Tomahawk Block V Cruise Missile Entered Service With The U.S. Navy

The destroyer Chafee launches a Block V Tomahawk, the weapon’s newest variant, during a missile exercise. (Ens. Sean Ianno/U.S. Navy)

WASHINGTON (GDC) — Raytheon delivers the first of the U.S. Navy’s new Block V Tomahawk, an upgraded version of the service’s venerable land-attack missile that will ultimately include the ability to target ships at sea at extended ranges.

The new Block V will be expected to hit surface ships at Tomahawk ranges — in excess of 1,000 miles — with the integration of a new seeker. It also will integrate a new warhead with a broader range of capabilities, including greater penetrating power.

Tomahawk’s range is especially important in the Asia-Pacific region, where China’s rocket force has extraordinary reach with its DF-26 and DF-21 missiles, with ranges of 2,490 and 1,335 miles respectively, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

The U.S. Navy’s news missiles are destined not just for the vertical launching systems on surface ships but also on attack submarines that can more easily operate inside the range of China’s rocket force.

The destroyer Dewey conducts a tomahawk missile flight test while underway in the western Pacific. (MC2 Devin Langer/U.S. Navy)

The Navy is expected to make a decision on the future of the Tomahawk weapon in 2021, but the signs seem to point to its continuation. The service has had a long-running search for a next-generation land-attack missile, but a recent analysis of alternatives led to the Navy restarting the Tomahawk line and upgrading its current inventory.

In the Navy’s 2021 budget documents submitted last year, the service said it had yet to determine the future of the missile. But in testimony before the House Armed Services Committee, the head of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, Adm. Phil Davidson, specifically cited the anti-ship Maritime Strike Tomahawk specifically and the surface-strike variant of the SM-6 as capabilities needed by the Marine Corps in its quest to hold Chinese ships at risk from shore-based missiles.

About Tomahawk Block V

The Tomahawk Block V is a modernized version of the Tomahawk Block IV cruise missile, on which the partial replacement of antennas, the rocket airframe, electrical wiring, and the installation of a new module of the Integrated Single Box Solution data transmission apparatus are performed. In addition, a GPS GR5 receiver is fitted with built-in anti-jamming capability.

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The main difference between the Block V version is a new aiming head capable of hitting surface moving targets. The service life of the upgraded Tomahawks is 15 years.

On December 1, 2020, the Tomahawk Block V missile was tested from the USS Chafee (DDG 90) destroyer of the Arleigh Burke class. The launch was carried out at the Barking Sands offshore range off the coast of Hawaii in the Pacific Ocean. The details of the launch were not disclosed, but the message from the Navy says that this missile will become the “long-arm” of the US Navy and will be able to significantly expand their capabilities.

The missiles of the new version will again be able to hit moving surface sea targets, similar to the first versions of the Tomahawk. This version of the rocket was discontinued in the early 2000s.

In the spring of 2020, a contract was signed between the Pentagon and Raytheon for the production and modernization of Tomahawk cruise missiles. The agreement value of $641.3 million implies the production of new Tomahawk Block V cruise missiles and the modernization of ready-made Block IV generation missiles. The funds under the contract are distributed as follows – $147.9 million will be spent on the production of 90 missiles, the rest – on modernization. The modernization program, which began in 2019, is planned for 15 years and should be completed by 2034.

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