As the Obama administration pursues its Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense-based Phased Adaptive Approach to missile defenses in Europe, compared with the last Bush administration’s Ground-based Midcourse Defense approach, debate has ensued over the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) system’s role and capability. The following is a viewpoint provided by retired U.S. Navy Vice Adm. J.D. Williams, once deputy chief of naval operations for naval warfare. While director of naval warfare, he initiated the advanced Tactical Tomahawk land attack cruise missile development program, acquisition of the Rolling Airframe Missile AAW, and was instrumental in saving the Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC).
The U.S. Navy Should Lead the Way in Global Missile Defense
It is important to note that the Standard Missile-3 based defense against Iranian ICBMs will be additive to the Ground Based Interceptor-based defense we already have deployed in the United States. And it is important to note that the strategic thinking behind the Obama’s administration new approach to European missile defense will also be valuable as we continue to address missile defense issues in other regions. Because the type of system we are planning in Europe can be easily adapted to different geographic constraints, it can be applied in various regions around the globe when necessary. In fact, a scaled-down version of this approach is already being used for the defense of Japan against North Korean missile threats, and for the defense of Israel against an Iranian missile attack. Because the assets of this system are either mobile or transportable, the new approach provides future flexibility to reposition interceptors and sensors if the geopolitical environment changes. And because the systems will be upgraded over time, the new approach provides a natural evolution to match the threat.
The Aegis BMD System is capable of playing an important role in global missile defense as supported by Obama’s new approach to European missile defense. The Navy should take the lead in building the foundation for an effective global missile defense. A good start would be to build a network around the world of Aegis BMD ships, Aegis BMD ashore, and allied capabilities both at sea and ashore supported by a command-and-control system, including Engage-On-Remote with all credible sensors.
The Navy has a rich history and experience in long range air defense and in developing and exercising the necessary command-and-control systems to employ it. Naval officers’ training, flexibility and adaptability are basic cornerstones for understanding the Navy’s concept of “Command by Negation.”
What has been the impact of adding the ballistic missile defense mission to a multi-mission ship that already does anti-air warfare, anti-submarine warfare, and strike warfare? It has kept Aegis ships relevant in a world of more complex threats. Aegis ships have forward access anywhere in the world and provide strategic deterrence against ballistic missiles. Naval BMD discourages international blackmail threatening use of a ballistic missile against the United States as well as proliferation of ballistic missiles. The BMD mission is approaching the importance of the Polaris program during the Cold War and provides a sound rationale for increased force structure. Providing a defensive umbrella against ballistic missiles is certainly a more moral way to promote peace than an offensive capability. With today’s threats, the United States needs both.