"Tomahawk is a whole new capability which takes us into
another realm of warfare. And it brings something else to the table to complement what
other countries offer in the way of contributing to international peace and order."
-First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Michael Boyce 1
Note: This is another in our series of occasional articles
intended to convey the perspective of allied nations on submarine operations.
On 24 March 1999, the Royal Navy (RN) SSN HMS
Splendid fired Britain's first Tomahawk Land Attack Missile (TLAM) in combat. The first
NATO weapons employed in Operation ALLIED FORCE in Kosovo, Splendid's TLAMs
projected maritime power ashore against broad target sets in a land-locked theater. In
contributing an undisclosed number of rounds to the 238 TLAMs fired, Splendid's
operation means TLAM is now combat-proven for Britain.
Britain has procured 65 Block III TLAMs as weapons of strategic coercion. Britain's
1998 Strategic Defence Review (SDR) mandated that all British SSNs will be fitted for
torpedo-tube launched TLAMs, extending Britain's capability "for deterrence and
coercion," particularly of rogue regimes.2
SDR placed a national maritime military capability at the core of British defense policy
for the new millennium. This capability generates expeditionary maritime power - in other
words, joint and combined forces based at sea - to project influence from the sea
into strategically critical littoral regions.3
and British Strategy
As the Cold War ended, conventional deterrence and coercion emerged as new
strategic concepts. As a tool for coercion, TLAM revolutionized British strategic thought.
Coercion is the "threat or use of limited offensive action ... to deter a possible
aggressor or to compel him to comply with a diplomatic demarche or a resolution."4 In bringing Britain's TLAM program to fruition,
successive British governments demonstrated an understanding of the coercive utility of
sea power and naval diplomacy. The use by navies of presence and influence is
traditionally referred to as "gunboat diplomacy." With TLAM, "we used to
have gunboat diplomacy, now we have Tomahawk diplomacy."5
Britain has always understood the value of subsurface land attack. The strategic
reach provided by the combination of TLAM and SSNs provides a unique capability for a
medium power like Britain. As Admiral Hank Chiles noted, "70% of the earth's surface
is covered by submarines."6 In a
multi-dimensional, modular unit, SSNs provide autonomous stealth, flexibility and
mobility. When fitted with TLAM, an SSN's "great covertness and huge striking
power" is "a key military and political asset."7 From a political perspective, TLAM-capable SSNs
convey intent, threatening or bringing precise fire at the place and time of choice. The
possible presence of a stealthy, flexible and - most crucially - invulnerable,
TLAM-capable SSN vectors uncertainty into an opponent's mind-set. Former Flag Officer
Submarines Vice-Admiral James Perowne stated that, "...with TLAM, [Britain] can play
a vital role in operations where we might be required to threaten force to back up
The United Kingdom's first
launch of the Tomahawk Land Attack Missile
Militarily, SSN-launched TLAMs make strategic sense for Britain. TLAMs project
balanced and precise conventional maritime fires beyond the littoral to disrupt an
adversary's warfighting capability; expand options for shaping the spatial and temporal
aspects of the strategic, operational, and tactical battlespaces; and enable entry of
follow-on assets into theater.
TLAM and Kosovo:
Coercion in Practice
The Ministry of Defense has argued that Kosovo "vindicated the
principles and decisions" set out in SDR.9
Kosovo also tested Britain's TLAM thesis. Central to effective coercion is the early
application of credible force. To deter and to show resolve, Splendid's presence
was announced before ALLIED FORCE commenced.10
Precursor TLAM strikes - to degrade Serbian political, military, and economic strength, to
shape the battlespace and enable the combined arms campaign - confirmed TLAM's coercive
and military strategic roles. Not only was TLAM the first weapon used, sometimes it was
the only weapon used, delivering ordnance ashore during poor weather. TLAM provided a
unique British and European capability in partnership with the U.S. and significantly
enhanced Britain's in-theater force capabilities. Also, the re-supply of TLAM rounds to Splendid
answered British concerns regarding the sustainability of TLAM-tasked SSNs on patrol. From
a coalition viewpoint, Allied commander VADM Daniel Murphy, USN, stated that "the
targets destroyed in the early weeks were significantly TLAM targets."11 TLAM was integral to the operation, bringing
considerable and sustainable weight of fire. Particularly, its precision gave the Joint
Force Commander a tool for reducing risks to friendly forces and non-combatants.
