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Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy (IRGCN) vessels conduct unsafe and unprofessional actions against against the USS Paul Hamilton (DDG 60) in the Arabian Gulf on April 15, 2020. (Photo: DVIDS - U.S. Naval Forces Central Command / U.S. 5th Fleet)

Iranian calculated strategic application of force on force, cost curve tactics to challenge the United States is on, above, around and across the Arabian Gulf in demonstration to the GCC and the United States of power projection. Iranian deployment of multitudes of small gun boats to harass U.S. Destroyers, recent ballistic missile strikes on US Forward Operating bases coupled with striking GCC Oil facilities and oil tankers with 360 UAVs/Cruise Missiles amplifies its capabilities and capacity. Recent bullying tactics in the key waters in the Arabian Gulf highlight the criticality of continuing to build, maintain, evolve and deploy the U.S. Navy’s Aegis BMD Cruisers and Destroyers.

The United States Navy floats multiple singular dynamic platforms on the Arabian Gulf in its Aegis Ships with 360 multi mission capability that are able to defeat, negate and strike Iran’s wide range of force projection on the Arabian Gulf today. These U.S. Aegis Destroyers and Cruisers are assigned to the U.S. 5th Fleet based in Bahrain and are in continual rotation from the Naval Surface Forces Atlantic and Pacific.

There is no match to the Aegis BMD Ship from Iran but to attempt overmatch in flaunting swarming of cheap missiles and launching platforms in a non-first fire restricted rules of engagement environment that the United States has abided by until last week, with support of this change in strategy from defense officials. Not only can these Aegis BMD ships defend themselves from underwater and overwater threats, they defend a mobile area of choice 360 degrees from small rockets, UAVs, cruise missiles to ballistic missiles, they can lethally strike quickly and accurately right up close to hundreds of miles away and everything in between. They are equipped with the MK41 Vertical Launching System (VLS) with 96 cells for Destroyers and 122 cells for Cruisers, capable of employing a variety of multi-mission ordnance to include all versions of Standard Missile (SM6/SM3/SM2) and Evolved Sea Sparrow Integrated Air and Missile Defense; Tomahawk Land Attack Cruise Missile for offensive Strike Operations; and Vertically Launched Anti-Submarine Rockets (ASROC). Here are a few of the 18 plus Multi Missions each ship does to negate and strike the threats.

Counter high speed small boat swarms – There are multiple defensive systems that, in combination provide robust options.  They include longer range large caliber guns with a gun fire control system capable of automated detection and tracking of surface targets, ranging out to line of sight and can employ a selection of ammunition.  The Close in Weapon System (CWIS) Vulcan Phalanx, originally intended to provide point defense against anti-ship cruise missiles was upgraded in the 1990’s to provide an anti-surface mode specifically intended to counter small boat attacks.  The inner line of defense includes a variety of crew served weapons to include 32mm chain guns on port and starboard sides and multiple 50 caliber mounts around the ship’s sides. In addition to the weapon system options in the ship, many of these ships carry two MH-60R helicopters that are armed with Hellfire missiles and crew served 50 caliber guns.

Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) Threat Defense – The US Navy has begun to deploy electronic jamming techniques capable of interrupting controlled flight of remotely or automated controls of UAV’s as demonstrated recently in an incident in the Arabian Gulf between USS BOXER (LHD-6) and an Iranian small UAV.  Emerging tactics with UAV swarms as demonstrated in Saudi Arabia indicate a rapidly emerging need for this capability on Aegis Ships as well as the rest of the Strike Group assets.

Traditional and non-traditional larger surface ship attacks – The main battery is the large caliber (5”/54 Cal) gun with its Gun Fire Control System.  For longer range, Standard Missile 6 has an anti-surface mode controlled by the Aegis Weapon System (AWS).  These systems are interfaced with the Command and Decision System resident in the AWS for coordinated fires.  In addition, the embarked helicopters are connected by datalink to coordinate targeting and engagement.  The AWS also has a datalink integrated to coordinate with other ships and aircraft in long range surveillance and engagement coordination.

