TUCSON, Ariz.–Halting the production of the Navy’s Tomahawks before the mid-life recertification of the cruise missiles already in the fleet could result in shortages of new parts that may be needed once the missiles come in for inspection, according to manufacturer Raytheon [RTN].

Ending production before the recertification timeframe starting around 2019 for the Block IV version of the missile could harm smaller companies that supply engines and other components and make it harder to acquire important parts, Roy Donelson, Raytheon’s Tomahawk program director, said in an interview.

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

The Block IV Tomahawks entered service in 2004 and are designed for 30 years, meaning mid-life recertification needs to begin taking place toward the end of this decade. They are built at Raytheon Missile Systems in Tucson, Ariz.

The Navy outlined plans earlier this year to stop producing the Tomahawk, requesting only 100 in its fiscal 2015 budget proposal, a number Congress pushed back up to 196–consistent with planned 2014 production. The fiscal 2015 missiles would carry production into 2017, Donelson said.

He said the scaled back Tomahawk production has led to “uncertainty” among vendors. Raytheon has been conducting studies of how the supplier base would be impacted and has shared those results with the Navy and Congress, Donelson said.

“It’s confirming what we’re kind of concerned about, it’s that we need to continue production to recertification,” Donelson said. “We’ve got some unique suppliers, we have unique sub-tiers that produce the Tomahawk system, and so we think the key to getting to recertification is continued production.”

Main areas of concern when it comes to acquiring parts are in propulsion and “energetics” like warheads, he said. “That industry is going through a lot of changes.”

Donelson said the Navy is considering a host of ideas to avoid any problems.

“They are looking at all kinds of scenarios,” he said.

One idea under consideration, he said, is moving recertification up to 2018, although that would still leave a gap.

“We need to have a smooth transition to recertification,” he said. “Ideally you would want some overlap.”

The Navy plans to conduct an analysis of alternatives for its next generational land attack cruise missile. The Tomahawks are launched from destroyers, cruisers and submarines and are also deployed on British submarines.

Raytheon has continued to develop upgrades for Tomahawks and recently carried out testing of new capabilities that would be built in to the Tomahawks when they come in for recertification.

In August, the Tomahawk engaged in high-altitude performance testing and maneuvering to show it can operate at that height. That was enabled to changes to software. Donelson would not disclose the altitude.

The Tomahawks are generally designed to fly low at high speeds to avoid radar detection.

“We really stressed the missile …. to make sure that if we wanted to do a scenario at altitude we can do it,” he said.

Key upgrades Raytheon is developing internally would add improved seekers that to allow the missile to track and strike moving targets, Donelson said. Currently, Tomahawks are used to hit stationary targets. Testing began earlier this year and the mobile-targeting capability should be “ready to go” by 2016, Donelson said.