Defense Media Network

Sea-based Missile Defense

Ready Now

Dramatic surface fleet changes are under way as the U.S. Navy moves to boost the numbers of multimission Aegis cruisers and destroyers. Meeting growing mission demands, the sea service is simultaneously harnessing technical advances and integrating them into warships for sea-based Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD).

Navy warships firing hit-to-kill interceptor missiles provide near-term BMD for southern Europe and the Middle East. Aegis cruisers and destroyers armed with Standard Missile (SM-3) interceptors are patrolling the waters in the region, ready to engage Iran’s short- and medium-range ballistic missiles.

Iran’s missile threat is the raison d’être for sea-based BMD of Europe, to protect deployed United States forces, allies, and partners. Iranian missiles have profound implications for the U.S. ability to project power abroad, preventing and deterring future conflicts, and prevailing should deterrence fail.

The immediate primary challenge is from Iran’s shorter-range ballistic missiles. Some 80,000 U.S. military, civilian personnel, and accompanying families are deployed in the vulnerable Middle East and southern European areas. Using a phased, adaptive approach, the Obama administration expects to strengthen and deliver a more effective near-term missile defense by relying for protection on the Navy’s BMD-capable cruisers and destroyers.

Indeed, with the inherent mobility of maritime forces, “sea-based missile defense is a vital and growing mission for the nation and its allies around the world,” according to Rear Adm. Frank C. Pandolfe, U.S. Navy. He is the Navy’s director, Surface Warfare Division, or N86. “Sea-based systems will play a major role in fulfilling the Ballistic Missile Defense mission.” Accordingly, “We are growing the fleet to accomplish this task by way of both new construction and by increasing modernization.

USS Curtis Wilbur (DDG 54) patrols the waters of the Arabian Gulf as part of Carrier Task Force Five Zero (CTF-50) deployed in support of Operation Southern Watch. Eventually all U.S. Navy destroyers will be BMD-capable. U.S. Navy photo by Chief Photographer’s Mate Mahlon K. Miller.

“Currently, we have 20 BMD-capable ships in the fleet, and by March, there will be a 21st,” Pandolfe explained. The Navy is building toward 32 BMD-capable ships by 2015. “However, over time we will have a much larger and more capable BMD force, with all 62 destroyers already built or under construction as BMD-capable units. Additionally, we have plans for nine cruisers to become BMD-capable. All new-construction destroyers will be BMD-capable when they join the fleet.

“In time, there will be a very large force with which to accomplish the BMD mission and other tasks we rely upon these multimission ships to complete,” Pandolfe continued. A U.S. Naval Academy graduate with distinction, the admiral also earned a Ph.D. in international relations from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. “The Navy has reopened the DDG 51 [shipyard] production line and will produce DDG 51 Flight IIA ships starting this year and into the future,” he said.

“The new [Arleigh Burke-class] DDG 51s, starting with hull number 113, will have all of the advances that were incorporated in hull 112 and we will forward-fit the key technical attributes into the DDG modernization program. Most notably this is the BMD capability,” Pandolfe said. “The new ships will be the first vessels ever delivered in the fleet with a BMD capability upon arrival,” he emphasized. Pandolfe served aboard destroyers, cruisers, and aircraft carriers at sea, including command of the guided missile destroyer USS Mitscher (DDG 57). He commanded Destroyer Squadron 18, operating as Sea Combat commander for the Enterprise Carrier Strike Group in the Arabian Gulf. He also led the Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group on a seven-month combat deployment to the northern Arabian Sea in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

Moreover, the Navy will transition in 2016 from Flight IIA DDGs to Flight III destroyers starting with hull number 122. Flight III ships will be built around an upgraded Aegis combat system, incorporating a dual-band advanced air and missile defense radar, Pandolfe said. “A major improvement in air and missile defense, this radar will incorporate an S-band volume search radar and an X-band component in a dual-mode system.”

While not specifically the new SPY-3 radar, elements will be incorporated for Flight III DDGs – an active phased-array X-band multifunction radar designed for search and fire control that combines the functions of five different radars on board current Navy ships. This new dual-band sensor complies with requirements for reduced radar cross section, significantly reduced manning requirements, and total ownership cost reduction.

Sailors assigned to the guided missile cruiser USS Cowpens (CG 63) coordinate tactical information in the ship’s command and control center. The Navy is planning to make nine more cruisers BMD-capable. U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 3rd Class Lowell Whitman.

Cruisers and destroyers today are equipped with the AN/SPY-1 radar that can acquire and track targets as far out as 250 nautical miles at sea and as far up as low Earth orbit. Radiating 4 million watts of power, SPY-1 is the heart of the Aegis system. The radar can track 100 targets simultaneously and engage them automatically. Targets are immediately prioritized by threat characteristics. There are four versions of the radar in service on Ticonderoga (CG 47) and DDG 51-class warships. Sophisticated Aegis computer-controlled radar is designed to link all ships in a battle group to optimize firepower.

