A Tomahawk missile launches from the guided missile destroyer USS Stethem during a live-warhead test.

A Tomahawk missile launches from the guided missile destroyer USS Stethem during a live-warhead test.

Navy ships, subs to carry new 1,000-mile antiship missile

WASHINGTON — In the next decade, U.S. ships and submarines capable of firing Tomahawk cruise missiles will likely be fitted with a variant specifically designed to hit enemy ships up to 1,000 miles away, according to a report published in the U.S. Naval Institute News.

Vice Adm. Joseph Mulloy, deputy chief of naval operations for integration of capabilities and resources told USNI News Wednesday that surface ships would receive the upgraded missiles first, followed by submarines. The move follows the Navy’s upcoming $434 million budget request that would modify a portion of the current stock of Tomahawks with the ability to strike maritime targets.

Tomahawks, or TLAMs, were first introduced in the 1980s and an early variant was actually designed to strike enemy ships but was withdrawn from service because of issues with the missile’s accuracy. In 2015, however, the Navy demonstrated that current versions of the missile could be modified to accurately hit moving naval targets.

According to the Navy’s 2017 budget, the modified Tomahawks will start testing in 2021 before being distributed to surface ships such as guided missile destroyers and cruisers as well as guided missile submarines.

Mulloy’s comments come after Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter announced earlier this month that the SM-6 missile, a weapon designed specifically to intercept enemy warheads, would be upgraded to also attack enemy ships.

Both the news of the SM-6’s newfound abilities as well as the upcoming changes to the Tomahawk are in keeping with the Navy’s now year-old concept of “distributed lethality,” which basically entails making the Navy’s current vessels more lethal within the confines of a restrained budget environment.

The combination of the SM-6 and the modified Tomahawks would help give the Navy a leg-up on China, a country that is rapidly upgrading its naval capabilities.

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