Australian news, and some related international items

Uncle Sam, can you target my Tomahawk, please?

Will Australian air warfare destroyers serve simply as a transport means and launch platform for the United States, receiving targeting data only with their agreement? Or will we have full targeting control over our Tomahawks?

by Rex Patrick | Mar 18, 2023

Who will control the Tomahawk Missiles? News that Australia will purchase up to 220 Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles might seem like just another Defence purchase, but there’s a hidden sovereignty issue that needs to be examined. And that’s what Rex Patrick is here to do.

The United States Congress has just approved the sale of as many as 20 Block IV Tomahawks and 200 Block V Tomahawks for $1.3 billion dollars. The US will provide support consisting of unscheduled missile maintenance, spares; procurement, training, in-service support, software, hardware, communication equipment, operational flight test, engineering, and technical expertise.

Tomahawk missiles are a long range, all weather, subsonic cruise missile used to attack land targets. The intention is for these proven and highly effective missiles to be fitted to our navy’s three Air Warfare Destroyers. But while these missiles will be fitted to our ships and be under Australian command, the ability to target them properly may be constrained by the US.

The purchase raises a sovereignty issue which must be bought out in the open and discussed.

We’re going to war tomorrow

I was in the United States in October 2001, just after 9/11. America was in shock. On the evening of October 5th, I was in a US Defence establishment working back late, hoping to be able to complete the task I was there to do so that I could return home to Australia.

My American host, sitting in front of his classified computer system, looked up at me and said, “America’s going to attack someone this weekend.”

I looked back at him and asked, ”You’ve got a classified email message telling you that?”

“No,” he replied, pointing out the window, “See that building over there. That’s where they program the Tomahawk missiles. It’s 6pm on a Friday night, and the car park’s full.”

Less than 48 hours later, the US launched Operation Enduring Freedom with a series of, amongst other things, Tomahawk missile strikes.

Guidance required

Tomahawks are used to attack land targets to incapacitate enemy command & control facilities, strategic air defences, intelligence systems, infrastructure, key production facilities and military forces.

They are normally fired as part of a joint operation with targeting information provided by strategic commanders onshore and coordinated in time and space to produce a synergistic attack.

The missiles use GPS and terrain contour matching to navigate to the target, and a ‘Digital Scene Matching Area Correlation’ to improve navigation in the terminal stages leading to accuracies of the order of ten metres.

Two stages of planning are conducted for the Tomahawk. Planning for the maritime cruise (overwater) phase is normally carried out by the launch platform, our air warfare destroyers’ crew, cognisant of the current surface and air picture.

Programming of the land cruise (overland) phase and target selection is normally carried out by a ‘Theatre Mission Planning Centre’ (TMPC) ashore (like the one my US colleague and I were looking through the window at) or a shipboard Tactical Tomahawk Weapon Control System (TTWCS). Australia is receiving both from the US.

The onshore centre and shipboard TTWCS also provide for post launch control of the weapons.

The US TMPC has a worldwide geospatial database that allows for them to plan strikes. Whether Australia has unfettered and unblockable access to this, or an indigenous alternative, is not known.

Whether we do or don’t is the answer to whether we will have full sovereign control over targeting.

“Will Australian air warfare destroyers serve simply as a transport means and launch platform for the United States, receiving targeting data only with their agreement? Or will we have full targeting control over our Tomahawks?

Sovereign capability

The first priority of the Australian Defence Force (ADF) is defence of Australia. Every capability we acquire should come with the keys to allow ADF commanders to use capabilities in their possession as they see fit.

Questions of sovereignty are swirling around the entire AUKUS program; submarines, and now missiles. I hope my former colleagues in the Senate will ask the right questions.


March 19, 2023 - Posted by | AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, weapons and war

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