US Navy to Re-Fit Tomahawk Cruise Missiles to Attack Ships

But is the missile a good fit for the mission?

The U.S. Navy has awarded a contract to fit an undetermined number of its long-range Tomahawk cruise missiles with upgraded sensors that will allow the land-strike weapons to target ships. These Maritime Strike Tomahawks will provide a relatively low-cost anti-ship capability as the U.S. Navy works to make up for long-standing gaps in its ability to target adversary fleets, but it’s unclear how they will stack up against other anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCMs) being introduced in the fleet.

The U.S. surface fleet has long led in its ability to provide air defenses over wide areas and launch devastating strikes against targets on land with the existing Tomahawk missile variants, but lags against potential adversaries in being able to sink other ships at long ranges. Russia and China have continued to design and introduce advanced, long-range, and high-speed anti-ship cruise missiles to defeat the sophisticated air defenses on modern warships. The U.S. Navy has long been conspicuous for having only the 1970s-designed Harpoon anti-ship missile to target enemy ships with.

Compared to the most advanced adversary missiles, the Harpoon is slow, un-stealthy, and has a paltry 70 nautical mile range (top-of-the-line adversary missiles are believed to have ranges twice that or more). Compounding those disadvantages in a face-off against a well-armed adversary fleet, only a little over one third of the U.S. destroyers in commission or under construction are even capable of carrying the Harpoon, and the oldest third at that. The rest had no over-the-horizon weapon to engage another warship with until a new high-performance air defense missile, the SM-6, was hastily – by Pentagon procurement standards – modified to be able to engage ship targets.

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The new Maritime Strike Tomahawks would have a 900 nautical mile range, far longer than anything…

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