On Thursday, 30 April 2009, the Navy's newest Center of Excellence (COE), the Navy Air and Missile Defense Center, was opened for business onboard the Naval Weapons Development Center, Dahlgren Virginia. RADM Brad Hicks, who is also the Aegis BMD program director, will serve as the Center's first commander until a permanent flag is assigned later this year. The ceremony's keynote speaker, ADM Robert "Rat" Willard, Commander U.S. Pacific Fleet spared no words in underscoring the importance of this particular COE in the context of recent events to include the recent North Korean launch.
The challenge ahead of the center will be the role it plays in Navy's quest to equally field a national missile defense to shield the homeland, a regional defense for friends and allies and theater systems for protection of forward deployed forces while still accounting for the multi-mission nature of platforms like the Aegis-equipped cruisers and destroyers currently deployed. And the center's efforts won't end there, for the threat includes ever-increasingly proliferated cruise missiles and a host of other airborne threats. In that context the NAMDC will serve to integrate technical capabilities, warfighter concepts and C3 solutions to cover the entire kill chain, from the "high-end" of afloat BMD to the wave-tops.
The Center's focus also won't be Aegis- or even Navy-only, though that will constitute a good portion of its effort. As one of six envisioned Warfare Centers of Excellence that also include the Naval Strike Air Warfare Center in Fallon, Nev., and the Naval Mine and Anti-Submarine Warfare Command in San Diego, Calif, NAMDC as the lead organization for Navy and Joint AMD will also partner and work closely with organizations like Joint Force Command's Joint Warfighting Center down the road in Suffolk, VA. I should also note that with close proximity to Pax River and Norfolk/Oceana, the center should also have ready access to work with the VAW and VFA communities, especially important when one looks at the capabilities currently available (e.g. Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC), and the AESA in the newer Super Hornets) and planned (e.g., E-2D Advanced Hawkeye) for those communities.
This was a much needed step in beginning to restore balance to a force that has , frankly, become very power projection-centric. Along with other warfare areas, such as blue-water ASW, it seemed in the post-Cold War environment that integrated air and missile defense was increasingly pushed to the back even while threats like those posed by new generations of low-observable, fast cruise missiles were widely proliferated. However, the emerging area denial capabilities of countries like China and Iran, not to mention the requirements levied by the Maritime Strategy (and, one presumes, the NOC when it ever is released) clearly demand the establishment of an organization to oversee the disparate parts of the air defense picture. I would go further to say that it is one which should have taken place a couple of decades ago, around the time of the introduction of Aegis to the fleet with all the attendant integration, coordination and synchronization issues that presented with other ship- and airborne platforms, sensors and networks.
The NAMDC will have an initial staff of approximately 25 personnel, and grow over the next three years to a fully operational staff of about 75 members, equally divided between military personnel, government civilian employees and supporting contractors. Considering the magnitude of the challenge ahead, I'd say they will all be fully engaged, especially if what ADM Willard said, that the Center is "the most important thing to the future of this capability in the Navy" comes to pass.