Tag Archives: Aegis

How the Fleet Forgot to Fight, Pt. 4: Technical Standards

Read Part 1 on Combat Training. Part 2 on Firepower. Part 3 on Tactics and Doctrine.

By Dmitry Filipoff


The nature of a system’s technical performance is an important foundation for developing tactics and gauging readiness. Naval warfare is especially technically intensive given that a modern warship is an advanced machine made up of many complex systems.

Combat systems are rapidly evolving in the Information Age and are frequently upgraded through new software updates. This adds to the challenging of maintaining current skills and can require a force to regularly retrain its people. However, warfighting culture characterized by scripted training can mask a decline in technical competence. Such a decline can be seen in how standards fell for some of the most important tools that help the Navy guard against tactical surprise.

Environmental Factors

When American warships came under missile fire in the Red Sea two years ago they could have been far better prepared. Key environmental data that would affect the parameters of any anti-air engagement was left unaccounted for, thereby contributing an important degree of tactical surprise. Many years earlier the Navy had finalized key tools and procedures that would promise a significant evolution in environmental awareness and would have greatly mitigated this sort of tactical surprise. Somehow these tools never made it into the fleet in time.

John Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (JHU APL) has been at the forefront of the Navy’s technology development for decades, including leading work on networking and surface-to-air missile capabilities. In 1982 the Navy’s Aegis Program Office began supporting JHU APL work on radar propagation models. This effort intended to more precisely understand the performance of the Aegis combat system and better account for environmental variables.1 JHU APL expounded on the important tactical implications of knowing those environmental variables:

“Environmental impacts on missile detection can be complex. The environment may limit radar detection ranges and cause degradations in track continuity through the effects of land, sea, and precipitation clutter. Communications systems may experience outages or periods of increased interference. Weapon systems may encounter midcourse guidance errors and variations in illuminator power-on-target and bistatic clutter into the missile, which affect the missile engagement envelope. In addition, the environment affects radar configuration, ship stationing, situational awareness, and missile doctrine selection.”2

Variables such as the temperature of the ocean and air, humidity, sea state, and wind speed have a strong effect on how radar energy propagates throughout the atmosphere. The chart below shows the range at which a target transitioned into track by an AN/SPY-1 radar across 20 Navy live fire exercises in differing environmental conditions. It shows how environmental factors can affect detection range by as much of a factor as three to four.3 It points out how firm track ranges could be reconstructed from post-exercise analysis that factored in environmental data gathered by key measuring tools such as rocketsondes and helicopters equipped with environmental sensors.

Original caption from JHU APL source: Twenty cases showing variation in actual AN/SPY-1 performance for littoral environments are shown in blue (actual firm track range). Cases where timely helicopter and/or rocketsonde measurements supported postexercise AN/SPY-1 performance analysis are shown in red (simulated firm track range).

Radar energy can behave very differently when acted on by environmental factors. Radar pulses can be absorbed by the atmosphere, sapping the amount of energy that can be reflected back toward the receiver. Ducting can create radar holes and skip zones where targets cannot be detected. Refraction can even make targets appear to change direction. Atmospheric effects can also worsen radar clutter on the ocean surface hundreds of miles away from the radar.4  

These factors combine to affect the key performance metric of probability of detection and can even create false contacts. Because radar energy acted on by environmental phenomena will often have more unpredictable and complex behavior compared to simpler line-of-sight detection these effects can challenge radar clutter rejection algorithms that are built into combat systems.

One of the most significant tactical implications of the environment is that certain conditions can allow a ship to break through the fog of war and see through the radar horizon limitation. Refracted radar energy can travel far along the surface and allow a ship to detect a sea-skimming target for many tens of miles below and beyond the radar horizon. Environmental awareness is therefore critical to improving threat perception and adding to a ship’s depth of fire in a most crucial zone of tactical action.

Radar propagation models where the figure on the right shows how surface ducting conditions allow radar energy to bend over the horizon. (Source: Donna W. Blake et. al, “Uncertainty Results for the Probability of Raid Annihilation Measure,” 2006.)

These effects combine to make mastering environmental awareness a major tactical priority. A tactical memorandum (TACMEMO) issued by the Surface Warfare Development Group in 1995 reinforced this point:

“To adequately define expected detection ranges for a given threat, an accurate assessment of the environment and its impact on sensor systems and employment is required. Depending on the environmental conditions being experienced, system performance could be enhanced or degraded. The primary environmental factors which impact detection ranges are temperature, atmospheric pressure, relative humidity, and local weather. The operating environment (e.g. near land/overland, littoral, or open ocean) also (affects) ranges.”5 

These environmental effects are known, but the operational challenge is in accurately measuring them in real time and then making the necessary tactical adjustments.6 Potential solutions take the form of environmental sensors as well as modeling software that is wedded to combat systems. However, while shipboard sensors and measurements can collect environmental data, certain tools are required to gather additional data beyond what can only be gathered from the deck of a ship in order to produce higher-fidelity models.

High-quality environmental assessments were proven to require crucial range-dependent data that must be collected by periodically launched tools such as helicopters equipped with environmental sensors. JHU APL’s prototype SEAWASP system would model environmental conditions and would monitor the need to launch an expendable tool called a rocketsonde that was considered “the most effective of the expendable sensor packages for providing real-time environmental information” and where the rocketsonde was described as “essential for supporting radar performance assessments under many conditions.”7 JHU APL scientists also described the environmental helicopter as “the platform of choice” and suggested “the future may see environmental sensors on operational helicopters.”

Original caption from JHU APL source: Helicopter sawtooth pattern. Temperature, pressure, humidity, altitude, latitude, longitude, and meteorological measurements are collected on helicopter descents.

By 2001 these systems were tested by operational units in several deployments and received enthusiastic reviews for inclusion in future Aegis baselines. The Navy Program Executive Office for Theater Surface Combatants (PEO TSC) asked JHU APL to plan to backfit their prototype SEAWASP environmental assessment capability onto existing ships and for incorporation into future system baselines.8 Guidance for using the SPY radar to help determine the presence of atmospheric effects was included in the form of appendices to the Aegis TACMEMO.9 Helicopter-based environmental assessment was mandated for Aegis Combat Systems Ship Qualification Trials (CSSQTs).

Yet somehow these efforts fell flat. Despite adequate testing and strong recommendations that the Navy widely field measuring tools like rocketsondes and helicopter-based sensors it appears these simple yet critical systems are almost nowhere to be found in the Navy’s operational forces today.

The Surface and Mine Warfighting Development Center (SMWDC) described the main lessons learned from the 2016 Red Sea attacks:

“The first and perhaps most significant lesson emerged from observing the impact of the Red Sea littoral environment on combat-system performance during an actual engagement. Until the events in October, the best understanding of environmental impact on system performance had come from computer simulations and live-fire exercises in the less-challenging conditions in the Virginia Capes or Southern California operational areas…We have updated our AWS, SSDS, and SPY radar doctrines to account for environmental impacts to system performance previously unobserved during a live Standard missile engagement.”10 

Previously unobserved environmental conditions may have turned into tactical surprise in part because the Navy’s best understanding of these variables may have come from only a couple areas close to home that feature test ranges. Fixed test ranges can constrain environmental awareness through consistent conditions. Atmospheric refractivity also happen to be far more intensive in littoral regions. However, it seems the Navy lacked key environmental awareness in one of the world’s most important maritime chokepoints that lies within the Middle East littoral that was prioritized for a generation.11 

If the Navy wasn’t environmentally aware in the Red Sea because things were mostly tested near Virginia or California then what does the Navy not know about the environment in the Baltic Sea, the Mediterranean, the South China Sea, or everywhere else in the world the Navy deploys? Does the Navy have specifically-tailored doctrine statements and combat system configurations for all of these environmental conditions?

PACIFIC OCEAN (Oct. 23, 2017) Lt. Rose Witt, the guided-missile cruiser USS Mobile Bay (CG 53) Supply Officer, assists in launching a rocketsonde from the flight deck of the ship. Mobile Bay is currently underway testing an AEGIS Baseline 9 upgrade to its Baseline 8 combat system in preparation for its upcoming deployment. (U.S Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Chad M. Butler/Released)

Once the environment is revealed to be crucial tactical context the force must develop an expeditionary environmental learning program as a most urgent necessity. The Navy already operates such programs to understand the environment on a global scale, such as how environmental factors have long been known to affect undersea operations and anti-submarine warfare. This understanding is operationalized through a global exercise program the surface fleet has maintained for decades, the Ship Antisubmarine Warfare Readiness and Effectiveness Measuring (SHAREM) program. Exercises under SHAREM are conducted across many geographic areas to account for different environmental factors thereby producing tailored tactics and revealing shortfalls.12 If not for environmentally-focused programs like SHAREM the tactical effectiveness of the surface fleet’s anti-submarine warfare capability would be far from ideal. 

