Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Fact Check - Technicals of AEGIS BMD

After watching Michael Goldfarb display a remarkable amount of ignorance on AEGIS BMD, I did some heavy duty Google searching to find the political argument that included technical merits in the BMD discussion. Somewhat disappointing, I guess the technical aspect doesn't matter. Given the widespread ignorance to AEGIS Ballistic Missile Defense, this post is designed to be the cheat sheet for those who like to be the smartest person in the room on open source AEGIS Ballistic Missile Defense discussions.


The current 18 warships configured for AEGIS BMD are 15 destroyers and 3 cruisers. The destroyers are USS John Paul Jones (DDG 53), USS Curtis Wilbur (DDG 54), USS Stout (DDG 55), USS John S. McCain (DDG 56), USS Russell (DDG 59), USS Paul Hamilton (DDG 60), USS Ramage (DDG 61), USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62), USS Stethem (DDG 63), USS Benfold (DDG 65), USS Milius (DDG 69), USS Hopper (DDG 70), USS Decatur (DDG 73), USS Higgins (DDG 76), and USS O’Kane (DDG 77). The three cruisers are USS Shiloh (CG 67), USS Lake Erie (CG 70), and USS Port Royal (CG 73). 16 of these ships are in the Pacific fleet, and it should be noted that the destroyers are all of the Flight I and Flight II Arleigh Burke destroyers (those that do not have a helicopter hanger).

Only the USS Stout (DDG 55) and USS Ramage (DDG 61) are in the Atlantic Fleet.

The Navy has already funded the upgrade for 3 more AEGIS ships (1 cruiser and 2 destroyers), all in the Atlantic, to be upgraded to AEGIS BMD. FY 2010 will fund the upgrade for 6 additional AEGIS BMD upgrades (2 cruisers, 4 destroyers). This will bring the total number of AEGIS BMD capable ships to 27. As part of the Arleigh Burke modernization program to begin in a few years, all 62 Arleigh Burke destroyers will be upgraded to support AEGIS BMD.

AEGIS BMD is able to be installed on 15 of the 22 Ticonderoga class cruisers, basically baseline 3 and baseline 4 cruisers. The eight baseline 2 cruisers (CG52-CG58) use the SPY-1A radar which cannot support AEGIS ballistic missile defense. The remaining fifteen Baseline 3 (CG 59-64) and Baseline 4 (CG 65-73) have the AN/SPY-B radar which can support AEGIS ballistic missile defense. AEGIS BMD is not currently part of the cruiser modernization program, although currently plans will make 5 of the 15 cruisers AEGIS BMD capable warships, 3 of which already are.

Money and Missiles

This is a review of all MDA funding for AEGIS BMD from FY1995 - FY2010:

FY95 $75.0
FY96 $200.4
FY97 $304.2
FY98 $410.0
FY99 $338.4
FY00 $380.0
FY01 $462.7
FY02 $476.0
FY03 $464.0
FY04 $726.2
FY05 $1,159.8
FY06 $893.0
FY07 $1,125.4
FY08 $1,214.1
FY09 $1,170.5
FY10 $1,859.5

Total MDA funding to date = $9399.7
Total MDA funding w/ FY10 = $11259.2
Since the Reagan administrations Star Wars project began in 1983, over $120 billion has been spent on ballistic missile defense, with AEGIS BMD spending accounting for just under 8% of that total.

The FY2010 defense budget requests a total of $1,859.5 million for the AEGIS BMD program, including $1,690.8 million in research and development funding for the program and $168.7 million in procurement funds for the SM-3 interceptor missile. The FY2010 budget request also requests $174.6 million for continued operations of the Sea-based X-band Radar (SBX).

As the AEGIS BMD program has evolved, the costs for AEGIS BMD have increased. AEGIS BMD 3.6, the initial BMD tracking and engagement capability, costs about $10.5 million for ship conversion. Upgrading an AEGIS ship to the latest, more-capable BMD configuration called AEGIS BMD 4.0.1 baseline costs about $45 million, which includes the cost of the BMD signal processor.

MDA has funded 71 SM-3 Block 1 and 1A interceptors, of which 38 are to be in inventory by the end of calendar 2008. Additionally, the Navy (not MDA) has funded the modification of 100 SM-2 Block IV missiles into a fuze-modified SM-2 Block IV interceptor with a blast-fragmentation warhead. By the end of 2008 only 40 of the 100 had been converted.

The FY2010 budget doubles the previously planned inventory of 147 to 329 SM-3 interceptors. The 147 interceptors were expected to be in service by 2013, no timetable has been made public when the 329 interceptors would be available.

It is also important to note that Japan is in agreement with the US to fund about 50% of the $2.1 billion development cost for the SM-3 Block IIA missile. The Block IA/1B version of the SM-3 has a 21-inch-diameter booster stage and is 13.5 inches in diameter along the remainder of its length. The Block IIA version, scheduled for the end of 2015, will have a 21-inch diameter along its entire length. The increase in diameter to a uniform 21 inches provides more room for rocket fuel and is to give the missile a burnout velocity that is 45% to 60% greater than that of the Block IA/IB version.