“The Navy’s plan submitted to Congress incorporates within it our capacity to accomplish this BMD mission,” Pandolfe said. “Our expectation is that as multimission ships are upgraded to BMD capabilities, plus new construction ships, we will work in the current manner. However, BMD scenarios will be included in the pre-deployment training syllabus. As BMD-capable ships are worked up as part of a carrier strike group, some Aegis ships will deploy with the carrier group while others deploy independently.”

The Obama administration’s September 2009 decision set aside the earlier Bush administration’s plan to deploy ground-based interceptor (GBI) missiles in Poland and a European Midcourse X-band radar in the Czech Republic. Instead, significant use of the Aegis BMD system with SM-3 interceptor missiles offers a faster response. The GBI system’s operational date was slated for 2017. With cruisers and destroyers already on station, an Aegis sea-based European missile defense could be fully operational as early as 2011, with Aegis warships patrolling various locations.

The Navy already established the model for European sea-based missile defense in response to the combatant commander (COCOM). Even prior to the administration’s announcement of sea-based missile defense for Europe, the USS Stout (DDG 55) returned to Norfolk, Va., from a six-month deployment. The destroyer’s independent deployment to the 6th Fleet area of operations completed the Navy’s inaugural BMD mission into the European Command’s area of responsibility. The Stout operated in the Atlantic Ocean, Mediterranean, Aegean, Ionian, and Black seas.

USS Stout (DDG 55) sits pierside in Aksaz, Turkey, Aug. 17, 2009, prior to the beginning of exercise Reliant Mermaid 2009. In 2009, Stout completed the U.S. Navy’s first BMD mission in the European theater of operations. DoD photo by Lt. j.g. Nate Curtis, U.S. Navy.

The Navy does not anticipate deployment lengths for BMD-capable ships to be longer than eight months “even as we grow the force. As we reach greater numbers of BMD-capable ships, we expect to revert to traditional six-month deployments, inclusive of both carrier strike group and BMD missions. The president’s announcement that sea-based BMD would be at the forefront of European missile defense indicates the centrality of the system to enhance deterrence around the world. As such, it is a vital component of our national capabilities,” Pandolfe stated.

“European nations have Aegis capability on their ships, such as Norway and Spain. Other European navies, such as Great Britain and Germany, have very capable ships with the ability to conduct long-range radar surveillance and target tracking. We expect them to deploy their ships as they see fit to accomplish the missions of their nations,” Pandolfe said. Japan and South Korea also operate Aegis BMD-capable ships, while Australia is building a class of four Aegis-equipped destroyers. Japan is involved in a cooperative SM-3 development program with the U.S. Navy.

As soon as the Aegis BMD system became operational in 2008, U.S. COCOMs began clamoring for these ships to begin patrolling their areas of operations. Central Command wanted a BMD-capable ship in the northern Arabian Gulf. European Command wanted one in the eastern Mediterranean. Pacific Command already had Aegis ships with BMD capabilities around Japan against a potential launch from North Korea. This demand for BMD ships is expected to increase, driven in part by rising concerns about Iran’s missile threats.

U.S. intelligence agencies now assess that the threat from Iran’s short- and medium-range ballistic missiles is developing more rapidly than projected. Furthermore, assessments indicate that the continued production and deployment of more capable medium-range missiles has become one of Iran’s highest missile priorities. However, Iran’s Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) threat is developing somewhat slower than estimated.

Proliferation of ballistic missile systems using advanced liquid- or solid-propulsion technologies are becoming more mobile, survivable, reliable, and capable of striking targets over longer distances, according to intelligence estimates. The total numbers of ballistic missiles excluding the United States, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Russia, and China have grown to 5,900. Hundreds of launchers and missiles are today within range of deployed U.S. forces. In just the past five years, there has been an increase of an additional 1,200 ballistic missiles.

Combatant commanders’ demands for BMD capabilities continue to rise as missile threats proliferate, making the mobility of maritime forces a critical element for defense in depth. Aegis has demonstrated 20 hit-to-kill intercepts out of 24 sea-based firings using Navy crews. The target engagements include two intercepts during one test. Aegis prowess relates to a new mission for the surface force – continental defense. The new phased, adaptive approach for Europe allows the Defense Department to adapt BMD systems more rapidly as new threats develop and old ones recede. Deploying current and proven systems such as Aegis and SM-3 interceptors provides immediate coverage and protection of wide geographical areas.

