The surface Navy has a strong argument that the Department of Defense strategic guidance and the rapidly changing security environment fully support Aegis modernization plans. Modernized Aegis warships are critical naval assets for overseas commanders—even more so when cost-effectively upgraded with the capability for integrated air and missile defense (IAMD). Expedited deployment of this next-generation capability will boost near-term readiness and further solidify U.S. maritime dominance. Modernized Aegis warships are the combatant commanders’ guarantors of globally integrated joint-force operations for joint access—the sharp edge of the nation’s 21st-century deterrence policy.
The release of the Pentagon’s 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) is sure to generate another round of argument over strategy, resources, and planning alignment. Debate will intensify as we move toward Fiscal Year 2016 and the possible return of sequester-level budget cuts. Now is the time for Aegis admirals to turn to and win this argument for their program. Indeed, when he assumed his post in 2011, Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jonathan Greenert concluded his Sailing Directions with his own guiding principle, a starting point for developing and executing Navy plans. “We must clearly and directly communicate our intent and expectations,” said the CNO, “both within and without the Navy.”1
Access and the Broader Strategic Intent
The 2014 QDR explicitly builds on the DOD’s 2012 Defense Strategic Guidance (DSG), Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense. As has been discussed thoroughly in these pages, the guidance articulates a rebalancing of forces away from stabilization and reconstruction on the Eurasian landmass to a renewed focus on the Asia-Pacific region. As directly pertains to the surface Navy, the DSG reminds us that the maritime domain goes beyond the Asia-Pacific to the North Arabian Sea, into the Persian Gulf and beyond to encompass sea lines of communication globally. “The United States will continue to lead global efforts with capable allies and partners to assure access to and use of the global commons, both by strengthening international norms of responsible behavior and by maintaining relevant and interoperable military capabilities.” Referencing U.S. engagement in the Asia-Pacific, the QDR speaks of “our commitment to free and open commerce, promotion of a just international order, and maintenance of open access to shared domains.”2
The stabilization priority thus has shifted to the global commons, of which the maritime subset is the domain of the U.S. Navy. This strategic shift is part of a broader context that relates to deterrence. The QDR builds on the DSG’s declaratory policy that the United States will posture forces for deterrence and conflict prevention to assure our allies and partners that we remain globally engaged, and dissuade our adversaries and near-competitors from destabilizing the global or regional political-economic system. The guidance speaks of rebalancing the joint force with warfighting capabilities and selective additional investments to support ten primary missions.3 Two are noteworthy for the Navy’s surface forces in the littorals: “Deter and Defeat Aggression” and “Project Power Despite Anti-Access/Area-Denial [A2/AD] Challenges.”
Increasing overall joint-force capabilities to counter growing A2/AD challenges is a QDR priority. Indeed, joint access and the A2/AD warfare problem have been issues of high-level DOD focus for a number of years.4 The Navy’s 2007 maritime-strategy document, A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower, states that the Sea Services will secure strategic access and retain global freedom of action as well as strengthen existing and emerging alliances and partnerships and establish favorable security conditions.5 “Credible combat power will be continuously postured in the Western Pacific and the Arabian Gulf/Indian Ocean. . . . This combat power can be selectively and rapidly repositioned to meet contingencies that may arise elsewhere.”6
In bold italics, the 2007 maritime strategy also states that “preventing wars is as important as winning wars.”7 To that end, it aligns with the DSG and the new QDR on the need for comprehensive high-end missile defense: “Maritime ballistic missile defense will enhance deterrence by providing an umbrella of protection to forward-deployed forces and friends and allies, while contributing to the larger architecture planned for defense of the United States.”8 This statement is also about crisis management, more specifically managing escalation and de-escalation in an age of nuclear- and ballistic-missile proliferation that elevates the regional hegemon.
IAMD—The High-End A2/AD Counter
The proliferation of technologically advanced capabilities in A2/AD possessed by potential adversaries and near-peer competitors represents a counter-deterrence capability. Adversary strategic intent is to dissuade the United States from continuing to engage regionally or globally and sow doubts among our allies and partners concerning the long-term credibility of America’s strategic commitments.
Adversary A2/AD capabilities sharply influence our risk calculus. They dramatically raise our costs to counter them and force us to question whether we are prepared to expend resources to maintain a flexible presence on the global maritime commons, analogous to the role played by the Royal Navy throughout the 19th century.
China and Iran are but two current examples of nation states developing and fielding specific A2/AD warfighting capabilities that potentially put at risk U.S forces and forward bases previously regarded as sanctuaries. As adversary and near-peer capabilities advance and proliferate, contested space could ultimately extend to the U.S. homeland. This complex global security environment is new to us.
