by Kris Osborn
Send it to a command center and then loiter until instructed to destroy that target, Raytheon officials told Scout Warrior.
The technology was used in a test-firing of a Tomahawk recently launched off a Navy surface ship off the coast of California, Chris Sprinkle, Raytheon Tomahawk program manager, told Scout Warrior in an interview.
“We are taking advantage of the capability that is already in the weapon. It took a picture of a target area and sent it to a controller. The controller selected the target out of the photo and gave those coordinates to the weapon,” Sprinkle said.
During the Navy-Raytheon test-firing, photos from the missile were sent from the ocean off the Southern California coast to a command center all the way in Bahrain in the Middle East, Sprinkle explained.
“Controllers at the 5th fleet in Bahrain were controlling a large number of Tomahawks,” he added.
The weapon used its data-link to send photos to the command center while the Tomahawk loitered near a potential target, Sprinkle said. The Tomahawk was used to destroy a mobile missile threat during the test, Raytheon officials said.
“We flew a Tomahawk over the island and took a picture at a specific point to say is there a target there. That information was sent back via bi-directional data link to a controller in Bahrain. They evaluated and said yes there is a target. They processed the coordinates for that target and passed those coordinates back to the weapon,” Sprinkle explained.
The Tomahawk then went off into a holding pattern and waited for instruction, he added.
“The weapon was instructed to go attack the target that was in the photo. This is a pretty awesome use of the weapon,” he added. Raytheon officials say this technology is now operational and deployable.
The Tomahawk’s camera can also be used for battle damage assessments.
“Tomahawk is the go-to weapon when we are facing heavily defended high-value targets. The Navy and the joint forces are coming up with clever new ways to use the weapon all the time,” Sprinkle said.
This recently demonstrated high-tech ability is only the latest in a series of upgrades to the Tomahawk, a weapon that has been used against enemy targets in combat for many years.
Other upgrades to the weapon include exploration of a new warhead, new seeker and guidance technology and increased radio throughput or communications designed to enable the Tomahawk to better destroy targets on the move.
In service for 30 years and having been utilized in 20-years of operational combat, Tomahawks have been the focus of a number of incremental technological improvements ranging from navigation to targeting and data-link upgrades.
The weapons have been used for decades in combat. Roughly 800 tomahawks were fired in Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003 and about 200 were used in Desert Storm, Raytheon officials said.
In addition, more than 200 Tomahawks were fired in NATO action in Libya in 2011.
Tomahawk missiles weigh 3,500 pounds with a booster and can travel at subsonic speeds up to 550 miles per hour at ranges greater than 900 nautical miles. They are just over 18-feet long and have an 8-foot, 9-inch wingspan.