Tucson-based Raytheon Missile Systems is working to head off a proposed U.S. Navy budget proposal that would halt purchases of the Tomahawk cruise missile — the nation’s primary long-range strike missile — after 2015.
Facing steep defense budget cuts, the Navy said its inventory of some 4,000 Tomahawks is sufficient until it develops a next-generation land-attack missile.
But Raytheon — which makes Tomahawks in Tucson — is lobbying the Navy and members of Congress to modify the plan, contending that any procurement hiatus would shut down production lines that could not be easily restarted.
“We think that’s a risky item, and we don’t see the (defense) budget going up in the future,” said Chris Sprinkle, senior program manager for Tomahawk business development.
“These weapons are state-of-the-art, the first thing that goes in for any strike,” he said. “Tomahawk is always leading the way, so you need to have what we call a warm production capability.”
Sprinkle said Raytheon has been able to quickly ramp up production of the missile when needed, as it did to replenish stocks after the U.S. fired off about 200 Tomahawks in Libya in 2011.
But restarting Tomahawk production after a long hiatus could take two years and increase costs, Sprinkle said.
“If you stop production cold for two or three years, then the suppliers — and Raytheon for that matter — we’re running a business, you can’t keep people just waiting for the day they say, ‘go ahead and start building again.’ All those people would go work on other programs, and our suppliers will do the same thing.”
Raytheon is advising the Navy on alternatives to a production stoppage, including accelerating a planned Tomahawk “modernization” program, Sprinkle said.
4,000 TOMAHAWKS ENOUGH?
The Navy’s budget plan would end procurement of Tomahawks after a contract for production of 100 of the missiles in fiscal 2015, following 196 in production in the current fiscal year.
At a budget hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee in late March, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said that the roughly 4,000 Tomahawks in inventory “will carry us through any eventuality that we can foresee,” until the Tomahawk is replaced by a “next-generation land attack weapon” still in the early planning stages.
Members of Congress including Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and some military analysts have questioned the wisdom of halting Tomahawk production.
At the March 27 budget hearing, McCain told Mabus he was “taken aback” by the plan.
“This is really rolling the dice, in my view, when we haven’t even begun the assessment of what that new weapon would look like,” said McCain, a former Navy combat pilot. “And I don’t think there’s any doubt about the absolute criticality of a weapon like the Tomahawk.”
McCain noted that it can take a decade to develop and field an all-new weapons system, urging further hearings on the Tomahawk procurement issue.
“(Regarding) the follow-on weapon, we are in the analysis of alternatives and we believe that we can get that follow-on weapon introduced into the fleet expeditiously,” Mabus responded. “We certainly, absolutely don’t want, don’t need a gap between the Tomahawk and the next weapon.”
Raytheon’s Sprinkle said restarting a cold Tomahawk production line would require costly requalification of suppliers and components, adding that more than 100 suppliers in 24 states supply Tomahawk parts.
He said the company is advising the Navy on possible options, including accelerating a planned modernization program that would add a new warhead and a new radar seeker to the latest version of the missile, known as the Tomahawk Block IV or Tactical Tomahawk.
One option is to combine the modernization program with a required recertification program — in which missiles are updated and serviced after 15 years — for the latest version of the weapon, known as the Tomahawk Block IV. The older Block III Tomahawk missiles have already been recertified and can’t be upgraded to Block IV, because the Block IV — rolled out in 2004 — was essentially a new missile, Sprinkle said.
About 70 percent of each Tomahawk will require some form of recertification work, but that work isn’t expected to start until 2019, he added. The modernization program had been expected to start around 2017.
Combining the upgrades and recertification work on an accelerated schedule would help keep a “warm production capability,” Sprinke said.
While the exact number of Tomahawks and the mix of Block IIIs and Block IVs is classified, Sprinkle noted that Raytheon marked delivery of the 3,000th Tomahawk missile last November. Each Tomahawk Block IV cruise missile costs about $600,000 — less than half the price of the less capable Block III. More than 2,000 Tomahawks have been fired in combat since the missile was first used in combat during Operation Desert Storm in 1991.
The planned upgrades would make the Tomahawk even more capable.
The new “multi-effects” warhead combines bunker-busting penetrating warhead technology with different blast effects and can be programmed for different types of targets — even in mid-flight, Sprinkle said.
The new target seeker would complement the guidance systems on the current Tomahawk Block IV missile, including sophisticated systems that view and compare surrounding terrain and GPS satellite guidance. The new seeker features a passive sensor that can detect and home in on radiation sources such as air-defense radars, and an active radar to identify and hit targets with greater accuracy, allowing it to hit moving targets or one corner of a building, for example.
The Navy has not yet agreed to buy the new target seeker.
Betting that it will, Raytheon has spent about $30 million of its own money developing the new technology and expects to spend at least $8 million more on development, Sprinkle said. Aircraft-mounted flight testing is planned for later this month and next spring.
Sprinkle said the Navy’s proposal for a “next-generation land attack missile” came as news to the company when it was revealed in January, and the company is working with the Navy to clarify the plan, which could involve an advanced version of the Tomahawk.
“We’re working with the Navy on some solutions to allow them to some degree have their cake and eat it — to be able to keep that production going and also save money to put into modernization or other priorities,” Sprinkle said.