Aegis and the Third World

By the USS Antietam (CG-54) Wardroom
  • The growing political instability in a wide variety of Third World countries, many of which occupy key geostrategic locations, calls for flexibility and mobility in forward deployed forces.
  • The serious and continuing proliferation of advanced high-technology weapons, many easily available through the global arms market, is another major concern. This disturbing trend leads to the acquisition of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons by unstable regimes in the developing world.
  • Potential shortages of hydrocarbons, strategic minerals, high-protein foodstuffs, and arable land may drive relatively unstable Third World regimes to aggressive actions.
  • Economic conditions that exacerbate the potential for conflict between Third World countries in many segments of the globe will further drive a wedge between the haves and have-nots.
  • Growing hegemonic ambitions among certain developing nations that seek to dominate their regions will present challenges to the industrial world. These potential belligerents may localize their bellicosity, but such conflicts have the potential to spill over, engaging advanced industrial nations with specific regional interests.
  • Racial, religious, and political differences among various segments of the developing world will remain sources of potential conflict in the foreseeable future and could pose additional problems and challenges—requiring extremely flexible approaches to war fighting and tactics.

Aegis War-Fighting Tactics in the Developing World

Strategists have developed, in some depth, tactics for employing Aegis against Soviet-level opposition, but little has been written—either at classified or unclassified levels—about using Aegis in Third World situations. It is useful, therefore, to examine several basic functional approaches to the use of Aegis warships in such scenarios.

First, there is no such thing as a "typical" developing-world scenario. The diverse nature of the Third World generates a variety of potential scenarios in settings that range from the frigid waters off the Korean Peninsula to the steaming Persian Gulf; from racially motivated strife on the horn of Africa to religious conflict in the Middle East. Consequently, the best that can be done in developing tactics for the Third World is to bear in mind such parameters as:

  • The need to maintain control of escalation
  • Strict rules of engagement
  • Presence of neutrals and the resulting need to contain collateral damage
  • Difficulty in obtaining overseas bases
  • Complex relationships among allies and neutrals in the region
  • Political difficulties in engendering domestic support
  • Great variety in enemy weapon systems, often including platforms, weapons, and sensors from U.S., Soviet, and developing-world indigenous sources

A series of tactical approaches using Aegis warships that would be likely to achieve success in such scenarios might include:

Aegis Power Projection Surface Action Groups (SAGs): Using strictly Aegis ships (usually grouped in two-three warship SAGs with one-two combat logistic support ships) would provide an easily tailored, relatively less resource-intensive alternative to a full-blown carrier or battleship battle group. Many scenarios call for the unmatched power of a large-deck carrier battle group, but many others could be handled by a tailored Aegis-offensive SAG. Such a SAG could be fitted with a specialized intelligence-gathering capability and a variety of helicopters to enhance organic targeting capability. With the variety of Tomahawk strike missiles available, such SAGs could have superb utility in the developing world.

These SAGs could also act as decoys or picket groups for larger concentrations of naval force operating over the horizon, waiting for a potential escalation of tensions before their commitment.

Station Ship Employment: Using their sophisticated command-and-control suites, Aegis warships would also function as superb intelligence- and data-collection sites, operating with impunity anywhere in the world. Their ability to protect themselves in multi-threat environments while, collecting and analyzing complex data gathered through a variety of means could be significant in developing world applications. They could collect data acoustically or electronically.

Blockade: A subtle and surprisingly effective weapon, particularly in a world made increasingly economically interdependent, the Aegis warship is an excellent blockade controller. With its own aviation assets, superb SPY-1 series radar, and outstanding command-and-control capability, the ship can cover large segments of the ocean and coastlines, exercising sea surveillance and sea control with impunity. The warship's size permits the embarkation of detachments for special aspects of blockade operations, including search and seizure. This could have a wide variety of applications in developing world scenarios.