Anti-Ship and Land Attack Cruise Missiles – Aegis ships have a layered defense capability as well as an area defense set of options against these threats.  For anti-ship cruise missiles this fully integrated set of options include both hard kill and soft kill/decoy employments.  For longer range engagements for area battle force defense, littoral coast, and self-defense the Aegis Weapon System employs Standard Missiles (SM) in two variants.  SM6 is capable for very long range engagements and is fully integrated to the Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC) for over the horizon engagements supported by carrier Air Early Warning Aircraft.  SM2 can effectively engage both subsonic and supersonic missiles and aircraft from a few KM out beyond 100 KM. For self-defense, the Aegis System also is capable of deploying Evolved Sea Sparrow Missiles for very close in targets and CIWS provides point defense if required.  The Aegis system has programable capabilities to increase automation from “Man in the loop” to full automation in the event of mass raids. On Soft Kill, these ships have electronic surveillance and attack capabilities that can detect, identify, and jam incoming missiles.

Ballistic Missile Defense – 37 Aegis Destroyers and 5 Aegis Cruisers have been upgraded to provide Area and Regional Ballistic Missile Defense applicable to the Arabian Gulf Area of Operation.  The leverage upgraded software and SPY1 Phased Array Radar performance, coupled with SM3 Exo-Atmospheric and SM6 Endo-Atmospheric missiles top provide midcourse and terminal defense against Short Range (SRBM) up through Intermediate Range Ballistic Missiles (IRBM).

Power Projection – Power projection is a key capability in response to aggression on the part of Iran.  Aegis Combatants, in addition to having the full set of defensive capabilities as describe are capable of offensive response against launch platforms and Command and Control nodes land based both as a single ship option or fully integrated joint battle force action.  Long range options are built around the Tomahawk Land Attack Cruise Missiles with its own interfaced Weapon System to Aegis. Shorter range options are included in attack modes of the SM6 for terrestrial targets and the large Caliber Gun can be deployed up to 12 NM of the ship.

Command and Control (C2) – The challenge of the regional defense in the Middle East is the ability to coordinate both defensive and offensive operations across the large range of threats that Iran is capable of deploying and complicated by terrorist organizations.  It requires these ships to be able to participate and relay on centralized C2 for long range and ballistic missile defense coordination while seamlessly being able to shift to federated C2 for robust areas defense and local C2 for self-defense operations.  The core to Aegis multi-mission ships is the Command and Decision element of the Aegis system.  It is interfaced with the key self-defense systems in the ship to include the Gun System, the Tomahawk land attack cruise missile system, close in weapons, and electronic surveillance/attack system.  It also has a datalink interfaced for its embarked helicopters.  To support federated operations with the Battle Force it is fully integrated with datalink both “Line of Sight” and “Beyond Line of Sight” (BLOS) for area defense operations.  For Ballistic Missile Defense, datalink capabilities provide a key connection to the centralized C2 provided by C2BMC.  Backing up these “Real Time” weapons employment capabilities are Web enabled Global C2 functions for joint battle space awareness and coordination.

Continued investments in these robust multi-mission ships in capacity and capabilities are critical in providing the mobility and flexibility required by CENTOCM and other combatant commanders across the globe to deal with the continually evolving threats across all warfare domains.  The wide ranging geography of the battle space they face demands continued development of force integration with all manned,  unmanned, and space based assets, expanding “real time” situational awareness and integrated fire control concepts such as “engage on remote” to a full capability of “any sensor, any shooter.”  These capabilities today rely on aging datalinks and cooperative engagement capability (CEC) communications that have been leveraged to meet these early integrated fire control capabilities. The future will require continued development of hardened data sharing concepts, capable of fire control quality inputs to every asset in the battle space.

There are 42 Aegis BMD ships with a request of 60 ships  to have Aegis BMD capability by 2023. An average of 2 modernizations of in service Aegis Ships and 1 new construction ship a year continues to increase capacity.

Aegis is the Bridge over Troubled Waters

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MDAA’s mission is to make the world safer by advocating for the development and deployment of missile defense systems to defend the United States, its armed forces and its allies against missile threats.

MDAA is the only organization in existence whose primary mission is to educate the American public about missile defense issues and to recruit, organize, and mobilize proponents to advocate for the critical need of missile defense. We are a non-partisan membership-based and membership-funded organization that does not advocate on behalf of any specific system, technology, architecture or entity.