Andy Grotto2 Aegis Ships to Defend NATO?

MDA really does need to get its story straight. In November 2007, Rear Admiral Alan B. Hicks, Program Director for Aegis, gave a presentation at the George C. Marshall Institute indicating six Aegis ships armed with the SM-3 Block IB interceptor would be needed to defend NATO.

But replace that interceptor with the upgraded SM-3 Block IIA interceptor that’s in the hopper for delivery by 2016, says Adm. Hicks, and just two Aegis ships are required to provide nearly gapless coverage of Europe. Check it out:

As Jeffrey points out, MDA head Obering told a radically different story just months earlier:

It will require 10 Aegis ships on station with SM-3 Block IIA interceptors to provide 40 to 60% coverage of Europe (central Europe would not be protected). To provide this persistent partial coverage, it would require four rotations for a total of 40 ships dedicated to the European defense.

First forty, then two, now apparently four ships? And 40-60% coverage to nearly complete coverage? I mean, really. Rep Ellen Tauscher (D-CA), chair of the House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee, said it best:

MDA is an agency that needs some adult supervision.


  1. JR (History)

    Gadzooks! In your dealings with the Navy has nobody ever told you? A “boat” is either a submarine or a tiny little thing you’d take fishing; all of the destroyers/cruisers/carriers are “ships”.

  2. FSB

    Defend Europe from what?

    When MDA has gotten comfortable with a, say, 95% efficient coverage (2, 4, or 40 boats….whatever), then the evil Empires will use another delivery method and/or countermeasures.

    How about working out the problems one has with one’s enemies instead of resorting to unworkable, fantastical “defenses” so that one can have the delusion of being able to continue doing whatever one wants with impunity and no regard for others on the globe?

    MDA: Your enemy is not stupid, nor static.

  3. Andy Grotto (History)

    JR —

    doh! you’re right. didn’t meant to rock the boat…

  4. Major Lemon (History)

    “Your enemy is not stupid, nor static”. Well FSB, someone in the script has to be stupid and static.

  5. Anya (History)

    Andy, not to “rock the boat” even more, but you’re citing a presentation from an event put on by the George C. Marshall Institute. Perhaps you should mention that they get paid by Boeing, LM, and the like to write (rather bad) reports and put on events that promote the wares of their funders… All the while marketing themselves as some respectable research outfit.

  6. FSB

    I’m not sure why ACW is even discussing the relative merits of different missile defense systems. Besides boost-phase, I think none of these are a effective, technically, cost-wise or from a proliferation stand-point. (I even have trouble with boost-phase, but purely from a technical stand-point they may be workable in a limited fashion, but not under real-world scenarios). Can we please stop nitpicking different incarnations of BMD and simply agree that there is no merit to any of these?

    There are other people from the media looking to ACW for technical guidance and I don’t think it’s a good idea to give any of these systems even an illusion of a stamp of approval by discussing their relative merits.

    We may as well discuss which animal’s poo stinks least.

  7. Brad Lohaus

    FSB — I would interpret this the opposite way. SM-3 seems like, by far, the MOST competent of all the medium-range missile defense systems, so after under-funding it for years MDA is now scrambling to promote it.

    Ironically, MDA is totally under-funding SM-3 Block IIA now, even as they promote what it will be able to do.

  8. FSB


    my point — and I guess I may have been imprecise in expressing it — was that BMD in any form is nonsensical (does not fully work under real-world surprise attacks, with countermeasures), expensive ($$$$$), and dangerous (promotes adversaries to up the ante by stock-piling and launching more ICBMs).

    MDA should be dis-banded, GBI, AGEIS SM-3 Block IIA, etc. etc. etc.

    All of it is a boondoggle.

  9. Kevin Gamble

    F.S.B., would you also urge the Russians to dismantle their A-135, the successor to the A-35 BMD system that the Kremlin first started building in the 1960s?

    Although you may indeed find Russia’s ABM system to be nonsensical, expensive and dangerous, you have yet to grace us with that criticism. I look forward to that.

    Anyhow, your point is overstated. America’s BMD program (like Russia’s A-135) does not aim to provide full-scale, total protection. It aims only at limited protection, mainly against (a) accidental or unauthorized missile launches, and (b) intentional, numerically small nuclear attacks.

    There’s a fair debate that be had over whether requirements (a) and (b) are worthy objectives; over how much the U.S. should be willing to pay get capabilities to meet requirements (a) and (b), if they are worthy goals; and over whether U.S. ABM will really be dangerous, or whether it is more like Russia’s A-135. Your earnest zeal against U.S. BMD hardly contributes to such a debate.

  10. spaceman africa

    I think FSB’s argument ignores technological progress and the likelihood that the US will continue fighting smaller, less empowered nations.

  11. FSB

    who is going to launch such an attack? The counter-strike deterrance is sufficient that no nation-state will do this.

    Iran and North Korea have turned out to be supreme realists.

    (And lets please keep the racist and wrong “They’re all suicide bombers” talk out off this — that may apply to stateless terrorist rings, but they are not about to manufacture and launch a nuclear-tipped ICBM).