But does the Navy have a similar program that specifically seeks to account for the tactical effects of atmospheric refractivity? These environmental effects not only impact radar energy, but radiofrequency energy more generally. According to JHU APL the performance of major capabilities such as close-in-weapons systems and critical networks like the Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC) were also “shown during field tests to strongly depend on atmospheric refractivity.”13 

The tactical implications are clear and profound, especially for networked warfighting. Environmental awareness is foundational to electromagnetic awareness. 

Original caption from source: Propagation diagram of a (a) weak evaporation duct, (b) surface-based duct (high intensity: bright). Radar PPI screen showing clutter map (dB) during the 1998 SPANDAR experiment resulting from a (c) weak evaporation duct, (d) surface-based duct. (Click to expand.)

SMWDC is setting an example by charging hard and implementing fast-paced corrective action after the Red Sea attacks:

“…Surface Warfare Advanced Tactical Training and live-fire exercises have been updated to keep pace…SMWDC teams have visited every deployed and soon-to-deploy ship to ensure each has the latest TTP, training, and combat-system configuration recommendations. Ashore, the Radar Systems Controller Enhanced Course has been restored as a critical tool to ensure our SPY radar operators are prepared for what they will face in theater. In addition, SMWDC has built a case study from these events that is being included in the curricula of tactical training schoolhouses across the fleet.”

Now the question remains as to how updated understanding of the environment will translate into other parts of the Navy’s force development. SMWDC said the attacks should result in updated performance models and pointed to the problem of the Navy having only a handful of baseline datasets drawn from the Virginia Capes and Southern California areas. The widespread lack of environmental assessment tools that were described as “essential” such as rocketsondes and helicopters with special sensors may also indicate very incomplete datasets. 

Whether it be training, test and evaluation, or wargaming, these insights born from the Red Sea attacks may require many other parts of the Navy to update baseline data and contemplate extensive retroactive action. Such action could take the form of replaying wargames with newly updated environmental parameters and conducting expeditionary test and evaluation in less familiar waters. 

Ultimately such an important evolution in environmental awareness should have been enough to prompt rapid and wide-ranging adaptation similar to what SWMDC is doing and what was hinted at years ago. At first, the Navy did appear to be in the process of introducing expected change. The importance of atmospheric refractivity on tactical possibility was being acknowledged in the form of new programs of record, tactical memoranda, and requirements, many dating back over twenty years ago. Upgraded environmental assessments were made mandatory in at least one key part of the Navy’s business in the form of Aegis CSSQTs. Key measuring tools such as rocketsondes and helicopters with environmental sensors were tested, proven, approved of, and required relatively little effort to equip.

Somehow the system comprehensively failed, and frontline warfighters came under fire while lacking the important degree of tactical awareness those key tools contribute. Now to best anticipate tactical surprise the Navy must look to update environmental understanding on a global scale.

 Sea surface currents and temperatures in the eastern Pacific Ocean (NASA)

SPY Radar 

The SPY radar is the most powerful radar on the Navy’s large surface combatants, and it is perhaps the most important set of eyes for the Aegis combat system. But this critical radar suffered a decline in standards. After describing several issues with SPY radar maintenance the 2010 Balisle report noted:

“The SPY radar has historically been the best supported system in the surface Navy. If the SPY radar is one of the most important systems in the Navy and central to our BMD mission for the foreseeable future, then it is assumed that less important systems could well be in worse material condition.”14

In his article, “Is Your SPY Radar Enhanced, Nominal, or Degraded?” Captain Jim Kilby recalled the Balisle report’s warning and described his own experience in witnessing a decline in radar maintenance. After reminiscing about past standards Kilby said that somewhere along the way the surface fleet had “lost some of this spirit”and that Sailors “do not have the cultural model to fall on when they report to the ship.” This loss of spirit and culture could be possibly interpreted as the degradation of standards. Kilby felt he ultimately had to “provide that leadership” himself.15 

Kilby may have felt he personally had to set a higher standard because he realized the Navy, institutionally, did not properly maintain it. The Balisle report suggested that Sailors are “perhaps losing their sense of ownership of their equipment and are more apt to want others to fix it.” Kilby relates a story where a contractor working as a combat systems instructor for his crew said he and his technicians used to have a tracking book so they “all knew where we were, combat-system performance-wise.” Captain Kilby then wondered to himself, “Why shouldn’t I know that too?” 

If something can be measured then it can usually be optimized. Kilby pointed out “You can’t manage what you can’t measure,” so they “decided to measure and track key parameters to better manage the system.” He went on to discuss how he personally instituted a new process on the warship to track the performance of the SPY radar that would go “beyond a superficial indicator level.” Kilby realized he had to know the quantitative results of maintenance actions in order to know how radar performance was trending, such as with respect to key metrics like effective transmit power. He went on to personally invent and decide on a “quantitative SPY radar material goal” to provide to the crew. 

But is it really the responsibility of one ship’s captain to decide what the radar material goal should be for the SPY radar, let alone invent such a standard on his own? A crew that does not have a meaningful system to track the transmit power of their radar is like an armor crewman not knowing he should boresight the main gun of a tank, or an infantryman not knowing how to sight his scope. This was Kilby’s fifth Aegis tour and he certainly wasn’t inexperienced. His career track put him inside the Navy’s surface warfare directorate, the Ballistic Missile Defense office, and he partook in the Aegis Fire Controlman Deep Dive that resulted in new training. He also happened to invent this new radar tracking system around the first ballistic missile defense patrol of a freshly upgraded cruiser, a special unit that could find itself on the frontlines of defending against nuclear attack.

Perhaps change has taken place since Kilby published about his reforms. But it suggests that for a time the Navy did not have a meaningful set of standards in place for unit leaders to effectively know the performance of one of the most critical sensors in the fleet. What was Kilby’s personal invention clearly should have already been a Navy-wide process and standard. In the end his new methods were not unique innovations, but rather rediscovered responsibilities:

“SPY radar self-sufficiency can and should be supported by outside entities, but ultimately it is a function of my behavior, interest, and leadership. It is my responsibility. Specific results of transmitter power and phase must be understood, considered, and acted upon by operators and by me. The devil is in not knowing the details. As the commanding officer, I have to be personally involved. I cannot delegate this effort.”

Target Missiles

The Navy’s lack of appreciation for the anti-ship missile threat is not confined to its own limited arsenal of such weapons, but also extends to the inventory of target missiles that seek to replicate those threats for force development. The Navy allowed a significant shortfall to emerge in its inventory of target missiles where tools that realistically represent the supersonic anti-ship missile threat are now very few and far between.

A 2005 report by the Defense Science Board described the shortfall at the time as “dire” and that the supersonic target missile inventory was “substantially deficient.” It pointed out the discrepancy between the tools on hand and the common flight profiles of weapons in the hands of great power rivals:

“The area of greatest concern to the Task Force was our gap in supersonic anti-ship cruise missiles for testing. The Russians have deployed at least three such cruise missiles that involve either sea-skimming flight profiles or a high-altitude profile involving a power dive to the target. At this time, we have no test vehicles for either flight profile.”16

Once the anti-air Talos missile was retired in the late 70s the remaining inventory was converted into Vandal target missiles. The Vandal would be the Navy’s main tool for representing the supersonic sea-skimming missile threat for decades. For other threats the AQM-37C long served as the Navy’s target for high-flying supersonic flight. However, it is incapable of maintaining supersonic speeds while executing a powered dive or sea-skimming trajectory – the two common flight profiles of supersonic missile threats the Defense Science Board noted.

Flight profile of AQM-37C target missile. (Source: Presentation by Steve Berkel, AQM-37 Projection Coordinator, NAVAIR, 2004.)

The supersonic AQM-37C and Vandal target missiles were launched dozens of times per year for decades.17 But the firing rates fell to much lower levels after they left service in the early 2000s. After a viable replacement came online in 2005 in the form of the Coyote target missile the Navy would go on to launch less than 50 targets capable of supersonic sea-skimming flight across the next ten years.18 Admiral Phil Davidson also claimed that Navy units based on the East Coast went almost 13 years without shooting down any supersonic target missiles until 2016.19 

High-diver and sea-skimmer flight profiles of supersonic Coyote target missile (Source: Presentation by CAPT Pat Buckley, Aerial Target and Decoy Systems Program Office PMA-208, 2006.)

