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by Dr. Lee Willett

"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

Editor's 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's TLAM Program
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

Submarines, TLAMs, 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 diplomatic moves."8

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 Strategic Thought
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.

1. 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: <>, p.2; 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: /news/Mar1999/to3181999_to318asd.html.
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, United Kingdom.


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