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With speculation that Western forces are to launch a barrage of cruise missiles into Syria, let’s take a look at the missiles the United Kingdom would be most likely to use.

The Tomahawk missile, also known as TLAM, allows Royal Navy submarines of the Astute and Trafalgar class to strike at targets on land accurately at a range of around 1,000 miles.

The missile is a highly accurate, GPS-enabled weapon that the US and allied militaries have used more than 2,000 times in combat, and flight-tested 500 times say the manufacturer. In April 2017, US Navy destroyers launched 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at targets on a Syrian air base. In 2014, a US Navy destroyer and a guided missile cruiser launched 47 Tomahawk missiles in a strike on the Islamic State terrorist group in Syria.

It’s important to remember that Tomahawk is a cruise missile, so rather than taking on a ballistic trajectory, it stays close to the ground, steering around terrain features, using a jet engine instead of a rocket engine to fly. It is hoped that by the missile keeping low—because of its small radar signature—the Tomahawk avoids radar-guided defences that can threaten manned aircraft.

The missile has been in use with the Royal Navy since the late 1990s and has been used in the Kosovo conflict and in the campaigns against the Taliban, Saddam Hussein and Gaddafi.

The missile fired from a boat’s torpedo tubes. Once it reaches the surface, a booster rocket ignites to propel the missile skywards. Tomahawk then heads for its target at 550 mph, delivering a 1,000 lb explosive warhead.

The Tomahawk IV is the latest version of the missile operated by the British submarine fleet. It has a longer range than its predecessors and can be directed at a new target in-flight, and can also beam back images of the battlefield.

It is currently planned to be phased out of service in the American Navy with no more weapons to be produced after 2015 meaning that it may no longer be an option for the Royal Navy from around the end of the decade.

The UK last bought 65 Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles in July 2014.

42 COMMENTS

    • Whatever LAM they use next I expect, eventually.

      We only ever buy small batches to replace ones already expended as they are not cheap.

    • Since with T26 we will have access to the same Mk41 launch system as the USA we might go with whatever the USA goes with at least in the short to medium term.

      With the USA now building VLS tubes into some of their attack subs, does that mean that a torpedo tube launched successor to Tomahawk is not on the US wish list so once our current Tomahawk stocks run out or life-expire we will lose the ability to fire cruise missiles from our SSN? If yes then I really do think that we need to look seriously at putting at least one common missile compartment into the next generation Astute replacement and get straight onto building the first of those as soon as Dreadnought construction is far enough along to allow SSN construction to start in parallel. Maybe even go as far as basing the Astute successor design on a cut down version of the Dreadnought design.

      For longer term plans for next generation TLAM in our Mk41s, does Spear 5 envisage a VLS version or is it only intended to be air launched? If it is going to have a VLS option that would seem to be the appropriate longer term option. MBDA are doing well for us with Spear 3, CAMM, Meteor to name just 3 so if history repeats then Spear 5 looks enticing.

    • the u.k, french, and italian storm shadow which can be air launched from tornado/f 35 and typhoon aircraft.

    • Another tick in the box for a Putin bot! While most of the planet believe Russia is a medieval dictatorship, Russia carries on acting like everyone else is stupid. Analogy is the sulking child in the playground nobody else wants to play with so he decides to set fire to the school!

        • Hear hear Steve + David. You can be against UK military action here without pretending that we’re in any way the aggressors. How easy it has become to spot people shilling for Putin

      • Not everyone who has a different opinion to you is a Russian bot, you sound as silly as the BBC and CNN blaming the US election on Russian hacking

        • All US intelligence agencies pointed the finger at Russia for hacking Democrat emails which, although we can debate the extent, surely had some sort of impact on their candidate and her campaign. What’s silly about reporting that?

        • Your right Levi, However, there are limits to credibility. While the West may have some selfish aim in Syria, the Russians obviously don’t care about people being poisoned with chemical weapons. Stating that the West interferes on behalf of Jihad is simply not credible for 99.9% of sane British people. Hence i’ve come to the conclusion that either he’s one of those 0.1% of “British” crazies or he’s a Putin bot!

    • Then you reach transonic. Requiring a much more powerfull engine and greater fuel load plus greater weight equals larger missile.

  1. Veterans say NO to Syria bombing!

    http://vfpuk.org/upcoming/dont-bomb-syria-protest/

    The British Government is once again considering the use of military force against Syria.

    Since 2001 we have attacked; Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria.

