Saturday, June 23, 2012

6,000 Tomahawks Later

The U.S. Navy has ordered another 200 Tomahawk cruise missiles for its ships and submarines. The navy continues to use Tomahawks in combat on a regular bases. Most of these uses are publicized, but some are not. Several hundred Tomahawks were used against Libya last year. The Tomahawk was introduced 29 years ago and over 6,000 have been manufactured so far. U.S. Navy has fired over 2,000 in combat and over 500 for training and testing. The U.S. Navy has over 3,000 Tomahawks on its warships or in storage.
The current Tomahawk, the RGM-109E Block 4 Surface Ship Vertical Launched Tomahawk Land Attack Missile weighs 1.2 ton, is six meters (18 feet) long, has a range of 1,600 kilometers, getting there at a speed of 600-900 kilometers an hour, flying at an altitude of 17-32 meters (50-100 feet) and propelled by a jet engine generating only 600 pounds of thrust. Accuracy is on a par with JDAM (10 meters/31 feet). The Block 4 Tomahawk can be reprogrammed in flight to hit another target and carries a vidcam to allow a missile to check on prospective targets.
The Block 4s were recently upgraded so that they can hit moving targets. This is mainly intended to turn the Tomahawk into an anti-ship missile, although it can also hit moving land targets. The Tomahawk has been a primary land attack weapon for surface ships and submarines since the 1990s. The Block 3 entered service in 1994, but the Block 4 was a big upgrade a decade later, adding GPS and the ability to go after a different target while the missile was in flight.
The United States is developing a successor to the Tomahawk cruise missile that will be heavier (2.2 tons), have a longer range (2,000 kilometers), and a larger (one ton) warhead. The new missile will be stealthier and use a combination of guidance and targeting systems (to improve the chances of success). Price will probably be the key factor in whether this new missile ever enters service. The new Cruise Missile XR (for Extended Range) will probably cost at least twice as much as the current Tomahawk.
The cruise missile, when it showed up in the 1980s, was one of the first UAVs, it just wasn't reusable. But UAVs that carry bombs and missiles and can be reused are going to provide competition for a new, $3 million, Cruise Missile XR.

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