The House Armed Services Committee added money to the 2016 defense bill to keep the Tomahawk Block IV missile production line open even after the Navy had chosen to close it.
Committee leaders included funding to order 198 additional Tomahawk Block IV missiles despite plans by the Navy to pursue a next-generation land attack weapon – a move which could wind up leading the service to develop an upgraded, next-generation Tomahawk.
Last year, the House made the same move increasing the order for Tomahawk missiles from 100 to 196 missiles. The fiscal year 2015 budget proposal had called for 100 Tomahawk missiles to be produced in 2015 before stopping production in 2016 until re-certification in 2019.
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. The missiles built by Raytheon are just over 18-feet long and have an 8-foot, 9-inch wingspan.
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 said.
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.
The re-certification process for Block IV Tomahawks will offer the opportunity 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.
Extending production could increase the likelihood that Block IV Tomahawks will continue to be built up until the planned re-certification of the inventory.
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.
The House’s proposed production extension comes as the Navy and Raytheon prepare for new tests and continue to collaborate on a series of technological upgrades to the Tomahawk in order to enable it to destroy targets on the move.
The Navy had planned to stop production of Tomahawks because is in the early phases of developing a new land-attack weapon and the existing arsenal of Block IV Tomahawks are getting older.
However, the weapon is already configured to fire from submarines, destroyers and cruisers – so it could prove more cost effective for the Navy to simply upgrade the weapon with newer technologies and guidance systems.
In service for 30 years and having been utilized in 20-years of operational combat, Tomahawks have been the focus of a number of incremental technological improvements ranging from navigation to targeting and data-link upgrades.
The weapons have been used for decades in combat. Roughly 800 tomahawks were fired in Operational Iraqi Freedom in 2003 and about 200 were used in Desert Storm, Raytheon officials said.
In addition, more than 200 Tomahawks were fired in NATO action in Libya in 2011
– Kris Osborn can be reached at Kris.Osborn@military.com