The Long Reach of Aegis


01/12/2012 by Robbin Laird

Combining Aegis with the new Joint Strike Fighter will enhance coverage and lead to a global honeycomb of defensive capabilities….

Aegis capabilities are essential for power projection against missiles and other threats, especially in light of the current instability and uncertainty emanating from areas such as Iran and North Korea. Because the system has not yet countered the latest threats in the heat of battle, some question whether it will work. But all of its elements have indeed been tested, both nationally and internationally…..

The U.S. national program has grown into an international enterprise. Several partners have purchased and developed Aegis capabilities for a variety of ships. In fact, every nation that has bought the system has placed it in its own preferred hull.

Innovative approaches to reshaping Aegis to fit on foreign ships and working with foreign shipyards have both been central to the global enterprise, which would not even exist had the United States followed an export policy that insisted on the complete U.S. package of ship and system.

In turn, international engagement has had a significant impact on the U.S. program. Worldwide sales have kept gaps from being significant in production of the system, and the intercontinental quality has meant that stocks in the supply chain have remained on an even keel. As one defense industrialist said to me:

The larger the club you’re in from a lifetime support point of view, the better off you are. You can almost say emphatically if you need a spare part for an Aegis ship, you’re going to be able to get it 20 years from today, because there are so many of them out there; and Uncle Sam’s going to support them, and there’s a large number of international partners engaged so the price point will be reasonable from the supply chain…..

As the Joint Strike Fighter comes on line, integrating it with Aegis will provide a powerful capability for the United States and its allies. Because significant numbers of our partners are in the Aegis-deployed fleet, several joint Aegis and F-35 allies are likely in the Pacific…..

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

Imagine this capability linked to an F-35, which can see more than 800 miles throughout a 360-degree approach. U.S. allies are excited about the linkage prospects and the joint evolution of two highly upgradable weapon systems. Combining Aegis with the F-35 means joining their sensors for wide-area coverage. Because of a new generation of weapons on the F-35 and the ability to operate a broad wolfpack of air and sea capabilities, the Joint Strike Fighter can perform as the directing point for combat action. Together, the F-35 and Aegis greatly expand the defense of land and sea bases.

From the January Issue of the US Naval Institute Proceedings Special Issue “Transformation on the Surface”