can’t have that can we?

    • Oblat

      Check out the USSR for how well that worked.

    • Easy

      Agree. The trade deficit is simply exporting our treasure to China, India, the Middle East, …. The greatest redistribution of wealth in history.

    • moto

      Oh yes! What you say makes alot of since! Now if we could just get the U.S. public to stop buying crap made by the same people that brought us the Korean conflict (war) and Vietnam we may just be able to shore up our crippled economy and make China sit up and notice that we are not a bunch of canidates to become a third world nation!

    • W. Gardner

      Hurt China? Give me a break. The U.S. Government has “borrowed” more money from China than we will ever know. Our national debt is over 14 trillion (TRILLION) dollars and continues to grow larger with the passing of each second, minute. Obama keeps printing those new crisp hundred dollar bills almost as fast as trees grow. However when the U.S. has nothing to back up this new money then I view it as just paper with fresh ink on it. If China demanded we pay them everything we owe them, it’s then you will see the financial infrastructure of the U.S. implode and the great depression of the 20’s will look like a pick-nick compaired to the pending one. No, we will no hurt China but both Countries will continue to play the political game just for the benefit of the rest of the World. Just for the sake of not taking up any more space, Google “tomahawk missiles” and find out what kind of “new” toy it’s become!

  • roland

    If the country’s decision is 3 subs in the pacific. I dont think the 3 sub is not enough if the chinese decided to attack us. I don’t think provocation is the best strategy. Until we were threatened.

  • Oblat

    Woohoo, meanwhile the Chinese sign a deal with Taiwan making it irrelevant.

  • mat

    Its not about china,you all seem to forget china owns just about 0.5$ of every dolar in you pocket so i would worry more about servicing the credit line that chinese navy

  • roland

    It looks like it needs some camouflage paint while its on dock. It may kill the time from doing nothing.

  • McKellar

    Like Mastro said, isn’t this more about North Korea than some US-China d*ck-waving contest?

    The thing that makes Tomahawks so useful in actual conflicts (i.e. not WWIII) is that they’re quick, don’t involve any human pilots that can be lost or captured, and once they’ve hit, there’s nothing left for anyone to retaliate against or make demands about. The SSGNs are especially useful because they disappear into the drink, completely off the world stage.

    Imagine if North Korea did a repeat of the torpedo attack, or something else stupid that demanded some sort of action by the US and South Korea. Worried that a US attack might topple the NK regime and send refugees streaming across the Yalu, Beijing makes a back-channel threat to the US, if you use carrier-based air to attack North Korea, we’ll launch a missile at the carrier. It’s probably an empty threat, but the main point is, just like it was back in 1950, keep the stakes low or China will escalate the conflict.

    So do we launch a conventional air attack, and hope the Chinese are sane enough not to retaliate against the carriers and air bases that launched the attack, or do we use the Tomahawks? If the latter, we get to watch the North Koreans bluster with impotent rage on CNN, while Beijing writes us a strongly worded letter of protest, and the South Koreans make some ambivalent statement protesting US aggression, all so that the Norks won’t have a causus belli to cross the DMZ.

    The Diego Garcia boomer must be for attacking North Korean ‘pharmaceutical plants’ in Africa.

    • blight

      So if a bunch of explosions occur in Pyongyang, was it an SSGN strike? Like Kimmy says, there will be massive retaliation if you pin this on America…

  • STemplar

    Sailing from Diego Garcia to the Burmese coast would only take a few days, it is about the same distance to the coast of Africa. To say nothing of the fact that cruise missiles from the Indian Ocean aide would fly mostly over airspace that isn’t theirs. This sort of dove tails into a point that is often ignored, pretty much always, in these US v China discussions.

    Point blank China is stupid in its relations with regional governments. They are blatantly expansionist and belligerent. If some sort of shooting breaks out, China has pretty much been a jerk to everyone in the region. Including Burma, Vietnam, the Philippines, Japan, Taiwan, and Indonesia. If China actually provokes a shooting war with us, there will be countries aplenty lining up to shoot with us, or at the very least turn a blind eye to the use of their airspace.

  • roland

    I think we miss the point that North Korea and China are allies and have a very close ties and so where China and Russia. If North Korea fire its missiles at us and us with them there is a tendency China and Russia will get involve. We should look at the bigger picture what will take place if such incedent will occur.



  • STemplar

    Maintaining the status quo is in both China and Russia’s interests. When you consider the amount of effort and capability the US has to donate to being able to respond to, and counter, Iran and North Korea, keeping those situations from being resolved serves China and Russia. Were Iran and North Korea to go away, think of the amount of resources we would have freed up, and that China and Russia would not have to try to counter in return. It saves them defense $ keeping the Iranian and North Korean issues unresolved.

  • STemplar

    Meant to say the US resources China and Russia would have to try and counter.

  • Blander

    Like we’re gonna bombard China. Riggght. I think its to deter the North Korean missile threat and maybe to respond to china’s missile tests. This story isn’t going to escalate I think

  • roland

    One thing I know, whatever happens I will stand by my country (USA) and God.

  • ron

    lets not forget the seals and all thier crap god only knows how much crap we have stored in those tubes plus the stuff the bring on board minus the TV’s and Xbox’s, gotta love them even though they eat all our food take up space and destroy our work out gear

    • Tim G

      Hahaha! True statement!

