Published in Surface SITREP, courtesy of Surface Navy Association (www.navysna.org
Edward H. Lundquist: What is the new task force being established here?
Capt. Jeff Wolstenholme: We’re standing up the new task force here in NAVEUR called “CTF 64.” With ballistic missile defense and integrated air and missile defense so prominent in the theater, we need a task force to oversee this. Among the biggest driving factors is Aegis Ashore coming on line – we need an operational commander for Aegis Ashore. I have OPCON (operational control) of Aegis Ashore Romania and I’ll have OPCON of Poland when that’s stood up. CTF 65 has Op Con of the ships in the AOR, but when the Rota ships go to do the mission in support of the Defense of Europe (DOE), at a certain posture level those ships will shift TACON (tactical control) to CTF 64.
The U.S. and NATO have said that Aegis Ashore is defending against a ballistic missile attack from the Middle East – Iran specifically. Is there another threat vector that’s also part of the calculus?
Not for Aegis Ashore. It can only defend against the threats from the Middle East. We have told the Russians up front that it’s not directed at them. This Defense of Europe Mission is focused solely at ballistic missiles originating from Iran.
What’s the status of CTF 64?
CTF 64 was officially stood up on 24 March 2016. It was established administratively back in October as we were getting ready to conduct At Sea Demo 15 (ASD 15), which was the SM-3 missile shoot at the Hebrides range off Scotland. It was the first SM-3 launch conducted at a range other than a U.S. range, and this is the first time it’s ever been done in Europe. The United Kingdom made a significant investment in the range to get it up to the standards required to support an SM-3 launch. ASD-15 was a combined BMD and air defense event. It was highly successful, with a direct SM-3 hit on the ballistic target, and then very successful shots in the air defense realm. It was probably the largest, most complicated allied IAMD exercise that we’ve ever done, even on the US side, we’ve never done this complicated of a combined SM-3 live fire with simultaneous air defense live fire. And considering we had nine nations in this with eight different ships, that’s a lot of coordination to bring all that together. I was the Ballistic Missile Defense commander for it, so I directed the SM-3 operation. I was embarked on USS Ross, who took the shot. It was a very successful event, but it took four years to plan the actual exercise and in the last 15 months worked nonstop to pull this thing off.
Had you been on a BMD ship as commanding officer?
I’ve commanded a couple different Aegis destroyers, and I was a commodore of a destroyer squadron. I had DESRON 22, so I was with the George H.W. Bush strike group and made the maiden deployment with them. Our ships didn’t have the robust BMD capability that we have today. We could do the tracking missions, but not the entire engagement. I had worked BMD extensively in the Pentagon during my previous tour as the BMD policy person in N51 on the Navy staff and worked closely with OSD on the transfer of authority issues with the ships going back and forth with NATO. I was also involved with global posture, and was intimately involved with getting the ships to Rota.
The four forward deployed ships have been doing the mission for the past two years now. We had two ships in 2014, and now two more arrived in 2015. All four ships have conducted patrols and have been fully integrated into the mission. Now it’s Aegis Ashore Romania’s turn, and they’re getting integrated.
How do you see the role of CTF 64 unfolding in the next year or two? How will you be looking at your assets of the forward deployed BMD ships and Aegis Ashore? Is this something that can be integrated?
With Aegis Ashore reaching its technical capability as of 18 December 2015, we’re now integrating Aegis Ashore into the whole BMD architecture, both on the US and NATO side. Essentially, it just got commissioned, and now we have to integrate the capability immediately in a deployed status. The teams get trained and certified separately in Dam Neck, VA and they rotate for a 6-month deployment. We’ll have three teams of 11 Sailors on site at all times – they come for six months, and one team rotates every two months. Now we have to get them fully integrated into the overall BMD architecture so they can make their contribution to the Defense of Europe.
The facility in Romania was first built in New Jersey before it was dissembled and shipped over to Deveselu.
We built the structure in New Jersey first to show that it could be fully integrated, and we took the equipment and fully tested it out at PMRF in Hawaii to make sure it worked there before a similar set was sent to Romania. We had a robust testing program back in the States before it ever made it to Romania.
What do the crews do when they go home?
When they come off their 6-month deployment, they remain in a surge status for two months, followed by a stand down period where they will be able to take leave. Over the course of the year they’ll begin various training syllabuses to be ready for the next deployment, including a revisit to the Aegis Ashore Academy and the team trainer for re-certification. They can also help augment PMRF for different events such as live fire missile shots and test events, so they can observe how these things go.
Is the PMRF facility just like the one in Romania?
It’s the testing facility. It’s not operationalized, it’s for testing, but it’s a replica of the one in Romania.
Is it used for training?
They have the training facility in Dam Neck. It looks just like the CIC of Aegis Ashore Romania, with the same consoles and displays.
So we’re trying to get Aegis Ashore fully integrated. The four forward deployed ships have been doing the mission for the past two years now. We had two ships in 2014, and now two more arrived in 2015. All four ships have conducted patrols and have been fully integrated into the mission. Now it’s Aegis Ashore Romania’s turn, and they’re getting integrated.
When you talk about integrating Aegis Ashore into the BMD architecture for Europe, what does that mean?
With NATO, Air Com has the mission – and the BMDOC is their watch floor. Under that you have the Aegis ships, and Aegis Ashore. You also have the A/N TPY-2 radar in Turkey that supports it and that helps with the tracking. All of that together, along with the communication nodes where they can talk to one another, makes up this network for ballistic missile defense in Europe.