Missile Defense Only on Ships? Here’s why not!

H/T to tfhr over at Flopping Aces

Putting the Missile Defense on naval ships is problematic because:

♦Positioning ships and maintaining them on station indefinitely is problematic.

♦Weather impacts ships much more dramatically than ground launched systems.

♦We simply cannot exert enough influence in Turkey to be certain that we can count on them for our defense, to say nothing of political, cultural, and religious issues simmering there.

♦If Turkey is pressured into denying access to the Black Sea to our ships, what then?

♦The Eastern Mediterranean may be an effective location to provide some support for Israel, Spain, Italy or France but what about the other countries, including the United States?


♦The ground based interceptors were also intended to defend against ICBMs headed over Europe on their way to strike targets in North America. That doesn’t make the Mediterranean a good choice to plot an interception.

♦Those interceptors on the Aegis class ships are great when they’re in the flight path, particularly at the earliest stages of a launch. We see that with their application against North Korea. Deploying those same ships to the Persian Gulf or the Baltic Sea does not necessarily put them in a good position to attempt an intercept.

♦Aegis is a very expensive system that involves more than 600 different contracting entities by itself. Ships are maintenance intensive, spending months in dry docks or at pier side, and require more personnel to operate than land systems. The rotation of crews for training and rest is another factor to be considered. At the very least, the USN will need to increase the size of it’s current fleet of Aegis equipped vessels and add the corresponding personnel to compliment them. The process will take a great deal of money and a long, long time.

♦Keep in mind that those land based interceptors were designed and intended to intercept missiles in a completely different phase of flight than the missiles in Aegis. The systems should be paired up and complimentary.

Like Obama’s flawed assessments of the efficacy and savings of his health care boondoggle, the Obama-shield or Obambrella© missile defense will cost more than promised and leave dangerous gaps in coverage. Yes, there is certainly an analogy present in this latest gaffe from the White House. Obama’s claim that Aegis will be a cheaper, “lighter”, more “flexible” alternative needs more scrutiny and is likely to not be any of those things. My personal experience with military systems, equipment, and programs touted as “lighter and more flexible” usually means that something else is sacrificed that you’ll wish you had when the going gets ugly. And nothing in the military gets cheaper with time.

♦♦The financial cost of relying on a single system like Aegis will be staggering but the costs should that single system fail, could be incalculable.

♦Positioning ships close enough to Iran would make them more vulnerable to attack by Iranian forces using swarm tactics, mines, submarines, anti-ship cruise missiles and just about any other means they might consider. Placing ships close enough to be effective against an Iranian launch pushes both countries that much closer to pulling the trigger as the Iranians would no doubt consider a serious deployment as a provocation.

The whole thing is just a stupid idea that was most likely moved up to the date it was actually announced for the single purpose of knocking down the ACORN embarrassment to whatever extent possible. Why else on earth would you pick the anniversary of the very day that Poland was invaded by the Soviet Union to tell Warsaw, “Sorry, but we can’t be there for you” and the other European sacrificial lamb of WWII, Prague, “It’s time for ‘Appeasement in Our Time’”?

If I only could convince myself that this administration was not capable of doing worse, I might be able to sit for another three years with some worry but I know they’re only just getting started and I am very concerned about the next miscalculation.


And more technical reasons WHY NOT!

Let’s talk some about the technical aspects of the problem. The technology that allows the missiles launched from an Aegis equipped surface ship is the same for Patriot, Arrow and all other anti-ballistic missiles that use kinetic energy to destroy their targets. If an ABM uses a proximity fused warhead, so much the better but it will still rely on critical components in the process such as phased array radars, data links, kinetic kill vehicles, sensors, etc., of which there are commonalities amongst ABMs. These things have been around for more than two decades and are steadily improving with time due to advances in software, sensors, propulsion, communications and miniaturization.

The difference that you don’t seem to appreciate is when the interception takes place. If the missile is being engaged in the boost phase, it is an endo-atmospheric intercept. This is the best time because the missile is at it’s lowest performance aspects, more likely to be over territory not of your own, and most easily located with IR sensors in addition to radar. The ballistic missile’s warhead and additional stages are still together presenting a larger more vulnerable target, the engine is burning at it’s hottest, yet it moving slower than at other times along the flight path. This is a good time for a smaller, shorter range ABM like those capable of being launched from a ship or aircraft to be put to the task.

The problem is that the opportunity to engage that missile in the boost phase is very limited by both time and geography. The total time of flight of a missile launched from inside Russia might last about 30 minutes but the boost phase is probably limited to about 300 seconds. The likely launch locations of Russian ICBMs all but precludes any opportunity to target them during the first few minutes, the boost phase. The first real opportunity to engage Russian missiles directed at the United States would be exo-atmospheric. That period might last around 25 minutes or so to be followed by the reentry of the warhead, representing the last chance. An Iranian ICBM would present a similar profile if launched at the United States

To engage that same missile further along the flight path presents a more difficult challenge and requires an interceptor with greater range and performance but this had already been done as far back as June 1984 using a highly modified Minuteman ICBM. Your snarky comment that the “poor things do not work” reveals a level of ignorance of the subject matter that is certainly of no surprise but also a sickening attitude that is first dismissive of tremendous technical accomplishments by those engaged in defending Americans from future ballistic missile threats and second, a level of frivolous disregard for the potential of systems like mid-course interceptors to deter threat nations from pursuing developmental programs now and in the

ST. LOUIS, Sept. 28, 2007 — The Boeing Company [NYSE: BA], working with industry teammates and the U.S. Missile Defense Agency, successfully completed a missile defense flight test today that resulted in the intercept of a target warhead and demonstrated the capability and reliability of the nation’s only defense against long-range ballistic missiles.