According to Ronald O'Rourkes CRS report (PDF):
The Block IIA version would also include an improved kinetic warhead. MDA states that the Block IIA version could “engage many [ballistic missile] targets that would outpace, fly over, or be beyond the engagement range” of earlier versions of the SM-3, and that "the net result, when coupled with enhanced discrimination capability, is more types and ranges of engageable [ballistic missile] targets; with greater probability of kill, and a large increase in defended “footprint” or geography predicted.... The SM-3 Blk II/IIA missile with it[s] full 21-inch propulsion stack provides the necessary fly out acceleration to engage IRBM and certain ICBM threats.
The AEGIS BMD system has been tested 18 times, 14 successful. 2 of the tests were Japanese tests, only one of which was successful. A complete list of tests and results can be found here (PDF), and a thorough explanation of the tests can be found here (PDF). Each test gets progressively more realistic, so while the early tests were simplistic, recent tests have been much more realistic to wartime conditions.

Another important note from the Ronald O'Rourke CRS report:
According to estimates from the U.S. intelligence community, the total number of ballistic missiles other than from the United States, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization nations, the Russian Federation, and the People’s Republic of China is over 5,900. Of that number, short and medium-range ballistic missiles represent 99 percent of the total inventory.
That means AEGIS BMD can already intercept 99% of the worlds ballistic missile inventory, and current development plans should they remain on schedule will have the Navy fielding interceptors capable of engaging some ICBMs by 2015.

Limitations and Concerns

AEGIS BMD is the most tested, most capable ballistic missile defense system in the world with the highest success rate in testing, and the only ballistic missile defense system in the world to undergo realistic scenario testing. That does not make it a perfect capability.

AEGIS BMD by design was intended to work in 2 ship pairs, a ship for tracking and a ship for shooting. Additional capabilities have allowed AEGIS BMD to offload either tracking or shooting to other assets, including SBX, USAF/USN aircraft, Cobra Judy, and land based radar/interceptors; networked together to form an integrated network for ballistic missile defense. Absent land based or other supporting assets, ships must be used for both tracking and shooting, and the limited range and speed of existing interceptors means dispersion of naval assets is required for greater coverage, and ICBMs cannot be intercepted except in terminal phases during flight at this time.

Navy ships, both US and international, use the SPY S-band radar that can support AEGIS BMD. AEGIS BMD is said to be much more capable when networked with a X-band radar system. This suggests in the future the much maligned DDG-1000, which has both a S-band and X-band radar system, would be an excellent addition to a BMD network. Additionally, the same radar intended for the DDG-1000 is planned for the Ford class CVN, and would give Carrier Strike Groups a mobile X-Band radar system to support AEGIS BMD interceptors.

If the Navy must sustain presence for AEGIS BMD in the European theater to protect the United States from ICBM attack in the 2020 time frame, it could require as many as 4-5 ships on station. This would be 1 in the Persian Gulf and 1 in the Black Sea to act as launch detection and tracking ship, and 3 in the northern Atlantic/Baltic seas for intercept along potential trajectory. In order to support 5 ships on station without land based support, the Navy would actually require at least 15 AEGIS BMD capable ships to support 6 month on station/12 month off station rotations and factor maintenance and upgrades. More land based or alternative assets to support regional roles for detection/intercept would reduce this requirement.

By contrast, the six Japanese AEGIS ships when upgraded with AEGIS BMD capability could sufficiently protect almost all of Japan from North Korean ballistic missiles by maintaining only one ship into the Sea of Japan. Spain, South Korea, and Japan are the only countries currently able to support AEGIS BMD upgrades to their ships. The Australian Hobert class, based on Spain's F-100 frigates, can also be upgraded. Ships like Norway's Fridtjof Nansen class that uses the smaller SPY-F radar cannot support AEGIS BMD.

The AEGIS BMD system appears to be slowly becoming an important capability of the US Navy's workhorse Arleigh Burke destroyer platform. Arleigh Burke destroyers today are heavily utilized for a variety of roles, for example, the USS Bainbridge (DDG 96) famous for the rescue of Maersk Alabama Captain Phillips, will be an AEGIS BMD warship in the future. Ballistic Missile Defense carries a high demand for ships, the same ships already in high demand for escorting high value units like aircraft carriers and amphibious ships. The existing AEGIS force is already tasked at around 160% because the Arleigh Burke destroyer is the Navy's current workhorse for everything.

Congress should not be fooled by the hastily thrown together decision of reforming the LCS acquisition program on the eve of the huge East European BMD announcement, which appears clearly orchestrated by the Navy information folks to insure any analysis of the LCS program is lost in the 24/7 news cycle. It is highly suspect to believe that somehow the low endurance Littoral Combat Ship will make up for the global presence requirement current filled by the high endurance Arleigh Burke destroyer in remote places like Africa and South America, particularly when the mission modules of anti-submarine, anti-surface, and mine warfare are specific requirements to the same places where BMD is necessary; near China, Iran, and North Korea.

As the Navy is assuming a new role with Arleigh Burke destroyers, what platform has the endurance to make up for the presence requirements? Unless the Navy intends to build a new ship class, or the Coast Guard intends to increase the number of National Security Cutters, it would appear the Amphibious Ship is about to become the maritime ambassador conducting naval diplomacy globally, as it is the only other ship type that can independently operate with the endurance necessary to sustain global presence. It may sound strange, but given the nature of global terrorism and the engagement requirements by our global partners, in conjunction with an expanded JHSV force it may just be the perfect solution.

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