Australia confirms details of planned Tomahawk fit for DDGs

Three RAN Destroyers
The Royal Australian Navy’s three Hobart-class guided-missile destroyers – pictured sailing in formation off eastern Australia in 2020 – are to receive a Tomahawk cruise missile fit. (Credit: Commonwealth of Australia)

Australia has confirmed its intention to purchase Tomahawk sea-launched cruise missiles to equip the Royal Australian Navy’s (RAN’s) three Hobart-class guided-missile destroyers (DDGs).

In a statement released on 21 August, the Australian government revealed details of the purchase. The statement noted an intent to buy more than 200 Tomahawk rounds, at a total procurement cost of AUD1.3 billion.

The Raytheon-made Tomahawk is a US Navy missile. The RAN will become only the third navy to deploy it. The UK Royal Navy was second to acquire Tomahawk, back in 1994.

Australia’s purchase is being generated through a foreign military sales (FMS) case. In March 2023, the US Defense Security Co-operation Agency announced that the US State Department had approved the FMS for Australia’s purchase of up to 220 Tomahawks: these would be up to 20 Block IV weapons, and up to 200 Block V weapons.

Block IV is the in-service missile. Block V, the next variant to arrive, will bring new capabilities including anti-ship targeting in the form of the Maritime Strike Tomahawk (MST).

Australia’s surface fit plans were also noted when – again, in March 2023 – Australia, the UK, and the US announced a raft of co-operative capability developments to be delivered under the trilateral AUKUS strategic partnership.

The Australian government’s 21 August statement referred to Tomahawk as a “world-class long-range strike capability”, with a 1,500 km range. “Long-range strike missiles … are fundamental to the ADF’s [Australian Defence Force’s] ability to deploy enhanced strike capabilities and hold an adversary at risk at longer ranges,” the statement added.

Australia’s growing focus on building lethality including through the development of long-range strike capability was set out in its Defence Strategic Review (DSR), published in April 2023. A headline DSR requirement was for the RAN to have enhanced lethality across its surface and submarine fleets, as part of the ADF’s wider focus on augmenting long-range strike capability across all domains.

Confirmation of the Hobart-class ships’ Tomahawk fit underlines the vessels’ continuing capability evolution from an original conception as air warfare destroyers to becoming multi-purpose DDGs.

The RAN is also understood to be assessing options for a submarine-based Tomahawk fit, commencing either during the planned life-extension programme for its in-service Collins-class diesel-electric submarines, or onboard its future nuclear-powered attack submarine (SSN) that will be delivered under the SSN-AUKUS programme.

by Dr. Lee Willett