The Navy launches several hundred target missiles per year but almost all are slow, subsonic payloads that hardly represent the supersonic anti-ship missiles that are commonly found in the navies of great power competitors.20 It also appears that supersonic target missiles are almost always fired from land. This diminishes the realism of the events with respect to exploring varying environmental conditions, especially those that would be found in open-ocean warfare.21

In spite of this, the subsonic target missile that according to the Navy is its “workhorse” will be replaced by another subsonic payload.22 As more lethal supersonic and eventually hypersonic weapons proliferate the Navy’s target missile inventory will continue to be almost entirely made of subsonic payloads that fail to accurately represent these advanced threats. The disparity between the Navy’s target inventory and the true nature of the anti-ship missile threat is poised to widen further.

Optional flight profile of a subsonic BQM-74 target missile simulating terminal phase maneuvering. (Source: Presentation by John VanBrabant
Manager, Aerial Targets Business Development Integrated Systems Western Region, Northrop Grumman Corporation, NDIA Targets 2006.)

Supersonic target missiles certainly are very expensive tools and it is impractical to expect most units to have a chance to practice with them. However, these tools are invaluable for ensuring realism for key force development activities.

Consider all the lessons SMWDC is learning and translating into the surface fleet, especially through their restarted Live Fire With a Purpose (LFWAP) events that aim to “test and validate TACMEMOs and latest tactical recommendations.”23 For the sake of tactical development and high-end readiness what good may come from firing salvos of supersonic target missiles in the general direction of some of the Navy’s finest tacticians?

Doctrine Statements

For a force that is primarily made of highly sophisticated machines technical standards are a key part of warfighting readiness. In the case of naval warfare the abovementioned technical standards have especially important tactical consequences.

Naval warfare in the missile age is notable for having transcended the boundary of human limitations. The speed and intensity of engaging a salvo of anti-ship missiles that could be seconds away from impact is a tactical challenge that is mostly beyond the ability of a human to carefully manage with real-time inputs. Therefore the combat systems of warships, perhaps best exemplified by the Aegis combat system and the Ship Self-Defense System (SSDS), must be automated to an extraordinary degree to stand a chance of defeating missiles under trying circumstances.  

The role of the operator then is to program pre-set conditions and instructions into the combat system. These are known as doctrine statements, up to and including fully automated responses for highly lethal situations. These doctrine statements can be built around the characteristics and flight profiles of potential threats, and can dictate how the combat system will automatically combine the various capabilities of the ship to defeat those threats.24 These automated doctrine statements can be the Navy’s last line of defense against tactical surprise because even if Sailors are caught off guard by a sea-skimming salvo breaking over the horizon the automated combat system can carry the day.

Example of a Ship Self-Defense System (SSDS) engagement doctrine statement. (Source: Richard J. Prengaman et. al, “Integrated Ship Defense,” JHU APL Technical Digest)

Effectively countering the anti-ship missile threat is very much a matter of crafting doctrine statements well in advance of a combat situation. Sailors should not be put in a position where they are forced to rapidly reconfigure doctrine statements in the middle of the fight in order to survive. More ideally, Sailors will be familiar with a variety of well-tailored doctrine statements they can choose from to meet a range of situations.

It is essential to know the state of a radar’s energy output and to understand the environmental factors that dictate how that radar energy propagates. Both are fundamental baseline context for ascertaining the ability to detect targets, knowing how to configure combat systems, and managing emissions control.25 Certain environmental conditions can also raise the probability of false alarms, and there may be situations with little opportunity to intervene in an automated response to make timely corrections.

How well does the Navy understand the nature of guiding a semi-active homing weapon such as the Standard Missile through environmental conditions below the radar horizon? How well has the Navy configured doctrine statements to guard against skip zones and other environmental effects that complicate how a ship can see and engage targets through its radar? 

Radar propagation effects of environmental surface duct in the Persian Gulf. (Source: “Trident Warrior: Demonstrating the Use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles for Characterizing the Marine Electromagnetic Propagation Environment.” Presentation by Dr. Peter Guest, Department of Meteorology, Naval Postgraduate School. Click to expand)

Consider the Red Sea combat events and how new doctrine statements and combat system configurations were key outputs from the learning experience, and how these updates were based on a specific environmental context. The Navy should look to this experience and see how it can learn similar lessons minus the risks of real combat. As an engine of tactical development can the Navy conduct expeditionary Live Fire With a Purpose events similar in design to the SHAREM program? Could the Navy produce refined doctrine statements by firing advanced target missiles in varying environmental conditions that resemble forward areas? Such a program could do well to sharpen the tool of Aegis.

Poor environmental awareness, low-fidelity target missiles, and lack of key radar performance metrics forms a recipe for less than ideal doctrine statements. Failing to maintain high technical standards across these areas suggests very suboptimal programming may be built into the automated combat functions of warships across the world.

Part Five will focus on Material Condition and Availability.

Dmitry Filipoff is CIMSEC’s Director of Online Content. Contact him at Nextwar@cimsec.org.


1. J. Ross Rottier, John R. Rowland, Gerald C. Konstanzer, Julius Goldhirsh,
and G. Daniel Dockery, “APL Environmental Assessment for Navy Anti-Air Warfare,” JHU APL Technical Digest, Volume 22, Number 4, 2001. https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/8400/6b65f5cac14e71239fc5aa7e400444007036.pdf 

2. J. Ross Rottier, John R. Rowland, Gerald C. Konstanzer, Julius Goldhirsh,
and G. Daniel Dockery, “APL Environmental Assessment for Navy Anti-Air Warfare,” JHU APL Technical Digest, Volume 22, Number 4, 2001. https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/8400/6b65f5cac14e71239fc5aa7e400444007036.pdf 

3. James J. Sylvester, Gerald C. Konstanzer, J. Ross Rottier, G. Daniel Dockery,
and John R. Rowland, “Aegis Anti-Air Warfare Tactical Decision Aids,” JHU APL Technical Digest, Volume 22, Number 4, 2001. http://www.jhuapl.edu/techdigest/TD/td2204/Sylvester.pdf

4. Naval Surface Warfare Dalhgren Division, “Sensors: Challenges and Solutions for the 21st Century,” Leading Edge, Volume 7, Issue No. 2. https://www.navsea.navy.mil/Portals/103/Documents/NSWC_Dahlgren/LeadingEdge/Sensors/Sensors03.pdf 

5. John David Whalen, “Comparison of evaporation duct height measurement methods and their impact on radar propagation estimates,” Naval Postgraduate School, 1998. https://calhoun.nps.edu/bitstream/handle/10945/8118/comparisonofevap00whal.pdf?sequence=1 

6. Committee on Environmental Information for Naval Use, Ocean Studies Board of the National Research Council of the National Academies, Environmental Information for Naval Warfare,” 2003. https://www.nap.edu/read/10626/chapter/11#148

7. J. Ross Rottier, John R. Rowland, Gerald C. Konstanzer, Julius Goldhirsh,
and G. Daniel Dockery, “APL Environmental Assessment for Navy Anti-Air Warfare,” JHU APL Technical Digest, Volume 22, Number 4, 2001. https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/8400/6b65f5cac14e71239fc5aa7e400444007036.pdf 

8. James J. Sylvester, Gerald C. Konstanzer, J. Ross Rottier, G. Daniel Dockery,
and John R. Rowland, “Aegis Anti-Air Warfare Tactical Decision Aids,” JHU APL Technical Digest, Volume 22, Number 4, 2001. http://www.jhuapl.edu/techdigest/TD/td2204/Sylvester.pdf

9. James J. Sylvester, Gerald C. Konstanzer, J. Ross Rottier, G. Daniel Dockery,
and John R. Rowland, “Aegis Anti-Air Warfare Tactical Decision Aids,” JHU APL Technical Digest, Volume 22, Number 4, 2001. http://www.jhuapl.edu/techdigest/TD/td2204/Sylvester.pdf

10. Rear Admiral John Wade and Lieutenant Timothy Baker, USN, “Red Sea Combat Generates High Velocity Learning,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, September 2017. https://www.usni.org/magazines/proceedings/2017-09/red-sea-combat-generates-high-velocity-learning 

