The Aegis Weapon System has been at sea in U.S. Navy surface warships since the USS Ticonderoga (CG-47) guided-missile cruiser commissioned in 1983. Tico and her 26 sisters—as well as the Arleigh Burke–class guided-missile destroyers—ushered in a true revolution at sea, holding at risk U.S. adversaries’ antiship cruise missiles and aircraft, while bringing world-class multimission antisurface, antisubmarine, and land-attack/strike capabilities to the fleet.
Within just a few years, several U.S. allies and partners began to acquire the system, beginning with the first U.S.-Japanese Aegis foreign military sales in 1984. The keel of the Aegis global alliance had been laid.
The threat Aegis faces down has not stood still. Since the 1980s’ Iran-Iraq War, China, Russia, and regional powers have expanded weapon inventories, including ballistic missiles, some tailored to antiship missions.
In January 2002, the USS Lake Erie (CG-70) fired the first Aegis ballistic-missile defense (BMD) shot, a Standard Missile 3 (SM-3) that intercepted an Aries missile target. Since then, the United States has carried out 49 major intercept tests to date, including—in November 2020—the first intercept of an intercontinental ballistic missile.
Ninety U.S. surface warships—68 Arleigh Burkes and 22 Ticonderogas—embark Aegis. Forty-five are BMD capable. Internationally:
• The Royal Australian Navy’s three Hobart-class destroyers have Aegis combat systems but are not currently BMD capable. The nine Hunter-class frigates planned for the next decade will include SPY-7(V)1 Aegis radar and the International Aegis Fire Control Loop (IAFCL).
• The Royal Canadian Navy is building 15 Canadian surface combatants that will have the SPY-7(V)1, and the IAFCL will be integrated in the existing Halifax class.
• The Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force operates seven Aegis ships—four Kongo-class destroyers, two improved Atago class, and the Maya, which commissioned in 2020. The second Maya-class destroyer will be delivered in 2021. All are BMD capable.
• The Republic of Korea Navy operates three KDX-III Sejong the Great–class Aegis destroyers, with the lead ship commissioned in 2008. They are not BMD capable. Three additional “Batch 2” destroyers have been ordered with Aegis BMD, and the navy will acquire SM-3 interceptors.
• The Royal Norwegian Navy operates four Spanish-built Fridtjof Nansen–class frigates equipped with the Aegis system—but not BMD—with the first, the Fridtjof Nansen, entering service in 2006 and the last, the Thor Heyerdahl, in 2011.
• The Spanish Navy operates five F100 Álvaro de Bazán–class Aegis frigates and in 2024 will accept the first F110-class frigate. The F110 class will incorporate SPY-7(V)1 radar and the IAFCL, but current plans do not include BMD.
• Other countries bringing potential naval Aegis BMD capabilities include Denmark, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. Several countries operate systems employing SMART-L and X-band radars that control SM-2 missiles and could be adapted to SM-3s.
The U.S. Missile Defense Agency warns that U.S. and allied defenses against aircraft, cruise and ballistic missiles, and hypervelocity weapons must be more capable than ever, on shore and at sea. The Aegis global alliance will remain a crucial element of the nation’s defense and global and regional security partnerships.
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The Coast Guard commissioned the fast response cutter Charles Moulthrope (WPC-1141) at Coast Guard Base Portsmouth, Virginia, on 21 January. She is one of six fast response cutters destined for Patrol Forces Southwest Asia (PatForSWA) in Bahrain, the Coast Guard’s largest unit outside the United States. The Charles Moulthrope will head to Bahrain later this year.
“Fact Sheet: Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense,” (16-MDA-8777 28 July 2016)
Sea-Based Weapon System (SWBS), Solicitation MDA20A20ABRFI02, 20-MDA-10494, 29 May 2020
“Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense (Aegis BMD) FY19 Ballistic Missile Defense System,” MDA Fact Sheet (undated)
Defense Primer: Ballistic Missile Defense (Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service, 7-9760, 9 October 2019)
“Fact Sheet: Ballistic Missile Defense Testing,” MDA, 16-MDA-8777 (28 July 16); “Fact Sheet: Ballistic Missile Defense Flight Test Record” (as of December 2018), MDA, 18-MDA-9879 (17 January 2019)
“Formidable Shield 2019,” European Security & Defence, 5 June 2019
“Allied Forces Begin Formidable Shield 2019,” 6th Fleet Public Affairs, 7 May 2019
“U.S. Successfully Conducts SM-3 Block IIA Intercept Test Against an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile Target,” U.S. Department of Defense, 17 November 2020
Lockheed Martin to Equip Spanish F-110 Frigates with New Radar System,” Naval Technology, 6 December 2019
Jeff Jeong, “South Korea to Build 3 More Aegis Destroyers Able to Thwart Ballistic Missiles,” DefenseNews, 2 May 2019.