HMS Talent, a Trafalgar class nuclear submarines, has been loading Tomahawk cruise missiles in Gibraltar.

The practice is routine but does offer an opportunity to look at the capabilities of the submarine fleet.

Launched in 1988, Talent has conducted operations all around the world. The principal role of the ‘hunter-killer’ is to attack ships and other submarines however she also has a land attack capability. 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 is 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.

Tomahawk currently planned to be phased out of service in the American Navy with no more weapons to be produced, 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.

According to Raytheon, these are the general specifications:

Primary Function: Long-range subsonic cruise missile for striking high value or heavily defended land targets.
Contractor: Raytheon Missile Systems Company, Tucson, AZ.
Date Deployed: Block II TLAM-A IOC – 1984
Block III – IOC 1994
Block IV – IOC 2004.
Propulsion: Block II/III TLAM-A, C & D – Williams International F107 cruise turbo-fan engine; ARC/CSD solid-fuel booster
Length: 20.3 feet; with booster: 20 feet 6 inches (6.25 meters).
Diameter: 21 inches
Wingspan: 8 feet 9 inches (2.67 meters).
Weight: 3,330 pounds with rocket motor.
Speed: Subsonic – about 550 mph (880 km/h).
Range: Block III TLAM-C – 900 nautical miles (1000 statute miles, 1600 km)
Block III TLAM-D – 700 nautical miles (800 statute miles, 1250 km
Block IV TLAM-E – 900 nautical miles (1000 statute miles, 1600 km)
Guidance System: Block II TLAM-A – INS, TERCOM
Block III TLAM-C, D
Block IV TLAM-E – INS, TERCOM, DSMAC, and GPS.
Warhead: Block II TLAM-N – W80 nuclear warhead.
Block III TLAM-C and Block IV TLAM-E – 1,000 pound class unitary warhead.
Block III TLAM-D – conventional submunitions dispenser with combined effect bomblets.

 

36 COMMENTS

  1. According to Wikipedia Trafalgar Class has stowage for up to 30 weapons (Tomahawk or Spearfish) vs up to 38 for Astute so as we transition the SSN fleet to Astute that will be a worthwhile increase in capacity apart from the uplift in stealth and sonar capabilities that Astute presumably gives.

    It’s also worth considering the difference with our French allies. Again this is all Wikipedia data but that lists the current Rubis class as having stowage for 14 weapons (with TLAM not an option) and even as they transition to to Barracuda Class from 2019 onwards that is only listed as having storage for 20 weapons (which will then include SCALP as an option).

    More UK SSNs would be great but, even in terms of existing numbers and individual vessel capability, our SSN fleet is already a bright spot for the RN.

    It will be interesting to see whether the next generation RN SSN might make use of a Common Missile Compartment module in TLAM mode to greatly enhance the TLAM-carrying capacity.

    • Good comparison with the French navy Julian, thanks for the post. Whenever I am getting overly negative about our naval capabilities, I compare our future capability with the French’s and come away feeling much better (bar the lack of a helicopter carrier, though I suppose the 2nd QE is ‘supposed’ to cover for that). Also looking at the number and quality of SSN that the Chinese have gives even more pride in our SSN numbers and class.

  2. Something for the moaners who think the UK has a third rate navy.

    Few nations have these assets.

    I would take extra SSN over extra high end escorts any day.

    Reduced from 17 or so to 12 then 10 then a promise of 8 and end up at 7.

    As always numbers are the issue.

    • It’s all a question of how you measure the navy as part of the West’s collective defence or against individual peers by factoring out the USN. And whether along the line between ‘sea denial’ and ‘sea control’ we want sit.

        • The SSN’s are the asset we should build the navy around.

          But we are where we are. The carriers will be highly integrated into the USN, and they are ultimately the providers of our maritime security that is far from a bad thing. As a USMC squadron will probably be aboard most of the carrier’s deployments at least RN sailors will get to see something of the world beyond the Gulf and the Antarctica/Falklands more often. Probably do wonders for recruitment too. Apparently the novelty of sand and snow in large quantities where’s off after a while. I wonder when we will a mass take off of MV22 from the Queen Elizabeth? That would be a sight.