11. J. Ross Rottier, John R. Rowland, Gerald C. Konstanzer, Julius Goldhirsh,
and G. Daniel Dockery, “APL Environmental Assessment for Navy Anti-Air Warfare,” JHU APL Technical Digest, Volume 22, Number 4, 2001. https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/8400/6b65f5cac14e71239fc5aa7e400444007036.pdf 

12. OPNAV INSTRUCTION 3360.30D, “SHIP ANTISUBMARINE WARFARE READINESS AND EFFECTIVENESS MEASURING PROGRAM,” Chief of Naval Operations, January 23, 2018. https://doni.documentservices.dla.mil/Directives/03000%20Naval%20Operations%20and%20Readiness/03-300%20Warfare%20Techniques/3360.30D.pdf


4. Objective. The objective of the SHAREM Program is to assess surface ship ASW readiness and effectiveness and recommend solutions for ASW warfighting gaps. This objective is met via the collection and analysis of sensor and environmental data in tactically relevant geographic operating areas.

a. SHAREM exercises will evaluate surface force ASW systems and tactics, techniques, and procedures in tactically-relevant environments. Evaluation of current and emerging threats and environments of national interest, as recommended by the fleet and force commanders and as directed by the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, Surface Warfare Division (OPNAV N96), will lead to development of tactically-focused exercise events and collection of tactically significant environmental data.

b. Environmental data will be collected in coordination with systems commands, naval laboratories, and Commander, Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command.

c. SHAREM-sponsored exercises, Submarine Command Course (SCC) mini-wars, and limited objective experiments provide the opportunity to collect and analyze data to assess the full scope of surface ship ASW operations through the detect-to-engage sequence. Exercises should be conducted on underwater tracking ranges or in environments that reflect areas of
operational interest.

See also: Naval Surface and Minewarfighting Development Center SNA National Symposium Edition Newsletter, January 2018. https://www.public.navy.mil/surfor/nsmwdc/Documents/SMWDC_January_2018_Newsletter.pdf


“SHAREM has operated for 48 years and has transitioned from SWDG to SURFDEVRON, SURFDEVRON to STDG, and finally STDG to SMWDC, where it now resides. SHAREM is highly effective at informing future ship builds, releasing tactical memos (TACMEMOs) for future integration into tactics, techniques and procedures, and maintaining a database of all data collected.”

13. James J. Sylvester, Gerald C. Konstanzer, J. Ross Rottier, G. Daniel Dockery,
and John R. Rowland, “Aegis Anti-Air Warfare Tactical Decision Aids,” JHU APL Technical Digest, Volume 22, Number 4, 2001. http://www.jhuapl.edu/techdigest/TD/td2204/Sylvester.pdf

14. Vice Admiral Phillip Balisle, USN (ret.), “Fleet Review Panel of Surface Force Readiness,” February 26, 2010.  http://www.sailorbob.com/files/foia/FRP%20of%20Surface%20Force%20Readiness%20(Balisle%20Report).pdf

15. Captain Jim Kilby, USN, “Is Your SPY Radar Enhanced, Nominal, or Degraded?” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, January 2012. https://www.usni.org/magazines/proceedings/2012-01/your-spy-radar-enhanced-nominal-or-degraded 

16. “Report of the Defense Science Board Task Force on Aerial Targets,” Defense Science Board, October 2005. http://www.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a441466.pdf

17. Presentation by Steve Berkel, AQM-37 Projection Coordinator, NAVAIR, 2004. https://www.google.com/search?q=STEVE+BERKEL+ppt+navair&oq=STEVE+BERKEL+ppt+navair+&aqs=chrome..69i57.4393j0j9&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8

18.  “Orbital ATK Successfully Launches Two Coyote Targets for the U.S. Navy,” Businesswire.com, June 17, 2005. https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20150617005337/en/Orbital-ATK-Successfully-Launches-Coyote-Targets-U.S.

See also: 49th Annual Targets, UAVs, & Range Operations Symposium & Exhibition, 2011. http://www.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/1005858.pdf#page=142

19. Megan Eckstein, “Warfighting Development Centers, Better Virtual Tools Give Fleet Training a Boost,” U.S. Naval Institute News, February 23, 2017. https://news.usni.org/2017/02/23/fleet-training-getting-a-boost-through-better-lvc-tools-warfighting-development-centers

20. Presentation by John VanBrabant Manager, Aerial Targets Business Development Integrated Systems Western Region, Northrop Grumman Corporation, NDIA Targets 2006. https://ndiastorage.blob.core.usgovcloudapi.net/ndia/2006/targets/VanBrabant.pdf

21. Captain Pat Buckley Program Manager PMA-208, Aerial Target & Decoy Systems, October 10, 2008. https://ndiastorage.blob.core.usgovcloudapi.net/ndia/2008/targets/Friday/Buckley.pdf

22. Subsonic Aerial Target System (SSAT), Naval Air Systems Command. http://www.navair.navy.mil/index.cfm?fuseaction=home.displayPlatform&key=2F240C2D-621A-42B2-9186-20B3F2469236

For “workhorse” see: Captain Pat Buckley Program Manager PMA-208, Aerial Target & Decoy Systems, October 10, 2008. https://ndiastorage.blob.core.usgovcloudapi.net/ndia/2008/targets/Friday/Buckley.pdf

23. Presentation by Naval Surface and Mine Warfighting Development Center (SMWDC) at West 2018 conference. https://www.westconference.org/West18/Custom/Handout/Speaker0_Session6209_1.pdf

SMWDC Quarterly, Volume 1, Issue, December 2016. https://www.public.navy.mil/surfor/nsmwdc/Documents/SMWDC_Newsletter_16DEC2016-DAPS.PDF

24. “The Navy’s New Aegis,” Semaphore, Sea Power Centre Australia, Issue 07, 2009. http://www.navy.gov.au/sites/default/files/documents/Semaphore_2009_7.pdf 

25. James J. Sylvester, Gerald C. Konstanzer, J. Ross Rottier, G. Daniel Dockery,
and John R. Rowland, “Aegis Anti-Air Warfare Tactical Decision Aids,” JHU APL Technical Digest, Volume 22, Number 4, 2001. http://www.jhuapl.edu/techdigest/TD/td2204/Sylvester.pdf

Excerpt: “The Aegis community had concluded that accurate combat system performance assessments were valuable to the Aegis warfighter in terms of ship stationing, adapting radar configuration appropriately to the environment, and maintaining awareness of self defense capabilities and limitations.”  

Featured Image: SPY radar array on Aegis-equipped DDG-175 escort ship “Miyoko” of the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Forces via Marie’s Garden Blog.

The Aegis Warship: Joint Force Linchpin for IAMD and Access Control

This article originally appeared in the National Defense University’s Joint Forces Quarterly 80, and is republished with permission. It can be read in its original form here.

By John F. Morton

Under defense strategic guidance, U.S. combatant commanders have been rebalancing joint forces along the Asia-Pacific Rim with recalibrated capabilities to shape the regional security environments in their areas of responsibility. The mission of what the 2012 guidance calls “Joint Force in 2020” is to project stabilizing force to support our allies and partners, and to help maintain the free flow of commerce along sea lines of communication in the globalized economic system.1

Forces postured forward for deterrence and conflict prevention are a substantial component to U.S. global engagement. The combatant commanders, joint community, and Services are working together to plan and resource this joint force with credible, effective, and affordable warfighting capabilities that assure friends and deter adversaries—should deterrence and conflict prevention fail.

Complicating the combatant commanders’ calculus are the advancing antiaccess/area-denial (A2/AD) capabilities in the hands of potential adversaries and rogue states that pose a major challenge to the maritime domain. From the Arctic to the Arabian Gulf, Russia, North Korea, China, India, Pakistan, and Iran all have to varying degrees either deployed or are developing nuclear weapon and ballistic missile capabilities. Combined with other A2/AD capabilities that include sea-skimming and high-diving supersonic cruise missiles, these threats to the global maritime commons translate into powerful tools for diplomatic coercion.

The 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review put specific priority on increasing overall joint force capabilities to counter growing A2/AD challenges. In what the Pentagon characterizes as the A2/AD environment, defense officials are now conceptualizing the high-end level of the warfighting spectrum around the integrated air and missile defense (IAMD) mission. In December 2013, General Martin Dempsey, then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, released his Joint Integrated Air and Missile Defense: Vision 2020 that spoke of the need for IAMD to “be even more Joint—advancing interdependence and integrating new capabilities.”2

Senior military officials conceive of high-end operations as IAMD-centric. They view IAMD as a joint capability to be employed at the tactical, operational, and strategic levels of war. Competitive IAMD strategies for today’s A2/AD environments are comparable to those strategies formulated during the Cold War with reference to the Fulda Gap, such as the Follow-on Forces Attack subconcept. The strategies inform IAMD requirements generation and acquisition, as well as the Planning, Programming, Budgeting, and Execution process for systems and architectures.

Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Chancellorsville recently completed combat systems update with latest Aegis Baseline 9 combat system, June 18, 2015 (U.S. Navy/Peter Burghart)
Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Chancellorsville recently completed combat systems update with latest Aegis Baseline 9 combat system, June 18, 2015 (U.S. Navy/Peter Burghart)

Joint IAMD describes the IAMD environment as an expanding battlespace requiring plans and operations that range across global, regional, transregional, and homeland domains. “The regional and intercontinental reach of ballistic missiles,” it continues, “alters the strategic and operational decision space.”3 IAMD forces in a specific theater can extend to regional, transregional, and homeland operations. As such, combatant commander plans must allow for coordination and handoff across combatant command areas of responsibility.

Since May 2013, the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) has had technical authority over the IAMD mission. MDA now leads all joint IAMD engineering and integration efforts, including defining and controlling the IAMD interfaces and the allocation of IAMD technical requirements. MDA’s current director is Vice Admiral James Syring, the first Navy head of the agency. His arrival in 2012 coincided with a time when the Aegis ship-based combat system came to be seen as a core element of U.S. and partner nation efforts in ballistic missile defense (BMD) in line with the European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA), the administration’s missile defense strategy for Europe.4 Syring previously served as the program executive officer for integrated warfare systems (PEO IWS) in the Navy office that was responsible for modernization of Aegis cruisers and destroyers, new construction, and ongoing baseline upgrades to their combat systems.

Working with MDA in driving IAMD jointness is the Joint Staff’s Force Structure, Resources, and Assessment Directorate (J8), specifically the Joint Integrated Air and Missile Defense Organization (JIAMDO). This group leads in developing and fielding a comprehensive, integrated joint and combined air and missile defense force in support of Joint IAMD. Since June 2014, JIAMDO directors have been two other Navy flag officers, Rear Admiral Jesse A. Wilson, Jr., and his recent successor, Rear Admiral Ed Cashman. They have led JIAMDO in planning, coordinating, and overseeing joint air and missile defense requirements, operational concepts, and operational architectures. They have also headed the U.S. delegation to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Air and Missile Defense Committee that develops and steers Alliance IAMD policy, all the more important in view of the current situation in the Eastern Mediterranean.

These Navy appointments to the joint community reflect the reality that the foundational maritime IAMD enablers for active defense will be the surface Navy’s modernized fleet of Aegis-equipped warships. Mobile, forward-deployed Aegis cruisers and destroyers, variously upgraded, will serve as the combatant commanders’ net-enabling nodes for globally integrated joint force operations for access control. (Augmenting the missile defense capability of at-sea Aegis platforms in the NATO area of responsibility will be the land-based Aegis Ashore variant. Under EPAA Phase II, Aegis Ashore is in Romania with a technical capability declaration that came at the end of 2015; the Office of the Secretary of Defense for Policy has planned for initial operational capability [IOC] in July 2016. Phase III Aegis Ashore is due in Poland in 2018.)

Modernized Aegis as the IAMD Game Changer

The linchpin of regional IAMD is surface warfare, then-Captain James Kilby wrote in April 2014.5 The deputy for ballistic missile defense, Aegis combat systems, and destroyers in the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations (OPNAV) Surface Warfare Directorate (N96), Kilby explained that the surface Navy’s fleet of 30 Aegis cruisers and destroyers is capable of conducting ballistic missile defense. His main points, however, addressed how a host of additional Aegis ships are undergoing modernization and will be equipped with a new combat system baseline that provides advanced IAMD capabilities. Now a rear admiral, Kilby became the first commander of the newly established Naval Surface and Mine Warfighting Development Center in San Diego in mid-2014. Prior to his OPNAV service, he commanded the cruiser USS Monterey (CG 61), the first Aegis BMD ship to deploy to the Mediterranean in March 2011 to support EPAA.

sm launch
Crew of guided-missile destroyer USS John Paul Jones successfully engaged 6 targets with 5 Standard Missiles during live-fire test, June 19, 2014 (U.S. Navy)

Kilby stated that the key feature of Aegis IAMD modernization is the Baseline 9 combat system upgrade that provides the ability to conduct integrated fires via a sensor net linking ships and aircraft. Four Baseline 9 ships—two cruisers and two destroyers—underwent certification in 2015. An additional BMD destroyer, the lead Baseline 9 destroyer USS John Paul Jones (DDG 53), is homeported in Hawaii. In August 2014, the John Paul Jones replaced the Aegis cruiser USS Lake Erie (CG 70) as the deployable BMD test ship assigned to the Barking Sands Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kauai to support MDA and Navy testing of IAMD capabilities. (The John Paul Jones Baseline 9 upgrade was co-funded by the Navy and MDA. Although the ship is an “integrated baseline ship” that is also deployable, it is not a combatant command asset.) John Paul Jones has to date successfully completed four flight test events intercepting both short-range ballistic missile and cruise missile targets using the Standard Missile (SM)-6 Dual I and SM-2 Block IV missiles.

The most complex variant of integrated fires, wrote Kilby, is the emerging Navy Integrated Fire Control–Counter Air (NIFC-CA) capability that dramatically extends the sensor net to allow for missile engagements beyond the radar horizon. NIFC-CA provides integrated fire control for theater air and antiship cruise missile defense in the tactical environment. The capability greatly expands the over-the-horizon air warfare battlespace for surface combatants to enable third-party targeting and use of smart missiles. “If properly employed with the right tactics,” Kilby wrote, NIFC-CA, the SM-6 surface-to-air/space missile, the E-2D Hawkeye with the Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC), and 5th-generation F-35 fighter aircraft will be “IAMD game changers.”

OPNAV’s Surface Warfare Directorate is working to enhance the utility of NIFC-CA. Among the concepts considered is making the Baseline 9 ships less reliant on assets of the carrier strike group by using an organic unmanned aerial vehicle with the necessary data links to provide the tracking and targeting information to the ship’s system as a way forward for Aegis in its IAMD role.

In 2013, then–Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jonathan W. Greenert directed the Service to accelerate NIFC-CA’s fielding, achieving IOC of Increment 1 with the E-2D in 2014. The Theodore Roosevelt carrier strike group deployed with a squadron of E-2Ds and the USS Normandy (CG 60), a Baseline 9 cruiser. The lead Baseline 9 cruiser, USSChancellorsville (CG 62), is now under operational control of U.S. 7th Fleet. The third Baseline 9 cruiser, USS Princeton (CG 59), underwent combat system ship qualification trials and integrated testing in July 2015. The initial NIFC-CA concept of operations, however, still requires additional testing and refinement as the Navy delivers the tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) needed to exploit the new IAMD capabilities.

While the Baseline 9 cruisers go by the name “air defense cruisers,” the Baseline 9 destroyers will be full-up IAMD Aegis ships with both NIFC-CA and BMD capabilities. The Baseline 9.C1 destroyers USS John Paul Jones, USS Benfold (DDG 65), and USS Barry (DDG 52) were slated to achieve Navy certification in 2015 with open architecture BMD 5.0 combat system computer software. Benfold is now on station with the 7th Fleet’s Forward Deployed Naval Forces in Yokosuka, Japan. Barry will follow by 2017.

Based on the tactical threat picture, Baseline 9 Aegis destroyers will be able to allocate their computer resources more dynamically in a single computing environment to maximize their BMD performance without degrading their air defense role. The principal enabler of this capability is the multi-mission signal processor (MMSP) for the Aegis SPY-1D radar. Earlier BMD computing suites for the radar used a separate signal processor, meaning a BMD-equipped surface warship could engage either a ballistic missile or an aircraft/cruise missile threat, but not both threats simultaneously. This situation resulted in difficult trade-offs that limited the system’s anti-air warfare (AAW) capability to an unknown extent. The MMSP, however, effectively integrates signal-processing inputs from the BMD signal processor and the legacy Aegis in-service signal processor for the radar. This integration enables the SPY radar to go from single-beam to dual-beam capability to meet the power resource priorities for simultaneous anti-air warfare and BMD sector coverage. The MMSP’s up-to-date commercial off-the-shelf hardware and software algorithms control radar waveform generation and allow for simultaneous processing of both AAW and BMD radar signals.