    • Tom

      Where the hell did Bob go…..did Greg’s question ‘are you a Chinese Agent’ shut him up.
      Way to go Greg…..6 subs 34 years

  • Joseph Tan

    Before America can start deploying any new fire-power without bankrupt the nation, the Yankee had to use the existing unwanted stock of armament to intimidate another as and when she likes. The time shall come that her armament may not sufficient even to threaten a 3rd grade power like Sudan

  • Chops

    Even a blind man can see that the U S is responding to posturing on the part of NK.The Chinese gov’t realizes that too or they wouldn’t be pushing the NKs to the nuclear disarmament table and getting them to tone down their rhetoric.I hardly think we [the U S ] are trying to do anything but support an allie that had a warship sunk in a sneak attack by probably the most unstable gov’t on the planet.A good response by S K would have been a cruise missle crashing through the roof of the N K Presidential Palace-shut that nut case Kim Jong IL up permanently.

  • Blight

    Pity we didn’t give away our Pershing IRBMs to South Korea when we had the chance.

  • Wayne

    The problem with brinkmanship is you have to be able to pull the trigger, and next to the N Koreans, the Chinese don’t give a damn about its people. They’re view point is that they are there to serve the state, not the other way around.

  • 1meangrunt

    I hope a significant number of the Missles are nuke tipped. there are lots of very hard targets in the PRC that would require one or more diirect hits to dig them out. The PRC has been digging in a very long time, just like NK, and conventional warheads won’t get to what they have buried under those moutains in well engineers bunkers.

  • Michael Cava

    May I remind you that MEN win wars not weapons. How we deploy our resources is what makes the difference. I any event our Commander- in-Chief hasn’t got th stomach for defeating our enemies. His goal is to destroy the USA. Military .com won’t print this, I bet. It is not PC and not within party lines.

  • Michael Cava

    See, what did I tell you

  • rogue

    maybe you are all missing the big picture sure new naval ships can take a few missles what about land based targets


    i am old sub ss-406 we kep england @ med safe 1955/1957

  • jmiles82

    All I can say is that we do NOT want to go “saber rattling” with China. The Chinese military could promptly squash us without breaking a sweat. Especially with our small military divided on two fronts already and Obama wanting to reduce our defenses even further…China is the bank that is bankrolling America and don’t be surprised if they decide to call their hand – and watch Obama cave when they do….

  • g. m.

    Having served on boats, It’s not WHAT YOU SEE, it’s what you DON’T…………………………….

  • Rollie

    Some people seems in denial, truth hurts. We waged a war in Vietnam for several years, spent billion of dollars, dropped tons and tons of bomb on a third-world country with a third-world armed forces. At the end we have to high-tail it on the roof of our embassy in Saigon while North Vietnamese tanks ramble down on the boulevards of the city. Folks no matter how you look at it, we left with our tail between our legs, and left a communist Vietnam – we did not accomplish our objective. The greatest tragedy is that we sacrificed 58,000.00 good Americans whose only fault is that they want to serve their country.

  • Don

    There was an article from StratFor several years back when North Korea was sending nuclear material to Iran. The article was yanked off the net, but it claimed that US and French naval forces sunk one N.Korean ship and boarded the other in the Indian Ocean. If true, China should have had some concern that US and allies would use force under Bush. With our current president and administration, US resolve is not known.

  • Lamont

    I hope we never see a war with China or Russia; it would be suicide for the whole world with no winners, or a legacy of sorrow for years to come. Peace and diplomacy are always preferred options even in todays climate of uncertainty with the military option as an absolute last resort.

  • Woody

    Who said all the Tomahawk warheads are “conventional”? Even the “conventional” (non-Nuc) warhead options are varied with exceptional capabilities and lethality.

  • Alan

    You are all forgetting one very important fact about the SSNG’s, they also come with a full complement of MK-48 ADCAP torpedoes. The entire discussion of tonnage for air to surface is completly irrelivant. And to go even further, there are pleanty of SSN’s deployed to the indian ocean and western pacific, each with a full load out of torpedoes and missiles. This display if force was a good chance for the silent service to be the “Big Stick”. We are still the silent service though.

  • Tenn Slim

    Concurrent surfacing in multiple sites, with adequate fire power, should raise a few hackels on the Chicoms.
    The idea that they could get there, undetected, surface and be available certainly shows the Flag in a highly visible manner.
    Semper FI

  • R2

    I normally don’t read these posts, and you guy’s post are case and point why? First, you act like the adversary doesn’t read. Second, words like “leaning left” or “right” for all that matters is just pure propaganda crap. Those terms are just like bigoted labels. People are people and have the right to lean “left” on one circumstance, and what you call “right” on another. Grow up and stop buying into McCarthy(ist) labels. Please let facts speak, not propaganda and labels. If you don’t understand what I’m saying or refuse to think – I’m talking to YOU.

  • Johnny Detroit

    You guys are so naive. We couldn’t win the Vietnam war because the Chinese were involved. We couldn’t win the Korean war, again the Chinese were involved. We can’t even fight a bunch of Afgan with sandals. And now you want to fight the Chinese. That’s why so many countries hate us. We are so arrogant.