In a bid to bolster its naval arsenal’s effectiveness, the United States Navy has taken a significant step by awarding Raytheon Technologies Corp. (RTX) a $124.3 million contract to upgrade its BGM-109 Tomahawk cruise missiles with advanced seeker technology. This upgrade will enable these formidable weapons to target and strike moving enemy ships at sea, providing a crucial advantage in modern naval warfare.

Strengthening Naval Strike Capabilities: The Evolution of Tomahawk Missiles

The Naval Air Systems Command, based at Patuxent River Naval Air Station, recently announced this substantial contract, marking a pivotal moment in enhancing the Navy’s strike capabilities.

The focus of this contract is the development of Maritime Strike Tomahawk (MST) sensor seekers, a critical component designed to deliver midcourse and terminal guidance for Tomahawk missiles launched from Navy surface warships and submarines.

The Maritime Strike Tomahawk, also known as Tomahawk Block 5A, made its debut in 2021, introducing critical advancements in navigation and multi-sensor in-flight targeting. These improvements transformed the long-range subsonic missile into a potent anti-ship weapon. Navy surface warships and submerged submarines can launch the Tomahawk, making it a versatile and indispensable asset in the Navy’s arsenal.

The primary objective of this contract is to retrofit Tomahawk missiles with updated seeker technology and sensor-processing capabilities, enabling them to effectively target and engage moving naval vessels. This development comes as a response to the evolving threat landscape, with long-range anti-ship missiles posing a significant risk to surface forces and potentially impeding critical operations.

Block V Tomahawk
USS Chafee (DDG 90) launches a Block V Tomahawk (Image source: DVIDS)

The Tomahawk missile has a storied development history that spans several decades, evolving from its initial inception into a versatile family of variants. Conceived during the Cold War, the Tomahawk program began in the 1970s, intending to create a long-range, precision-guided cruise missile capable of striking deep into enemy territory. The first operational variant, the BGM-109A Tomahawk Land Attack Missile (TLAM), entered service in the early 1980s. It provided a revolutionary capability for the US Navy to conduct precision strikes against a wide range of land-based targets. Over the years, the Tomahawk missile system has undergone numerous upgrades and adaptations to meet evolving threats and operational requirements.

Meeting the Urgent Need: The MST’s Vital Role in Naval Defense

Navy joint task force commanders now face an urgent need for a near-term solution to counter hostile surface forces. The absence of such a capability could lead to severe consequences, including potential loss of life and mission failure. Recognizing the gravity of the situation, Navy officials have acted swiftly to address this pressing concern.

With its enhanced anti-ship capabilities, the Maritime Strike Tomahawk will complement the US Navy and Air Force’s AGM-158C Long-Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM). The LRASM is a sophisticated weapon system that can be launched from various platforms, including Navy F/A-18E/F Super Hornet jet fighters, Air Force B-1B Lancer strategic bombers, and potentially even the F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighter, P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol jet, Navy Mark 41 shipboard Vertical Launch System, and submarine launchers.