Pandolfe declared that advanced technology is only a part of providing a BMD-capable warship. “Aegis is a tremendously capable technologically advanced system. It is of vital importance to the Navy and growing in importance around the world. However, success depends on superb sailors, those dedicated professionals employing this system skillfully to the fullest extent. The Navy is blessed to have thousands of young men and women who serve. They bring the BMD mission to life to achieve the tasks assigned to us by the president.”

The government plans to procure more than 300 SM-3 missile interceptors as Raytheon Missile Systems, the prime contractor, prepares to ramp up production. The company produced and delivered approximately 60 SM-3s to the fleet and easily can increase its production runs, according to Edward Miyashiro. He is a Raytheon Company vice president and deputy general manager of Raytheon Missile Systems. The Aegis BMD system integrates SM-3 interceptors to protect against short-to-intermediate-range ballistic missiles. The SM-3 is compatible with the Mk. 41 on board many Navy and international surface combatants.

The Japan Maritime Self Defense Force destroyer JDS Chokai (DDG 176) launches a Standard Missile 3 during a Missile Defense Agency joint missile defense intercept test. Japan is involved in a cooperative program with the U.S. Navy to develop the SM-3. U.S. Navy photo.

“Raytheon is well under manufacturing capacity and an analysis shows that even an order for another 300 SM-3s would not press production capability. We have the capability to produce far more missiles. Only one shift a day is working the production line and we could move to three shifts a day, if necessary,” Miyashiro maintained. A mechanical engineering graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, he is a 34-year veteran of the defense industry. “Raytheon also is filling an order for SM-3s from Japan and will complete that production by the end of the year.

“The flexibility of sea basing and performance of the SM-3 missile provide multiple engagement opportunities for operational forces to intercept threats in their ascent, midcourse, and descent phases. There is broad support in acknowledging the success of the SM-3 missile and its ability to repeatedly succeed in testing over a broad range of targets and threat environments. All of the scenarios were performed under operationally realistic conditions with U.S. Navy officers and crews manning the system and firing the SM-3,” Miyashiro explained.

“The system provides the ability to defend an entire geographic region while maintaining multimission capability. We are very happy about the missile’s track record, its robust capability. We have been developing and producing SM-3s since the early 1990s, and it feels very good to know that Raytheon has developed technology that is relevant to the administration’s policy,” stated Miyashiro.

Phase 1 of the administration’s plan consists of SM-3 Block IA missiles deployed on Aegis ships in the Mediterranean Sea and a forward-based radar in southern Europe. This provides protection across much of the southern tier of Europe against Iranian medium-range ballistic missiles.

Raytheon is building the SM-3 IA missile, which will remain in production through 2011, Miyashiro said. “We are significantly along in development with the follow-on SM-3 IB missile. The SM-3 is on a spiral upgrade path designed to counter evolving ballistic missile threats. The Block IB will incorporate a two-color, all-reflective infrared seeker with added signal processing capability, enabling longer-range missions, target acquisition, and increased threat discrimination,” Miyashiro said. “The Block IB will be able to detect targets much farther away that are dimmer and colder. This feature enables discriminating between the real threat and distractions that might be there.”

The Block IB also includes a throttleable divert and attitude control system. “This technology allows us to really manage divert propulsion energy much better for greater engagement flexibility. The improvements in the IB missile will be available in the 2012 time frame,” Miyashiro said. Miyashiro earlier served as program director for the Terrier Lightweight Exoatmospheric Projectile program, which paved the way for sea-based BMD. “The two-color seeker sees things in two different wave bands, providing an excellent capability to sort out the real warhead threat from other distractions, much better than we have today.”

USS Hopper (DDG 70) launches a Standard Missile-3 Block 1A at sea. The missile successfully intercepted a ballistic missile target launched from Kauai Test Facility, Pacific Missile Range in Hawaii. It was the 19th successful intercept in 23 at-sea firings. One major reason for the administration’s support of sea-based Ballistic Missile Defense is that the system has consistently intercepted targets during testing. Photo courtesy of Missile Defense Agency/DoD.

In December 2009, the second generation of Lockheed Martin’s Aegis BMD system, the BMD 4.0.1, successfully detected, tracked, and conducted simulated engagements against a variety of targets. The engagements were during a series of tracking exercises in the Pacific. The key feature of the new system is an integrated signal processor. This processor is designed to improve the system’s discrimination capability to defeat sophisticated ballistic missile countermeasures. During a series of four tests, the guided missile cruiser Lake Erie, upgraded with the BMD 4.0.1 weapons system, successfully detected, tracked, and guided simulated SM-3 Block IBs to intercept ballistic missile targets from the Pacific Missile Range Facility, Kauai, Hawaii.

By 2015, the administration proposes deployment of the Block IB missile, which will have a greater capacity to use a network of sensors and greater ability to discriminate threat objects. Once the technology is proved, these interceptors would be deployed at land- and sea-based locations.

