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    HomeMilitaryThe U.S. Navy's Tomahawk Challenge: Diminishing Supplies and Production Delays Jeopardize Preparedness

    The U.S. Navy’s Tomahawk Challenge: Diminishing Supplies and Production Delays Jeopardize Preparedness

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    Beyond the visible horizon where naval strategy unfolds, the United States Navy grapples with a pressing dilemma: the depletion of its Tomahawk missile stockpile at an unsustainable rate. Since initial retaliatory strikes began on January 11 against Iran-backed rebels in Yemen, Navy ships have repeatedly employed both carrier-launched aircraft and sea-launched Tomahawk cruise missiles to strike Houthi radar,drone,and anti-ship missile site. These precision strikes have strained the Navy’s arsenal, as current replacement rates fail to keep pace with consumption.

    The Tomahawk has long been the Navy’s weapon of choice for deep strike missions, offering a combination of range, precision, and lethality without exposing aviators to risk. Its versatility was proven yet again in the recent operations against Houthi radar, drone, and anti-ship missile sites. “Opening day strikes alone expended more than 80 Tomahawks to hit 30 targets within Yemen,” the Navy reports.

    Royal Navy Submarine HMS Astute Fires a Tomahawk Cruise Missile (TLAM) During Testing Near the USA” by Defence Images is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

    The ramifications of this expenditure pattern are far-reaching. Last year’s entire Tomahawk purchase of 55 missiles accounted for 68 percent of the precision munitions fired at the Houthis in one day. The 2017 and 2018 strikes in Syria saw a similar pattern, with 59 and 66 Tomahawks launched respectively, the Navy bought just 100 Tomahawks in 2018 and then zero Tomahawks in 2019-failing to offset the expenditure rate of the Syria strikes.

    USS Barry fires Tomahawk missiles [Image 1 of 2]” by DVIDSHUB is licensed under CC BY 2.0

    The Navy’s spending of $2.8 billion in the past decade for 1,234 missiles seems robust until one considers the needs of a global force with over 140 ships and submarines capable of firing Tomahawks. This amounts to an average of just 8.8 new missiles per ship, a fraction of what might be necessary in a full-scale conflict.

    USS Barry fires Tomahawk missiles [Image 2 of 2]” by DVIDSHUB is licensed under CC BY 2.0

    Furthermore, the 2024 budget reveals the Navy’s intent to acquire zero new land-attack Tomahawks, opting instead to modify existing ones into Maritime Strike Tomahawk variants. Compounding this issue are the challenges of surging production to meet heightened demand, evidenced by fluctuations in purchases leading to instability in the industrial base and consequent bottlenecks in components such as rocket motors.

    PACIFIC OCEAN (Nov. 30, 2020) The guided-missile destroyer USS Chafee (DDG 90) launches a Block V Tomahawk, the weapon’s newest variant, during a three day missile exercise. This event marked the first time a Block V Tomahawk missile was operationally tested, marking the Navy’s transition to a more advanced capability for the fleet. Block V includes an upgrade that will enhance navigation performance and provide robust and reliable communications. Chafee is currently assigned to Carrier Strike Group ONE and is homeported in Pearl Harbor. (U.S. Navy photo by Ensign Sean Ianno)

    Given the two-year lead time to build a new Tomahawk and the projected delivery rate of just five missiles per month starting in January 2025. The historical context amplifies these concerns; during the 2003 invasion of Iraq, approximately 800 Tomahawks were deployed—a number that would take a decade to replenish at today’s production rates.

    The Senate’s version of the national security supplemental has earmarked $2.4 billion to recoup combat expenditures in the Red Sea, its division across various operations means that it may not resolve the Tomahawk shortfall. An additional $133 million in the bill for cruise missile rocket motors is a welcome investment for relieving bottlenecks, Congress should also force the Navy to procure a steady quantity of the missile for years to come.

    related images you might be interested.

    A Tomahawk missile is launched from USS Curtis Wilbur (DDG 54) during a live-fire.” by Official U.S. Navy Imagery is licensed under CC BY 2.0
    BGM-109 Tomahawk Ground Launched Nuclear Cruise Missile” by rocbolt is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0
    Tomahawk cruise missile – Smithsonian Air and Space Museum – 2012-05-15” by Tim Evanson is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
    A tomahawk cruise missile launches from the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Shoup” by #PACOM is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
    USS Annapolis Launches Tomahawk Flight Test off California Coast” by #PACOM is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
    Nike Tomahawk” by jurvetson is licensed under CC BY 2.0
    File:BGM-109 Tomahawk Cruise Missiles.jpg” by Steven Fine is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

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