First Land-Based Tomahawk And SM-6 Launcher Delivered To Army

The Typhon Weapon System will give the Army its first ground-based medium-range missile strike capability in decades.

byEmma Helfrich| PUBLISHED Dec 6, 2022 3:29 PM
First Land-Based Tomahawk And SM-6 Launcher Delivered To Army
U.S. Navy
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The U.S. Army’s first prototype Mid-Range Capability battery, also known as the Typhon Weapon System, has been delivered according to a Lockheed Martin announcement. The land-based Typhon, which is derived from the U.S. Navy’s Mk 41 Vertical Launch System, will be able to fire both ground-launched SM-6 (in a land-attack role, at least initially) and Tomahawk cruise missiles at a range that falls between that of the Army’s Precision Strike Missile and its Long-Range Hypersonic Weapon

The Army Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technology Office (RCCTO), which is currently managing the Mid-Range Capability (MRC) program, accepted delivery of the first complete Typhon Weapon System (TWS), but a corresponding Army announcement did not detail when exactly this occurred. However, according to Lt. Gen. Robert Rasch, director of the Army RCCTO, the team was able to take the MRC concept from idea to delivery in just over two years so that training with the system could begin as soon as possible. 

The first prototype Mid-Range Capability battery (which can be seen in the background) was delivered to the U.S. Army. Credit: Lockheed Martin

The Army’s plan with MRC and TWS is largely similar to the way the service is approaching its future Dark Eagle Long-Range Hypersonic Weapon (LRHW). The first TWS unit, as recently received by the RCCTO, will serve as a testbed of sorts and is eventually expected to provide a degree of operational capability. Eventually, as Army budget documents have revealed, the service hopes to transition the program out of the RCCTO’s rapid prototyping ecosystem and make it a more traditional program of record. Five total MRC batteries will be developed and deployed throughout this process: the one now in the RCCTO’s possession and four others that will be delivered to the Army’s Program Executive Office for Missiles and Space.

The Army explained that the initial hardware delivery to the RCCTO was comprised of “a complete MRC ground equipment and reload capability,” which includes an MRC Battery Operations Center and four Mk 41-derived Vertical Launch System (VLS) launchers mounted on modified trailers, as well as M983A4 tractor trucks that are expected to be the prime movers for the overall battery. You can read in detail about what exactly a TWS battery is made up of in this past War Zone feature.

The full Typhon briefing slide from the Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies Office presentation. Credit: U.S. Army

The two missiles that the Army plans to acquire for the TWS are ground-launched variants of the Navy's SM-6 and Tomahawk cruise missile types, both of which are produced by Raytheon Missiles & Defense. The Navy is the lead service for purchasing both of these weapons across the U.S. military. As such, the Army expects to acquire its missiles for the TWS through Navy contracts.

Each TWS launcher will carry four missiles and each battery will have four launchers, totaling 16 missiles per TWS battery. The compatibility with these families of missiles could mean that future options for the TWS have the potential to include a ground-attack version of the Block IB variant SM-6 that is currently in development and boasts hypersonic speeds among other improved capabilities, which you can read more about here.

Improved versions of the Tomahawk, which is primarily a land-attack missile but can perform in anti-ship roles as well, are compatible with the TWS. This level of flexible modularity is greatly supported by the MRC concept’s Mk 41 VLS heritage. While scaled to better fit the dimensions of a TWS battery, the system’s VLS cells and the canisterized missiles they can fire set the stage for the potential integration of other weapons as the needs arise. 

Over the past few years, the military has been demonstrating the various scenarios in which the containerized Mk 41 launch system could be modified to perform. For instance, in 2021, the Navy conducted a live-fire test with the launcher aboard the Ranger unmanned surface vessel and then again the following year using its own ground-based system that is expected to be a component of the Army’s Typhon system. Tangentially, the Marines in 2020 expressed interest in a ground-launched Tomahawk missile, and without anything to fire it, reconfigured Mk 41 launchers could be the system the service needs to realize that goal.

