Navy test-fires upgraded Tomahawk

The Navy and Raytheon recently flight tested software upgrades to the Tomahawk missile with two sea-launched test-firings near China Lake, Calif., designed to shoot the weapon up to high altitudes and assess the weapon’s improved maneuverability.

The first test took place from a nuclear submarine — the USS Hampton. The submarine fired a Tomahawk Block IV from its vertical capsule launch system.

“The missile flew a pre-planned mission until a strike controller located at a maritime command center directed the Tomahawk to a new target. The missile successfully demonstrated enhanced flex retargeting before striking the updated target at the China Lake weapons range,” a Raytheon statement said.

In the second test, the guided missile cruiser  USS Lake Champlain launched a Tomahawk Block IV to the missile’s highest ever altitude, Raytheon officials said.

“The Tomahawk flew a series of pre-planned high altitude maneuvers demonstrating improved performance in its flight regime.  The missile completed a pre-planned vertical dive impacting a target on San Nicolas Island off the Southern California coast,” a Raytheon statement said.

Navy Tomahawk program manager Capt. Joe Mauser said the “tests validated recent software updates that improve the weapon system flight performance.”

Raytheon officials said the tests were merely the latest move in a series of ongoing steps aimed at further upgrading and modernizing the Tomahawk Block IV missile.

“We’re constantly trying to provide more value out of the Tomahawk and upgrade its software and hardware. These tests pushed the envelope in terms of maneuvers,” Roy Donelson, Raytheon Tomahawk program manager added.

Donelson explained that the test showed what he called enhanced flux in-flight re-targeting wherein the missile can skim along the sea or fly at high altitudes before reaching its target.

Overall, 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.

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, said Donelson.

The weapon is also capable of performing battle damage assessment missions by relaying images through a data link, he said.

The re-certification process for Block IV Tomahawks will provide occasion 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, Donelson explained.

With this in mind, Raytheon has been conducting ongoing re-certification studies with the Navy to take up key questions regarding upgrades and new technologies for the platform, Donelson said.

Along these lines, the fiscal year 2015 budget also adds $150 million for a new Tomahawk missile navigation and communications suite in order to better enable the weapon to operate in anti-access/area-denial environments, he added.

Donelson explained that a number of the current technological upgrade efforts are timed to coincide with the planned re-certification of the inventory of Block IV Tomahawk missiles.

Along with the advanced communications and navigation suite, which is planned to be ready by 2018 or 2019, Raytheon is also developing a new seeker, processor and warhead for the weapon.

“With a 30 year service life and a 15 year warranty a lot of these systems will come back in 2018 and 2019 with all the upgrades. Tomahawk will be able to do autonomous and semi-autonomous operations in the future.  We’re looking at supersonic concepts and new payloads,” he said.

Among the new payloads is a more-penetrating warhead is called the Joint Multiple Effects Warhead System, or JMEWS. It was recently sponsored by U.S. Central Command. The JMEWS would give the Tomahawk better bunker buster type effects — meaning it could enable the weapon to better penetrate hardened structures like concrete.

Donelson said that Raytheon is conducting JMEWS risk-reduction testing with the Navy and hopes to enter into a new development phase by next year.

Testing analyzed the ability of the programmable warhead to integrate onto the most advanced Block IV Tomahawk missile, a weapon which can loiter over targets, send back single frame images and change course in flight via a GPS guidance system.

Donelson explained that Raytheon is also 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 can receive an electromagnetic signal and follow it, whereas an active seeker has the ability to send out or ping an electronic signal and bounce it off potential targets, he added.

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.

After additional lab testing, ground testing and flight testing, an integrate suite consisting of an active seeker, passive seeker and high-speed processor is slated to be ready by 2015, Donelson said.

Raytheon has invested $40 million thus far developing the new seeker and processor, and plans another captive carry test of the seeker in coming months, he added.

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.

Also, Raytheon is looking at multi-year contracts with the Navy for future Tomahawk production in order to lower prices. In addition, looking to find additional foreign military sales customers for the Tomahawk is another method of seeking to increase production and therefore lower costs.

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. They are just over 18-feet long and have an 8-foot, 9-inch wingspan.

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.