However, employing TLAM did present problems. First, the RN was
forced to leave Splendid both in its launch basket and in the hands of Britain's
political leadership, and thus largely unavailable for other tasks. Second, the successive
TLAM firings suggest that TLAM's rationale evolved from strategic, through operational, to
tactical purposes, as more became known about its capabilities and uses. NATO forces
"were able to bridge the distance from strategic to tactical application... [TLAM]
was the most responsive of all the weapons available to the task force commander."12 Moreover, it has been suggested that NATO ran out
of appropriate TLAM targets, and with political leaders generally favoring unmanned
weapons, TLAM was often used against targets usually assigned to tactical air power. It
can be argued, with the U.S. Joint Command tasking Splendid, that British TLAMs
were used for tactical purposes, and became just another weapon fired from just another
platform. Yet what is unclear is the extent to which British, as opposed to U.S., TLAMs
were employed for tactical purpose. For example, British officials argue that Britain's
TLAMs were used for strategic coercion and for the shaping of the strategic and
operational battlespaces only.
TLAM and British
TLAM has impacted on British strategy in four ways. First, SSN-launched TLAMs, with
the combined reach of a precise 1,000-mile range missile and a forward-deployed covert
platform, bring "a significant enhancement to [British] capabilities."13 As Splendid's Commanding Officer noted,
for TLAM - from the British perspective - SSNs are "self-evidently the ideal delivery
platform, operating at low levels of self-risk and unsupported forextended periods."14 Second, through strategic coercion, TLAM gives
Britain new choices in gunboat diplomacy. If coercion is based on choice - using political
and military choices to influence, limit, and direct those of an opponent - TLAM, widely
dubbed "the weapon of choice," is the most appropriate tool. Third, as the U.S.
report into the Kosovo conflict noted, Kosovo "saw the successful realization of TLAM
as a tactical weapon."15 This need for
tactical relevance is evident in the development of Tactical Tomahawk (TacTom). These
developments open new options for Britain's TLAM programme. Fourth, TLAM's political and
military influence provides Britain with the ability to offer an index of support for U.S.
policy. British officials favor broader TLAM deployment across the RN for political,
strategic and fiscal reasons. TLAM availability in greater numbers and on platforms other
than SSNs would augment Britain's coercive capabilities and its ability to effect
expeditionary power projection operations within the Maritime Contribution to Joint
Operations (MCJO), the RN's emerging military-strategic framework for implementing the
maritime aspects of SDR.
Extending the program was discussed during and following SDR, and
then after Kosovo. Britain remains firmly committed to the staff requirement of 65
SSN-launched TLAMs. What has changed is that TLAM, a weapon which can supplement or
supplant tactical air power with minimal risk of collateral damage, appears a more useful
and usable weapon across the strategic, operational and tactical spectrum than previously
envisaged, even when employed in limited numbers. British TLAM concepts of operations
(CONOPS) have been reassessed. A widely held, but not publicly-stated, view
is that Britain purchased insufficient TLAM rounds and will require more than 65. This
would be so even if coercion remains as the declared CONOPS. More rounds, whether
SSN-launched or otherwise, would provide Britain with greater scope to use TLAM in more
than just demonstrative terms (whether demonstrating intent to an opponent or
demonstrating partnership with the United States) and in overcoming attrition,
particularly if anti-cruise missile defences become available. Perhaps the strongest
argument for British procurement of greater numbers, whether for strategic or tactical
use, derives from the challenges Britain will face in scenarios where the United States
chooses not to become involved.
First considered in the 1990s before Britain chose an SSN installation, surface
deployment offers visibility crucial in coercive diplomacy. It would provide more missiles
on more platforms than SSNs. Options discussed include: TLAM-capable VLS for the new Type
45 destroyer or back-fitted into the Invincible- class aircraft carriers and the
Batch 3 Type 42 destroyers; and fitting carriers or auxiliary ships with box-launched
TLAMs. No future option has been ruled out. The Type 45, of which several batches could be
built, and the Future Surface Combatant (FSC) are possible long-term options for TLAM
deployment. This surface fit may be more relevant given the U.S. development of an
Advanced Land Attack Missile (ALAM) for its own DD-21 FSC.
In the near-term, deploying greater numbers and types of missiles
across the SSN force remains Britain's most affordable, practical, and likely
option for extending its capability. In the interim, Britain is to procure 20 additional
Block III TLAMs.16 This purchase offsets
British fears about the availability of replacement rounds, given scarce Block III stocks
and the closure of the Block III production line. Also, Britain is monitoring U.S. plans
for a TLAM-capable TRIDENT SSGN.