In terms of actual warfighting scenarios, senior military officials differentiate between the A2/AD environments in the Western Pacific and the Persian Gulf. In the Pacific, joint and naval forces must address the “tyranny of distance.” While one operational “hot zone” is the 100-mile-wide Taiwan Strait, the A2 reach extends past the first island chain to threaten Guam. In the Persian Gulf, the A2/AD scenario is more “a knife fight in a phone booth,” where the Iranians could forcibly attempt to shut the 35-mile-wide Strait of Hormuz, a critical choke point for the global oil supply.
The high end of these A2/AD threats drives IAMD requirements. The services have agreed on the central importance of posturing with a joint IAMD capability for any near-term warfighting scenarios. While this posturing represents a move away from previous planning for preemptive war, more to the point it advances 20th-century conceptions of deterrence that were narrowly applied just to nuclear strategy.
Senior military officials now look at regional crisis management in terms of its own ladder of conflict escalation. They have reconceived the reach of warfighting to put IAMD in the center. In political-military terms, they speak of “left-of-launch” and “right-of-launch” as points along this line. IAMD, in this context, addresses not just the region but includes what they call the “trans-regional” and defense of the homeland. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey’s 2012 Joint Operational Access Concept thus views IAMD as a joint capability to be employed at the tactical, operational, and strategic levels of war.
In other words, for planning purposes hotly contested A2/AD environments are this century’s Fulda Gaps. Consider that from the Arctic along the Asia-Pacific Rim to the Persian Gulf, Russia, North Korea, China, India, Pakistan, and Iran are all powers that to varying degrees have deployed or are developing nuclear-weapon and ballistic-missile capabilities.
In the context of the broader strategic focus on deterrence and prevention, a joint IAMD capability projects a stabilizing force both offensively and defensively, which can have particular significance in the Persian Gulf, for example, in the area of crisis management. IAMD-equipped Aegis warships, globally integrated, provide a combatant commander with a third proactive missile-defense option to preemption and retaliation. In the “left-of-launch” warfighting calculus, joint IAMD afforded by Aegis ships enhances regional stability and lowers the possibility of escalation by deterring adversaries from challenging U.S. presence or coercing regional allies and partners.
The Joint Staff’s concept for joint IAMD calls for globally integrated operations and the requirement for maneuverable IAMD assets. From the combatant-commander perspective, modernized Aegis warships would surge to augment land-based missile defense of Air Force forward bases in Japan and the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility, for example. In this scenario, the ships would provide a mobile and cost-effective option as opposed to undertaking a costly program of hardening regional bases.
Aegis Modernization: The Near-Term Solution
“The anti-access area denial,” says Admiral Greenert, “is . . . probably the defining challenge today and as we view it in the near future.” Reinforcing the theme of strategic access in the 2007 Cooperative Strategy, the CNO’s 2011 Sailing Directions addressed an evolving Navy over the next 10-15 years as it remains “the preeminent maritime force.” Said Admiral Greenert: “The Air-Sea Battle concept will be implemented to sustain U.S. freedom of action and Joint Assured Access.“ His CNO’s Navigation Plan 2014–2018 later outlined the Navy’s Fiscal Year 2014–18 budget submission. In particular, it listed efforts to invest in capabilities to assure access via implementation of the Air-Sea Battle concept. Proliferating high-end A2/AD capabilities drive today’s iteration of the Aegis warfare problem—“Detect, Control, Engage”—detecting potential air and missile threats, controlling the weapon response, engaging the threat. Although Aegis was originally a Cold War–era area-defense system, the warfare problem is the same—though restated for today’s more demanding IAMD counter to A2/AD.
For 40 years, Aegis program managers have taken an integrated system-engineering approach and organization to design, develop, field, and support a complex combat system solution to this air-defense problem. Their approach has been to base it on proven systems or technologies, at times innovatively applied. The urgency that undergirds the warfare problem today, however, requires expeditiously getting interim, initial Aegis capabilities into the Fleet. Paramount is demonstration of feasibility—whether the system can be built; whether its components can work individually and together as a system; and most important, to what degree it can continue to provide a succession of interim, initial capability improvements as technologies advance and threats evolve.
This four-decade culture of Aegis innovation and adaptability represents a significant comparative advantage in the maritime domain enabling the U.S. Navy’s surface force to remain both ahead of and inside the observe, orient, decide, act loop (Colonel John Boyd’s heralded OODA loop) of adversary development and fielding of high-end A2/AD systems. We have this invaluable investment legacy; our adversaries do not. By playing to Aegis’ asymmetric strengths and technological advantages, the surface Navy can balance size and capability along a sustainable path. In so doing we avoid having to build large numbers of expensive new platforms in the near term. Instead, we pursue incremental approaches by modernizing existing Aegis platforms already in the Fleet with new and effective operational capabilities, thus extending service life—all in line with the precepts of the 2014 QDR.
