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US deploying anti-ship missiles in 2024 to deter China

A Tomahawk is launched from the guided-missile cruiser USS Monterey. (Department of Defense/Released)
December 06, 2023

The United States Navy is planning to deploy anti-ship Tomahawk missiles on submarines next year as part of the Pentagon’s strategy to deter China from invading Taiwan and challenge China’s naval forces.

According to a recent statement obtained by Bloomberg News, Captain Jon Hersey, who is the program manager responsible for the “Maritime Strike” version of the Tomahawk missile, indicated that the RTX Corporation missile, which is usually used as a ground-attack weapon, will be deployed on submarines sometime after Oct. 1, 2024.

The “Maritime Strike” Tomahawk missiles will be equipped with a new guidance system, which Hersey said will allow the missiles “to engage a mobile target at sea.” Hersey explained that the Navy received the first version of the missiles for testing last year.

The deployment of the “Maritime Strike” version of the Tomahawk would provide the U.S. Navy with another resource to help counter China’s rapidly growing fleet. The Pentagon’s most recent assessment of China’s military noted that China’s Navy consists of 370 ships and submarines, while the U.S. Navy has only 291 deployable ships and submarines.

According to Bloomberg News, the current schedule for the deployment of the “Maritime Strike” missiles is consistent with a similar timeline the Pentagon has for its 2025 deployment of thousands of drones to the Indo-Pacific region under the Replicator initiative.

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The Pentagon’s plan to deploy additional assets to the Indo-Pacific region comes as tensions continue to rise between China and the United States over Taiwan.

According to Bloomberg News, the new missiles will be deployed on Virginia and Los Angeles-class submarines. The submarines typically can carry up to 12 land-attack Tomahawk missiles, with some modified submarines capable of carrying 40 Tomahawk missiles.

Brent Sadler, former head of the U.S. Navy’s Asia-Pacific Advisory Group and a Heritage Foundation senior research fellow in naval warfare and advanced technology, told Bloomberg News that the Tomahawk missiles have a 1,000-mile range.

“The long range provides greater stand-off from Chinese anti-access and area-denial missile forces, and this would complicate Chinese planning for a blockade/invasion of Taiwan,” Sadler stated. He added that additional work will be required to determine how the missiles can be used to “overwhelm” China’s naval forces and destroy enough enemy ships to be “war-winning.”

Navy Submarine Forces Commander, Vice Admiral William Houston, told Bloomberg News he is committed to deploying the “Maritime Strike” Tomahawk missiles as soon as possible; however, he noted, “procurement, modernization and fielding schedules are dynamic and impacted by a variety of factors including industrial base and shipyard capacity.”