Navy 'to buy land-attack cruise missiles from US'

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The Independent Online
THE ROYAL NAVY is to buy 50 US Tomahawk cruise missiles to be launched from submarine torpedo tubes, according to US sources.

The Government said it was looking at the case for acquiring the land-attack cruise missiles with half-ton conventional warheads when it announced the results of the Front Line First defence review on 14 July, but the number is higher than expected.

According to the highly regarded US Naval Institute Proceedings, the professional journal of the US Navy, the Navy 'will buy Tomahawks'. It added that the acquisition of land-attack cruise missiles coincides with a shift in the Navy's role from Nato operations to overseas power projection.

The Ministry of Defence said it was surprised by the US statement and that it was still comparing Tomahawks with other possible weapons and also evaluating the numbers required. However, a naval officer added: 'It's an extraordinary piece of kit - it has many uses. A nuclear submarine can go anywhere, covertly and at speed and with cruise missiles can then hit the land.'

The missiles are essential to enable the Navy to operate independently out of range of friendly land bases. The Navy has only three small Invincible-class aircraft carriers with Harrier jump-jets. The missiles are needed to destroy enemy air defences before the Harriers are launched to attack other targets. Such a concept of operations is tailored to suit independent action by the Navy, as in the 1982 Falklands war.

The missiles could also be used to destroy command bunkers or airfields at long range.

According to the Proceedings, the Harriers 'are not designed specifically to suppress enemy air defenses and are not stealthy. Moreover, assigning any airplanes to deal with air defenses will drastically reduce the power of any strike the carrier can deliver and the carrier air wing cannot easily support combat losses. Thus the Royal Navy needs some other method of breaking into enemy air defense systems.'

The Navy could use two variants of the BGM-109 Tomahawk missiles: the BGM-109C, with a 454kg high explosive warhead, and the 109D, with a 'submunition' warhead which scatters small bomblets. Both have ranges of 1,300km when fired from a ship and 900km from a submarine, and can deliver a conventional warhead with great accuracy.