US Navy Practices Loading Tomahawk Missiles in Australia

An American nuclear-powered attack submarine has practised loading long-range missiles in Australia for the first time. While alongside at Fleet Base West (HMAS Stirling) USS Springfield (SSN-761) took on board an inert Tomahawk Land Attack Missile (TLAM) training shape from USS Frank Cable (AS-40). 

United States Nuclear Submarine USS Springfield prepares to berth outboard of USS Frank Cable at Fleet Base West, Western Australia. (Commonwealth of Australia)

The exercise is the first time that a so-called “expeditionary reload” of a TLAM missile has been conducted in Australia. 

Submarine Tenders, like USS Frank Cable and her sister ship USS Emory S. Land, are incredibly important for the US Navy’s submarine force. Without them, US submarines operating in the Western Pacific would be forced to return to Guam or Hawaii to reload munitions, significantly reducing their operational effectiveness.

PERTH, Australia (April 24, 2022) – Sailors assigned to the Emory S. Land-class submarine tender USS Frank Cable (AS 40) and the Los Angeles-class fast-attack submarine USS Springfield (SSN 761) lower an inert Tomahawk missile training shape from the Frank Cable, April 24, 2022. Frank Cable is currently on patrol conducting expeditionary maintenance and logistics in support of national security in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operations. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Charlotte C. Oliver/Released)

In any future conflict with China, the ability to rearm US submarines in Australia will be incredibly valuable, as Australia’s main naval bases lie outside of the range of a majority of China’s long-range strike systems. 

Both Fleet Base East and Fleet Base West lie outside the range of all but China’s most advanced weapons. (Lowy Institute)

The exercise is also important for the Australian Defence Force (ADF) which is planning to integrate Tomahawk missiles aboard its Hobart class destroyers and possibly its Collins-class submarines. It’s also likely that, at least initially, Australia’s nuclear-powered submarines will be outfitted with Tomahawk missiles.