Pacific Strategy VI


The Aegis Enabler

10/19/2011 – Historically, the Aegis missile defense system was inextricably intertwined with the Carrier Battle Group.  It remains a key element of the CBG, but now deploys separate from the CBG in its missile defense mission.  Its permanent deployment at sea in the Pacific to deal with ever present danger of missile threats to the US and its forces is a key element for re-thinking the Pacific strategy.

With permanent deployment on the Pacific, the inclusion of Aegis sensors, missiles and capabilities within the honeycomb becomes a key element for the permanent presence, scalable force approach.

A key element for the Pacific force rethink is re-considering offense and defense.  With a scalable force, the force is both able to do offensive or defensive missions.  The circumstance dictates the task; not the limitations of the force. By providing for the defense of a deployed force, Aegis allows that force to deal with a wider spectrum of threats and engagement options.  SM-3 missiles aboard the Aegis ships can be used to defend, or to support a strike force.

And the Aegis ship has become a coalition ship.  Many Pacific allies are Aegis operators and as such the ability to develop coordinated operations enables the US and its Aegis partners to spread a defensive punch to the Pacific ISR grid.


The Aegis program has evolved since its beginnings in the 1970s.  The program was designed to provide enhanced fleet defense for the US Navy in confronting a challenging Soviet Navy.  Here is one of those Cold War relics everyone likes to bash as irrelevant to the 21st century.  But it isn’t.

The program has evolved over 40 years and has morphed in several distinct ways.

First, the capabilities of the core program have been exponentially increased, by among other things the software and microelectronics revolution.

Second, the evolution of targeting precision, C4ISR and missile technologies has enabled the Aegis system to become a key element in global missile defense.  And such capabilities are essential to the ability to project power in the 21st century against global proliferation of missiles and other capabilities possessed by potential adversaries.

Third, the core US national program has evolved over time into a global enterprise.  Not only are there several partners who have purchased and developed Aegis capabilities, but those partners have put those capabilities onto a variety of ships.  Indeed, every partner who has bought the system has put it onto its own preferred hull solution.

The Aegis effort is the premier global program underwriting joint US and allied high end defense capabilities.  As such, the program has several lessons to be learned which underscore how to succeed in the face of 40 years of threat evolution, multiple Administrations, and changing global partners.

It is a success, which should be understood as significant to the future.  When many defense commentators underscore the need for 80% solutions or criticize new programs, one should not that if the same perspective were taken in the 1970s and 1980s, we would not have had Aegis.  And we would not have the core foundation for 21st century maritime power projection in place.

And a final consideration, which is central to the future: the Aegis coupled with the F-35 will provide unprecedented modular flexibility at sea for the national command authority and allies to shape responses to crises.

The Heinz Variety Solution

The SPY-1 radar/Aegis system has been successfully installed aboard 7 different ship classes at 7 shipyards worldwide.

Just to review the current status of the Aegis deployment is to underscore the diversity of platforms on which one finds the Aegis system.

First, there are 22 Ticonderoga cruisers in service with the USN.  The USN has engaged in a cruiser modernization program in which it is outfitting the Ticonderoga class with the latest Aegis baseline.

Second, there are the 58 Arleigh Burke class destroyers in service with the USN through multiple Aegis baselines.

Third, the Japanese are the originally foreign purchaser of the Aegis system.  They have six Aegis systems for the Atago and Kongo destroyer classes.  The Japanese program is in a lifetime support phase; with completion of mid-life systems upgrades of the 1990s Kongo class ships, which includes a BMD capability.

Fourth, the Spanish then entered the program and provide a key turning point.  The Spanish shipyards have been major innovators in shaping a global Aegis product, in Spain, in Norway and in Australia.  The initial 4 Aegis equipped F-100 ships have an original configuration radar (SPY-1D).  The 5th F-100 ship will have an Aegis system with SPY-1D (V) radar with an indigenous combat management system (CMS).

Fifth, the Norwegians leveraged the Spanish program and have five Aegis equipped F-310 ships with a SPY-1F radar.  They were able to leverage the SPY-1Y radar technology to shape a smaller antenna to fit a 5000-ton ship.

