It is time for Naval Aviation to become more than interested bystanders and step up to the plate for the ballistic missile defense mission. For those who have been otherwise engaged or looking elsewhere, the cover and main article in the May 2009 issue of Proceedings is your wake-up call. Now, besides the ever-present threat posed by cruise missiles, we can add ballistic missiles to the list of concerns. And to the naysayers who point to the Aegis community and say it's their job because they're the archer, I say not so fast, for several reasons. Chief among these is the growing threat itself.
Since the end of the Cold War, ballistic missiles have become a growth industry, especially in the short- and medium-ranged categories (figure out to 1500km). Missiles in these categories don't require the engineering, technology, and support structure of their larger IR/ICBM cousins and as such, lend themselves to a variety of domestic production programs using proliferated knowledge and technology, or, may be purchased wholesale from willing proliferators, such as the DPRK. These missiles lend themselves to mobile launchers which may be deployed far forward, reducing warning and engagement times, and employed in sufficient quantities as to greatly complicate planning and operations in a number of areas and conditions ranging from APOD/SPOD operations to choke point transits. The numbers may be troublesome enough on their own - add in WMD, especially where certain countries that are expanding their ballistic missile capabilities are also engaged in nuclear programs that are unsupervised by international agencies and the problem 3-5 years out grows more complicated. Factor in the addition of sophisticated technology by near-peer nations - MaRV's based on the Pershing II missile with millimeter terminal guidance radar for example, that are deployed in significant numbers on mobile platforms well within denied territory, and planning at all levels - tactical, operational and even strategic grows more difficult as options are taken off the table. Difficult or impossible, that is, absent a robust and credible defense.
CNO has declared BMD to be a core competency for all Navy - not just Aegis BMD. To be successful in that mission area will require efforts and capabilities that cut across communities and the operational and electromagnetic spectrum, much like we have and are doing for cruise missile defense. We must be able to bring to bear the full capabilities of sea-based power, kinetic and non- as all the elements of that sea-based power can provide force multiplier roles from pre-launch to terminal intercept. Naval aviation is a major player in this effort and not just as an attempt to "get a piece of the action."
While it is true that at present, the only active (read: hard kill) defensive capability is via the SM-3 family and SM-2 BlkIV, there are a number of near and longer term instances where naval aviation, and carrier aviation in particular, will play an increasingly important role. Emphasis in the last several years in the development of these missiles and Aegis BMD has focused on the mid-course/exo-atmospheric (SM-3) and terminal/endo-atmospheric (SM-2 BlkIV) intercept of short- and medium range ballistic missiles, along with the long-range search/track contribution of Aegis BMD as part of the BMDS designed to counter intermediate- and intercontinental ballistic missiles. However, with the recent shift in emphasis to the regional/theater fight and a renewed focus on ascent phase intercept (API), maritime forces will come to play a substantially increased role in all three areas of BMD - offensive action, passive and active defenses. How will this be possible? Through a combination of emerging/evolving platforms and capabilities teamed with core competencies already found across several NAVAIR communities. Let's look first at the platforms.
A key requirement and necessary capability for API to be successful is persistent ISR with rapid cueing via fast, redundant network paths to the shooter(s), in this case Aegis BMD-equipped ships. CVW's in the 3-5 year out view will see their capabilities grow in this area following planned upgrades and introduction of new platforms. Close at hand will be the wider deployment of AESA equipped F/A-18E/F Super Hornets and the EA-18G Growler. One potential vulnerability of mobile TBMs is their command and control networks, especially if there is intent to employ them in saturation raids in concert with anti-ship or land-attack cruise missiles. Identification of critical communications nodes and attack via non-kinetic means may result in disruption of attacks or even disablement of the missiles themselves. The capabilities inherent in AESA-equipped aircraft and the electronic attack capabilities in the Growler lend themselves to further investigation in this field. Netted and linked data between these platforms, passed via current E-2C's and fused with other off-board sensors (e.g., Predators, EP-3, and other joint platforms) build a richer picture for the afloat and ashore command elements. At the far end of that 3-5 year period the E-2D Advanced Hawkeye should begin seeing fleet introduction and the addition of its networking capability and revolutionary mechanically- and electronically scanned radar, among many other new or improved capabilities will bring battle management in the missile defense realm to new levels. Tapped into CEC or one of the other links for cueing, an Aegis BMD ship should be able to fire on remote, significantly expanding the battle space for API. Farther out, the addition of BAMS, P-8 and EPX, a possible marinized-Predator/Reaper and UCAV-N grow the range of possibilities for persistent ISR and cued attack, non-kinetic and kinetic. Indeed, even today Predators and their IR tracking have been successfully used in BMD tests. The carrier version of the JSF, the F-35C, will bring additional capabilities to the fight with its integrated sensor/weapons suite. And don't forget - Fire Scout is already out there with potential near shore/over the beach surveillance as well.
While the platforms are coming on-line, what is more important is recognition within the various NAVAIR communities, especially VAW, VAQ and VQ of these inherent BMD capabilities, that BMD is a core mission across the Navy and that their particular communities have a natural affinity for BMD. Particular skill sets are required in the areas of C4I, Battle Management, ISR, net-centric operations and data fusion, all of which are an inherent part of those communities and representative of a natural and evolving growth. Joint and combined operational experience would certainly underscore these skill sets.
Thirty years ago the VAW community, was geared to the long-range AEW/AAW fight and gave little thought to the overland ABCCC mission, for example. Yet by the time of operations in the Gulf and over former Yugoslavia it was increasingly engaged and tasked so. Those skill sets evolved from the battle management skills developed over a half-century of AEW and refined in the digital age with the introduction of the E-2C/F-14 teamed with Aegis with the assistance of organizations like the Carrier AEW Weapons School and Naval Strike Warfare Center. Today it should be no less so and with organizations like the Navy Air and Missile Defense and Naval Strike and Air Warfare Commands serving as the laboratory cum schoolhouse for such evolutionary expansion, the time to start is now.
Because the threat certainly isn't marking time...