    “I think FSB’s argument ignores technological progress and the likelihood that the US will continue fighting smaller, less empowered nations.”

    Yes, smaller, less empowered nations who will deliver the nukes in a dinghy-boat, as soon as they sense you have an even marginally competent system, which you don’t.

    Google “Fallacy of the last move”.

  12. FSB

    Oh, and, yes, I think the Russian A-135 system is a bad idea, though so small in scope it hardly matters. It is not a big waste of tax payer $$$$$$$$$$ as is MDA.

    Apparently, the Russians think so also and have deactivated the SH-11 exo-atmospheric interceptor part.

    Lets transfer all the $$$$$$ of the MDA into port security, and securing loose nuclear material, and battling nuclear terrorism, and getting more manpower in the state dept. for diplomacy.

  13. ataune (History)

    No state sitting on top of the Iranian plateau has ever had any power projection beyond Eastern Mediteranean shores, never, period. This whole AMD stuff has only 2 purposes: scare off Russia, and keep up the budget tap runing and runing for the military expanditure. It will not provide security against any kind of threat.

  14. Joseph Logan (History)

    It’s probably obvious but bears repeating: Obering does gratuitously bad slides.

  15. Andy (History)

    FSB seems to believe that BMD is useless because no nation-state is going to launch an attack using ballistic missiles for fear of retaliation and therefore any BMD will presumably never be used.

    This assertion begs a question: Why are several nations of limited means putting so much effort into ballistic missiles instead of other military capabilities if they won’t be able to employ them without committing suicide?

    An analysis of the potential answers to that question will, I think, get to the heart of BMD advocates’ reasoning.

  16. FSB

    “Why are several nations of limited means putting so much effort into ballistic missiles instead of other military capabilities if they won’t be able to employ them without committing suicide?”

    Ahem, because like any rational actors they seek deterrence against nation-states like the US and Israel who would, and plan to launch pre-emptive strikes gratuitously.

    Why do nation states like US and Russia put so much effort into having huge arsenals if they don’t plan to use them? Please let’s operate at a slightly higher plane on ACW.

    The US (and likely Israel) fear actual peaceful deterrence since then they will not be able to whatever they want with impunity around the globe, and thus subscribe to the fantastical notion of a magic shield. Maybe the magic shield will stop 1 or 2 missiles; it will not stop 1 sailboat arriving in NYC with a surprise package.

    That currently is the bigger worry, and that is what should be being addressed.

  17. Andy (History)


    You make a strange and inconsistent argument.

    On the one had you say that ballistic missile programs are meant for deterring the US and Israel but missiles are only a delivery platform. You then seem to suggest that a sailboat or dingy is just as good a delivery platform. A boat is also much cheaper, has longer range and greater precision than a missile. Furthermore, Israel already has an ABM system and the US is working on an ABM system. So again, why would a nation of limited means pursue missiles instead of sailboats if the goal was deterrence? Or perhaps missile development programs serve other purposes besides deterrence?

    Furthermore, since missiles are only a means of delivery, and cannot be considered a deterrent by themselves, nuclear weapons are also necessary. Does that mean, in your mind, that a missile program is evidence of (or should be considered evidence of) the existence of a weapons program?

    Additionally, the op-ed you cite (and others I have read over the years) suggest that a nuclear weapon for Iran, at least, is a red line. Crossing this line would result in an attack on Iran. The op-ed you link goes further than most and suggests crossing the line will result in nuclear war. If, as you suggest, deterrence is indeed the goal for a country like Iran, and achieving that goal will bring an attack and possibly nuclear war, then I might suggest that it’s not much of a deterrent after all. IOW, the very act of achieving some kind of limited “deterrent” precipitates the very thing it’s supposed to prevent. One might therefore suggest there is more at play here and that countries like Iran have a different strategic outlook from what we in the west project on them, and higher strategic priorities than deterring hostility from Israel and the US (think Iraq).

    BMD is actually a deterrence strategy – deterrence by denial – as any advocate will tell you. From that perspective, whether a BMD system actually works or not is less important than whether a potential adversary believes it works or not – or at least works well enough to provide that adversary with a reasonable amount of doubt that their attack would succeed. In any event, just like there is more to Iran’s strategic calculus than supposedly deterring the US/Israel, there is more to BMD than mere denial deterrence of Iran or North Korea.

    Finally, since we are operating on a higher plane here, perhaps you could explain what “actual peaceful deterrence” is and how it’s different from punishment or denial deterrence, or even “actual hostile deterrence.” Some differentiation between gratuitous and non-gratuitous pre-emptive strikes would be helpful as well.

  18. FSB

    BMD is a waste of US taxpayer’s money since once it is activated your adversaries can switch tactics: ICBMs to boats.

