Facing End of Tomahawk Production, Raytheon Plays Industrial Base Card
The Raytheon Co. is challenging the Navy’s decision to halt manufacturing of the Tomahawk cruise missile in 2016, and is counting on its congressional allies to help keep the weapon in production for the foreseeable future.
Executives will seek to make the case that the Tomahawk supplier base of more than 300 companies in 24 states would be weakened without new orders. If the production line — based in Tucson, Ariz. — is shut down, Raytheon officials contend, the Navy might not be able to restart it at a later time.
Before the Pentagon was hit with automatic budget cuts in 2013, the Navy had planned on buying about 200 Tomahawks per year for the next five years. In fiscal year 2015, the Navy proposed a reduced buy of 100 missiles and no new orders after 2016. The Navy still plans to design a new land-attack missile and upgrade the current inventory of Tomahawks with new electronics.
Navy Secretary Ray Mabus defended the decision, as the United States already has an arsenal of 4,000 Tomahawks. “When you add the Tomahawks that we plan to buy in 2015, it will carry us through any eventuality that we could foresee,” he told the Senate Armed Services Committee. Studies will begin next year to design a follow-on weapon, he added. “We certainly don't want, don't need a gap between the Tomahawk and the next weapon.”
Raytheon officials have questioned the Navy's rationale for ending production in 2016. The inventory is large, but an average of 100 Tomahawks are fired from Navy surface ships and submarines each year, said Chris Sprinkle, one of the company’s senior program managers. “They’re fired all the time, you just don’t hear about it in the news,” he told reporters. About 2,300 have been used in military campaigns since 1989. The current model costs about $500,000 apiece.
The proposed budget has a three-year production gap, said Roy Donelson, Tomahawk program director at Raytheon. The last order was placed in 2013. “Our customer has had to make hard choices,” Donelson said April 2. “We are talking to the Navy and to Congress about the impact” of these budget decisions, he added.
Donelson speculated that there is a strong chance that funding for new Tomahawks will be restored. “Every day the dynamic changes. What we hear today might be different this fall.”
The supplier base is a big concern, Raytheon officials said, especially in energetics and propulsion systems. The manufacturer of the missile’s turbofan engine, Williams International, only has two customers: The Navy'sTomahawk and the Air Force’s air-to-surface standoff cruise missile.
“Tomahawk uses unique, complex parts,” Donelson said. “You can’t turn the supply base on and off.”
Navy supporters on Capitol Hill grilled Pentagon officials last week about Tomahawk funding cuts. Navy acquisitions chief Sean Stackley told members of the House Armed Services Committee that the termination of missile production might be reconsidered. In 2016, “I guarantee you we will revisit the question of whether the time is right to cease production of Tomahawks,” he said. The current inventory of 4,000 is adequate for the time being, Stackley said. “What we have got to get to is that next generation weapon.” That could be an upgraded Tomahawk, or a new design. “A future increment will be a surface ship-launched version, which will require development from whoever shows up from industry,” said Stackley. “And then, downstream, there will be modifications of the
Tomahawks that we have now in our inventory, and ultimately a re-certification of those Tomahawks.” The re-certification would occur in fiscal year 2019.
Stackley insisted a three-year production gap is manageable. “Our inventory is very healthy. But we are keeping a close eye on the re-certification timeline,” he said. “We cannot delay that.”
The Navy is requesting $140 million between 2015 and 2019 for Tomahawk upgrades. “There's a fairly healthy R&D stream going toward Tomahawk for these modifications,” Stackley said.
The most pressing upgrade is a new digital radio that lets authorized commanders re-target the missile while in flight and provides more reliable communications. The Tomahawk can fly 1,000 miles, and swims like a torpedo. It can be launched from 139 different Navy ships and submarines worldwide. The United Kingdom also uses the missile.
The Tomahawk has been a staple of U.S. wars for more than two decades. After the 2011 air war over Libya, where more than 200 Tomahawks were dropped, the Navy sought emergency funds to replenish the inventory. It ordered 361 missiles in 2012 and 252 in 2013. Raytheon has submitted a proposal for 2014 and 2015 production. Donelson said time is of the essence. “When I get a contract, it takes two years to produce the order,” he said. “I have a 20-month lead time for suppliers.”
Besides the new communications suite, other improvements are being considered. One is a new “multi-effects” warhead that would supplement the current unitary 1,000-pound warhead. It would turn the Tomahawk into a deep penetrator that could destroy buried bunkers, said Sprinkle. It is not yet clear whether the Navy will agree to acquire more than one type of warhead, which would drive up operations and logistics costs. “In general we don’t like to have multiple variants,” he said. “The Navy will have to decide.”
Raytheon spent $30 million in corporate R&D funds on a multi-mode sensor that would improve the missile’s ability to identify targets and electronic signals. The new sensor suite would be mounted on the nose of the 3,000-pound Tomahawk. In the current missile, most of the space is used to store fuel, but Raytheon officials believe the Navy would agree to sacrifice some fuel space to gain these advanced technologies.
Also on the drawing board is a supersonic version of the Tomahawk that could fly at three times the speed of sound. A ramjet engine would make this possible, Sprinkle said, but the limiting factor is the existing launch tubes that are 21 inches in diameter and 20 feet long. “It has to fit,” said Sprinkle, “or you have to spend billions of dollars modifying every ship in the Navy.”