Critically, the MMSP improves Aegis SPY radar system performance in littoral environments, for example, against sea skimmers in a high-clutter environment. For BMD, the processor also enhances search and long-range surveillance and tracking and BMD signal processor range resolution, discrimination, and characterization, as well as real-time capability displays.

The Navy’s PEO IWS strategic vision for Aegis modernization is simple. Smaller and more frequent upgrades to modular combat systems with open architecture and standard interfaces will best enable the surface Navy to maintain operational superiority in support of the joint force in the A2/AD environment.

Aegis baseline upgrades strive for commonality to reduce the combat system footprint onboard ships. Future baselines will bring additional IAMD capabilities, notably, integration of additional off-board sensors as the joint force “sensor-shooter” networks mature and A2/AD counters in the access environment. A key developmental focus is determining what other off-board elements can integrate into the fire control loop and federated network to increase overall affordability and lethality.

JIAMDO: An Ally for Driving Data-Sharing over the Sensor-Shooter Net

Guided-missile cruiser USS Lake Erie equipped with second-generation Aegis BMD weapon system used launch-on-remote doctrine to engage target from Pacific missile range facility, February 12, 2013 (U.S. Navy/Mathew J. Diendorf)
Guided-missile cruiser USS Lake Erie equipped with second-generation Aegis BMD weapon system used launch-on-remote doctrine to engage target from Pacific missile range facility, February 12, 2013 (U.S. Navy/Mathew J. Diendorf)

The good news is that the question of how to share data is no longer a “cultural issue.” The Joint Integrated Air and Missile Defense Organization is helping to forge strong relationships across PEO IWS, MDA, combatant commands, and the Services. The bad news, however, is that going from interoperable to integrated systems that seamlessly share data will require investments in systems testing and evaluation among the Services. The era of declining defense budgets and increasing demand from combatant commanders for capacity as well as capability provides impetus to leverage efficiencies with joint and possibly Allied systems. “Importantly, IAMD will need to be even more Joint—advancing interdependence and integrating new capabilities,” states the Joint IAMD.6 Affordability is key to the joint IAMD vision for fielding more systems. The JIAMDO Vision and Roadmap describe the “to be” goals and desired states of IAMD in 2020 and 2020–2030, respectively. Not anticipating a quantum leap to interoperability, JIAMDO is working closely with MDA’s IAMD technical asessment to determine what interoperability is possible given Service budgets and willingness.

Modernized Aegis cruisers and destroyers will plug into the strategic-level network of national sensors for missile defense. This sensor-shooter net will ultimately provide them with a flexible, combined launch-on-remote/engage-on-remote capability along the area and regional missile defense continuum, potentially extending to select homeland defense missions in the future.

The potential for further IAMD sensor-shooter networks to counter A2/AD capabilities is leading both combatant commanders and JIAMDO to focus on track correlation and data links. From an Aegis-platform perspective, the farther out the sensor-shooter mix, the more crucial the resolution of track correlation issues. Tracks and data are provided, for example, by Link 16, CEC, and the Command and Control Battle Management and Communications network, the integrating element of the ballistic missile defense system.

JIAMDO has been pushing the Services to share common tracks for a shared-picture, integrated fire control (IFC) and operational-level joint engagement zones (JEZs). JIAMDO funds and runs exercises for combatant commands and the Services to test TTPs for joint IAMD missions. The annual Black Dart exercises, for example, test countermeasures against unmanned aerial systems. Joint IAMD challenges JIAMDO to leverage ongoing efforts to improve the air picture (the common operational picture [COP] for wide-area surveillance and battlespace awareness), combat identification (CID), discrimination (for ballistic missiles), and IFC and battle management, for example, via automated battle management aids (ABMA). Having embraced the joint IAMD vision, the Office of the Secretary of Defense and combatant commanders have accepted localized JEZ integrated air and missile defense. JIAMDO is thus active in developing its JEZ approaches and their COPs. Indeed, it regards COPs as one of the so-called pillars of IAMD, along with CID, IFC, and ABMA.

JIAMDO has the responsibility for developing the IAMD operational architecture—the broad-based description of how things work conceptually over the entire IAMD mission area. A fully functional joint IAMD architecture supports execution of current and future concepts with operationally representative positions for these systems. Applying a systems-agnostic approach, a JIAMDO technical committee takes that architecture and then defines IAMD system requirements in concert with the MDA Joint Service Systems Engineering Team (JSSET), now that MDA has the responsibility over IAMD technical assessment.

Having technical authority over IAMD missions, MDA approaches interoperability architecture first by building on legacy systems that will then inform ground-up design for future systems. To execute the joint IAMD architecture requirements for Aegis, MDA works with its Aegis BMD component and the Navy’s PEO IWS 7.0 (Future Combat Systems). IAMD interoperability requirements also apply to the Army Terminal High Altitude Air Defense and Patriot missile systems, the Air Force Airborne Warning and Control System, F-15 and F-22 aircraft, the Navy E-2 and F/A-18 aircraft, and the Army Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor system, among others.

The JSSET is the specific MDA entity that coordinates the work on the architectures. This team serves as a joint acquisition effort to build the future framework for the near-term joint track management capability (JTMC) and long-term joint IAMD capabilities. JSSET now has a business structure for outreach as well as traction for the system architecture products that are releasable to NATO Allies and industry for the requirements definition process.

A priority product is the Army/Navy JTMC Bridge. JSSET is continuing development of the JTMC Bridge, which has been in the works for several years. Representing a successful translation of operational needs into joint requirements, the Bridge is in fact the only system architecture for an entire mission area. A hardware solution specific to connecting two systems—the Army Integrated Fire Control Network and the Navy CEC—the JTMC Bridge has the potential to enable additional kill chains. At this point, however, JIAMDO and the JSSET recognize the value of the Bridge. JIAMDO would like to see a broader, future-looking effort toward an IAMD-wide systems architecture based on the operational architecture. Studies are ongoing, including an operational benefits analysis and cost benefit analysis.

Looking Ahead

Joint Integrated Air and Missile Defense: Vision 2020 aspires to integrate policy, strategy, concepts, tactics, and training. The overarching imperative that supports integration must incorporate:

  • Creating an awareness of the IAMD mission and the benefits of its proper utilization across the Department of Defense, to include the development of the enabling framework of concepts, doctrine, acquisition, and war plans that support full integration of IAMD into combat operations. Commanders must understand and embrace every weapon and tool available to them.
  • Educating personnel at every level on the need to integrate our capabilities into an interdependent joint force, how to employ joint elements together, how to employ elements in a joint engagement zone, what combinations create which capability, and which are ineffective when employed on a stand-alone basis.7


In his April 2014 commentary, Rear Admiral Kilby wrote, “Efficient and effective command and control (C2) of IAMD forces ensures that we employ these new capabilities to their maximum effectiveness, which requires moving beyond the C2 approach under which we currently operate.”8 To exploit the Navy’s revolutionary Aegis IAMD capabilities, the admiral observed that, “Surface Warriors must embrace the art and science of IAMD. . . . We require pioneering naval officers to master 21st-century warfighting technology, discard outdated ideas, and generate, sometimes from scratch, the tactics, techniques and procedures essential for effective employment of new weapons systems.”

Kilby wants the Navy to assemble Strike Group Staffs, ship crews, and Air Wing personnel to do the significant, dedicated planning and integration essential for putting NIFC-CA, SM-6, Aegis Baseline 9, CEC, E-2D, and F-35 to sea. “This execution is operational rocket science,” he concluded. “Those who master it will be identified as the best and brightest.”

Under command of the best and brightest, modernized Aegis NIFC-CA and IAMD warships will enable the Navy to maintain its historical role as the Nation’s provider of general purpose fleets operating away from American shores to maintain maritime access and the security of the maritime commons. JFQ

John F. Morton is a Senior National Security Analyst for TeamBlue National Security Programs, Gryphon Technologies LC.


1 Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense (Washington, DC: Department of Defense, January 2012), 3, available at <www.defense.gov/news/defense_strategic_guidance.pdf>. Referencing U.S. engagement in the Asia-Pacific, the 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review speaks of “our commitment to free and open commerce, promotion of a just international order, and maintenance of open access to shared domains.” Quadrennial Defense Review 2014(Washington, DC: Department of Defense, 2014), 4, available at <http://archive.defense.gov/pubs/2014_Quadrennial_Defense_Review.pdf>.

