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

43 Comments on "U.S. Sends Tomahawk Missile Filled Subs to Western Pacific"

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

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

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. Byron Skinner | July 9, 2010 at 2:30 pm |

    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

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

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

  9. 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!!!

  10. 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.

  11. Byron Skinner | July 9, 2010 at 5:31 pm |

    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

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

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

  15. 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

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

  17. 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.

  18. 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.

  19. 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.

  20. 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.

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

  22. 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

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

  24. 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

  25. Joseph Tan | July 12, 2010 at 2:59 am |

    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

  26. 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.

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

  28. 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.

  29. 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.

  30. Michael Cava | July 15, 2010 at 6:13 pm |

    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.

  31. Michael Cava | July 15, 2010 at 6:20 pm |

    See, what did I tell you

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

  33. D WILIKISON(WILKIE) | July 15, 2010 at 7:26 pm |

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

  34. 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….

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

  36. 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.

  37. 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.

  38. 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.

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

  40. 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.

  41. Opine
    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

  42. 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.

  43. Johnny Detroit | October 8, 2011 at 1:08 am |

    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.

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