A U.S. Navy road-mobile modular missile launch system seen during a demonstration in Europe in September 2022. USN

The Lockheed Martin press release went on to explain that the company was able to leverage modern engineering processes and digital transformation to “scale its Aegis Command and Control functions and the Mk 41 Vertical Launching System to quickly meet Army long-range fires needs.” In The War Zone’s in-depth explainer on Lockheed Martin’s Aegis combat system, Rich Calabrese, director of surface Navy mission systems for the company, explained that the Virtualized Aegis Weapon System has been pivotal in helping to scale the technology for an array of applications. For MRC, this meant that Lockheed Martin was essentially able to pull mission control software from the Aegis Common Source Library and integrate it into the TWS Battery Operations Center independent of the sizable shipboard hardware it was initially designed to operate on.

“Our collaboration with the U.S. Army enabled us to form a deeper understanding of its most critical mission needs,” said Joe DePietro, Lockheed Martin's general manager and vice president. “That partnership enabled us to leverage technologies across our ships, launchers, and combat systems programs to design, develop, integrate and quickly deliver a solution to meet the Army’s mission requirements.” 

A graphic detailing exercise Valiant Shield 2020, during which Lockheed Martin's Virtualized Aegis Weapon system was used to connect the mission control software of disparate systems across domains. Credit: Lockheed Martin

The Army highlighted that the ground-launched TWS will provide a “fires capability that has not existed in the U.S. Army since the implementation of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty in 1987.” The INF Treaty required that both the United States and the Soviet Union eliminate all of their nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of 310 miles (500 km) to 3,417 miles (5,500 km). The Air Force briefly fielded a ground-based nuclear-armed version of Tomahawk known as the BGM-109G Gryphon that was later scrapped as part of the INF treaty coming into force.

The United States officially withdrew from this agreement in 2019, making it fair game for the Army — and all other services — to develop a land-based missile system that can reach out over these long distances.

It is important to note here that the Army has been describing MRC primarily as a "strategic" weapon system rather than a tactical one. While that wouldn't necessarily preclude MRC from being used in a tactical way, commonly describing it as strategic in nature is still a significant comment on how the Army likely envisions deploying it. In short, it would appear that the Army isn’t set to treat MRC as another piece of 'artillery' intended to be used on a more general battlefield basis. There are no known plans at this time to arm the Tomahawk or the SM-6 with a nuclear payload.

An organization chart the Army has released showing the possible components of a future Multi-Domain Task Force, including a Strategic Fires Battalion with an MRC Battery, among other elements. Credit: U.S. Army

While much focus for this system has been on its application in Europe, it will also be a key weapon system for the United States in Asia.

With China’s ballistic missile and nuclear arsenal only growing in both volume and diversity, getting the Army a much-needed long-range precision fires capability quickly was a major driving factor in the development of the TWS. At present, the United States doesn’t really have the ground-based conventional strike capability that MRC and TWS could offer. The INF was largely responsible for this reality by limiting the United States’ ability to achieve parity with the Chinese, who were unbounded by the treaty, in terms of ground-based missiles. 

On the other hand, the Army would still have to find locations to base these systems. Several questions have been raised in terms of where the Army would actually position its MRC in Asia and what limits that might put on the system’s utility, especially when compared to similar sea and air-launched strike capabilities. In 2021, a U.S. Indo-Pacific Command plan specifically included future Army and Marine Corps ground-based cruise, ballistic, and hypersonic missiles as integral parts of its overarching Pacific defense, but that doesn’t change the fact that some allies and partners in the region, such as Australia and South Korea, aren’t jumping at the opportunity to host any of these weapons.

The missile defense assets the U.S. military currently has deployed in the Western Pacific. Credit: DOD

Regardless, the Army has said that ongoing hardware support for TWS is planned through the end of the year in preparation for training to begin after the holidays. If all goes as planned, TWS is then slated to achieve operational capability in Fiscal Year 2023 once the system has completed testing, soldiers have been trained, and the missiles have been delivered. Though, it is unclear how many missiles or which type will be available upfront. Training will be especially important in creating a doctrine for the TWS, allowing the Army to develop tactics, techniques, and procedures for employing the system going forward.

Stay tuned, because it won't be until live-fire testing begins that the Army will have the chance to demonstrate how its first long-range precision fire system since the Cold War will actually perform. 

Contact the author: Emma@thewarzone.com

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