The US Army claims to have demonstrated the operational capability of its new land-based missile launcher with the recent successful launch of a Tomahawk land-attack cruise missile. This follows a test launch of an SM-6 multirole missile earlier this year from what is officially known as the Typhon Weapon System. The service currently has a Typhon-equipped Medium Range Capability battery, which has four trailer-based launchers and other support equipment.
The Army’s Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies Office (RCCTO) announced the Tomahawk’s launch on June 28, but the actual testing had taken place the day before. This comes just over six months after the service accepted delivery of the first Typhon launchers and other components of its first Medium Range Capability (MRC) battery from Lockheed Martin.
“This test follows the successful launch of an SM-6 missile from the Mid-Range Capability system earlier this year, confirming the system’s full operational capability,” according to a brief statement from RCCTO.
Army officers have said in the past that they aim to reach at least some level of true operational capability with the first MRC battery before the end of Fiscal Year 2023, this coming September.
A full Typhon weapon system battery consists of four launchers and a command post, all on trailers, as well as reloading and support vehicles, according to details the Army has released in the past. The information on the objectives comes from external sources.
Currently, the Army expects the Typhon to be used primarily against ground targets using the Tomahawk or SM-6. At the same time, anti-ship optimized variants of the Tomahawk exist. The SM-6, originally designed as a surface-to-air missile, has also demonstrated its anti-ship capability, and versions with longer range and capacity are in development. The US military currently claims the SM-6 family as its only real ability to engage highly maneuverable hypersonic weapons.
Taken together, the door is already wide open to the possibility of future Army MRC batteries being employed against a wide variety of targets in the future. These same launchers are expected to be part of the expanded air and missile defenses that the US military is working to install on the strategic US island territory of Guam.
In addition, the Typhon launchers are derived from the Mk 41 Vertical Launch System (VLS), which is used on various US Navy and non-US Navy warships. This launcher can already fire a wide range of containerized missiles, and other types could be added to it in the future.
RCCTO said personnel from the 1st Multi-Domain Task Force, based at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state, had carried out the test launch with support from the US Navy Program Executive Office. US for Unmanned Aviation and Strike Weapons (PEO U&W). The Navy is the primary service responsible for managing the Tomahawk and SM-6 missile programs throughout the US military.
Also, over the launchers based on the Mk 41, Typhon has a fire control system derived from the battle-proven Aegis Combat System. The VLS Mk 41 and the Aegis are also Navy-managed programs. The Navy itself has been testing a launcher derived from the containerized Mk 41 called the Mk 70 Expeditionary Launcher, which is very similar to the Typhon design. Variants and/or derivatives of the Mk 70 have been shipped uncrewed and trailer-loaded.
Both the Army and Navy have been working closely with the Marines, who are acquiring their own land-based Tomahawk capability. “The three Services share control of fire, missile boats and missiles,” a Marine Corps spokesman said in June. The Marines currently plan to use a smaller remote-controlled launcher based on the Joint 4×4 Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV), but there are questions about the feasibility of such a combination.
For the Army in particular, the successful demonstration of the Typhon’s planned full operational capability is another important step in the service’s efforts to deploy a number of new long-range strike capabilities. This also includes the Dark Eagle long-range hypersonic weapon (LRHW) and the Precision Strike Missile (PrSM) short-range ballistic missile. The PrSM can be fired from existing M270 Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS) and M142 High-Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) launchers, and the Army is now studying even longer-range missiles that can work with those systems.
Armed with the Tomahawk, the Typhon provides the Army with a new tool that allows it to create a bubble that extends approximately 1,000 miles in all directions from where the launchers are located, within which it can hold ground targets in danger. The shorter reach SM-6 gives the complete system greater flexibility. As already noted, the ability of the Tomahawk and SM-6 to engage other types of targets means that an MRC battery could have broader anti-access/air-denial functionality in the future.
With the Navy and Marine Corps land-based Tomahawk programs advancing, Typhon is also part of a new and broader land-based long-range strike ecosystem that is emerging. This is largely due to the US military’s desire for more options for attacking land, sea and air targets across the vast expanses of the Indo-Pacific region in any future high-profile conflict, especially one against China.
US officers and independent experts regularly draw attention to the Chinese People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) numerical superiority in conventionally-armed land-based cruise and ballistic missiles. This gives the PLA significant anti-access and air denial capabilities in several strategic regions, including the disputed South China Sea, as well as an important non-nuclear deterrent capability in general.
At the same time, questions remain about where exactly ground-based systems like the Typhon could be deployed, especially in the Indo-Pacific. The governments of many US allies and partners have publicly stated that they are not interested in hosting US ground-launched long-range strike capabilities.
These new long-range strike capabilities could also be deployed in response to conflicts and crises elsewhere. In 2021, the Army created the 56th Artillery Command in Germany specifically to serve as a forward command and control node for future long-range “fire” units. The earlier version of this unit had overseen the Army’s Pershing and Pershing II nuclear ballistic missiles during the Cold War in Europe.
It should also be noted that the US Air Force deployed to Europe between 1983 and 1991 variants of the Tomahawk with ground-launched nuclear warheads, designated BGM-109G Gryphons. The Army, Navy and Marine Corps’ new long-range ground-based missile systems will all be conventionally armed.
Regardless of how the Army’s plans to deploy and employ its future MRC batteries continue to evolve, the service, along with the Navy and Marine Corps, continues to make progress to make this capability an operational reality.