Aegis accomplishes this incremental engineering development through a combat-system baseline-upgrade process. As Navy program officials anticipate major warfighting advances, e.g., new sets of A2/AD capabilities, they develop new engineering Aegis baselines—and crucially, ones that allow for retrofits. Engineering and design may focus on new-construction ships, but at the same time they allow for cost-effective retrofits of Aegis ships already in the Fleet—the foundation for Aegis modernization (AMOD).
AMOD is a two-part program to upgrade existing Aegis cruisers and destroyers over the next 20 years and beyond to ensure that each ship reaches its expected 35 years of service life. The platform part is the midlife hull, mechanical, and electrical upgrade. The second part is the combat-system baseline upgrade that results in the fielding of common Aegis warfare system configurations with reduced life-cycle costs.
The most recent upgrade is the Baseline 9 software build to integrate Aegis combat-system elements. Baseline 9 supports interoperability improvements, open architecture, enhanced ballistic-missile defense (BMD) capacity (for Aegis destroyers), and off-board functionality for sensors, computers, and missiles to make possible the cohesive detection, tracking, and engagement of enemy targets for joint and coalition operations. Based on common source code, Baseline 9’s computing framework reduces the cost of ongoing software development, maintenance, and re-use.
Aegis baseline upgrades strive for commonality to reduce the combat-system footprint on board ships. Future baselines will bring additional IAMD capabilities, notably integration of additional off-board sensors as joint force “sensor-shooter” networks continue to grow and mature. A key developmental focus is determining what additional off-board elements can be integrated into the fire-control loop and federated together to increase overall system affordability.
Three lead Baseline 9 ships are now at sea undergoing combat-system ship-qualification trials. Two are Aegis cruisers, the USS Chancellorsville (CG-62) and Normandy (CG-60), both with the Naval Integrated Fire Control-Counter Air (NIFC-CA) capability that provides integrated fire control for theater air and antiship cruise-missile defense in the tactical environment. NIFC-CA greatly expands the over-the-horizon air-warfare battle space for surface combatants to conduct third-party targeting and use of smart missiles. NIFC-CA Fleet introduction occurs in FY 15, when the Normandy deploys with the USS Harry S. Truman (CVN-75) Carrier Strike Group.
The third Baseline 9 ship is the Aegis destroyer USS John Paul Jones (DDG-53), the Navy’s dedicated IAMD test asset that will rejoin the fleet in FY 17. The destroyers USS Benfold (DDG-65) and USS Barry (DDG-52) in 2014 are undergoing combat-system availabilities, putting them on track to be the first IAMD-equipped ships to deploy next year. Cost-effective Aegis modernization of Flight I (DDG-51–71) and Flight II (DDG-72–78) Arleigh Burke–class destroyers will thus expedite a near-term IAMD capability to the Fleet—again, without having to build new ships.
The overarching vision driving AMOD is simple: Smaller and more frequent upgrades to modular combat systems with open architecture and standard interfaces best enable the surface Navy to maintain operational superiority and maritime dominance in support of the joint force.
Federated Kill Chains and the Joint Force
Increased AMOD integration and testing will yield further cost reductions. This year, IAMD testing pits the John Paul Jones and her network of off-board sensors against cruise-missile targets possessing a wide variety of challenging flight profiles. Integration and testing of modernized Aegis destroyers like the John Paul Jones, with their IAMD capability, are vividly demonstrating how these ships can increasingly serve combatant commanders for cross-domain synergy and greater integration at lower echelons in line with the Joint Operational Access Concept.
Baseline 9, with its open-architecture computing environment, facilitates the interoperability for Aegis destroyers to federate with larger and more dispersed joint networks for IAMD. Operating with joint (and ultimately coalition) forces as agile, mobile platforms in a regionally networked warfighting environment, IAMD destroyers will be able to surge as a crisis requires. Aegis permits netted sensor and weapons coordination that rises to an integrated, joint-force-level kill chain, a need Admiral Greenert underscored in his Navigation Plan 2014–2018— specifically, new and improved kill chains that can “defeat adversary radar jamming by using advanced infra-red sensors and weapons and integrated fire control networks that link ships, tactical aircraft and command and control aircraft.”9
As for enhanced BMD, Baseline 9 Aegis destroyers will dynamically allocate computer resources in a single computing environment to maximize BMD performance without degrading air defense. In that regard, the principal tool is the Multi-Mission Signal Processor (MMSP) for the Aegis SPY-1D radar. Earlier BMD computing suites for the radar used a separate signal processor, meaning a BMD-equipped surface warship could engage either a ballistic-missile or an aircraft/cruise missile threat, but not both simultaneously, resulting in inherent trade-offs that limited the system’s antiair warfare (AAW) capability to an unknown extent. The MMSP, however, effectively integrates signal-processing inputs from the BMD signal processor and the legacy Aegis in-service signal processor for the radar. This integration lets the SPY go from a single-beam to dual-beam capability to meet the power-resource priorities for simultaneous AAW and BMD sector coverage. The MMSP’s up-to-date commercial-off-the-shelf hardware and software algorithms control radar wave-form generation and allow for simultaneous processing of both AAW and BMD radar signals.