The test of the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system began at 4:01 p.m. Eastern when a long-range ballistic missile target lifted off from the Kodiak Launch Complex in Alaska. Seventeen minutes later, military operators launched an interceptor from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. As the interceptor flew toward the target, it received target data updates from the upgraded missile-warning radar at Beale Air Force Base, Calif. After flying into space, the interceptor released its exoatmospheric kill vehicle, which proceeded to track, intercept and destroy the target warhead.

The test, GMD’s seventh intercept overall, was the second intercept with an operationally configured interceptor since September 2006.

Feel free to read more about it at http://www.boeing.com/defense-space/space/gmd/news/2007/q3/070928c_nr.html

Much of the tap dancing on this issue centers on claims that the Iranians are far from developing an ICBM capable of hitting the United States. That may be true today but what about 2011 or any other imaginable date in the next five years? What guarantee can you give us here, right now, that if Iran does develop or acquire a missile that falls just short of ranging targets in the continental United States that Hugo Chavez will never buy a play set of his own from Tehran? Is it sound policy to wait until the threat is realized before measures are taken to mitigate it? Do you think it is a good idea to advertise a vulnerability and an unwillingness to correct it in a world where history repeatedly shows that miscalculations by attackers and the attacked, lead to devastating losses?

The technology has existed for more than 25 years to perform an exo-atmospheric intercept but the political will to refine and deploy that technology in the defense of the United States has been successfully broken time and time again. During this time we have seen more and more nations acquire the means to deliver dangerous payloads to distant targets while we’ve done nearly nothing to protect our own country.

Mid-course interceptions – the first real opportunity to engage Soviet/Russian ICBMs and the likeliest opportunity to intercept Iranian missiles targeting the United States – has been a controversial point not just because of the technical challenges involved but because this did threaten to weaken Moscow’s nuclear option depending on the degree and locations to which it would be deployed.

To engage the missile and war heads upon reentry is the most difficult. Decoys can still be deployed as in the mid-course phase, flight patterns can become erratic, missiles break apart creating clouds of possible targets, warheads may maneuver independently, and worst of all, the amount of time to engage the target will almost certainly be less than two minutes. Couple the uncertainty of locating and hitting the target with the certitude that if it is engaged, it will be done so over friendly territory.

Your choices are:

A. Engage the missile during the boost phase if you are sufficiently forewarned, as with North Korea, and able to get your interceptors close enough to the flight path for the first two or three minutes of the launch. North Korea uses the multi-stage, liquid fueled Taepodong and geography favors a sea based intercept attempt.

B. Engage the missile during mid-course. Launch detection will start the process but the time of flight is significantly longer. If a missile were to have been unsuccessfully engaged during the boost phase, more attempts could be made at this point before the missile and warhead began reentry over friendly territory.

C. Rely on point defenses but accept that wreckage and warheads will likely fall on friendly territory. Also accept that if point defenses are destroyed or rendered inoperable during the first strike, all subsequent missiles delivered against that target will be uncontested.

D. All of the above. A layered, integrated defense combining opportunities to engage an enemy missile throughout it’s flight profile maximized the likelihood of a successful interception.

E. Pre-emptive strike. If a threat nation puts it’s missile forces on alert or displays actions associated with pre-launch activity such as deploying mobile missile systems, use of specialized meteorological sensors, warhead transfers and/or mating, dispersal of national command authority, etc., then our own national command authority, namely the President, SECDEF, JCS, etc., will have to make a decision based largely on the number of observed indicators listed above. Is the threat country preparing to launch a first strike? How many options does the President have at his disposal at that exact moment? One Aegis equipped ship bobbing in sea state 6 conditions in the Mediterranean, Baltic or Black Seas is not the best we can do but it would push the President closer to having to consider a preemptive strike to deter a launch.

Why trade away options for deterrence when you do not have to? If you do decide to cancel a valuable program, shouldn’t you at least get something of value in return? I don’t deny the controversy inherent in deploying such a system in Poland. The controversy will also exist with a Black Sea or Baltic deployment of Aegis equipped ships as well if the Russians choose to make it an issue. Why not use the Ground Based Interceptor deployment as a bargaining chip to persuade the Russians from selling nuclear technology and more advance weapons to Iran and Venezuela?

You mentioned some other points in comment #27 that I address here:

Please be specific with your claim that the USN ” knows about [vulnerabilities] and is taking steps to overcome them.”

Gates also recommended the GBI deployment in the first place, correct? He has backed the Poland deployment as well as the GBIs at Fort Greeley, Alaska. He has a new boss now.

“Lots of foreign bases”? Two does not constitute a “a lot” in my book but having two or three ships to maintain a rotation to cover a single station in the Eastern Med, Black Sea, Baltic Sea, Taiwan, North Korea, AND maintain adequate Aegis coverage of fleet operations around the globe, including the protection of aircraft carriers and other surface ships and strategic targets, is ” a lot” and is very expensive.

I believe an opportunity was missed here and I think we are more vulnerable for it.


Posted on September 19, 2009, in Missile Defense. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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