Special Operations: The Aegis warship has a limitless variety of uses in special-operations scenarios. These include noncombatant evacuation, counter-terrorism, counter-narcotics, insertion of special operations forces for intelligence-gathering or offensive action, electronic or physical surveillance, hostage rescue, and many other uses. The size of the warships gives them the ability to embark special operations forces; alternately, they could provide command and control, surveillance and protection, as well as related strike capabilities, to another warship (an LSD with air-cushion landing craft, for example) carrying the special forces units.


  • Continue buying Aegis destroyers to complement the 27 cruisers already purchased.
  • Focus downstream "flight" modifications on adaptability and flexibility. Examine the potential for use in developing world scenarios, with some emphasis on: intelligence-gathering capability, special operations applications and additions, some modular construction for flexibility, aviation capability required, and electronic countermeasures capability.
  • Continue to focus some level of tactical training resources on developing patterns of use for Aegis combatants in the developing world by: modifying individual pipeline training for Aegis war fighters to include more attention to the Third World threat; using Aegis Combat Training Scenarios (ACTS-specialized tapes for on-board training) tailored for the Third World; conducting appropriate readiex/Battlex/Training exercises for Aegis; focusing on Aegis in the Third World at Surface Warfare Development Group, Tactical Training Groups Pacific and Atlantic, Aegis Training Center Dahlgren, Surface Warfare Officers School, and other centers of tactical thinking; developing a specialized library of Aegis lessons learned, including experiences already in the bank from operations off the coasts of Libya, Lebanon, Korea, and the Persian Gulf; exploring linkages with other agencies and commands specifically chartered with developing-world operations (Drug Enforcement Agency, Special Operations Command, and Central Command) at a working level to improve tactical awareness of Aegis capabilities in the developing world.


Given the versatility and capability of the Aegis warships in the Third World (as well as maintaining a hedge against resurgent Soviet hostility), prudent planning dictates the purchase of more of these capable warships. Current plans call for an average of five Aegis destroyers per year, with increasing capability programmed into follow-on flights of the ship (this includes fitting the Arleigh Burke- classdestroyers with the critically important aviation capability carried on the cruisers). At under $1 billion per copy, the Aegis destroyer is a bargain in every sense—a real-world warship with a guaranteed 40-year service life (as opposed to billion-dollar aircraft with a potential for attrition through non-combat aviation accidents, for example), a virtually certain utility in real-world operations (as opposed to various nuclear intercontinental missiles of questionable need), and a wide variety of uses across the full range of conflict.

Naturally, a primary mission of the Aegis warships will continue to be to operate with carrier battle groups and battleship battle groups to provide air defense in a dense air-threat environment. It is easy to predict, however, that more cruiser and destroyer Aegis variants will be used in stand-alone roles or mini-SAGs, similar to British or French deployments to various regions of the developing world.

Clearly, we must continue to hone our tactics and warfighting approaches for using these warships not only in their primary role of deterring the still-capable Soviet Navy, but also for their secondary (but ultimately more likely) role in Third World contingencies.

The wardroom of the Antietam is led by Captain Larry Eddingfield , whose prior command tour was in the USS Hewitt (DD-966). The Antietam's executive officer, Lieutenant Commander Jim Stavridis , was commissioning operations officer in the USS Valley Forge (CG-50). The department heads include Lieutenant Commander Ben Goslin , chief engineer; Lieutenant Robert Shafer , combat systems officer; Lieutenant Jim Cole , operations officer; and Lieutenant Kevin Eyer , weapons officer. All have prior service in cruisers and destroyers.