U.S. decisions on TLAM affect British choices. For example, British
SSNs do not have VLS tubes. Originally, TACTOM was intended for VLS launch only, since the
U.S. Navy had no perceived requirement for launching the missile from a torpedo tube. Now,
however, the U.S. recognizes the strategic value of covert SSNs carrying up to 30 TLAMs
for projecting considerable weight of fire ashore. This growing interest in torpedo-tube
launch is a positive development for Britain, since it would allow Britain to extend its
torpedo-tube fit while avoiding the difficult political issue of an expensive surface fit
to retain a conventional land-attack force. Britain is discussing with the U.S. the
development of a torpedo-tube launched TACTOM, and has the option to request procurement
of TACTOM and its Tactical Tomahawk Weapons Control System (TTWCS).17 Technologies like TACTOM actually appear more
appropriate to British purposes. Even if Britain retains TLAM only for coercion, the
requirements for responding quickly to real-time intelligence for creating a more credible
threat make the re-targetable TACTOM directly relevant. However, the projected TACTOM uses
little more than contemporary technology. Future TLAM technology may see greater
exploitation of non-lethal payloads, such as the Dispenser Kit 2 TLAMs used so effectively
in DESERT STORM and ALLIED FORCE. If Britain is to stay in the TLAM game, it must be
prepared to invest in future options.
TLAM's full potential for Britain will not be realized until the SSN deployment
program is complete. Britain is continually reviewing its TLAM CONOPS as it gleans
experience from sea-time both autonomously and in operational congruence with the U.S.
Current feedback suggests an interest in and need for development of TLAM's tactical
applications. The political and military flexibility, reach, and poise offered by carrier
task groups, amphibious forces, and TLAM-capable SSNs enable Britain to punch above its
weight. TLAM provides Britain with new options for projecting graduated military coercion,
tailored to the political context. Reflecting the nature of defense policy for the new
millennium, SSN-launched TLAM is a core maritime capability for Britain.
Admiral Sir Michael Boyce, RN KCB OBE ADC, Quoted in: "A Clear Path to Follow: First
Sea Lord Looks Ahead," Interview in Navy News, January 1999, London: Ministry of
Defense (MOD). p.17.
2. MOD, Strategic Defense Review (Cm 3999. Presented
to Parliament by the Secretary of State for Defense by Command of Her Majesty, July 1998,
London: The Stationery Office), Chapter Seven, para.141, p.37. Originally, TLAM was to be
deployed on seven platforms. Under SDR, Britain will have ten SSNs.
3. The RN's policy is set out in its maritime
doctrine BR1806 (British Maritime Doctrine. Naval Staff Directorate - NSD -, RN. 1999.
D/NSD/2/10/1, By Command of the Defense Council. London: The Stationery Office - TSO) -
the doctrinal statement on the current status of SDR's strategic assumptions - and the
Maritime Contribution to Joint Operations (MCJO) - the framework for the implementation of
the RN's military-strategic contribution to SDR.
4. BR1806, p.58. Emphasis in original.
5. Author's interview with U.S. military analyst
John D. Gresham.
6. Author's interview with Admiral Hank Chiles, USN
(ret.), Alexandria, VA, 28 August 1998.
7. Blackham, Vice-Admiral Sir J.J., RN KCB,
"The Royal Navy in the Future," Speech to the Birmingham Defense Studies Dining
Club, 28 May 1996.
8. Perowne, Vice-Admiral J., RN OBE, Interview in
Warships: International Fleet Review, vol.1, no.1, St. Leonard's: HMG Publishers, Spring
1998, pp.2 & 31.
9. MOD, Memorandum on Kosovo, Presented to House of
Commons Defense Committee, para.34.
10. See, for example: Robertson, G. Statement to
House of Commons Parliamentary Debates, 2nd Session, 52nd Parliament, Volume 328, 22 March
1991. Available on-line:
U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), News Briefing, 18 March 1999, Office of the Secretary of
Defense, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs. Available on-line: http://www.defenselink.mil
11. Murphy, VADM D., USN (CO, U.S. 6th Fleet),
Interview in Aerospace Daily, 11 June 1999. p.387.
12. Murphy, VADM D., USN, "NATO Naval Forces
in the Kosovo Operation," Paper cited by: Strauss, K. The Notion of Precision Land
Attack: a Case Study on the Tactical Tomahawk, Paper presented to conference on Naval Land
Attack Weapons, London, 1-2 December 1999. SMi Defense conferences.
13. MOD. Memorandum on Kosovo, para.17.
14. Barker, CDR R.D.J., RN, "Precision Strike
from the Sea - HMS Splendid and Tomahawk," in RUSI Journal, Vol. 144, No. 4, August
1999, London: RUSI, p.75
15. U.S. Department of Defense, Kosovo/ALLIED FORCE
After-Action Report, Report to Congress, 31 January 2000, p. 97
16. Kirkpatrick, Capt J. RN OBE. Tomahawk Cruise
Missile: UK Requirement and Procurement Programme, Paper presented to conference on Naval
Land Attack Weapons.
17. Kirkpatrick. Tomahawk Cruise Missile.
Dr. Willet is the
Leverhulme Research Fellow at the Centre for Security Studies at the University of Hull,