The Next Phase of Missile Defense Development

By Riki Ellison

Last week on June 12, the U.S. Navy’s highest ranking Officer, the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO), Admiral John Richardson advocated for land-based persistent missile defense systems to replace the Navy’s ballistic missile defense ship patrols tethered to small operating areas to defend Guam, Hawaii, the United States Homeland, Europe, Israel, and the Middle East.

“You have to be in a tiny little box to have a chance at intercepting that incoming missile. So, we have six ships that could go anywhere in the world, at flank speed, in a tiny little box, defending land.” – ADM Richardson at the U.S. Naval War College’s Current Strategy Forum on June 12 ,2018.

In reference to the 34 current Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) ships deployed around the world by the United States Navy, ADM Richardson stated, “It’s a pretty good capability and if there is an emergent need to provide ballistic missile defense, we’re there. But 10 years down the road, it’s time to build something on land to defend the land. Whether that’s AEGIS ashore or whatever, I want to get out of the long-term missile defense business and move to dynamic missile defense.”

It’s pretty simple, the U.S. Navy patrols the world’s oceans that are two thirds of the Earth’s surface, which requires it to be a maneuverable and a dynamic force to project power and provide deterrence globally on a moment’s notice. They are not a permanent fixed area, persistent point defense capability to defend land, though they are equipped to provide this capability on a temporary time frame for crisis situations. Aegis BMD is just one mission in a slew of 8 main mission capabilities that are trained, equipped, and manned for the multi-mission sea-based platform called the Aegis BMD ship.

“Right now, as we speak, I have six multi-mission, very sophisticated, dynamic cruisers and destroyers – six of them are on ballistic missile defense duty at sea, and if you know a little bit about this business you know that geometry is a tyrant.” – Adm. Richardson

Freeing the Navy of these six Aegis BMD ship patrols allows the U.S. Navy to be more flexible and agile to be able to surge these missile and air defense assets to the places when and where they are needed in times of high demand, without putting excessive and additional strain on an already overstrained Navy that need many more of these ships to meet its requirement of 77.

That requirement of 77 Aegis BMD ships is for the missile and air defense of the Navy’s dynamic and maneuverable force, with the centerpiece being the 11 aircraft carriers – which the Chinese are developing and deploying today complex missile systems to defeat and overmatch.

“We’re going to need missile defense at sea as we kind of fight our way now into the battle spaces we need to get into, and so restoring dynamic maneuver has something to do with missile defense.” – Adm. Richardson

Guam is an example where having a Navy Aegis BMD ship in the ocean off the island gives Guam a better firing solution, to shoot early and first. The land-based Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system deployed on Guam is limited in its range and would provide a under layer of defense to the Aegis BMD ship tethered to the island of Guam.

Until a longer-range missile defense system is put forward in Guam to supplement THAAD, such as extended range for THAAD or an Aegis Ashore site that would carry the same inventory of missile defense interceptors as the Aegis BMD ship, tethering a Aegis BMD ship is required with the current North Korean threat to U.S. territory.

In the CNO’s theme, Hawaii, the United States Homeland, Europe, and the Middle East would benefit greatly and be more secure from having a land-based, persistent missile defense capability that could use various missile defense interceptors to form a composite, layered missile defense base.

This could include mixing Ground-Based Interceptors (GBIs) with the underlay capability of Aegis BMD interceptors, such as the Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) and SM-6, and possible Extended Range THAAD for multiple sites (4-6) in the lower 48 States. These composite sites on land would be the ‘Under Layer’ for more efficiency against ICBMs and could in the future be effective against Hypersonic threats, as well as complex cruise missile threats.

Today the United States has the foundation for the ‘Under Layer’ land composite sites, that are persistent regional land-based missile defense, operationally deployed in Europe and Korea.

These are made up of the two Aegis Ashore sites in Europe, one currently deployed in Romania and the second under construction in Poland, and the Joint Emergent Operational Need (JEON) that brought the THAAD-Patriot integration in South Korea.

All of these systems need to be expanded with additional layers and be linked into a cross-domain command and control (C2) with fusing sensors.

This would mean adding Integrated Air and Missile Defense (IAMD) layers for the Aegis Ashore sites along with the upcoming ICBM interceptor of the SM-3 Block IIA and for the JEON in Korea, adding the Aegis Vertical Launch System (VLS) with SM-6 and SM-3 Block IIA. Adding to all of this is the cross-domain F-35 air platform that can be meshed to both

‘Under Layer’ systems through Link 16 as a sensor and a shooter.

Future regional land-based ‘Under Layer’ composite missile defense bases are being deployed in Japan with full IAMD capability and a THAAD-Patriot JEON deployment in Europe is being requested. The existing Aegis Ashore site in Hawaii could be operationalized and expanded to be a similar composite land-based missile defense base as an ‘Under Layer’ for the missile defense of Hawaii.

It is likely that the upcoming Missile Defense Review (MDR) release will include the “Under Layer” and the cross-domain platform of the F-35 for the future layering of missile defense for the United States.

The Chief Of Naval Operations is right to be focused on his maneuverable dynamic force, as too is the Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army is likewise focused on air defense of his maneuverable combat brigades, as it’s at the core of both of their missions and Services.

However, it is more than likely that the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Secretary of Defense will override their positions and request their resources to defend the U.S. Homeland and land based forward deployed forces as necessary, to provide fixed-point persistent air and missile defense until more capability and capacity is deployed.

The Aegis BMD Ship platform is the most layered air and missile defense platform in the world today, its value is tremendous.  The number of BMD mission allocations to a multi-mission Navy ship may need to be revisited at times, but our country will always need a credible manned, trained, and equipped at-sea capability to increase our adversaries’ offensive calculus.

It’s about capability and capacity.

Capacity is more ships and capability is more modernization of the Aegis BMD fleet to enable launch on remote and engage on remote through the Naval Integrated Fire Control-Counter Air (NIFC-CA) and Link 16. There are Aegis BMD ship patrols that can be eliminated with a land-based capability, but some of them require a sea-based capability because they must be placed in in a position that provides the best capability.

It’s pretty simple – our nation needs both fixed and maneuverable integrated air and missile defense systems operationally deployed to make our nation and the world a safer place.

June 21, 2018

Riki Ellison is Chairman and Founder

Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance