Can the Corps Counter the Threat?

By Captain Jeffrey P. Davis, U.S. Marine Corps

In response to the Nazi attacks, the Allies diverted more than 40% of the post-D-Day strategic bombing missions to the hunt for missile launch sites. 3 Dubbed Operation Crossbow, this effort was the precursor to the Desert Storm Scud—hunting sorties—and would prove just as futile. The missile attacks were not curtailed until the ground campaign advanced further north.

Today's potential adversaries are still looking for ways to attack our national will to fight, by using terror weapons. The 21st-century threat can be characterized by three general observations:

  • It will be cost-effective in terms of initial purchase price, ease of operation, and maintenance.
  • It will consist of off-the-shelf technology, ready for use upon purchase.
  • It will provide our adversaries a way to attack us, even though we maintain air superiority.

The joint term for this threat is theater missiles , which range from long-range surface-to-surface missiles such as Scuds and No Dongs, to shorter-range tactical missiles such as FROGs and SS-21s, to ground- and sea-skimming cruise missiles and aircraft-launched air-to-surface missiles. All of these have been used in recent conflicts. HMS Sheffield was hit by an Exocet during the Falklands Conflict, as was the USS Stark in the Persian Gulf. Coalition forces were subjected to Scud and FROG attacks during Desert Storm.

We need to focus on ways the Marine air-ground task force (MAGTF) can counter this growing threat.

The DoD Plan

As a result of Desert Storm, Congress passed the Missile Defense Act of 1991. This legislation states:

It is the goal of the United States to: (1) deploy an ABM treaty-compliant antiballistic missile system that is capable of providing a highly effective defense of the U.S. against limited attacks of ballistic missiles; (2) provide highly effective theater missile defenses to forward deployed and expeditionary elements of the armed forces of the U.S. and her allies; and (3) maintain strategic stability. 4

This act also divides theater missile defense (TMD) philosophy into four major categories, commonly referred to as the pillars of TMD:

  • Active Defense involves destroying incoming missiles after launch. This mission entails detecting the launch, cueing the appropriate defensive weapon, tracking the incoming missile, and destroying the missile and warhead.
  • Passive Defense enhances survivability through such measures as early warning, hardening and dispersing assets, and maintaining mobility. The most simplistic of the three pillars, it is no less important.
  • Attack Operations involve neutralizing missiles and transporters, erectors, and/or launchers prior to missile launch. Identifying launchers prior to launch is a crucial part of an effective missile defense plan.
  • Command, Control, Communications, and Intelligence (C 3 1) is the foundation of the entire TMD concept, providing real-time information to the fight. It must be capable of fusing all information as it is received, thus integrating all aspects of TMD. Ideally, this information would include detection of the missile launchers prior to launch, detection of the launch itself, passing target data to the appropriate defense platform, and updating this target information until the missile is destroyed.

Can the Marines Count on Other Services for TMD?

Currently, the U.S. Air Force's primary mission in theater missile defense is to find the missiles, cue the shooters, and provide aircraft for attack operations. Using such special information systems as the joint surveillance target attack radar system (JSTARS), the Air Force can locate some mobile transporters, erectors, and launchers prior to missile launch. Other special information platforms such as Rivet Joint assist the targeting process by providing other indications and warnings that discriminate theater missile apparatus from other battlefield equipment. This information is transferred to attack aircraft over the tactical digital information link (TADIL) J. This is the primary TMD data link for joint tactical information distribution system (JTIDS) cueing, tracking, and targeting information that is shared with TMD shooter platforms.

As shown by our unsuccessful search for the mobile Scud launchers during Desert Storm, attack operations are one of the most difficult aspects of theater missile defense. According to then-Air Force Chief of Staff General Merrill McPeak, efforts to eliminate the Iraqi Scud threat absorbed three times the anticipated number of aircraft and diverted up to one-third of the total Coalition sorties away from other missions. 5 Although the Air Force flew more than 2,500 Scud-hunting sorties, not a single mobile transporter, erector, or launcher was destroyed. 6 In addition, the aircraft dedicated to TMD-could not be tasked with tactical sorties, in preparation for the ground offensive.

