The Tomahawk missile is one powerful weapon. It can loiter over targets while sending back video through a two-way data link and it can destroy targets from ranges out to 900 miles. It can also adjust course in flight to destroy moving targets.
While typically fired from surface ships and submarines, Tomahawk missile prototypes will now fire from land launchers are part of a new Army Mid-Range Capability weapons program aimed at giving ground commanders and wider and more lethal sphere of attack options.
The program, according to a statement from the Army’s Redstone Arsenal, is intended to fill an attack gap able to hit targets between the 500km range of the emerging Precision Strike Missile and the Long Range Hypersonic weapon.
“The MRC prototype, consisting of launchers, missiles and a battery operations center, will be fielded to an operational battery in the Fiscal Year 2023,” the Army statement reads.
The weapon will likely emerge on this timetable due to its joint characteristics, meaning the Tomahawk has long been an effective Navy attack weapon and the Army intends to use “joint” hardware and software to configure the weapon for land attack. the MRC program is also developing a prototype SM-6 land-fired weapon.
Due to their 900-nautical mile range, loiter-over-target drone-like ability, two-way datalink and combat success, Tomahawks are often the first to strike in the opening moments of military conflict. Built to counter Soviet air defenses years ago, Tomahawks often fly parallel to the surface of the ocean to elude enemy radar. They are precise and have been successful against fixed targets in the opening days of war, destroying enemy command and control centers, bunkers and other kinds of high-value infrastructure. The current Block IV Tomahawk missile continues to receive upgrades, to include a new, more explosive warhead option for commander seeking alternative blast effects.
Of even greater significance, the Navy is now engineering a newly-configured Maritime Tomahawk variant with an ability to destroy moving targets at sea. This is quite significant, particularly for a weapon that has historically been used against fixed targets, as it brings an entirely new sphere of strike options to commanders amid fast-changing war circumstances. The emerging Tomahawk uses improved radio throughput along with new networking, sensing and targeting applications to adjust and re-route in flight while closing in on moving targets.
This technology, if embraced by the Army as well, would no longer limit Tomahawks from hitting ships or areas within range from the sea, but also give ground commanders an option to reach otherwise inaccessible long-range targets.
Given these factors, the introduction of a land-fired Tomahawk will bring forward positioned ground units an increased ability to hit inland targets otherwise out of range for a sea-launched Tomahawk. Land-fired Tomahawks, as explained by senior Army leaders, are part of the Army’s post-Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty strategy which has now revisited the development and deployment of medium-range missile weapons previously banned by the INF Treaty. Just within the last several years, Russia’s violations of the INF Treaty led the United States to withdraw.
Kris Osborn is defense editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.