2 Joint Integrated Air and Missile Defense: Vision 2020 (Washington, DC: The Joint Staff, December 5, 2013), 1, available at <www.jcs.mil/Portals/36/Documents/Publications/JointIAMDVision2020.pdf>.

3 Ibid., 1–2.

4 Rachel Oswald, “Missile Defense Agency May Go in New Direction with New Chief, Advocate Says,” Global Security Newswire, August 8, 2012, available at <www.nti.org/gsn/article/missile-defense-agency-may-go-new-direction-new-navy-leadership-advocate-says/>.

5 James Kilby, “Surface Warfare: Lynchpin of Naval Integrated Air/Missile Defense,” Center for International Maritime Security, April 4, 2014, available at<https://cimsec.org/surface-warfare-lynchpin-naval-integrated-airmissile-defense/10748>.

6 Joint Integrated Air and Missile Defense, 1.

7 Ibid., 5.

8 Kilby.

Not Your “Father’s Aegis”

By Robert Holzer and Scott C. Truver

“Stand by, Admiral Gorshkov, Aegis is at Sea!”

The U.S. Navy’s first Aegis-equipped surface warship, the USS Ticonderoga (CG-47), joined the Fleet in January 1983, and all-but dared the Soviet Navy to take its best anti-ship cruise-missile shot.

The Navy’s newest Aegis guided-missile destroyer in the fall 2014, the USS Michael Murphy (DDG-112), was commissioned in December 2012. Murphy is the Navy’s 102nd Aegis warship. Another 10 Aegis DDGs are under construction, under contract or planned––a remarkable achievement!

Aegis surface warships were conceived during the height of the Cold War to defend U.S. aircraft carrier battle groups from massed Soviet aircraft and anti-ship cruise missile attacks. With the early retirements/layups of as many as 16 of 27 Aegis cruisers (beginning with Ticonderoga’s decommissioning in September 2004), some observers characterize the Aegis Weapon System (AWS) as an old, legacy program, whose time has passed.

This is just plain wrong. No other naval warfare capability has experienced more upgrades and significant changes over the years than Aegis. As global threats evolved and new missions emerged, so too have Aegis’ capabilities “flexed” to meet increasingly daunting operational demands. Even more advanced versions of Aegis are planned in the years ahead.

To paraphrase a classic 1990s Oldsmobile commercial: This is not your “father’s Aegis!”

Aegis: Don’t Leave Homeports without It

DN-SC-84-10077Without doubt, the Aegis Weapon System in 1983 represented a true revolution in shipboard air defense. Based on an enormous investment in time, resources and management focus, Aegis was the first truly integrated ship-based system. It brought together radar and sensor detection, tracking and missile interception into a coherent, well-integrated weapon system. This was a staggering engineering achievement for the time. And was the culmination of nearly 40-years of Navy experience in confronting and overcoming ever more dangerous air defense challenges, beginning with kamikaze attacks in the waning months of World War II and extending to Soviet Backfire bombers in the 1970s and 1980s.

Originally focused primarily on the fleet air defense/anti-air warfare mission—hence, the “Shield of the Fleet” slogan––Aegis has steadily expanded its mission set over the decades to successively include cruise missile defense, area theater ballistic missile defense, integrated air and missile defense (IAMD), and longer-range ballistic missile defense (BMD) cued by space-based sensors. (In Greek mythology, Aegis was the shield wielded by Zeus.) As more advanced radars and missiles enter the inventory in coming years, Aegis will play an increasingly important role in national BMD, too.
During the past 30 years, Aegis has expanded beyond the original 27 Ticonderoga-class cruisers to also include the entire fleet of 75 Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyers. In mid-2014, Aegis is deployed on 84 ships: 22 cruisers and 62 destroyers. Thus, Aegis is no longer just the “backbone” of the surface fleet, but constitutes its “central nervous system” as well.

Build a Little…

Critical to Aegis’ ability to evolve and defeat new threats—some only dimly seen when the program was conceived more than 40 years ago—has been an enormous capacity for growth that was built into the system from its very beginning. This growth in mission capacity can be attributed to the late-Rear Adm. Wayne E. Meyer, who guided the development of Aegis and worked tirelessly to ensure the architecture retained sufficient flexibility to accommodate future changes in threats, missions and technology. Long known as the “Father of Aegis,” Meyer trusted empirics and not analytics. In his view, the real ground truth that undergirds weapon system performance comes from engineering or operational test data. As such, he embraced a simple, but powerful, management mantra: “Build a little, test a little, learn a lot!”

Meyer’s technical and engineering driver was the warfighting requirement to get an interim, initial Aegis capability into the fleet to solve the warfare problem: “Detect, Control and Engage.” Rear Adm. Timothy Hood, the Naval Sea System Command (NAVSEA) program executive officer for theater air defense in the early 1990s, would say whereas detect-control-engage identified the Aegis warfare problem, build-a-little, test-a-little, learn-a-lot described the Aegis process. The specific functional/performance cornerstones of Aegis then put real numbers to the capabilities Aegis engineers were striving to meet—all to achieve the ultimate objective of putting Aegis to sea. (1)

Aegis cornerstones have guided the program for more than four decades. Fundamentally, Meyer made project decisions based on the best technical approach. As such, he instilled a rigorous systems engineering discipline in the Aegis program and established key performance factors. He then defined these factors to be quantitatively expressed to serve as guidance for engineering trade-offs and compromises to address the detect-control-engage warfare problem. These cornerstones required constant attention and were reflected in what Meyer called “people, parts, paper and [computer] programs.”(2)

In the end, Meyer successfully translated the Aegis cornerstones into acquisition process principles that informed decision-making at every level. To keep Aegis system-engineering development moving forward in advance of a Navy decision on ship design, Meyer employed the so-called Superset design and engineering approach. Superset called for integrating the largest set of combat system elements (sensors, control systems and weapons) and then down-designing that superset of capabilities to meet specific ship suites when finally approved. The payoff was in getting Aegis to sea on budget, on time. This philosophy continues to animate the Aegis program.

Baseline Continuous Improvement

uss-chosinMeyer’s project office opted to introduce initial, interim capabilities via continuous construction lines for cruisers and destroyers (rather than expensively introducing new ship classes with block upgrades) to accommodate Aegis advances. The engineering development approach that enabled this decision was a process practice called the Aegis Combat System Baseline Upgrade Program. Each Aegis Baseline—focused primarily on major systems and upgrades—was an engineering package of improvements introduced on two-to-four year cycles. A major warfighting change—for example, the introduction of the Mk 41 Vertical Launching System (VLS), Tomahawk Land-Attack Missile (TLAM) and an integrated anti-submarine warfare (ASW) suite into Aegis—would call for a new engineering baseline. The introduction of these three components in fact constituted Aegis Baseline 2. In addition, the Baseline Upgrade Program allowed for retrofits. Under the principle “Forward Fit before Backward Fit,” engineering and design focused on new construction ships while at the same time enabling cost-effective retrofits of Aegis ships already in the fleet.

To ensure Aegis outpaces today’s developing threats, Navy program officials with the Program Executive Office for Integrated Warfare Systems (PEO IWS) now exercise development and management oversight for service combat systems to inject new capabilities into Aegis through this time-tested approach to upgrades and improvements. Today’s baselines continue to be added to new ships during their construction phase and deployed ships when they undergo their specified shipyard maintenance cycles.

Initial baselines focused on adding only a few, discrete upgrades to Aegis. As this process has matured and Navy program engineers and system designers have accumulated more experience in understanding the nuances of Aegis baseline upgrades, their complexity, capabilities and capacities have grown exponentially. Baselines have grown in terms of the amount of new capabilities added to Aegis at each modernization interval to address both the pace of technological change and the acceleration of new threats and challenges. This is an ever-expanding OODA (Observe, Orient, Decide and Act) loop that Aegis is well accustomed to facing.

As of the fall 2014, a total of eight specific baselines have been fielded across the fleet of Aegis-equipped ships. A more advanced Baseline 9 version is undergoing its operational test and evaluation phase and will be deployed next year.

Baseline upgrades have added the following key capabilities to Aegis-equipped cruisers and destroyers over time since Baseline 0 that went to sea with the first Aegis warship, Ticonderoga. Within these numbered baselines, multiple versions at times have been introduced to accommodate minor variations to a particular Aegis combat system element development or shipbuilding program. Broadly stated, these baseline upgrades include:

Baseline 1: The original Aegis system attributes deployed on the first Ticonderoga-class cruisers (CGs 47-51) that consisted of the SPY-1A radar, the Mk-26 trainable launcher and the Navy’s mil-spec UYK-7 computers. Baseline 1 equipped the first five Aegis cruisers with the final combat system computer program whose configuration was based on the lessons learned from Ticonderoga’s first deployment.

