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or TLAMs, were first introduced in the 1980s and an early variant was actually designed to strike enemy ships but was withdrawn from service because of issues with the missile’s accuracy.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 guided missile submarines.
Mulloy’s comments come after Secretary of Defense Ashton B. 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.