The Royal Navy has successfully test-fired its first Block IV Tactical Tomahawk Land Attack Missile (TacTom). The missile was fired by the Royal Navy's TRAFALGAR-class submarine HMS Trenchant, at periscope depth in the Gulf of Mexico, over the US Eastern test range at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida. 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. Although the subject of much debate in recent times, there are no Ministry of Defence plans as yet to fit Block IV TacTom to the DARING-class Type 45 destroyers.
The views expressed above do not necessarily reflect those of RUSI.