15 May 2012

The Aegis BMD Global Enterprise: A ‘High End’ Maritime Partnership

Brad Hicks, George Galdorisi, and Scott C. Truver, The Aegis BMD Global Enterprise: A ‘High End’ Maritime Partnership,” Naval War College Review, 65.3 (Summer 2012): 65-80.

For more than three decades, beginning soon after the end of World War II, the United States and the Soviet Union faced off against each other. The concept of “mutual assured destruction”—MAD, the U.S. threat of massive retaliation to a Soviet first strike—became America’s Cold War de facto strategic defense policy. In March 1983, however, President Ronald Reagan asked whether ballistic missiles could be destroyed before they reached the United States or its allies, thus catalyzing efforts for a national ballistic-missile-defense program that would undermine the need for MAD. That same year, the U.S. Navy commissioned USS  Ticonderoga (CG 47), the first of what is to become a fleet of more than eighty Aegis warships. In 2012, these trends have converged, and Aegis ballistic-missile defense (BMD) is an increasingly important component of a robust national BMD System (BMDS).

National BMDS has morphed from President Reagan’s original vision of a system to deter and, if necessary, defeat Soviet intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) to one focused on deterring or defeating shorter-range ballistic missiles fired at the United States or its allies and friends by rogue nations or terrorist groups. So too the “pillars” of the national BMDS have changed. As other air, ground, and space pillars have advanced in fits and starts, and as related programs have been initiated and, sometimes, canceled, the seaborne component of national BMDS has become an increasingly central component of U.S. regional ballistic-missile defenses. Aegis BMD is now moving toward a role in the defense of the American homeland as well.

As more countries—many with hostile intentions toward U.S. allies in the Asia-Pacific region and Europe—have acquired the requisite technologies during the past three decades, many U.S. friends and allies have been obliged to contend with the threat of ballistic missiles armed with weapons of mass destruction (WMD). In northwest Asia, both Japan and Korea have built or are building Aegis BMD-capable ships. North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies in Europe have been dealing with ballistic-missile defense through the alliance’s Active Layered Theatre Ballistic Missile Defence (ALTBMD) program and, since 2009, also through the European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA), comprising “Aegis Afloat” and “Aegis Ashore.”This new approach now also includes forward-basing four Aegis BMD-capable warships in Rota, Spain. “With four Aegis ships at Rota, the alliance is significantly boosting combined naval capabilities in the Mediterranean, and enhancing our ability to ensure the security of this vital region,” Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta noted on 5 October 2011.

These ships will also support NATO’s critical efforts to build effective missile defense. Alongside important agreements that were recently concluded with Romania, Poland, and Turkey, Spain’s decision represents a critical step in implementing the European Phased Adaptive Approach. The United States is fully committed to building a missile defense capability for the full coverage and protection of all our NATO European populations, their territory and their forces against the growing threat posed by ballistic missiles.

Today the steady growth of Aegis-capable ships in the U.S. Navy—as well as an increasing number of world navies fielding such ships—presents new opportunities and challenges. The portion of the Navy’s fleet that is capable of ballistic-missile defense is increasing from twenty-one ships now to a planned ninety-four in 2024. Given the well-publicized demand for these assets, Aegis BMD unquestionably is becoming an increasingly important component of BMD planning and operations of the unified commands’ combatant commanders.

But some are questioning whether the Navy can afford to see multimission Aegis BMD ships abandon general-purpose, Navy-specific missions—such as air, surface, and subsurface defense and precision strike for carrier and expeditionary strike groups—to support the combatant commanders directly with their BMD capabilities. Some view Aegis BMD through the same lens as they would the strategic ballistic-missile submarine program and ask whether Aegis BMD is a mission the nation needs but the Navy cannot afford. However, Aegis BMD is an increasingly important element of the nation’s maritime strategy, and it differs from the ballistic-missile submarine in a way that enables Aegis BMD to satisfy both combatant-commander ballistic-missile-defense demands and Navy general-purpose requirements.

Moreover, the Navy and the nation have an opportunity to leverage more fully Aegis BMD capabilities to provide territorial defense as well as protection of coalition naval task forces. The vision, first expressed in 2005, of a former Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Michael G. Mullen, of a “thousand-ship navy”—now transformed into a Global Maritime Partnership (GMP), in which nations and navies increasingly work together to ensure security of the global commons—is reaching fruition as the U.S. Navy works with increasing regularity with coalition partners in global and regional partnerships. Because some of these countries are acquiring Aegis-equipped ships, a nascent “Aegis Global Enterprise” is evolving, in which navies work together to capitalize on the capabilities of these ships for integrated fleet air defense and even ballistic-missile defense.

The vast majority of GMP missions, however, have been on the “low end” of, or completely outside, the “kill chain”—target identification, dispatch of forces, decision and order to attack, and destruction of the target. Such tasks as humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, and antipiracy patrol dominate the shared mission set. With the increasing threat of ballistic missiles that can be armed with WMD, however, the Aegis BMD capabilities present in the navies of U.S. allies and friends can now provide the Global Maritime Partnership with a means to address the “high end” of the kill chain with combined, coordinated, ballistic-missile defense: the Aegis BMD Global Enterprise.

This potential is already manifest in the Asia-Pacific region in the close working relationship between the United States and Japan. Korea and Australia could well join this Aegis network soon, giving the four governments the means to address not only territorial BMD but also coordinated BMD of fleet units operating together. In Europe, plans are well along to provide robust territorial defense of European nations with ALTBMD and the EPAA. Together, these systems provide a nascent BMD capability today and promise an even more robust capability as the EPAA evolves over the next decade and a half.

But as demonstrated in Iraq, Afghanistan, and now Libya, NATO and the nations of Europe have equities often well beyond the territorial boundaries of the European continent. Also, a European military deployed beyond Europe’s borders will always have a naval component. This is therefore a propitious time to begin to link European allies more completely into an Aegis BMD Global Enterprise in much the same way the U.S. Navy is linked to its Asia-Pacific partners—Japan today, Korea soon, and thereafter Australia in the near future—in a high-end Aegis BMD Global Maritime Partnership. …

For the interview mentioned here, see:

David Axe, “China’s ‘Ripples of Capability’: An Interview with Andrew Erickson,” AOL Defense, 29 August 2011.