Aegis Capabilities and Tactics in the Evolving World

The key to Aegis is flexible firepower. Unlike many other platform/sensor/weapon suites, the Aegis cruisers and destroyers can function in a multi-threat environment and employ a variety of tactics. Not solely tied either to Soviet-U.S. war fighting or developing world conflict, Aegis warships can operate in company with carriers and battleships or deploy independently to carry out U. S. national security policy. Many of the capabilities of the Ticonderoga and Arleigh Burke classes make them indispensible in both Soviet and developing-world scenarios. We will focus on capabilities for Third-World conflict, which include:

Superb Command-and-Control Capabilities: Exceptional command and control is always at a premium in Third-World scenarios, which typically require careful control of escalating events and restricted use of force under constraining rules of engagement. The Aegis command-and-control suite fits a full range of potential developing-world warfighting scenarios. It includes the outstanding Aegis display system, which provides a commander with an unparalleled degree of clarity in observing and directing events. With 4 large-screen displays (LSDs) and 12 automated status boards (ASTABs), the commander can display all the information required for combat.

In a Persian Gulf scenario, for example, one LSD can be dedicated to surface shipping, another to close-in air contacts, the third to distant air contacts, and the fourth to the intelligence display. ASTABs can be varied to display virtually any data required for a given situation from tanker loading to engaged tracks.

In addition, the excellent communications suite, identification friend or foe system, and intelligence-fusion systems can bring together not only local information, but national-level intelligence as well. At the same time, the ship can provide the communications connectivity to maintain control of escalating war-fighting capabilities in the scenarios that typically unfold.

Weapons Diversity for Escalation Control: The class's wide variety of weapons and sensors for controlling conflict escalation make it capable of handling virtually any degree of force that a developing nation could bring to bear. Of particular importance is its ability to use increasing levels of force in such scenarios. In increasing order of lethality, for example, an Aegis warship can execute jamming and electronic countermeasures; naval gunfire; Standard missiles in both the anti-air and anti-surface modes; Harpoon strikes against shipping; and, most potently, Tomahawk attacks—both conventional and nuclear—against shipping and land targets.

Air Power: Aviation capability to provide wide-area surveillance, over-the-horizon surveillance, communications relay, and a myriad of other tasks is vitally important. This can include the use of the Sikorsky SH-60B LAMPS-III helicopter, which can bring both antisubmarine and anti-surface or surveillance capabilities to bear; and the addition of smaller attack helicopters that can operate either in lieu of or with the Seahawk. Other aviation capabilities can include electronic support measures intercepts, tracking, targeting, spotting naval gunfire, data link relay, and attack with torpedoes and Penguin missiles.

Size and Stability: Size and stability to handle extra vans, special-forces augment units, and intelligence-collection equipment will be important in the developing world—particularly given the constrained nature of many developing world scenarios, which rely on precise intelligence and covert operations. Examples include evacuation of noncombatants; insertion of special operations forces to free hostages or extract terrorists, criminals, or fugitives; counterterrorism; and counter-narcotics intelligence collection.

Precise Weaponeering: Precision weapons capability for sensitive targeting and attack is another critical capability supplied by the Tomahawk missile carried on board Aegis warships. The uses of the land-attack variant of the missile, given its precise targeting capability, are well documented. In a Third World scenario, they can be of particular importance in attempting to limit collateral damage.

Self-defense: The Aegis combat system is fully capable of providing stand-alone self-defense. In an era of constrained resources and a possibly shrinking Navy, the ability to deploy with fewer support ships in self-contained offensive action groups will be critically important. "Low-mix" ships would be unable to provide both sufficient offensive punch and reasonable self-defense, even against developing world opponents. The Aegis warship, with minimal logistic support, is capable of protecting itself against air, surface, and subsurface threats while still delivering a significant offensive punch.

Physical Presence: The Aegis warship, with its easily recognizable and highly visible silhouette, presents a powerful appearance for political presence. It is a consummate peacekeeper, in that it is fully capable of appearing on the horizon signaling concern and capability by its powerful presence, then quickly withdrawing over the horizon as necessary when circumstances change. It can endure on station essentially indefinitely, given reasonable logistic support and occasional relief, and provides a highly visible and capable symbol of U. S. resolve and determination to control a crisis.

Low Manpower: The Aegis warship also has a highly automated weapons and sensor suite, effectively reducing the required number of American lives that are placed at risk in highly charged political scenarios in the developing world.

-Wardroom, USS Antietam


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