Scud-hunting sorties like these are dedicated to the defense of the entire joint or coalition force. Long-range, larger-warhead theater missiles that threaten the force's most critical, least recoupable assets probably will be targeted well ahead of the shorter-range missiles that threaten Marine Corps assets. For attack operations in its area of responsibility, the MAGTF could employ its own attack platforms. Certainly transporters, erectors, or launchers that present themselves as targets of opportunity for attack aircraft—or aircraft performing armed reconnaissance—could be engaged. These missiles probably would be the ones that would concern the MAGTF the most, threatening forward logistic bases and airfields and main headquarters.

The U.S. Army employs the Patriot air-defense system to provide active defense against the long-range, larger-warhead theater missiles that threaten critical joint or coalition assets. There are only ten active-duty Patriot battalions. Each consists of six firing batteries, which in turn consist of an engagement control section, the MPQ-53 phased-array radar, and five launcher sections. Each launcher section has 4 missiles, for a total of 20 missiles per battery.

The Patriot radar has a 120º detection sector and a 900 fire sector. 7 It does not have a 3600 capability because it was designed to be employed in concert with the Hawk missile system. Now that the Army has decided to divest itself of Hawk, the Patriot has become a stand-alone capability. The MPQ-53 radar can track multiple targets and control numerous missile engagements simultaneously. But even though the Patriot system has significant capabilities to engage most tactical, operational, and strategic theater missiles, it has a very poor low-altitude capability. It cannot engage short-range theater missiles as effectively, because of their low altitude and short flight duration.

Patriot's poor low-altitude coverage and lack of 360o capability also make it vulnerable to cruise missiles and some air-to-surface missiles. To achieve a 360o defense, six batteries (one battalion) must be employed. This footprint (301 C-141 lifts required to move one battalion) is a significant planning consideration. 8

During the Gulf War, initial reports said the Patriot system had intercepted nearly all the Scuds fired. Since then, the interception rate has been found to be much lower.

Many intercepts failed to kill the warhead, which resulted in both U.S. and Coalition casualties. Nevertheless, this performance was good fortune. The system sent to the Persian Gulf in 1990 had been downgraded to comply with the antiballistic missile treaty of 1974 between the Soviet Union and the United States. In 1972, Patriot (then called SAM-D) was intended to be a defense against both aircraft and missiles. When it was deployed in 1988, however, its mission did not include missile defense, because of the treaty. 9

The Patriots deployed to the Gulf used Patriot Advanced Capability 2 (PAC 2). This redesign was a quick fix to the theater missile defense problem facing Coalition forces in the Persian Gulf. The latest planned improvement, PAC 3, will provide the Patriot system more data at a higher rate of speed, extended radar limits, hit-to-kill technology, and the ability to remote launchers out to 30 kilometers.

Patriot's airlift and sealift requirements preclude its availability for Marine expeditionary unit operations. For larger MAGTF operations, however, Patriot could be lifted into theater. Then MAGTF key assets could enjoy complementary air defense from Patriot if they are co-located with or deployed near high-priority joint or coalition assets. Otherwise, if they fall outside Patriot's defensive envelope, MAGTF key assets would remain vulnerable to the long-range theater missile threat.

In the near future, the Navy will be able to provide limited sea-based point defense against theater missiles for the MAGTF by using the Aegis combat weapon system on board its newer Ticonderoga (CG-47)-class cruisers and Arleigh Burke (DDG-51)-class destroyers. These ships can provide theater missile defense to the battle group or—to a limited extent—inland. The Aegis SPY-1 radar coupled with the improved SM 2 Block IV A missile (under development) will provide a Patriot PAC 2-like capability from a sea-based platform.

