The US Navy has tested a ‘synthetically guided’ Tomahawk Block IV cruise missile last month, demonstrating the capability of existing Tomahawk missiles as netted weapons. The latest variant of the Tomahawk includes a two-way satellite data-link that enables the missile to be retargeted in flight to any one of 15 alternate targets pre-programmed in its memory before launch. “This capability extends the Tomahawk’s reach beyond fixed and re-locatable points, to moving targets.” Tomahawk Weapons System (PMA-280) program manager Capt. Joe Mauser explained.

Raytheon, the missile’s developer is also developing a new seeker designed to hit moving targets at sea or on land, in darkness and under all weather conditions. Other enhancements planned for the Tomahawk Block IV weapon include the integration of upgraded communications and a more powerful multi-effects warhead. Other enhancements implemented in the Block IV include a ‘sea-skim’ mode – low-altitude flight over water at high subsonic speeds. The Block IV missile is capable of loitering over a target area in order to respond to emerging targets or, with its on-board camera, provide battle damage information to warfighting commanders. “We are modernizing Tomahawk to stay ahead of the threat,” said Jeff Meyer, a Tomahawk business development manager at Raytheon. “The tests are designed to prove Tomahawk can hit a moving target and targets at sea, and that the missile isn’t affected by smoke or other obscurants such as bad weather.”

The Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division (NAWCWD) team leveraged existing Tomahawk strike communications frameworks to develop this cost-saving solution. “This is a significant accomplishment,” Capt. Mauser continued. “It demonstrates the viability of long-range communications for position updates of moving targets. The synthetically guided Tomahawk successfully hit its first moving maritime target Jan. 27 after being launched from the USS Kidd (DDG-100) near San Nicolas Island in California. The flight test demonstrated guidance capability when the missile in flight altered its course toward the moving target after receiving position updates from surveillance aircraft.

The Tomahawk weapons system is the U.S. Navy’s precision strike standoff weapon for long and medium range attack of tactical targets. The Navy is currently fielding Tomahawk Block IV weapons on surface and subsurface platforms across the globe. In 2013, Raytheon delivered the 3,000th Tomahawk Block IV missile to the U.S. Navy.

Raytheon has produced thousands of GPS guided BGM-109 Tomahawk missiles. Over 2,000 were used in combat. The Block IV design was initiated as both a cost savings and a capability improvement effort. The new enhancements are considered as part of ‘mid life modernization’ package Raytheon is hoping to launch in 2018-2019, enabling the Navy to maintain its cruise missiles ahead of the threat well into the 2020s.