Baseline 2: The first real upgrade to Aegis deployed on the next tranche of cruisers (CGs 52-58) that introduced, as stated above, the Mk 41 VLS, Tomahawk and an upgraded ASW suite, the SQQ-89, with the SQS-53B sonar. Introduction of VLS and Tomahawk gave Aegis cruisers a long-range strike, land-attack capability. As well, the VLS cells led to use of the larger, more capable SM-3 missile that would greatly expand Aegis air defense capabilities to include BMD.

Baseline 3: These upgrades were added to the later-built cruisers (CGs 59-64) and included the more advanced SPY-1B version of the radar, along with the SM-2 Block II missile and new UYQ-21 computer consoles. By enabling use of the SPY-1B, this baseline was a major capability enhancer with respect to electronic counter-counter measures (ECCM).

Antenna_suite_on_CG-60_Normandy_AEGIS_cruiserBaseline 4: This baseline was the first to accommodate both cruisers and destroyers. Improved capabilities were added to the final lot of cruiser construction (CGs 65-73) and the first construction lot of the newer Arleigh Burke-class destroyers (DDGs 51-67). The new capabilities added to the cruisers included the next-generation UYK-43/44 computers and the latest-version of the SQS-53C sonar. The DDG upgrades included the new SPY-1D radar, SQQ-89(V) ASW system and UYK-43/44 computers. Of note, the SPY-1D, though identical to the SPY-1B, required only a single deckhouse in the destroyer superstructure since it used only a single set of power amplifiers (instead of the two in the fore and aft deckhouses on the cruisers). Later the SPY-1B(V) radar was retrofitted to the cruisers beginning with CG-59.

Baseline 5: These upgrades were targeted to Burke-class destroyers (DDGs 68-78) and consisted of SPY-1D radar, SLQ-32 electronic countermeasures system, SM-2 Block IV missile, Link-16 system and Combat Direction Finding. Introduction of this baseline required a major effort in the track file and associated track processing in the command and decision (C&D) display enabling Aegis to become a major player in battle group networks.

Baseline 6: Brought a significant list of new capabilities to Aegis destroyers (DDGs 79-90) including SPY-1D(V) with modifications for littoral operations. It introduced the Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC), Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile (ESSM) and UYK-70 display consoles. Baseline 6 was a notable transition from a Navy mil-spec-based combat system to one with a fully commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) hardware environment. A mil-spec/COTS hybrid, it was the first forward fit of COTS computers for tactical purposes that provided area air warfare, CEC and an area theater ballistic missile defense (TBMD) capability for Baseline 6 DDGs and six upgraded Baseline 6 cruisers.

Aegis-Destroyer-Dewey-DDG-105 (1)Baseline 7: The last baseline designed specifically for forward-fit into new construction ships, it represented a full conversion to commercial computers, i.e., the complete transfer to COTS processing. The baseline added the Tomahawk fire control system upgrade and Theater Wide BMD to Burke-class destroyers (DDGs 91-112). The introduction of the third-generation SPY-1D(V) radar provided major performance enhancements against stealth threats and all threats in the littoral environments. Baseline 7 DDGs had the capability for network-centric operations: they were enabled to employ the so-called Tactical Tomahawk that was reprogrammable in-flight, e.g., for use against ships and mobile land-attack targets.

Baseline 8: Brought COTS and open architecture to Baseline 2 equipped Aegis cruisers. The baseline captured tailored upgrades from new construction Baseline 7.1R destroyers (DDG 103-112), bringing the seven cruisers greater capacity for technical data collection and enhanced area air warfare and CEC.

Baseline 9: The latest version of the long-running and highly successful Aegis upgrade process, this baseline will bring significant improvements to the Fleet in several key respects. The new baseline brings radical changes to the software environment creating a true open-architecture computing framework. Common source code shared among Baseline 9 variants enhances software development, maintenance and re-use, boosting the capability to support combat system interoperability improvements and enhanced capacity and functionality.

Major Warfighting Improvements

Baseline 9 will deliver three major warfighting capability improvements. These are: the Naval Integrated Fire Control-Counter Air (NIFC-CA), Integrated Air and Missile Defense and Enhanced Ballistic Missile Defense.

The NIFC-CA capability for Baseline 9 cruisers and destroyers provides integrated fire control for theater air and anti-ship cruise missile defense, greatly expanding the over-the-horizon air warfare battle space for surface combatants by enabling third-party targeting of threats and use of “smart” missiles. NIFC-CA is valuable since it will allow greater performance of the Aegis radar over land and in the congested littorals where radar signals can be degraded given the topography and other local conditions. NIFC-CA allows Aegis to conduct over-the-horizon targeting using Standard anti-air missiles against targets based on data and other information received via the CEC net from off-board sensors such as enhanced E-2D Hawkeye aircraft.

/Users/Photo2/Desktop/IPTC.IPTIAMD brings the Fleet a more comprehensive capability to conduct ship self-defense, area air defense and ballistic missile defense missions at the same time. A core Navy mission driving capabilities for mobile, persistent, multi-mission Surface Forces, IAMD enables Aegis-equipped ships to optimize shipboard radar resources rather than forcing the radar to devote its energy to only one mission at a time. This full-up capability in all air- and missile-defense domains represents another major advance in the continuously evolving AWS capabilities against emerging threats. The Aegis SPY-1D radar uses the new Multi-Mission Signal Processor (MMSP) software package that is the centerpiece of IAMD. The MMSP integrates signal-processing inputs from the combat system’s BMD signal processor and the legacy Aegis signal processor for the radar. Prior to MMSP a ship had to devote the bulk of her radar’s power resources to tracking the more demanding BMD threat with a corresponding diminution to the air defense mission.

navy-sm-6Enhanced BMD comes with Baseline 9’s open architecture environment that will provide both a launch-on remote (LoR) and engage-on-remote (EoR) capability for Aegis where the interceptor missile uses tracking data provided from remote, off-board (land, sea, airborne and space-based) sensors to launch against and to destroy missile threats. Previous baselines have progressively expanded the LoR capability for Aegis BMD “shooters” to launch missile interceptors earlier in the target missile’s trajectory. Baseline 9’s open architecture will accommodate the Aegis BMD 5.1 system software upgrade to enable an engage-on-remote capability that advances launch-on-remote by providing an organic track to the interceptor missile late in its flight. To the extent that LoR and EoR can provide enhanced capability to the Block IA, IB and IIA versions of the Standard missile—supported by a netted sensor framework—they have the potential to provide BMD to strike group and homeland defense missions.

Ultimately, EoR will enable the shooter to complete the intercept. LoR and EoR thus add to layered defense, a critical capability for the successful intercept of longer-range and fast-flying missiles. When launch-on-remote and engage-on-remote become operational, the Aegis system can reach further into the joint and combined arenas. For example, Aegis open architecture provided by the Aegis BMD 5.0 family of system software upgrades will make it easier for allies and partners to integrate new weapon systems and sensors into their Aegis systems. This enhanced network integration will legitimize the concept of “any sensor, any shooter” to extend the battlespace and defended area.

Past Being Prologue…

Aegis has enjoyed a remarkable history in the U.S. Navy—as well as several foreign navies––and with the deployment of the new Baseline 9 version, and most likely other upgrades coming, there is no final chapter yet to be written for this workhorse capability. Aegis has truly evolved from the “Shield of the Fleet” to the Fleet’s “Central Nervous System” and more. A system originally designed to launch surface-to-air missiles against air-breathing bombers and cruise missiles has evolved into a networked combat system that can target land-launched ballistic missiles and even satellites in space—and destroy them. While its roots are traceable to the Cold War, Aegis is firmly focused on overcoming the challenges and threats the U.S. Navy faces in tomorrow’s murky and increasingly dangerous future.

Robert Holzer is senior national security manager with Gryphon Technologies’ TeamBlue National Security Programs group. Dr. Truver is TeamBlue’s director.

(1) Rear Adm. J.T. Hood, USN (Ret.), “The Aegis Movement—A Project Office Perspective,” Naval Engineers Journal: The Story of Aegis, Special Edition (2009/Vol. 121 No. 3), p. 194.
(2) Robert E. Gray and Troy S. Kimmel, “The Aegis Movement,” The Story of Aegis, op.cit., p. 41.