Like Patriot, naval theater missile defense has limited capability against shorter-range missiles. The SPY-1 radar, although a very capable 360° antiair asset, has a limited ability to engage shorter-range ballistic missiles and air-breathing threats simultaneously, especially around mountainous terrain. The SM 2 Block IV A missile has a long range and could provide an excellent defense for the amphibious ready group afloat or during a maritime prepositioning force offload.

The ship's captain, however, has other concerns—e.g., mines, sea-skimming antiship missiles, and submarine threats—that must be weighed against theater missile defense. These concerns would affect the Navy's ability to sail close to shore, and away from the battle group, to defend the MAGTF against theater missiles on the beachhead. This may be only a temporary problem, because the Navy is developing the cooperative engagement capability, which links E-2C platforms, Aegis-equipped ships, and ground-based sensors to support the MAGTF ashore when possible. This would allow TMD shooters to share information from any cueing source (sensors) via data link. Recent tests have shown promise, and the capability is being pursued aggressively. With it, the MAGTF can enjoy protection of both the port or staging area and the force ashore, using a naval solution.

Can the Marine Corps Provide Its Own TMD?

Developmental systems such as the Army's theater highaltitude air defense and the sea-based theater missile defense receive a lot of attention, but they still are years away from fielding, even if all tests go as planned. The threat, however, will not wait; Marine forces must be able to defend themselves today.

The Marine Corps can provide a limited point-defense capability by using the expeditionary air defense system, which includes the recently upgraded Hawk missile system and TPS-59 long-range surveillance radar. The missile warhead and fuse, launcher, computer software, and tracking radar all have been modified to perform the theater missile defense mission. The Hawk also has engaged several surface-to-surface missiles successfully in recent tests at White Sands Missile Range.

Key to this engagement is a timely and precise TMD cue, which is provided by the upgraded—including range, altitude, and target cross-section sensitivity—TPS-59. The cue currently is transmitted over ground-based data link, but in the future, it is planned to be provided by TADIL J, via the MSQ-124 air defense communications platform (ADCP). MSQ-124, scheduled for fielding in fiscal year 1997, will allow the Marine Corps to cue any theater missile defense platform via TADIL J.

By having a ground-based shooter with cueing, the Marine Corps reduces its dependence on sea-based theater missile defense, which may or may not be available. The Marine Corps capability also fills a critical void: the shortrange theater missiles that Aegis and Patriot cannot see or engage are easily engageable by the TPS-59 and Hawk. Patriot and Aegis could defend vital rear assets such as ports, airfield, and headquarters that are more vulnerable to long-range missiles. The Marine Corps' expeditionary air defense system could defend assets such as assembly areas, forward logistics staging areas, and division headquarters that are vulnerable to short-range attack.

The Army, Air Force, and Navy can perform theater missile defense under a variety of circumstances, but there are many operational considerations that might prohibit their support of the MAGTF. It may fall on the Marine Corps to provide its own—albeit limited—defense. Future naval expeditionary force operations will require an on-scene theater missile defense capability if they are to be successful in the face of a concentrated air threat from cruise and theater missiles.

1 Alfred Price, Luftwaffe , Ballantine’s Illustrated History of World War II, Weapons Book no. 10 (New York: Ballantine Books, 1969), p. 143.

2 Ibid.

3 Joint Pub 3-01.5: Doctrine for Joint Theater Missile Defense , p. I-3.

4 Missile Defense Act of 1991.

5 Maj. William C. Story, USAF, Third World Traps and Pitfalls (Maxwell AFB: Air University Press, 1995), p. 23.

6 Ibid., p. 25.

7 Jane’s Land Based Air Defence 1995-96, p. 307.

8 Joint TMD CONOPS, 17 February 1996, p. 53. This number includes an entire battalion plus one missile resupply.

9 Angelo Codevilla, “Missile Defense: A Case of Self-Denial,” Wall Street Journal , 15 November 1994.

Captain Davis , a graduate of the Marine Corps Command and Control Systems Course and Weapons and Tactics Instructors Course, is assigned as an Anti-Air Warfare Instructor at Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron One.



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