Raytheon and General Dynamics’ Electric Boat developed new payload module for future US Navy’s Virginia-class fast-attack submarines will triple the number of Tomahawks the subs can carry.
The Navy’s main conventional deep-strike weapon, Tomahawk is fired by surface ships and submarines to destroy high-value targets with lethal precision. The current fleet of 13 Virginia-class nuclear-capable subs feature 12 individual vertical launch tubers, each holding one Tomahawk, David Adams, senior Tomahawk program manager for Raytheon Missile Systems was quoted as saying by Tuscon Tech news portal Sunday.
“They’ve found that it’s expensive, it’s harder to maintain that way,” Adams said.
Electric Boat and Raytheon developed a design to replace those individual launchers with two larger launch tubes, each holding six Tomahawks and potentially larger weapons or undersea vehicles.
“This Virginia payload tube was an evolution to that — they said, ‘hey, let’s create a six-pack of Tomahawks that would fit in a larger diameter (launcher),” Adams said.
The new launcher design takes up less space, uses less material and has some operational advantages as well, he said.
The new launch tubes are going into the Virginia-class Block III submarines, four of eight of which have been delivered.
Last week, the US Navy test-fired two Tomahawks for the first time from the new launch tubes on the Virginia-class fast-attack sub USS North Dakota, the first Block III submarine built.
But bigger things are planned for the future versions of the Virginia class.
For the Virginia Block IV versions and beyond, Electric Boat and Raytheon are developing a new mid-hull missile module that will also add four of the larger launch tubes — each capable of carrying seven Tomahawks.
That will increase the number of launch-ready Tomahawks the subs can carry from 12 to 40 missiles.
While today, that would greatly increase the Navy’s Tomahawk launch capacity, the increase will come just in time to replace Tomahawks expected to be lost because of the planned retirement of another type of US submarine.
Starting in the 2020s, the Navy plans to start retiring four large Ohio-class guided-missile submarines — the largest in the US fleet — each able to fire up to 154 Tomahawk missiles.
The four Ohio-class subs — the USS Ohio, USS Michigan, USS Florida and USS Georgia — were originally nuclear-armed ballistic missile subs before being converted to conventionally armed guided-missile subs in the 2000s. (All Tomahawks are conventionally armed since the nuclear version was phased out.)
The Ohio-class submarines are scheduled to be replaced by a new ballistic-missile sub, the Columbia Class, starting around 2031. But in the meantime, the newer Virginia submarines will take up most of the slack.
“The Virginia class is helping replace that (Tomahawk capacity), with an eye toward the loss of those Ohio-class subs, and the Columbias which will be replacing those Ohios pretty much on a one-for-one basis,” Adams said.
“The Columbia class will have pretty substantial capacity of Tomahawk-capable missile tubes,” he said, adding that by the time the Ohios retire, there will be a small net decrease in Tomahawk capacity.
With latest Tomahawk Block IV, the Navy and Raytheon have improved the weapon’s communications and navigation capabilities, while adding a multi-mode seeker so it can hit high-value moving targets at sea.
Those upgraded Tomahawks are on track to deploy beginning in 2019 and are expected to be in the Navy arsenal beyond 2040.