The Tomahawk Land Attack Missile is now a key weapon system for Royal Navy Fleet Submarines, having made its UK operational debut during the Kosovo campaign in 1999, successfully fired from HMS Splendid.
The UK is the only country to operate the system outside of the United States.
The missile was first successfully test-fired from HMS Splendid in November 1998. Targeting data can be passed from Fleet Headquarters at Northwood to a submarine anywhere in the world via satellite links. New software has been introduced to improve interoperability between the US and Royal Navies, and proven in a recent test-firing.
The weapon system is highly accurate, capable of delivering a warhead with pinpoint precision and lethality to a carefully selected target hundreds of miles away. The missile is launched underwater from a torpedo tube, allowing the submarine to remain undetected. Flying low-level at high subsonic speeds, and with a low radar signature, the missile is a particularly difficult target for even sophisticated air defence systems to detect or engage. It navigates to its target using the satellite Global Positioning System and the Digital Scene Matching Area Correlation system
Although the UK already has the Block III version of the missile in service on its SSNs, and has fired missiles in operations in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq, the Block IV TacTom makes some significant increases in UK capability.
Photo: Royal Navy/Ministry of Defence
First, it has an improved range of over 1,000 miles. With 70% of the earth's surface covered by sea and, arguably, therefore by submarines, there is now no corner of the earth that the UK cannot reach with TacTom to project British political and military influence if required.
Second, the missile has the capacity to be re-programmed to attack different targets, either while the missile is still to be launched, while it is in flight or while it is over its original target. Indeed, it has the capacity to loiter over targets if needed.
Third, a two-way data link means that information can be passed back from the missile. This can be information relating to the effectiveness of a previous strike, where TacTom can feed back damage assessment, or information relating to the accuracy of its own strike, where the missile feeds back precise information to enable planners to be sure that it struck the intended target.
Moreover, in operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Block III Tomahawk proved to be very effective. In Iraq, it played a fundamental role in the shock and awe campaign, and its range enable maritime forces to keep pace with the rapid advance of land forces. In Afghanistan in 2001, Royal Navy submarines were able to reach in to a land-locked country to deliver effect at a time when there were no ground forces or air bases in place.
In the future, a weapon with the range of the Block IV TacTom, when deployed on a submarine, gives the UK increased political and military choice. Any potential adversary would have to consider that a British submarine - one which could deliver significant effect with no warning - might be close by.
The Block IV TacTom is to be deployed on Britain's new ASTUTE-class SSN, as well as on all seven TRAFALGAR-class submarines.
The latest tomahawk land attack missile purchase, involving TLAMs known also as TacTom or Block 4 missiles have the ability to be retargeted or abort in flight. They can be launced from exisitng Barrow built Trafalgar and the new Astute Class Submarines when they commence service.