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We held our 58th Congressional Roundtable Virtual last Thursday March 21st, From Rhetoric to Weapons – The U.S. Navy is Kinetically Defending Sea Lines. Highlights, transcripts, and links below:

“Yesterday, I had the opportunity to sit behind Admiral Aquilino at the posture hearings at the House Armed Service Committee. And what it stands out from our Congress, and I’m going to say rhetoric, but from our Congress, from the leadership, is that we are not in regional fights with regional enemies. This is a global fight. This is a global movement, where Russia, China, North Korea and Iran share technologies. And specifically, just from our perspective, they are sharing with creating drones, creating missiles, ballistic missiles. They are sharing those lessons learned. And if you look at what’s going on in Ukraine, they are producing drones by the thousands. They’re on 24 hour shifts. That technology, it’s not the technology, it’s how they do it, has been proliferated to Iran, to proliferate North Korea. You’re getting just a maximum amount of proliferation of cheap capabilities that we are seeing being distributed around the world and against us.

Because from that perspective, it is a cost curve. When you have a $10,000 weapon coming at you and you’ve got to shoot it down … and we have obviously some cheap weapons, but in depth, we end up, if you don’t have enough, we end up shooting $200,000 missiles or the Coyote system or the Roadrunner or the SM-2 or the … It just goes on. And we have to do that. The cost of a $4 million, $2 million is still worth the cost of saving 300 sailors on a $2.5 billion ship. That’s worth it. But we are not winning this cost curve, and we’ve got to figure out a way to be able to reduce the cost of kinetic energy intercepts, reduce non-kinetic interceptors and put them more in the field to at least equal that cost of intercept. And you just can’t ignore it.

Just like Ukraine. They lost their Patriot radar because they flew 75 missiles drones at that radar, and they were able to successfully take out 72 of them and they emptied their entire inventory, but two got through and did the job. It’s also about being able to have enough capacity, as well as cheap capacity to go with it to get this moving. Without a doubt, our US Navy has the best weapon system for integrated, layered missile defense in the world. And they did that because they had to do with to protect the sea lanes. And the sea lanes have been challenged since the early ’70s and continue to be challenged. And so our Navy with MDA has developed the best ever layered missile defense system that goes all the way from space, all the way to a Gatling gun, if it gets close to the ship. And it is our best system.

And we’re seeing that challenged. We’re seeing the USS Carney in the Red Sea, and it’s been kicking ass. Excuse me, it is been winning. And in fact, we have our missile defender of the year, by the way, the MDAA Missile Defender of the Year, she is the lieutenant commander of the fire control. I think it’s Rebecca Fleming is on that ship. But the Navy is head of everybody in a single platform defending international sea lanes. This is where we want to go at. We want to ask our practitioners and experts in this panel to lean into this and give us solutions, give us what the problem sets are, and how we move to protect our Navy, but also how do we use those technologies to go elsewhere in the land and all the fight to be able to integrate.”

  • Mr. Riki Ellison, From Rhetoric To Weapons – The U.S. Navy Is Kinetically Defending Sea Lines

“We actually have just proven the value of missile defense. Because otherwise any terrorist group, any small group, could shut down sea lanes globally. If you think about that impact, particularly in today’s world where a terrorist group is not necessarily confined to a particular territory, and obviously, with communications today, things could be coordinated. Multiple, multiple sea lanes and choke points could be shut down all at once. Except, we do have missile defense. And we have air and missile defense, Aegis Weapon System on board our Aegis destroyers and cruisers, that provide that capability for the sea lanes to continue to be open and operate.

We have over 100-plus attacks total. The mix of those is drone attacks, anti-ship cruise missiles and anti-ship ballistic missiles, which the Houthis did not make themselves. All that, most of that given to them. And so they’re operating on behalf of Iran and some others in order to make a point and shut down the sea lanes and shut down international trade. And we’re talking about one out of six, one out of seven tons go through the Bab el Mandeb and the Red Sea for trade. That’s a huge chunk of world trade. This local event could have had a global effect, and instead it’s been highly mitigated by the air and missile defense of the United States Navy.

I think that’s a tribute to the work the Navy has done over the past, really 34 years, and how seriously we take air and missile defense. It’s a tribute that we built on the air defense capability of Aegis and went the extra step with the ballistic missile defense. And frankly, with the Missile Defense Agency, having now investing in the light phase interceptor and Aegis weapon system, we’re going to extend that capability again. So we’re going from anti-ship drone and anti-ship cruise missile to hypersonic missile defense, all the way up to ballistic missile defense. All on the fighting integers, individual ships, which will have the full capability. At the end of the day, that’s a tremendous asset, not just for the Navy, but also for the combatant commanders as well as the nation.