    We have carried out covert operations in Somalia, Yemen, Pakistan and numerous other countries.

    Our attacks have failed, leading to the deaths of thousands, injury to thousands more, the destruction of homes and the destruction of infrastructure.

    Our attacks have fueled a cycle of violence that will only be accelerated through further intervention.

    Bombing Syria is not the solution to the problems we face in the 21st Century.

    • Hi Harold
      What do you suggest?
      There will always be bad people in the world, do we just turn a blind eye and let them get on with it? Or appease them?
      You seem to be blaming us for intervening, as though all was well before we got involved.
      You make statements regarding. How are attacks have failed.
      We fail because we do not see the job through, we deploy toys at arms length because we do not have the moral courage to accept that sometimes, to enforce a peaceful solution, we have to put boots in the ground. The days of the crusades are over, by that I mean Bush and Blair galavanting around the Middle East trying to impose a different way of life. There are some nasty people out there that will stop at almost nothing to get what they want, bullies if you like. You seem to be suggesting, I am happy to be corrected, that if we leave them alone the problem will go away, very much like turning the channel on the TV – if we ignore it it will go away.
      Peace is a noble thing, something we should all strive for. Peace also deserves to be fought for, the right of every man, woman and child to exist without threat to life or liberty – that’s worth fighting for. We will not always get it right but our cause should and is currently just.
      In the last 6 weeks two chemical attacks have taken place, are you happy to let that slide? You will suggest talks, at that point they have won – talk is cheap, with no consequence to the aggressor. By reading the above I sometimes think that you believe that we are the aggressor attacking innocent regimes.
      Like I said, I am happy to be corrected.
      Like you I don’t see bombing Syria as the solution either, but a line has to be drawn – we have had 7 years of talking and 500,000 lives lost.

      • I would not bother Lee.

        Whenever confronted with home truths he heads for the hills, without replying to fair objections to his pacifism.

        Example, several times now I’ve asked WHY should the western powers disarm first?

        Leaving an arming Middle East, China, Russia, etc all militarized.

        Deafening silence. It’s always the same.

        You always urge us to smile and wave, it’s about all that can be done with these people.

        • Hi Daniele
          It’s sad when someone like Harold, who has obviously served now believes that pacifism and dare I say it appeasement of those that wish to do harm. We smile and wave but with people like Harold it’s with a tinge of regret

          • It’s funny how being in action affects people. Some cone to terms with what they have witnessed and more importantly carried out. Whilst others either can’t or won’t. By not accepting what has happened puts you in a state of denial and therefor is the other persons fault for putting you in that situation. So their logic will be that I was put in the situation by management/Government and they were wrong so whatever they say is wrong.
            Personally, I’ve come to terms with what I saw and carried out both in Iraq and Afghan. Bullies need to be stopped and not appeased – end of.

          • Morning Lee.

            And just to clarify, I’m not talking just Syria here but his wider disarm and appease ideology that was evident before this business.

            As for Syria, although I have no problem with the UK getting involved in oversees operations and being the major power that it is supporting our NATO allies and primarily America I remain very unsure of this Syrian business.

            I’m in the camp that this is an internal matter and we should not intervene, we have been burnt too many times already over the last 15 years.

    • As I have mentioned before, this is a comments board for those interested in defence and military matters. Either contribute relevant ideas and thoughts, or take your piffle, make a placard and go and stand outside parliament.

  2. Could this be the “new and smart” P. Trump was referring to?

    “New, stealthy JASSM missiles could be delivered by B-1B and B-52 (and now likely F-15E and F-16),” Mount said.

    “JASSMs do target recognition and terminal guidance with infrared sensors, making them both ‘new’ and ‘smart,’ he added. “The United States has developed a new generation of electronic warfare munitions and decoys designed to help US strikes reach their targets, which could also see action.”

    • Could well be, thanks for the info.

      From quickly googling JASSM it looks as if it was also tested for Mk41 launch just last month. Hopefully they have gone straight into service on ABs and/or Ticos because otherwise, if those are the missiles Trump is talking about and they aren’t in service on Mk41s yet, he just tipped off the Russians and Syrians about what potential delivery platforms will be used, i.e. air launched rather than ship launched. Given they are long range stand-off weapons and the launch platforms should be well out of harms way it probably doesn’t make a huge difference but it would be better not to leak such information. Someone really should cut off that idiot’s twitter account.

