July 18 (UPI) -- The Virginia-class submarine USS North Dakota fired two Tomahawk vertically-launched cruise missiles to test its Block III Payload Tubes' ability to use the munition, Raytheon announced on Tuesday.
The Block III Payload Tubes are designed to be simpler and more reliable than the original Virginia-classes 12 vertical launch missile tubes.
"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," Mike Jarrett, vice president of Raytheon Air Warfare Systems, said in a press release.
The tubes are part of upgrades to the class's missile launch systems, which will include the Virginia Payload Module launch system. The VPM will triple the capacity for Tomahawks and allow greater flexibility for installing other vertical launch weapons systems.
The North Dakota is part of the Block III redesign of Virginia-class submarines meant to reduce construction and life-cycle maintenance costs. Further Block IV and Block V redesigns are expected for future Virginia-class vessels that are slated for construction.
The Virginia-class nuclear fast-attack submarine is meant to supplement and eventually replace the older Los Angeles-class ad it is retired. It will operate beside the Sea Wolf-class as the Navy's primary attack submarines.
The new class is capable of carrying torpedoes, Tomahawk cruise missiles and other weapon systems, and can deploy undersea unmanned vehicles and special operations teams ashore.
The Tomahawk is the primary ship-based cruise missile in use by the U.S. Navy and many foreign allied fleets. The most recent Block IV TLAM-E has a range of over 1,000 miles and is armed with a unitary high-explosive warhead.
Earlier models can carry submunition dispensers for area and airfield strikes while a nuclear variant has been phased out of active service.
New upgrades to the Block IV under development allow in-flight corrections and loitering ability for close support and precision strike missions. It will feature a multi-mode seeker head that will allow it to hit moving naval targets.