    See: “Fallacy of the last move”

    Any technical person not in the pay of MDA agrees BMD is boondoggle. See the work of Dick Garwin, Ted Postol and others in the recent issues of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

  19. Andy Grotto (History)

    FSB —

    Aegis is not NMD or GMD. They’re entirely different systems, on different platforms, with different missions. It also works pretty well. (Remember that ASAT operation a few months back?)

  20. FSB

    Andy Grotto,

    but the same limitations (countermeasures being the strongest) apply

    See also the article by Garwin

    And my argument also applies: when AEGIS is activated to “protect” against Iran, Iran can shift tactics.

    Your enemy is not static.

    Let’s put $$$$$ into the real problem: combating nuclear terrorism.

    As regards the USA-193 interception: lets see AEGIS do that with 25 decoys. It was a well-rehearsed interception against a satellite whose orbit was precisely known in advance, and pre-heated by the sun. It shows virtually nothing about the technical feasibility of AEGIS for BMD.

    I am frankly sick of the USA-193 interception being touted as a big success — an even more difficult ASAT interception was done by the US in 1985!

    Great, so we are now where we were in 1985 with AEGIS.

    Bring out the champagne.

  21. Andy (History)


    A big advantage of the AEGIS system is that it has real military utility and a good success record against the Scud-type threats that are quite common and will likely be seen again – that’s in addition to the other capabilities Andy has already discussed, plus the inherent air warfare, battle management, and sea control capabilities and mobility of the the AEGIS platform. That’s true even if one does not believe any further missile defense capability is either desirable or technically achievable.

    The importance of USA-193 is not so much that single technical achievement as much as the future that achievement portends. That’s why I tend to get a bit snarky in these MDA threads – the whole defense-of-Europe-from-the-Iranians story is probably a canard to justify funding for MDA so it can develop the technologies for the real long-term goal, which is space control, of which missile defense is but a small part. For example, STRATFOR came out with the following analysis back in May, 2001:

    Meanwhile, a new threat has emerged: missile-armed “rogue” nations. This threat has in turn raised the prospect of smaller-scale missile defense systems to protect against attacks by an opponent armed with a handful of missiles. The arguments of today’s supporters of missile defense, however, in pre-supposing that a layered defense system costing hundreds of billions of dollars is the only effective strategy, fail the test of reason. And opponents are echoing the old assertions that no system will work and that the real threat today is not from incoming missiles but from “suitcase” bombs. The most effective and cost-effective approach would be for the United States simply to announce that it has the right to conduct pre-emptive, unilateral military operations against ICBM missile sites that pose a threat to its overseas-based military units or the U.S. homeland. The threat from rogue states can be addressed by subsonic Tomahawk or ALCM cruise missiles rather than by resorting to nuclear weapons or even space-based X-ray lasers, the development and deployment costs of which could swallow the entire Pentagon procurement budget. If Washington can succeed politically in revising or even abandoning the ABM Treaty soon, the Bush administration will have successfully set a precedent for the revision of the 1967 treaty barring weapons in space. Thus, domestic opponents of missile defense simply are missing the point, in the same sense that its supporters are sidestepping the real issue.

    Of course we know what did happen to the ABM treaty and I think we can guess why the MDA slides-du-jour are rarely consistent.

    In a few years, maybe sooner, when the hype over Iran calms down, the MDA budget will probably get butchered, but I predict funding for the AEGIS portion will survive in large part because AEGIS is a multi-mission system and it has demonstrated some technical successes.

  22. FSB


    OK agreed AEGIS is perhaps useful for other things besides BMD. I was only talking about its lack of ability to provide defense-of-Europe-from-Iranian-ICBMs-which-are-yet-to-be-made-
    let-alone-nuclear-tipped which appears in so many slides.

    As you recall, the title of this post was protection of NATO. I don’t think they are talking about protection of NATO from Scuds.

    Also, I maintain that Iran would not commit national suicide by launching nuclear ICBMs at its adversaries. We can agree to disagree about this, but I am speaking from several years’ experience living in that country. Ahmedinejad’s rhetoric is nothing new in the middle east. It is indeed terrible that the President of Iran is saying what he is, but you have to remember that in the govt. structure there he is even lower than a Nancy Pelosi in the U.S. He can say he wants to wipe XYZ off of the map, but that does not make it govt policy. The real govt. power is not in his hands.

    Also, I would like to see the evidence you quote about AEGIS’ utility vs. Scud-type missiles, however.

    I am not challenging you, I’m asking if you can point me to some references about this because it is something I have not followed in particular.

    My bottom line is that MDA is a big waste of money: it cannot (conceptually, not technically) work; it encourages adversaries to increase stockpiles; discourages U.S. to engage in meaningful diplomacy (under the misguided illusion of have some protection which in fact does not exist); and, it diverts money from addressing true threats.

    MDA ought to canceled outright as an agency and perhaps only a small research division maintained to play around with few toys to keep some technical expertise in this going. It is a conceptually — as opposed to technically — flawed idea, and basically no more than a conduit for taking $$$$$ from taxpayers and handing them to Raytheon and other defense firms with large lobbying budgets.

    Regarding space control, I can point you to this essay, also in the bulletin.

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