“Raytheon and the Navy expect to begin flight testing with the Block IB late this year or early next year. The tests will be from an Aegis ship at sea. Beyond the SM-3 IB, we have the SM-3 Block IIA, which is a joint development program with Japan. This missile is even more capable because it is designed to exploit the maximum space available in the vertical launcher. Some call this interceptor the 21-inch missile because that is the maximum diameter size of the second- and third-stage rocket motors we can use,” Miyashiro said. “The Block IIA exploits the full volume of the canister launcher, providing increased performance against longer-range and faster threats. Exploiting the launcher size also enables a larger kill vehicle and larger seeker aperture.

“This Block IIA missile significantly increases engagement capability over larger defended areas. The SM-3 IIA also provides a bigger, more capable kinetic warhead while increasing the velocity of the missile. Speed is an important parameter against longer-range Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles,” Miyashiro said. Japan was the first foreign nation to procure the SM-3 for use on its Kongo-class destroyers. The new SM-3 IIA is slated to begin flight testing in 2014. “We see this missile being deployed on land as well as at sea, as part of the administration’s current phased, adaptive approach.” The Pentagon calls it Aegis Ashore.

By 2018, the deployment of SM-3 Block IIA missiles with their greater range would enable defending all of Europe from land- and sea-based locations.

Another aspect of the SM-3 II involves an earlier Multiple Kill Vehicle (MKV) conceptual program. “The goal was to have more than one kinetic warhead per ground-based interceptor. We did a lot of work delving into kill vehicle technologies that would perform the same capabilities as today’s kill vehicles but in a smaller package: long detection range and great amounts of divert energy,” Miyashiro noted. “A lot of potential emerged under the MKV development program.”

The shift in emphasis toward theater missile defense can now harness the technologies from the MKV effort for an interceptor that can go after ICBM targets, possibly in the boost, or ascent, phase. The developmental MKV technology effort is directly applicable to the SM-3 IIB program, both for land- and sea-based BMD. Raytheon is involved in conceptual studies for this capability, Miyashiro said. “SM-3 IIB with its ability to be positioned from the sea or at strategic land sites could have a great ability to engage ballistic missiles earlier in their ascent phase.

“In fact, we have already successfully completed one intercept test in the boost phase with a Block 1A to prove it can be done. The ability to intercept threats before they can deploy countermeasures or penetration aids is vital. However, the system must work extremely fast for intercepts of ICBMs, but with SM-3 IIB it can be done,” Miyashiro said.

By 2020, the goal is to leverage the lightweight kill vehicle technology developed in the MKV program to provide a higher velocity SM-3 Block IIB missile that would destroy hostile missiles in early flight. Intercepts during the ascent phase of flight would be from many hundreds of kilometers from the threat launch location. With that capability, two land-based SM-3 IIB sites could protect all of Europe.

Sea-based missile defense is a core Navy mission. The Aegis BMD SM-3 interceptor provides a very capable weapon due to its high acceleration, burn out velocity, and proven track record. Aegis sea-based missile defense is becoming so successful that surface warfare is emerging as an important U.S. strategic advantage. Aegis cruisers and destroyers are joining large-deck aircraft carriers and ballistic missile submarines as another leg of maritime power – the power to influence global geopolitical events.

This article was first published in The Year in Defense: Naval Edition 2010.


Clarence A. Robinson, Jr., is the author of Battleground High, a book in progress on...

    li class="comment even thread-even depth-1" id="comment-217">

    As a Fire Controlman First Class Petty Officer, this news is thrilling. Experiencing these changes in my tenure in the Navy first hand will be exciting and I look forward to the advanced capabilities of these weapon systems. Defending our great nation from its enemies is the job of the Fire Controlman, and with the new weapons systems and their capabilities will make our job easier to do!

    li class="comment byuser comment-author-admin odd alt thread-odd thread-alt depth-1" id="comment-354">

    “USS Curtis Wilbur (DDG 54) patrols the waters of the Arabian Gulf as part of Carrier Task Force Five Zero (CTF-50) deployed in support of Operation Southern Watch.” I I hope at least the USS Curtis Wilbur knows where they are operating. Geographically its either “Arabian Sea” or “Persian Gulf”..

    li class="comment byuser comment-author-admin even thread-even depth-1" id="comment-353">
    Chuck Oldham (Editor)

    It’s not geography, it’s semantics. Over the last few years, the Persian Gulf became the Arabian Gulf. The caption is adapted from the original as published on official DoD websites. The Arabian Gulf designation keeps in mind any sensitivities those of Arab descent in the region – a majority of the population – may have toward the Persian Gulf designation, which some feel favors Iran, where the population is mostly of Persian descent.