For the past two years, the Tomahawk cruise missile program has faced potential procurement numbers too low to meet the minimum sustaining rate and the threat of a production line shut down, but what a difference a year makes.

A Tomahawk taking to the skies. Photo: U.S. Navy
A Tomahawk taking to the skies. Photo: U.S. Navy

Just days away from Pentagon’s fiscal 2017 budget release, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter on Wednesday announced that the program is slated to receive $2 billion over the next five years to extend missile production and to invest in new capabilities.

That sum will buy 4,000 Tomahawks as well as continue funding the development of an anti-ship version with a new seeker that can track and destroy moving vessels, Carter said during a trip to at Naval Air Station China Lake in California.

“We want to diversify the kinds of targets that they can hit, from land attack, which is probably how you first met the Tomahawk many years ago, to an anti-ship version so that we continue to diversify our suite of anti-ship missiles,” he said. The goal, he said, is to make “everything we have lethal.”

Carter did not disclose how many missiles the Navy plans to procure per year, or whether there would be any gaps in procurement from fiscal years 2017 through 2021. However, for Tomahawk manufacturer Raytheon [RTN], such funding would be a huge win after years of uncertainly. The Defense Department originally planned to halt the production line in 2016 after buying a final 100 missiles in fiscal 2015. Production would then restart in 2019, when the Navy began recertifying its Block IV missiles.

Congress in 2015 forced the Navy to increase its buy to 198 missiles—the minimum rate needed to keep the line running. For the 2016 budget, the process repeated: the service once again requested 100 Tomahawks–Congress upped that buy to 198 missiles to meet the minimum sustaining rate–but planned to procure no further missiles from fiscal 2017 through 2020.

Chris Sprinkle, Raytheon’s senior program manager and business development, told Defense Daily in August that the company and the Navy were working to figure out how to ensure some level of production through 2019 (Defense Daily, Aug. 18). A break would increase the cost of recertifying the missiles, and could also lead to instability in the supplier base, he said.

“Raytheon is working closely with our U.S. Navy customer to continue modernizing this highly sophisticated weapon to keep pace with the evolving threat environment,” Dave Adams, the company’s Tomahawk program director, said in a Feb. 3 statement. “We stand ready to assist the Department of Defense with its plans to procure more Tomahawk missiles and further upgrade their capability.”

The Pentagon will increase spending on several other advanced naval missiles in the 2017 request, Carter said. “These are large investments in the strategic future at the high end, aimed at making sure that our systems have the greatest capability, the greatest lethality in this case, of anybody else.”

It will request $927 million for Long Range Anti-Ship Missile manufactured by Lockheed Martin [LMT] over the Future Years Defense Program (FYDP), which projects military spending over the next five years. LRASM, a semi-autonomous, precision-guided air-launched missile, is currently undergoing captive carry tests on the Air Force’s B-1B bomber and the Navy’s F/A-18E/F Super Hornet. The company also is working on a version that can be vertically launched from a ship (Defense Daily, Jan. 25)

The budget also calls for $418 million over the FYDP for the anti-radiation homing missile, or AARGM-ER, he said.

Later in the day, Carter announced that Raytheon’s SM-6 missile will be getting equipped with a new anti-ship capability to increase its lethality. The Pentagon intends to maximize production of the SM-6 in fiscal 2017 and spend $2.9 billion in the FYDP for more than 600 missiles.

Carter previewed the $582.7 billion defense budget in a speech Tuesday. The budget, which stays under the spending limits set by the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015, has drawn ire from defense hawks on the Hill who contend that the rising commitment to operations in Europe and the Middle East should be backed by an increase in Overseas Contingency Operations funding.

On Wednesday, Carter maintained that the budget reflects the total amount of funding needed to support the department, but indicated he would be open to asking Congress for more OCO money if necessary.

“We asked for the amount that we think we’ll need given accelerated campaign against ISIL, given a quadrupled commitment to the European Reassurance Initiative, which is about the Russian challenge in Europe, and all of the other things that we can see in front of us,” he said. “But there’ll be some things that we don’t see in front of us, and we’ll have to adjust.

The budget is scheduled to be officially rolled out on Feb. 9.