The Royal Navy’s fleet of submarines are set to be equipped with upgraded Tomahawk missiles as part of a new $461 million investment.
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The UK Ministry of Defence has entered into a contract with the US government via a foreign military sale (FMS) to upgrade its stock of Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles (TLAM), deployed from the Royal Navy’s Astute Class submarine fleet.
The £265 million (AU$461 million) FMS includes missile maintenance, recertification of existing missiles, spares, operational flight testing, software, hardware and training provisions.
Maintenance and technical support are set to be conducted from the UK sites of BAE Systems, Babcock International and Lockheed Martin, supported by full access to the US Tomahawk program.
This is expected to arm the Astute Class fleet with an enhanced Block V standard missile, capable of hitting targets at a range of up to 1,000 miles (1,609 kilometres), while maintaining a precision strike capability.
The upgrades, to take place from 2024, also aim to reduce the TLAMs vulnerability to external threats by leveraging modernised in-flight communication and target selection.
The high sub-sonic TLAM – first introduced into service with the British military in 1993 – is billed as a 5.6-metre-long weapon weighing 2,200 kilograms, designed to hit in-land targets from the sea within minutes.
The missile was deployed during operations in Afghanistan, Libya and Iraq.
Minister for Defence Procurement, Jeremy Quin, described the TLAMs as “one of the most lethal and precise” long-range strike weapons.
“Enhancing this cutting-edge missile system will ensure the UK can strike severe threats up to 1,000 miles away,” he said.
DE&S director, weapons, Ed Cutts, added: “Not only will this FMS sustain and improve a proven, crucial operational capability for any future conflicts, it will continue to ensure interoperability with our US allies and the follow-on support arrangements will sustain jobs for UK industry.”
Director, submarines, Rear Admiral Simon Asquith said the missile would provide the UK with “real strategic and operational choice”.
“Able to be fired from a stealthy UK nuclear attack submarine, the system’s exceptional range, accuracy and survivability provides the UK, alongside our US allies, with a world beating precision strike capability,” he said.
Along with the United States’ Virginia Class vessel, the Astute Class platform is currently under consideration by the Commonwealth government’s Nuclear-Powered Submarine Task Force to replace the Royal Australian Navy’s Collins Class fleet.
The task force’s considerations are expected to include requirements for design, construction, maintenance, infrastructure, industry capacity, nuclear safety, environmental protection, crewing and training.
The Task Force will also advise on building timeframes, costs and supply needs.