Defense Media Network

Ballistic Missile Defense Tutorial

BMD is a unique naval mission

Courtesy of Surface SITREP, published by the Surface Navy Association (


Lt. Cmdr. Phillip Smith is assigned to Naval Striking and Support Forces NATO (STRIKFORNATO) BMD cell at Oerias, Portugal, which is responsible for the majority of the NATO maritime planning for standing European defense mission.

STRIKFORNATO is a rapidly deployable headquarters that provides scalable command and control across the full spectrum of the Alliance’s fundamental security tasks. As part of that mission, STRIKFORNATO is responsible for integrating U.S. naval and amphibious forces into NATO operations. STRIKFORNATO has a permanent staff of just over 150 people at the headquarters under peace time manning. Crisis manning is up to 400. U.S. Navy Vice. Adm. Lisa Franchetti commands STRIKFORNATO. She is also Commander U.S. Sixth Fleet.

A Surface Warfare Officer with a missile defense specialty career path, Smith has been working with BMD since 2009. He shared some background information on BMD with our Surface SITREP readers:

Ballistic missiles can be categorized by launch platform. Mobile launchers – called TELs for Transportable Erectable Launcher – are attached to the back of a truck that can drive somewhere, park, launch a missile, and then move on. Submarine launched ballistic missile – SLBMs – can be covertly positioned and launched. Fixed sites are also used to put ballistic missiles in hardened underground silos.

They can also be classified by range. Short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs) can travel up to 1,000 kilometers, which is approximately 600 miles; medium-range ballistic missiles (MRBMs) can reach 1,000 to 3,000 kilometers, intermediate range ballistic missiles (IRBMs) can attack targets from 3,000 to 5,500 kilometers away; and intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) are anything over 5,500.

SRBMs do not usually leave the atmosphere and are referred to as an endo-atmospheric weapon; whereas MRBMs and longer range missiles leave the atmosphere, and have an Exo-Atmospheric phase.

“When it comes to the NATO Ballistic Missile Defense mission, the biggest thing that we focus on right now are SRBMs and MRBMs ,” Smith said.

There are different stages of engagement from boost-phase at the beginning to mid-course and then terminal phase at the end. Being able to calculate the weapon’s ballistic trajectory doesn’t occur until after boost-phase.

U.S. Navy maritime BMD focuses on exo-atmospheric threats during the mid-course phase, while ground based systems like Patriot, and SAMP/T provide terminal phase defense.

“The best time for a maritime shooter to intercept the weapon is during mid-course, when it is still outside the atmosphere,” said Smith.

Ballistic missiles can deploy multiple warheads and various countermeasures to make it more difficult to hit the actual warhead or warheads, so Smith said the weapons and support systems used to counter them have to be very sophisticated to recognize and deal with all of those countermeasures.

A typical ballistic warhead can target a location, like a base of critical infrastructure facility; lately newer ballistic missile technology has added seekers capable of hitting maritime targets. During Formidable Shield 2019, Mayport-based USS Roosevelt (DDG 80) joined USS Carney (DDG 64), one of the Forward Deployed Naval Forces (FDNF) ships at Rota. Roosevelt will be changing homeport to Rota to relieve one of the original FDNF destroyers. The BMD ships in the Sixth Fleet area of responsibility fall under Commander Task Force Sixty-Four (CTF 64) when tasked to the BMD mission along with Aegis Ashore sites at Deveselu, Romania, which is operation, and Rezikowo, Poland, which is under construction. The maritime ships can be assigned to STRIKFORNATO during times of crisis to serve as part of an Allied task force.

“Together those ships become the NATO Task Group, which incorporates not only the BMD ships, but also any ships that are used for the air defense of BMD,” Smith said. “Our ships are doing the BMD mission, and they need to operate in company with other ships to defend against submarines, aircraft or coastal defense cruise missiles.”


Capt. Edward H. Lundquist, U.S. Navy (Ret.) is a senior-level communications professional with more than...