  3. It would be hugely embarrassing for both the US and the UK if the tomahawks were shot down. Suddenly these hugely missiles would be proven obsolete. I doubt Russia has enough of its modern missile battery/radar in Syria to do the job, but the fall out would be huge.

    • Well, it would make them obsolete in a battlespace with a functioning air defence system of the sophistication of the Russian/Syrian one. Isn’t the modern approach to a full on assault on a sophisticated opponent to use stealth assets such as F-35 to take out air defences in the initial strike? If that is done successfully then Tomahawk could come back into play in the following hours and days for subsequent attacks on infrastructure, command&control and other second stage targets. They also still remain useful against opponents with less sophisticated air defences.

      • I wasn’t suggesting any likelihood of a full on stealth plus follow-up assault on Syria by the way, nor your observations about Tomahawk’s potential vulnerability there, I was simply questioning your conclusions regarding Tomahawk’s usefulness in future conflicts.

        • For sure not suggesting we will go down that route, just talking hypothetical.

          If the air space is safe enough for sending in f35 / stealth bombers, then there is no need for tomahawk.

          Tomahawk is effectively there to undertake first strike roles, where it is too dangerous to send in bombers. As soon as the bombers can operate, they can do the job far more effectively and cheaper.

          • I stand corrected. Thanks. I had a blind spot re use of TLAM, relative costs vs bombing etc and with that misunderstanding corrected I assume they are also not really applicable against an enemy without sophisticated air defences because there you would just send in cheaper bombing raids from the start.

            For the U.K. we don’t actually have many Tomahawks anyway, and probably even fewer if a strike goes ahead and we participate, so I suppose we don’t have as much investment in inventory as some. It does make it interesting what will go in T26’s Mk41. Some combination of ASROC, some sort of ASM, maybe ABM possibly cued from a T45, and ultimately a less vulnerable Tomahawk replacement when available?

            If the fallout you fear does happen then it further vindicates the UK’s decision to build up carrier strike since if TLAM drops off the possibilities list it still leaves us with F-35s from the carriers as potential first-hour strike capability against sophisticated opponents.

          • From what i understand the tomahawk missiles are close to $2b a pop, which is insanely expensive, and why I have always wondered why the obsession here for them to be added to the t45. At the cost involved, Britain can only afford a handful and the astute are more than enough for that. Outside a total war situation, realistically Britain would fire off less than 10 of them.

            This is all a big IF, neither the Russian air defence or the tomahawk has been tested against a vaguely modern combat. Let’s hope we never find the answer.

  4. What I don’t really get is what exactly the bombing will aim to achieve. Let’s say they fire off a few hundred missiles. By now, after years of conflict, the Syrian forces will be pretty dispersed and not reliant on single point locations for supplies etc, and so each missile will have limited effect and even combined i doubt it would make enough of a different to turn the tide at this stage, where the Syrian government has already taken the edge of the opposition groups.

  5. The Truman battle group left Newport on the 11th. It is 4982 nautical miles from there to Cyprus meaning that it will take a little over 10 days at 20 knots. Of course, B2s, B1s or B52s from the states could launch a strike sooner. There is also a US destroyer squadron operating out of Spain that could be on station within two or three days. There could be US subs operating in the med, too. My guess is that a strike will not occur until the Truman is on station, if it happens at all. Tomahawks would be the likely weapon of choice. It would be a bold move to send B2s into S400 range.

    All this is interesting to mull over for us armchair strategists but the dangers of escalation are very real. I worry about the aftermath of a strike. Would the Russians become aggressive in the Baltic States? Would they increase their military presence in Syria? Pray that they don’t go so far as to strike NATO ships.

  6. It is interesting that this site and comments have not been infected by Russian trolls or Stop the War imbeciles.

    • It has. You need to read the articles over several months.

      They are either Trolls or Far left extremist types.

      There are 4 total that spring to mind.

  7. The B1 Lancer is operational with LRASM if the Russian Navy wishes to cause an “incident” and I beleive the posters above are correct when it comes to predicting a stealth wave attack prior to a Tomahawk wave/ s. Also I think the TLAM and upcoming TASM will be in service longer than expected with the USN just deciding to modernize all DDG 51 hulls with none left behind and at least 5 improved LA SSN 688 class as well.

    https://news.usni.org/2018/04/12/navy-will-extend-ddgs-45-year-service-life-no-destroyer-left-behind-officials-say

    That’s a lot of MK41 cells to fill. Great idea IMO! Can none of the Trafalgar’s be life extended?

    Cheers

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