A year ago, Raytheon [RTN] was facing the end of the Tomahawk cruise missile production line in 2016. The Navy’s fiscal year 2016 budget request stretched out production one more year, but the service still projected no further procurement from 2017 to 2020.

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

However, Raytheon is working with the Navy to ensure that at least some level of production continues until 2019, when the company begins recertifying its Block IV Tomahawks, Chris Sprinkle, the company’s senior program manager and business development, told Defense Daily on Aug. 13.

“The plan is to continue delivering up until recertification in 2019,” he said.

When the Navy originally announced its plans to stop procurement after 2015, Raytheon officials argued that halting the production line would drive up the costs of the Tomahawk Block IV recertification effort set to begin years later, he said.

“The supplier base is key to supporting production, but it is also key to being prepared for certification. These suppliers have specialty equipment and test equipment that is all in place right now supporting our production line, and if you roll in recertification with all those things in place, it’s very affordable,” Sprinkle said. “If you were to say, step down production for more than a year, then you are required to requalify all of the parts. It becomes a very expensive proposition.”

Raytheon and the Navy are deliberating how to save money during recertification and any remaining years of production, he said. For instance, the company is worried that its suppliers might not be able to maintain production of Tomahawk components should orders fall below the minimum sustaining rate. A bulk buy of simple components could help carry Raytheon’s line until recertification starts.

The Navy has an inventory of about 4,000 Tomahawks, and Raytheon delivers about 200 per year, Sprinkle said. Although the Navy requested funding for only 100 missiles during fiscal 2016, the defense authorization bills passed by the House and Senate would boost funding for Tomahawk production by $30 million so that Raytheon can continue a minimum sustaining rate of 196 missiles.

When the recertification process begins in 2019, the company will refresh components on the first 150 Block IVs, extending the lives of the missiles by 15 years. Throughput could bump up to around 200 to 300 per year in subsequent years, Sprinkle said.

Raytheon may have an opportunity to garner some savings as Block III Tomahawks phase out in 2018. During the demilling process, when old missiles are taken out of service, the company could harvest warheads from the Block IIIs for reuse in Block IVs, he said.

Certain components will also be modernized during recertification. The Block IVs are slated to get a new radio and other electronics that are robust enough to function in an anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) environment. Raytheon could also install a new warhead and a new seeker that would enable Tomahawk to engage moving targets, but those modifications are still being discussed by the Navy, Sprinkle said.

“We have provided five different [seeker] options,”  including imaging infrared, passive and active radio frequency (RF), or any combination of those, he said. “The Navy is right now trying to decide their requirement and budget and what works best for them.”

The company will test one of those options—an active RF terminal seeker coupled with passive RF anti-radiation homing—during a test in September, he said.

Raytheon is hopeful that foreign military sales could help extend the production line past 2019, Sprinkle said. The United Kingdom Royal Navy currently is the only international customer, but Australia, Poland and other nations have shown interest in the capability.

“The decision on whether to maintain full production capability [after 2019] for new rounds will probably be based on the world situation—what the threats are—and how many FMS partners we have. So I could actually see where we would maintain a rudimentary production capability on an ongoing basis for our FMS partners or I can see where we work entirely through recertification,” he said.