The Tomahawk cruise missile has a range of more than 1,000 miles and features a 1,000-pound class warhead. (Raytheon)
FARNBOROUGH, ENGLAND — With funds for new-production Tomahawk cruise missiles shrinking, Raytheon is looking to cash in on the next best thing — upgrades and “recertifications” of existing missiles, an effort that could last a decade or more.
The recertification program — which could begin as early as 2018 — would coincide with major upgrades to make the weapon semi-autonomous, faster and smart enough to track moving targets.
Factory production is very much on the mind of the Massachusetts-based company these days. Roy Donelson, Raytheon’s Tomahawk program director, said the company requires production of 196 missiles per year as a minimum to keep the line going.While they got that in the presidential budget request for fiscal 2014, the number was dropped to 100 for 2015.
Congress has bumped that figure back up to 196 for fiscal ’15, but future quantities remain in question.
The company may have something of a backup plan if missile orders are cut in the future. Donelson spent a significant part of a briefing for reporters here discussing the plan for “recertification” of the Tomahawk arsenal.
The thinking is this: The Tomahawk Block IV was introduced in 2004 with a 15-year warranty and 30-year life span. Some of that first wave of Tomahawks are still being carried around, unused, and are will reach that 15-year mark at the end of this decade.
Raytheon will take them in and certify that they are still operational at a rate fairly close to the production rate. And while the weapons are in the factories, why not put a whole suite of upgrades in there?
“The value proposition is incredible, because now you can get a brand new missile in terms of capability at a fraction of the cost,” Donelson said.
What advancements make the next-generation Tomahawk? The first is an advanced communications and navigations suite, which Donelson said will be ready to start an engineering and manufacturing development (EMD) program next year with an eye on readiness by 2018. That, in conjunction with a new seeker design, would allow the weapon to track targets with greater accuracy.
The second is a new joint multiple-effect weapons system warhead, which would give the Tomahawk more flexibility. Operators could prefer to go with a weapon that provides better penetration or one that provides an expanded blast effect. That could be ready to start EMD next year, with a target date of 2019.
“You can see where this is all leading up, Donelson said. “Once we start this recertification program in 2018 and 2019, all these programs would be available.”
At the end of this, as a Raytheon promotional video showed, the Tomahawk should be able to strike moving targets on land and at sea, regardless of jamming, with increased precision and effectiveness.
The company is also looking at making the Tomahawk supersonic, but that is more of a next-generation design rather than a recertification upgrade. Doing so would require looking at the airframe and alternative engines, Donelson said, but he insisted the company would not make changes that would require a redesign of the vertical launch system currently used for the weapons.
Christopher P. Cavas in Washington contributed to this report.