Large Number Of Aegis Ships Would Be Needed To Shield Europe: Admiral
It would take a large number of U.S. Navy Aegis weapons system ships to shield Europe against enemy missiles from the Middle East, if the United States attempted to use the sea-based system to guard Europe instead of the Ground-based Midcourse missile Defense (GMD) system proposed for the Czech Republic and Poland.
That was the assessment of Rear Adm. Alan B. Hicks, program director of the Aegis ballistic missile defense (BMD) system, in a symposium of the George C. Marshall Institute, a Washington think tank, held at the National Press Club.
His comments, in response to an audience question, came after some lawmakers in Congress who oppose the European GMD plan have suggested that it could be killed in favor of using Aegis ships to protect Europe from missile attacks.
"Certainly by the near-term capability, between now and 2015, that’s a lot of ships, and I wouldn’t recommend it," he said.
Further, those ships wouldn’t be stationed in an ideal location, so that the interceptors they would fire to take down enemy weapons would "run out of juice" in pursuing those threats, he explained.
He added, though, that the Aegis sea-based system could be deployed as a complement to the European GMD system when the ships aren’t needed for other missions. The European GMD system has yet to win final approval from the Czechs and Poles.
One key point is that it is not a stretch for the GMD system, with a radar in the Czech Republic and 10 interceptors in silos in Poland, to provide 24-7 protection of Europe. But it would be difficult to have a sufficient number of ships on station, on point, all the time, he said.
Hicks also reported that all 18 Navy ships slated for the Aegis BMD upgrade will have that task complete within a year or two, but added that it is critical to proceed with developing the CG (X) next-generation cruiser, a ship that will evolve from the soon-to-be-built DDG 1000 destroyer.
It is important, he cautioned, that CG (X) provide the capabilities required not only for defense against enemy missiles, but also against cruise missiles; that CG (X) be "affordable," and that it fit in with the industrial base. Currently, only General Dynamics Corp. [GD] unit Bath Iron Works shipbuilding and Northrop Grumman Corp. [NOC] unit Ship Systems have the capability to produce Navy ships such as destroyers and cruisers. It is critical for the United States to retain the ability to build such warships, he said.
He cautioned, however, that the Navy shouldn’t attempt to go with a radically advanced radar for CG (X), at least not initially. Rather, he said, it might be wiser to go with incremental upgrades, steadily improving radar technology on the future cruiser that will take shape in the next decade, just as the existing Aegis system on cruisers and destroyers today has been upgraded steadily over two decades.
"Lots of people want to build this incredible radar," Hicks said. On the one hand, he sees that as a valid eventual goal. But "I do believe you need to get there in a stepped function. Jumping to a radar that is three generations ahead in one leap is going to be terribly challenging, and may drive costs" skyward, imperiling the need to make CG (X) affordable, he said. "So we need to be very careful how we get a risk-reduction package to get to that cruiser," perhaps by using existing radar technology as a base to help reduce that development risk, he said, pointing to the success of the Aegis modernization program.
"The nation needs this cruiser for a lot of reasons," he said.
In this development effort, it is important to discuss it with allied nations early in the program, so that they can see how it might fit in with their needs to defend against ballistic missile threats, and "to offer them opportunities to be part of this development," he said.
"There will be a demand to want to go do this," he predicted. It will help to point out to other nations that they can have ships able to do both traditional missions and ballistic missile defense as well.
And Hicks said that Iran and North Korea have the will to continue efforts to build long-range missiles, threatening developed nations, though he declined in response to a question to say just where North Korea is in developing a missile capable of striking targets in North America.
Iran has launched multiple missiles in a single test; launched a missile from a submerged submarine; and obstinately rejects U.S., United Nations and other entreaties to cease producing nuclear materials that Iran says are for electrical power generation but which Western nations fear will be used in building nuclear weapons. As well, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has said Israel should be wiped from the map.
As for North Korea, it has fired multiple missiles in a single test, although the one longest-range weapon failed just after launch, and it has built nuclear weapons and test- detonated one underground. North Korea also fired a missile that arced over Japan and landed in the sea.
"There appears to be the will to press forward with their technology, both on the North Korean and Iranian" governments, Hicks said.
Hicks also said Japan is very interested in the Aegis program.
He noted that the Japanese Aegis ship Kongo will lead in a BMD test next month, and that it has participated in past Aegis tests conducted by the United States.
He also said extra funding provided by Congress has proved useful in facilitating program acceleration.