  3. If the essential purpose of the Royal Navy is to fight a war of survival, then how long would that war last before it ran out of ordinance? It seems reasonable to assume that our six/seven boats could be fully armed but would not have any tomahawk reloads available. What’s the plan going forward?

    • It’s fair to say that any leading military nation conflict (symmetric) would not last as long as previous wars last century simply because of the global supply chains necessary for the procurement of weapons systems, and the devastating accuracy and impact of modern weapons.
      The fourth world war will be fought with bows and arrows, I think somebody once said – and I think it is probably true.

    • Nick- historically the Ammunition stocks of the UK Armed forces have always been very low.John Nott’s proposed gutting of the RN in the 1980’s was a means to divert funding to increase the stocks of the BAOR,which at the time were quoted as around 6 days worth max.In todays environment I don’t expect anything much has changed.

      • Given the projected timetable for the Warsaw Pact to reach the Channel and the time to move HMG to safety in Turnstyle that 6 days always seemed positively generous. 🙂

        One of the things that used to the spook the other side was our lack of war reserves. They expended a lot of intelligence effort trying to find where we kept everything and their lack of success convinced that we would go nuclear very quickly. What amazed me was when we disposed of a lot of ‘stuff’ through the 90s how much stuff ‘not much’ turned out to be. The other side had been producing material non-stop from the late 40s right up to their collapse.

        • Turnstile! That place would not protect much! It leaks. Hence the name.

          Intriguing that since 2003 it’s been classed as a decoy site, or site 3, which means they have somewhere better, someplace else.

  4. The article mentions TLAN going oos with USN. Presumably same for RN. I can’t remember reading about a replacement but am sure one is there. Couldn’t the RN buy up redundant USN missiles at bargain prices?

  5. There was a brilliant programme on BBC 4 a couple of evenings ago about HMS Swiftsure and how she entered Soviet waters to see if she could find the new Kirov carrier. Instead she found herself in the middle of a live firing exercise by the Soviet Navy! But her sonar did pick up a new sound and they found the Kirov. She then sailed 12 feet below its hull photographing all it needed to and recording its sonar profile. There were interviews with senior officers involved and their simple matter of fact descriptions of what they achieved is truly humbling. Its especially noticable when compared to today’s media adored loudmouth so called heroes who achieve nothing of importance at all.

    This provided a huge advantage to NATO as they could track Kirov (a missile cruiser / carrier don’t forget) and know where it was at any time. We never really know what the Dolphins are up to and just as well but I am damn grateful for whatever it is they do….

    • Yes, USN and RN submarine operations in the Barents Sea were commonplace.

      As I’ve been reminding ovet the months with all the publicity of Russian ship and aircraft movements close to NATO, we do exactly the same and possibly even more.

      And that’s just what has been publicly revealed.

      I find it all fascinating and a testament to the quality of the men of the RN Silent Service.

      • (Chris H) farouk – just watched it so thanks for the link. British actor Gary Oldman as the Admiral…

        UK sub Captain: “Dive the boat” UK Exec “Dive the boat aye Sir”

        US Captain “Dive the boat” All the crew; “HOORAHH”

        If they made a film of what the RN, SAS, SBS etc had actually done no one would believe it .. Mostly I like the barefaced cheek of some of it: 4 UK subs parked in a line off the coast of Argentina in ’82 (“of course we are outside the 12 mile limit Prime Minister”) spotting air attacks launching and tipping off the Task Force. Quiet, simple and so very crucial

    • The one story that amazed me was that of HMS Conqueror after the Falklands war. Basically the USN and RN had jointly designed a towed sonar array. This gave them a huge advantage but then suddenly the Russians appeared to have a very similar system. The Brits and the Americans wanted to know if it was the same system (ie ours had been leaked to the Soviets) or an independently designed one. So HMS Conqueror and an American sub were fitted with a special cutting device in order to try to retrieve the Russian system. On the way back from the Falkands the Russia ships were spotted near the north coast of Finland. HMS Conqueror stopped off in port to fit the cutting arms and then went to the area. It found the Russian ships and crept up behind it. They then started to cut the sonar cable but had to make sure they hacked it of to make it look like it had naturally torn off rather than cut. They then got it back home and found that it was indeed a copy. It was then found that someone on the American side had leaked it to the Russians.