“Real quick, real quick, what we know from the Red Sea is Air and Missile Defense did exactly what it was supposed to do, which was to buy time for national decision making. And it has done that in spades and it’s doing it, not just day after day, but now week after week and month after month. Missile Defense has served its primary purpose of giving strategic time for strategic national decision making. That’s critical. That’s number one, actually, of why we need Air and Missile Defense. Then you get to the tactical piece, then you get to the rest of it-”

  • Rear Admiral (Ret.) Tom Druggan, From Rhetoric To Weapons – The U.S. Navy Is Kinetically Defending Sea Lines

“My personal opinion is we’re working offensive hypersonics like a drunken sailor. We had eight systems, we’re down to seven. We might be down to six soon, but we’re going to end up with three or four because I can count three or four services and every service wants a bite in this game. Even the Marine Corps is going to try to figure out how to be there, but the Navy, Air Force and Army each could have weapon systems. There may be multiple ones in the Air Force particularly, but the bottom line is we’re building three, four, five different hypersonic attack systems. We’re getting up towards the six, eight billion a year in spending on that. We’re definitely four to five billion right now. And yet we’re spending on the hypersonic missile defense effector, DOD’s persistent input is 195 to 250 million a year. Look, I’m not a rocket scientist like Tom, but I can tell that if you’re spending four billion to six billion on one end and 200 million on the stop-them end, you’re out of sync, right?”

“And by the way, the Navy wasn’t stuck with Aegis Ashore. We need to get off of this because the Navy has adopted a framework that Aegis Ashore is bad. As a result, our submarine base in Guam is not defended. If the Navy had allowed Aegis Ashore to go into Guam three years ago, when the CNO was asked, and ran from it, like it was a case of COVID on the Theodore Roosevelt, we’d be in a much better position. We would be building a deck house now with a Spy-6 or Spy-7 radar on it. We would have a VLS installed, we’d have an Aegis C2 installed, and we’d be able to shoot down ballistic and cruise missiles, we’d have to do some overlay and testing, and we’d be in a position where we could put-

I blame the Navy for this. DOD made the final bad decision and they were given bad advice by JIAMDO, but in the end, the Navy, taking one step back when they said any volunteers, please step one, step forward, really didn’t help the joint force here. And, look, getting sailors to live in Guam is not a problem. This was a complete misunderstanding of the challenge facing them that we have in Poland and Romania. We’re getting sailors to go on TDYs, that is painful. Guam is a well-respected and reasonably easily filled spot and we would’ve had no trouble getting sailors from Japan to come over to Guam to man that. That was a complete fiasco and we’re suffering for it. All the questions that we got ahead of time from people had to do with why couldn’t we defend Guam and what’s the Navy doing to defend Guam. My answer is that we made a mistake five years ago. I’m sorry. About four years ago, the Navy did, and we’re living with it now because that was amplified by JIAMDO and the Office of the Secretary Defense.”

“I’ll just say, look, again, what I would say is our sailors and officers have done a fantastic job in the Red Sea. I think they’ve been managed well, and this includes the one striking targets in Yemen every 48 to 72 hours. But the kind of whack-a-mole we’re doing in Yemen, and that’s not cheap either, and expending weapons at sea, there is a way to be slightly more cost-effective, and that’s to shoot the logistics train en route. And we’ve got to remind ourselves… And, look, I get we can’t strike Iran proper, but we could do a lot short of that, and we should be doing more to make it a little bit safer and less expensive for all of us.”

  • Rear Admiral (Ret.) Mark Montgomery, From Rhetoric To Weapons – The U.S. Navy Is Kinetically Defending Sea Lines

“That’s wonderful. Just like all of you said, the integration of offense and defense with offensive strike and defensive is the way to play the game. It’s the way to win the game to reduce the cost, but we’re seeing that with Navy first. I think we’re seeing that integrated fires with Navy on these ships. Awesome to pinpoint the Red Sea strategies and what we’re doing there with the ships there and also give a bigger perspective on the deterrent of China with what we’re doing. You laid out really distinctly that we have engineering capability ready to go, that we can move that ball from hypersonic glide strike from 34, 35 to 29. This laid out the case. You laid out the case, Mark laid out the case. That gap’s got to come to that side. And I think that the discussions of cost efficiency was a great perspective for everybody to understand and, really, the leadership of the US Navy and doing this besides the Aegis Ashore movement, which delayed the Guam movement, that was also a very interesting perspective and probably fact, there, of why we may not have Guam defended by ’27. Just a great discussion. This is why we’re doing this kind of stuff.”

  • Mr. Riki Ellison, From Rhetoric To Weapons – The U.S. Navy Is Kinetically Defending Sea Lines


Rear Admiral (Ret.) Tom Druggan

Senior Associate, Center for Strategic and International Studies

Former Program Executive. Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense, Missile Defense Agency

Rear Admiral (Ret.) Mark Montgomery

Senior Fellow, Foundation for Defense of Democracies

Former Director of Operations, U.S. Pacific Command

Mr. Riki Ellison

Chairman and Founder

Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance

Click here to watch the virtual event

Click here to read the transcript

Mission Statement

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.