Special Operations: All Your Tomahawks Are Belong To Us

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April 27, 2012: The U.S. Navy is equipping SOCOM (Special Operations Command) operators (Special Forces and SEALs) with the ability to transmit new target locations, for mobile targets, to a navy command center that will update the GPS location a ship-launched cruise missile is headed for. Most of the Tomahawks ever used have been fired at land targets, and this new capability gives SOCOM operators a powerful capability if they are less than 1,200 kilometers from an ocean.

The current Tomahawk, the Block 4, costs about $1.8 million each, weighs 1.4 tons, has a range of 1,500 kilometers, and carries a half ton warhead. It moves to its target at a speed of 880 kilometers an hour. The Tomahawk was introduced 29 years ago and over 6,000 have been manufactured. The U.S. Navy has fired nearly 2,000 in combat and training.

The Block 4s are also getting 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, 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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