Sixth, South Korea has three Aegis destroyers with SPY-1D(V) radar on the world’s largest Aegis-equipped ships.  The first ship will be in service with the remaining two ships to be completed by 2012.

Seventh, the Australians have also leveraged the Spanish program.  There will have three Hobart class destroyers.  This is t5he newest non-US Aegis program and leverages the Spanish F-100 ship design and the Aegis SPY-1D(V) system.  The Australians picked the combat system prior to picking the shipbuilder.

Eighth, there are a number of other countries that have expressed interest in the Aegis solution.  Those countries include Saudi Arabia, India, Canada, Brazil, and Turkey.

Currently, this means that more than 20% of the global Aegis fleet is non-American.

(Credit: SLD)(Credit: SLD)

Shaping Modular Flexibility

Aegis provides significant capability to mix and match US and allied maritime capabilities to provide for regional defense, power projection, fleet defense or support for joint or coalition non-maritime forces.  This mix and match capacity will be enhanced as many of the Aegis nations are looking to add the F-35 to the mix.  And overtime, integration of the Aegis with F-35 sensor suites will help both to shape a more effective capability over time.

The Obama Administration has placed significant emphasis on continuing the upgrade path for the Aegis BMD program.  By cancelling the Bush missile defense program in Europe, de facto, the Administration highlighted its commitment to Aegis as a key element for global missile defense.

But the evolution of the program depends upon a continuing significant commitment of increasingly scarce resources to testing and using test results to shape the concurrent development and manufacturing program.

And as the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter comes on line, the integration of Aegis with F-35 will provide a powerful capability for the US and its allies.  It must always be remembered how significant numbers of allied partners are in the Aegis deployed fleet, and that there are several joint Aegis and F-35 allies in prospect.

An upcoming tests will support a launch/engage-on-remote concept is that links the Aegis ship to remote sensor data to increase the coverage area and responsiveness.  Once this capability is fully developed, the SM-3 missiles––no longer constrained by the range of the Aegis radar to detect an incoming missile––can be launched sooner and therefore fly farther in order to defeat the threat.

Imagine this capability linked to an F-35, which can see more than 800 miles throughout a 360-degree approach.  US allies are excited about the linkage prospects and the joint evolution of two highly upgradeable weapon systems.

A further set of evolutionary upgrades is planned.  Notably, the Administration is focusing upon an “Aegis Ashore” in 2015.  “This new approach will provide capabilities sooner,” the President stated in September 2009, “build on proven systems and offer greater defenses against the threat of missile attack than the 2007 European missile defense program.”

The first phase of the new approach focuses on existing sea-based Aegis missile defense ships and radars will be deployed in southern Europe to defend against short/medium-range ballistic missiles. Future decisions might also see Aegis Ashore in the Middle East and East Asia. Because of the inherent multi-mission qualities of the ABMD warships and their strategic and tactical mobility, they are highly survivable against a broad spectrum of threats, not just ballistic missiles.The focus of FTM-16 is on the SM-3 Block IB, the next-generation sea-based missile spiral upgrade.  The seeker, signal processor, and propulsion system of the SM-3 Block IB missile kinetic warhead are improved versions of the Block IA missile and will result in increased missile effectiveness against longer-range and more sophisticated ballistic missiles.

These engineering upgrades have already undergone laboratory and ground tests, and flight-testing of the SM-3 Block IB missile is scheduled for this year.  Fleet deployment could begin soon thereafter––roughly 18-24 months ahead of the test/deploy schedule defined by the Phased Adaptive Approach. Aegis BMD in 2010 began sea trials Aegis BMD 4.0.1, the next-generation system that will fire the SM-3 Block IB missile.  The 4.0.1 signal processing capability greatly improves Aegis BMD performance and will enable Aegis BMD to remain well ahead of the threat. In short, Aegis BDM continues to “press the envelopes” of national and global BMD capabilities against a growing threat. It is already deployed and is being upgraded over time.  It is a high-value system and a high-value capability.

In other words, the Aegis global enterprise lays a foundation for a global capability in sea-based missile defenses and the protection of deployed forces as well as the projection of force. And this capability, in turn, becomes increasingly central to the freedom of action necessary for the global operation of U.S. forces and its Pacific.

This article is a contribution to the Strategic Whiteboard