Just as important, the MMSP improves SPY performance in littoral environments, e.g., against sea skimmers in a high-clutter environment. For BMD, the processor also enhances search and long-range surveillance and tracking and BMD signal-processor range resolution, discrimination, and characterization, as well as real-time capability displays. The new baseline will also enable Aegis destroyers to be integrated into the strategic-level network of national sensors that will ultimately provide a flexible, combined launch-on-remote/engage-on-remote capability—along the area and regional missile-defense continuum, potentially extending to select homeland-defense missions in the future. Aegis IAMD destroyers will bring a comprehensive capability to conduct ship self-defense, strike-group area-air defense, and ballistic-missile-defense missions simultaneously.
To be sure, more challenging BMD threats are on the horizon. Large raids with advanced maneuvering warheads will require trade-offs in terms of Aegis operation in the IAMD and BMD modes. In the near term, more ships might have to operate in the BMD mode. But tactical needs drive technical solutions. In the longer term, advancing radar-system technologies introduced with the newest Flight III DDGs will serve as an interim step toward a next-generation IAMD capability to prevail against even more advanced BMD threats emerging in the littorals.
IAMD destroyers will provide combatant commanders with a full-up capability in all air- and missile-defense domains. In the Asia-Pacific, these Aegis DDGs will enable the U.S. Pacific Commander to augment the joint force by federating sensor-shooter responsibilities to potential assets provided by regional allies such as Japan, South Korea, or Australia with their Aegis capabilities. As cited previously, the 2012 DSG speaks of expanding “our networks of cooperation with emerging partners” to inform our force-posture planning; in this regard the DSG refrains the Sea Services’ Cooperative Strategy and its call to “strengthen existing and emerging alliances and partnerships.”
Senior U.S. military officers now say, “We are not posturing to plant the flag in the capital.” At the high end, warfighting today is IAMD-centric and not about regime change. Deterrence and conflict prevention are all about competitive strategies, as we know from winning the endgame in the Cold War. U.S. combatant commanders today are tasked with shaping the regional security environments in their areas of responsibility. Their ability to deter or prevent conflict depends on the alignment of force posture with the evolving security dynamics in their regions.
Mobile, agile Aegis destroyers are the vehicles for maritime IAMD—nonproliferation tools to deny regional adversaries the use of their high-end A2/AD capability as instruments of diplomatic coercion. Altogether, the surface Navy’s substantial fleet of modernized Aegis warships, with their integrated fire-control, IAMD, and BMD capabilities, will provide combatant commanders with a credible, comprehensive, near-term competitive advantage in the maritime domain for joint-force exploitation. In the broader strategic context, modernized Aegis warships enable the Navy to return to its historical role as the nation’s provider of general-purpose fleets operating away from American shores to maintain the security of the maritime commons and assure maritime access.
Thus is the Aegis admirals’ strategy-resources-planning argument. As Admiral Arleigh Burke is said to have observed: “The Nation demands only two things from its admirals. In wartime, they must win battles. In peacetime, they must win arguments.”
2. Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense (hereafter DSG), 3. www.defense.gov/news/defense_strategic_guidance.pdf. Quadrennial Defense Review 2014 (hereafter QDR), 4. http://www.defense.gov/pubs/2014_Quadrennial_Defense_Review.pdf.
3. DSG, 3.
4. Note, for example, the Chairman’s 2012 Joint Operational Access Concept (JOAC) and Capstone Concept for Joint Operations: Joint Force 2020 and the DOD’s Air-Sea Battle Concept.
5. A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower, from the Introduction.
6. Ibid. The QDR speaks of “new presence paradigms” such as “positioning additional forward-deployed naval forces in critical areas, such as the Asia-Pacific region, to achieve faster response times and additional presence at a lower recurring cost.” QDR, 23.
7. A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower, from the Introduction. This has been the subject of intense reviews and updating, and a 2014 Cooperative Strategy is expected.
9. ADM Jonathan W. Greenert, USN, “Opening Remarks at the Brookings Institution on Air-Sea Battle Doctrine,” (16 May 2012), www.navy.mil/navydata/people/cno/Greenert/Speech/120516%20Air%20Sea%20Battle_Brookings.pdf.