Where is the U.S. Army on Cruise Missile Defense?

November 9, 2015

Real Clear Defense:

American servicemembers in Rota, Spain can rest easy. Personnel deployed to Camp Lemonier in Djbouti can likewise sleep soundly at night.  That’s because those are the only two US bases in Europe and the Middle East that are out of the demonstrated range of recently employed Russian cruise missiles launched from Russian territorial waters.  If the Russian Navy lives up to its design potential and leaves its territorial waters, those bases will also be at risk.  In the Pacific, the Chinese cruise missile threat can deliver a clean sweep – there is no permanent US base outside of US sovereign territory that cannot be reached by PLA cruise missiles.  While recently highlighted by Russian missile strikes in Syria, the cruise missile threat has been proliferating rapidly for more than a decade.  And the US Army, which is the DoD component responsible for all ground-based air defense, hasn’t fielded a single system capable of defending US installations against cruise missile attack since the fall of the Soviet Union .  The responsibility for short-range air defense (SHORADS) against cruise missiles has been effectively abandoned.  Rarely has any service so spectacularly dropped the ball on an issue critical to the defense of deployed forces.  Where is the US Army on SHORADS for Cruise Missile Defense?

The demonstration of Russia’s cruise missile capability in Syria on October 7 should not have been as big a surprise as it apparently was.  A Russian Caspian Fleet flotilla of modern, Buyan-class missile corvettes, backed by a Gepard-class Frigate, launched a salvo of 26 Kalibr-NK (SS-N-30A) cruise missiles at targets 900nm distant, in Syria.  Claims of inflight crashes notwithstanding, the majority of those missiles arrived on target with a claimed (but unverified) accuracy of three meters.  This was a stunning combat demonstration from warships assigned to a landlocked body of water on Russia’s southern flank, the largest of which was the 1500-ton Dagestan – a ship roughly half the displacement of the smallest US surface combatants.  Indeed, the US Navy hasn’t built a ship that small since the short-livedClaud Jones-class destroyer escorts commissioned from 1958 to 1960, and has never packed that much firepower into a ship that size.

The use of sea-launched land-attack cruise missiles (LACM) effectively (and legally) evades the restrictions of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces treaty, which banned only ground-launched intermediate range land-attack missiles (cruise and ballistic) with ranges between 500 and 5500 km range.  The SS-N-30A can be launched from submarines of Kilo, Lada, Akula or Yasen-classes or aircraft as well as surface combatants.  Ships capable of firing the missile are assigned to the Pacific, Northern, Black Sea and Caspian fleets, making the system already deployed worldwide.  The People’s Republic of China, on the other hand, is not bound by the INF treaty and has made a heavy investment in land-based LACM, including nuclear-tippedweapons.  The extended range of the DH-10 brings Guam within reach from the Chinese mainland and Hawaii within range of an air launch from an H-6K Badger bomber.

Given the nature of the threat and the time Russia and China have spent developing their cruise missile systems, you might think that the Department of Defense is ahead of the threat.  Indeed, the Navy is engaged in a longstanding upgrade program to defeat antiship cruise missiles with sea-based SHORADS, which has seen fielding of improved variants of the EvolvedSeaSparrow, Rolling Airframe Missile, and the ubiquitous Vulcan-Phalanx, now completing its fourth upgrade sequence to Block 1B configuration.  The Air Force is in the middle of an upgrade program for the radars of the F-15C and F-15E, adding an improved capability against cruise missiles using radar technologies already fielded for the F-18E/F.   The Army, by contrast, is dealing with Cold War-era air defense capabilities that do not include a modernized anti-cruise missile capability.  The deployment of the Theater High-Altitude Air Defense (THAAD) system to Guam in April 2013 was heavily publicized, and the deployment will likely be made permanent.  The movement of THAAD was in response to a notional North Korean threat from the KN-08, a missile with no successful test launches that caused a restrained panic when it was viewed in a North Korean Parade in April 2012, and again this October…

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