  6. Chris. I can also recommend a book called “ The Silent Deep” published about two years ago. It is about the UK submarine service since 1945, and has that Swiftsure episode in it, as well as Sovereign tracking a Soviet SSBN for something like two months. I had a friend in the boat and he reckoned they were on bully beef and split peas by the time they got back, the cupboard really was bare, they were out for so long! It’s a very good read.

    • (Chris H) – Nick – They are indeed a different bunch that wear the Dolphin. Its probably why the Submarine Officer training in the RN (SMCC) is rated so highly by foreign Navies (especially the US Navy) and why its informally known as The Perisher because of its supposed low success rate. Fail and you are gone !

  7. @Chris et al :- I should not be surprised to sread praise on here heaped on UK armed forces attempts to provoke the Russians by placing nuclear submarines under their ships. The amusing thing is that when the Russians fly close to but not over UK airspace or sail through international waters, the warmongers and jingoists on here howl in protest at Russian aggression. I wonder how many of you have actually faced an enemy in action or actually know what you are talking about, eh?

    • (Chris H) Harold – you rarely make an appearance and when you do you seek to insult people making observations about matters Defence. And here is something for you to take very seriously: Some of us Harold have served and some of us have been to war so before you start gobbing off be very careful. Because some of us do not parade our military CV don’t assume anything.

      I have not seen anyone be unduly critical of Russian aircraft flying near UK airspace. they have been doing it for decades. Indeed there is such an article on here right now:

      https://ukdefencejournal.org.uk/typhoon-fighters-launch-from-scotland-to-intercept-russian-bombers-ignoring-air-traffic-control/

      However I suspect all of us (maybe not you) would thoroughly criticise the Russians for their chemical warfare attack on British soil resulting in the injury of two British citizens and 2 Russian civilians and the death of an innocent British woman. That in addition to disruption of Salisbury City and the worry for its people.

      THAT Harold is Russian aggression. As it was in Crimea, Ukraine (which resulted in the shooting down of a civilian airliner killing all on board including children) and what they are meddling with in Syria. So before you rush to defend the indefensible maybe think twice and better still stop trying to.

  8. Just out of interest if the UK did decide it wanted to buy loads of expensive new bombs, missiles and ammo where would we store it all as surely it would be a security nightmare and it’s not like the things are all tiny.
    Would our current bases or storage facilities be sufficient to cope with a huge rise in stocks that could sit about unused for years at a time?

    • Peter we have so much spare capacity the MoD has been closing or reducing storage bases to be “More efficient” ( means cuts )

      Take a look on Google earth at the following places.

      RN

      DM Gosport ( For HMNB Portsmouth )
      DM Ernsettle ( For HMNB Devonport, under a hill )
      RNAD Coulport ( part underground, Trident MIRV and Torpedoes )

      Army:

      DM Kineton. ( Ammunition, sourhern bomb stock,.Huge, also stores trains )
      DM Longtown ( Ammunition. Also huge )

      Both sites linked to railways.

      There are also smaller DM storage sites at Tidworth Catterick Aldershot Sennybridge for ammunition stocks.

      MOD

      DM Beith ( complex weapons missiles etc )
      DM Glenn Douglas
      ( Bomb stocks, part inside a mountain, linked to railway. Ships loading here are often photographed at the Glen Mallen Jerry, usually RFA.

      RAF stations also have storage areas. Some still have SSA high security areas from the cold war. Honington and Wittering spring to mind.

      Finally, RAF Welford near Newbury is also huge and supports the USAF. Look for the “works” signs in red on the M4. They are not works access at all.

      Hope this helps.

        • I keep hearing rumours that the Greenham Common CND types were in the wrong place.

          Welford and Bentwaters/Woodbridge is where they should have been.

          Also fascinated by the reports of non lethal weaponry used on the protesters by the MOD Police.

    • Where would we store it all as surely it would be a security nightmare and it’s not like the things are all tiny.”

      The current inventory of ammo compounds within the UK is more than enough to hold the ammunition holdings for the US Navy never mind just the Royal Navy. For example DM Glen Douglas (Which supports Faslane) was built to hold 40,000 tonnes of NATO ammunition during the cold war , now it is only used by the British. I had to visit it a few year back and the size of the place blew me away.

  9. I see the US have awarded a contract for JASSM-XR, 1000 mile range attack missile based on JASSM. Anyone know it this would fit UK SSNs?

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