The Future of Aegis BMD

By Riki Ellison

“I think China is the main challenge to the U.S. national security over the next fifty to a hundred years.  I think some historian in, you know, 2119 is going to look back at this century and write a book, and the central theme of the story is going to be the relationship between the United States and China.” – General Mark Milley during his confirmation hearing to be Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on July 11, 2019.

“Well, China’s already militarized the South China Sea through those islands, and they already have capabilities, air and sea and ground, to influence surface operations, surface sea operations, in the South China Sea, but having said that, I think our freedom of navigation operations are critical to ensure that the Asia Pacific region – and specifically that area – remains free and open to commercial access, and that’s the purpose of all those freedom of navigation operations that go on.  Are they adequate?  I think – to date – they have been, and I’ll take a hard look at those to determine whether they’re adequate as we go forward.” – General Mark Milley during his confirmation hearing to be Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on July 11, 2019.

The United States Navy’s Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) ship is the world’s best platform today for 360 degree, layered air and missile defense against ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) from the surface to space. Mobility of the ships combined with the Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC) network – that fuses and processes remote sensors and effectors from other Aegis BMD ships and Navy E-3 Sentry Airborne Warning and Control Systems (AWACS) to enable launch and engage on remote (EOR) from these platforms – has resulted in an efficient system and increased its defensive coverage. Today the United States has 87 Aegis ships that include 38 ships with BMD capability and the Navy and Missile Defense Agency (MDA) is looking through the Missile Defense Review (MDR) required study to make all 87 Aegis Destroyers (current and future) fully missile defense capable with BMD Baseline 9 & 10 capabilities with SPY radar upgrades, that provides an impressive mobile lethal capability around the world. Internationally, Japan currently has five Aegis BMD ships and other allies are also looking to upgrade their Aegis ships to be Integrated Air and Missile Defense (IAMD) and BMD capable. Norway has five Aegis ships, Spain has four Aegis ships, the Republic of Korea has three Aegis ships, and Australia has three Aegis ships.

The United States Navy’s Aegis approach, led by Admiral Wayne Myer, is “to build a little, test a little, learn a lot” on the ship and has brought the 1970 Aegis ship platform to a remarkable capability with 22 multiple missions that has continually evolved through 50 years.

In 1991, a study was mandated to look into the Navy to do BMD. In 1992, funding was approved and ten years later the first intercept test in space was completed in 2002. In 2005, Aegis BMD became operationally deployed with the Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) Block 1A. Vice Admiral Rodney Rempt led the concept of Navy BMD and put forward the Aegis BMD program for the MDA office in Dahlgren, Virginia where Rear Admiral Kate Paige was the first Aegis BMD program director. The Aegis ballistic missile defense test record has been remarkable through the build a little, test a little, learn a lot approach, with 40 successful intercepts in 49 tests. Recently, the government has made a decision to eliminate this flag position, which does not align best with increased international partnerships with Aegis BMD and attaining a unified baseline Aegis BMD Fleet.

Over the past twenty years in integrated layered air and missile defense, the U.S. Navy is the clear dominant leader over all the other services of development and deployment of capabilities to defeat missiles as they have kept their eye on the ball to stay ahead of the threat; China’s rapid development of cruise and ballistic missile capabilities to threaten the U.S. Carrier Strike Group and establish a regional Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2/AD) bubble.

Today’s U.S. Navy has tested, developed, and deployed on its Aegis ships the best 360 degree cruise missile interceptor, the (SM-6) which was made specifically to defeat near-peer advanced and maneuverable cruise missile capabilities. The U.S. Navy is also on a path to test the SM-3 Block IIA, co-produced with Japan, against ICBM targets. Today’s U.S. Navy has perfected electronic attack in jamming, providing electronic decoys, and left of launch electronic capabilities. The U.S. Navy also has combined long-distance strike capability on its Aegis ships with both Tomahawks and SM-6s that can also do anti-ship and strike moving surface targets.

These U.S. Aegis ships are invaluable for stability and peace around the world today and through the future. Defending the U.S. Aircraft Carrier Battle Groups stabilizes the Persian Gulf, South China Sea, Mediterranean Sea, Pacific, Japan Sea, Indian Ocean, the Atlantic and can be called upon to defend US Territory such as Guam and Hawaii.

Tomorrow’s Navy Aegis BMD capabilities will link into the integration of the U.S. Navy’s F-35s, which could provide 360 overhead sensor coverage and firing solutions for missiles, air, sea, and land targets. Tomorrow’s Navy Aegis BMD will have Unmanned remote controlled ship platforms that will be equipped with separate sensors and Vertical Launch Systems (VLS) to increase interceptor capacity for both defense and offense. Most importantly, overall cross-domain integration with other services and assets, to include space, that will merge offense-defense capabilities to provide left-of-launch defense capabilities and deterrence to preserve peace and stability.

To top it off on tomorrow’s Navy is the nomination of Vice Admiral Michael Gilday as the Chief of Navy Operations, a surface warrior who captained two Aegis BMD ships, USS Higgins (DDG 76) and USS Benfold (DDG 65), and Cyber Command.

We are excited and thrilled about the current and future of the U.S. Navy.

Anchors Aweigh

Published July 11, 2019 by MDAA.