I watch with mixed horror and fascination the posturing of North Korea. This has been going on so long, it’s hard to take it seriously. But of course, such blatant threats can’t be completely ignored, and SECDEF’s recent announcement confirming his intention to expand the US Ballistic Missile Defense capabilities has been met mostly by approval.
Ground base interceptors will increase to from 30 to 44 in Fort Greely, Alaska. Since they expect to have these sites active by 2017, they will probably just move the existing test sites out and make them active, replacing the test sites with new purchases as they go.
Currently, AEGIS ballistic missile defense system capable ships are on constant patrol to counter this threat. It’s a huge demand on Navy resources and with only 16 assigned to the Pacific AOR, the result is a pretty tough maintenance and deployment schedule. However, these ships are multi-mission ships, and locking them into constant BMD assignments is a fleet-wide hardship.
Considering the current climate, the demand for BMD capable ships will probably continue to grow. Japan is spending a considerable amount of their defense resources to build out a BMD capability. Releasing the Cooperative Engagement Capability to Japan would certainly help these allies, but that continues to be mired in bureaucratic red tape. Bilateral relationships between the US and Japan and between the US and South Korea thrive. Trilateral relations between the three countries continue to be unachievable – for political, not technical, reasons. Solving this sticky “access to information” problem would greatly improve the US’s position in the region.
With the Zumwalt Class destroyer curtailed to three ships, the Navy is pondering the possibility of other BMD platform options. Current plans to procure an advanced Air and Missile Defense Radar (AMDR) in the DDG-51 Flight III designs appears to have stalled. The cost and design risks associated with the program will probably scuttle it before it goes anywhere. The AMDR capability, however, is still extremely important. One alternative is to use the COBRA JUDY Replacement as a cheaper alternative.
One of the more interesting ideas that I have heard uses the LPD-17 platform. There are many advantages to outfitting a large deck like this with BMD capability. The existing cruisers and destroyers that are performing the 24X7X365 high op-tempo BMD patrols can be returned to the Navy inventory for other missions. Ship defense systems could be upgraded to keep this high profile national asset secure. The power capabilities of an LPD-17 platform would enable new ideas, such as directed energy options for BMD.
Ron O’Rourke’s just published “Navy DDG-51 and DDG-1000 Destroyer Programs: Background and Issues for Congress”. Like everything he writes, it’s extremely informative and worth the read [find it here]. Now is the time to think out of the box to solve tomorrow’s problems.