Navy demonstrates synthetic guidance technology with Tomahawk missile | NAVAIR – U.S. Navy Naval Air Systems Command – Navy and Marine Corps Aviation Research, Development, Acquisition, Test and Evaluation

NAVAL AIR WARFARE CENTER WEAPONS DIVISION, CHINA LAKE, Calif. – A synthetically guided Tomahawk cruise missile successfully hit its first moving maritime target Jan. 27 after being launched from USS Kidd (DDG 100) near San Nicolas Island in California.

The Tomahawk Block IV flight test demonstrated guidance capability when the missile in flight altered its course toward the moving target after receiving position updates from surveillance aircraft.

via Navy demonstrates synthetic guidance technology with Tomahawk missile | NAVAIR – U.S. Navy Naval Air Systems Command – Navy and Marine Corps Aviation Research, Development, Acquisition, Test and Evaluation.

Well now, this is pretty interesting.

Most anti-ship missiles use either active radar homing- that is, they have their own short ranged radar in their nose- or they use infrared seeking, homing in on the heat emitted by the target.

The Tomahawk, being designed as a land attack missile, has neither. It uses GPS coupled with an inertial navigation system to fly to a designated point.

But… here’s the thing. The latest Tomahawks, known as TACTOM or Block IV, has a datalink that can update the target location after launch.

That means what they’ve done here is launch a TACTOM from the USS Kidd, then, using the surveillance radar from a Maritime Patrol Plane, such as a P-3C, a P-8A, or potentially the Kidd’s own MH-60, continually updated the target point of a moving target right up until impact. Pretty nifty.

This has a couple of implications. First, traditionally the most effective defense against anti-ship missiles  has been jamming and chaff, targeted against the high frequency on board search radars of the missile. In this case, the search radar from the offboard platform is a somewhat longer frequency, and has greater power, and signal processing, lowering its susceptibility to jamming and chaff.

Even more impressive, aside from a radar altimeter, the inbound missile is passive, giving the target vessel little indication that it is under attack. Its own radars may well pick up the inbound threat, or they may not, or do so quite late in the engagement. The target will likely realize they are being painted with radar from the surveillance plane, but they won’t necessarily know that an attack is actually underway, nor will they realize the threat axis, as the sensor is not co-located with the shooter.

The demonstration of this technology, which one surmises can reasonably be replicated by other platforms and weapons, has some very interesting implications for future anti-surface warfare techniques.

A synthetically guided Tomahawk cruise missile successfully hits a moving maritime target Jan. 27 after being launched from USS Kidd (DDG 100) near San Nicolas Island in California. The missile altered its course toward the target after receiving position updates from surveillance aircraft. (U.S. Navy photo)

A synthetically guided Tomahawk cruise missile successfully hits a moving maritime target Jan. 27 after being launched from USS Kidd (DDG 100) near San Nicolas Island in California. The missile altered its course toward the target after receiving position updates from surveillance aircraft. (U.S. Navy photo)

A Tomahawk cruise missile hits a moving maritime target Jan. 27 after being launched from USS Kidd (DDG 100) near San Nicolas Island in California. (U.S. Navy photo)

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