A Navy destroyer recently test-fired a Block IV Tomahawk missile that quickly received updated target information in-flight, changed course rapidly and destroyed a moving target, Raytheon officials said.
While the net-enabled Tomahawk Block IV missiles already have an ability to be re-targeted in flight, this Feb. 19 missile test aboard the USS Sterett demonstrated that the weapon can perform this function much faster, more frequently and with greater radio throughput, Raytheon officials explained.
“Typically the communications with Tomahawk are very deliberate. With a higher radio throughput, you start sending the transmission repeatedly and the weapon just receives it,” said Chris Sprinkle, Tomahawk growth program manager, Raytheon.
The advantage to this kind of command and control information speed increase is that it improves the weapon’s ability to track, follow, adjust to and destroy moving targets over land or water, Sprinkle explained.
“We were looking at targets that may be mobile or moving over land or sea – to hit these types of targets you need to be able to send very rapid inflight target updates,” he added.
Thus far in combat, re-targeting Tomahawk Block IV missiles in flight has typically been a one-time event, Raytheon officials said. This newly demonstrated technological capability could make this much more frequent and expand the target set for the weapon.
During the test, the Tomahawk flew in sea-skim mode, meaning it travelled along the surface of the ocean while tracking its target and receiving in-flight updates.
So far, Raytheon has delivered 3,000 Tomahawk Block IVs to the Navy. The weapons are expected to have a service life of 30 years. Since the original initial operating capability of the Block IV weapon was 2004, many of them will be brought back at the 15 year service mark for re-certification during the 2017 to 2019 timeframe, said Roy Donelson, Tomahawk program director, Raytheon.
Raytheon plans to upgrade the missiles during this-recertification period and install new sensors and new communication gear so that the weapon has improved technology.
Donelson and Sprinkle explained that Raytheon is 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 would receive an electromagnetic signal and follow it, whereas an active seeker would also have 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.
Tomahawk missiles are a high-speed, low-altitude weapon designed to evade enemy air defenses – in part by flying lower to the ground and using precision GPS navigation systems.
They were originally developed as a Cold War weapon to go against sophisticated Soviet air defense systems by flying close to the terrain.
The Block IV missiles not only have the ability to re-route while in transit to a target but they can also send back real-time images of strategically vital areas and help conduct battle damage assessment. The Block IV missile is also able loiter over targets as needed and receive targeting information from a nearby unmanned aircraft system.
In addition to GPS, Tomahawk Block IV missiles also have a camera-based navigational system called digital scene matching and correlation. They have anti-jam GPS receivers and inertial measurement units as well so as to ensure the weapon could function in a GPS-denied environment.
U.S. and British commanders fired 221 Tomahawk missiles in 2011 from warships at the outset of the attack on Libya and Moammar Gadhafi. The missiles struck about 20 sites and helped destroy Libya’s air defense system.
Many believe the threat of Tomahawk missiles from Navy destroyers off the coast of Syria were a huge part of what motivated the Assad regime to agree to the destruction of chemical weapons stockpiles.
Each warhead weighs about 3,500-pounds, costs about $569,000 and is 18-feet long with an 8-foot wingspan. Existing Tomahawk warheads include a 1,000-pound unitary warhead and submunitions dispenser variant carries which releases 166 combined-effects smaller bomblets, service officials said.