Defense Media Network

Aegis BMD Sea-Based Elements: The Ship-based Solution

U.S. Navy missile defense, yesterday, today, and tomorrow, Part 18

The U.S. Navy’s strong commitment to a national ballistic missile defense is articulated in the 2007 tri-service A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower (CS-21), which explains, “Maritime ballistic missile defense will enhance deterrence by providing an umbrella of protection to forward-deployed forces and friends and allies, while contributing to the larger architecture for defense of the United States.”

Ship-based Aegis BMD’s inherent mobility, persistent forward presence, readiness, ability to operate in international waters and conduct simultaneous multi-warfare operations – including long-range strike and scalability to match the need – are key attributes brought to any future military operation. Aegis BMD can reposition in response to a crisis, cover undefended flanks, thicken defenses of key areas and regions, and add firepower.

Emphasizing the Navy’s intent to push this defensive capability forward, the 2007 strategy also states, “Maritime forces will defend the homeland by identifying and neutralizing threats as far from our shores as possible.” Published three years after CS-21, the Naval Operations Concept explained the importance of ballistic missile defense to forward-deployed naval operations. And the importance of the ability to defend forward deployed forces of all Services against ballistic missiles armed with WMD is also enshrined in Joint doctrine, including the Joint doctrine, most notably in The Joint Operating Environment 2010 (JOE 2010).  And building on this initial body of work, more recent more recent Joint and Navy guidance along with Congressional testimony confirm the commitment to National BMDS and Aegis BMD.


Aegis BMD: The Ship-Based Solution

Ship-based Aegis BMD’s inherent mobility, persistent forward presence, readiness, ability to operate in international waters and conduct simultaneous multi-warfare operations – including long-range strike and scalability to match the need – are key attributes brought to any future military operation. Aegis BMD can reposition in response to a crisis, cover undefended flanks, thicken defenses of key areas and regions, and add firepower.

Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense

The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS McCampbell (DDG 85), left, the Republic of Korea Navy Aegis-class destroyer ROKS Seoae-Yu-Seong-Ryong (DDG 993) and the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain (DDG 56) move into formation during exercise Foal Eagle 2013. McCampbell and McCain are assigned to Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 15, forward deployed to Yokosuka, Japan, and are underway to conduct exercise Foal Eagle 2013 with allied nation Republic of Korea in support of regional security and stability of the Asia-Pacific region. The mobility of Aegis ballistic missile defense make it adaptable to any future military operation. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Declan Barnes

The ability of these naval forces to use the world’s oceans for strategic and tactical movement, combined with the increasing stealth and self-defense capabilities of U.S. warships, as well as their increasing ability to fully exploit the “global space commons” for additional capability, allows commanders to maintain a persistent, scalable and visible naval presence anywhere in the world with low risk. This is precisely what the U.S. Navy is doing off the coast of North Korea today.

The multimission capability of Aegis missile cruisers and destroyers enables them to defend themselves, other forces in the region, and assets ashore. With organic logistics support, the Navy can sustain these ships on forward-deployment station for extended periods. Aegis warships can also conduct other critical missions while tasked as ballistic missile defense assets – from humanitarian-relief and disaster-response tasks to launching long-range, precision strikes with their Tomahawk land-attack cruise missiles. No additional personnel or assets are needed for these full-spectrum operations.

This was underscored by the 2010 QDR, which noted, “U.S. naval forces likewise will continue to be capable of robust forward presence and power projection operations, even as they add capabilities and capacity for working with a wide range of partner navies. The rapid growth in sea- and land-based ballistic missile defense capabilities will help meet the needs of combatant commanders and allies in several regions.”

The first-ever Ballistic Missile Defense Review (BMDR) in 2010 put in motion profound changes in the U.S. approach to deal with the most deadly threat to the American homeland, our forces forward, and our allies and coalition partners: ballistic missiles armed with weapons of mass destruction (WMD). According to the 2010 BMDR:

The United States will continue to defend the homeland from limited ballistic missile attack. These efforts are focused on protecting the homeland from a ballistic missile attack by a regional actor such as North Korea or Iran. The United States seeks to dissuade such states from developing an inter-continental ballistic missile (ICBM), deter them from using an ICBM if they develop or acquire such a capability, and defeat an ICBM attack by such states should deterrence fail.

The United States will defend its deployed forces from regional missile threats while also protecting our allies and partners and enabling them to defend themselves. This policy has guided the development of U.S. capabilities since the emergence of the ballistic missile proliferation problem in the 1980s and the development of initial terminal defense capabilities in the early 1990s. As regional protection capabilities begin to take shape, it is important to ensure effective operational and political cooperation with allies and partners.

The United States will seek to lead expanded international efforts for missile defense. It will work more closely with allies and partners to provide pragmatic and cost-effective capacity. The U.S., with the support of allies and partners, seeks to create an environment in which the acquisition, deployment, and use of ballistic missiles by regional adversaries can be deterred, principally by eliminating their confidence in the effectiveness of such attacks, and thereby devaluing their ballistic missile arsenals.



Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense

A Standard Missile – 3 (SM-3) Block IB interceptor is launched from the USS Lake Erie (CG 70) during a Missile Defense Agency test in the mid-Pacific, June 27, 2012. The SM-3 Block IB successfully intercepted a separating ballistic missile target that had been launched from the Pacific Missile Range Facility, Barking Sands, Kauai, Hawaii. The Lake Erie’s crew detected and tracked the target and its weapons system developed a fire control solution. The crew then launched the SM-3, with the intercept occurring a few minutes later. Missile Defense Agency photo

The Aegis Weapon System has its origins in the Cold War struggles against the Soviet Union and – absent a few visionaries – no one present at its creation envisioned the role that it would play today. But key leaders, such as the late Rear Adm. Wayne E. Meyer, shepherded the system throughout its gestation from concept to fleet capability. In the process, those working on program built a system with extensive margins for growth, and thus laid the foundation for Aegis BMD.  As then-Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. Roughead noted in March 2010:

“I would also be remiss if I didn’t give great credit to the founder of the system upon which we base our BMD system and that’s Aegis and Adm. Wayne E. Meyer. A lot of us came to this discovery that Aegis could do BMD, but I think probably in the back of his mind many years ago, Wayne Meyer knew exactly where he was going with this system, and it surely has paid it off for us.”

Since 2002, Aegis BMD capability has been improved in two-year “block upgrades,” each leading to increased capabilities. The Aegis BMD Block 2004 delivered the first Aegis BMD Long-Range Search and Track (LRS&T) system certified for tactical deployment. Aegis BMD Block 2006 focused primarily on improved prototype radar discrimination, while Block 2008 further developed Aegis BMD to provide integrated, advanced radar discrimination. Those incremental, “spiral” improvements ultimately led the Commander, Operational Test and Evaluation Force (COTF) to declare the Aegis BMD 3.6 system “operationally effective and suitable.” The COTF also recommended that MDA transfer 18 ship-sets of the program and 90 SM-3 Block IA missiles to the Navy for operational use, which occurred in October 2008.

Armed with this background and understanding of how the Aegis BMD system has evolved, we can look at where the ship-based Aegis BMD system is today and where it is evolving in the future.


Captain George Galdorisi is a career naval aviator. He began his writing career in 1978...