The US Navy has test fired two Raytheon-built Tomahawk cruise missiles from new submarine payload tubes on the Virginia-class naval vessel USS North Dakota (SSN-784) in the Gulf of Mexico near Florida.
The tests marked the first demonstration of the submarine's potential to load, carry and vertically launch Tomahawk missiles from the new Block III Virginia Payload Tube.
USS North Dakota's upgraded payload tubes feature fewer parts and are expected to be more reliable than previous models.
In addition to the new payload tubes, the US Navy is also designing a new Virginia payload module, which will enable the submarines to carry three times the number of Tomahawk missiles that the vessels can carry at present.
This will significantly increase the firepower of each Virginia-class ship.
Raytheon Air Warfare Systems vice-president Mike Jarrett said: “As the navy continues to modernise its subs, Raytheon continues to modernise Tomahawk, keeping this one-of-a-kind weapon well ahead of the threat.
“Today's Tomahawk is a far cry from its predecessors and tomorrow's missile will feature even more capability, giving our sailors the edge they need for decades to come.”
The US Navy is set to continue the modernisation of the Tomahawk Block IV missiles’ communications and navigation capabilities, as well as adding a multi-mode seeker in order to strike high-value moving targets at sea.
The upgraded Tomahawks are slated to be deployed from 2019, and are expected to form part of the US Navy inventory beyond 2040.
Raytheon's cruise missiles are used by US and UK forces to fight against integrated air defence systems and carry out long-range precision strike missions against high-value targets.
Image: Tomahawk Block IV cruise missile during a flight test. Photo: courtesy of US Navy.