With a battery of successful ballistic missile defense (BMD) tests in its wake, the guided missile cruiser USS Monterey steamed into the Mediterranean Sea earlier this month equipped with its Aegis defense system and, analysts say, under a new set of orders for a U.S. Navy ship — provide BMD protection for U.S. allies against growing nuclear powers in the region.
The relatively new and expanding BMD role for Aegis-equipped vessels has provided a renaissance for both the system and the ships that employ them, according to Jim Sheridan, Lockheed Martin’s director of the Navy Aegis program.
The Monterey and destroyers USS Ramage and USS Gonzalez in January tracked a short-range ballistic missile target launched from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, the Navy says.
The missile fell harmlessly into the Atlantic Ocean. All three ships tracked the missile, and Monterey and Ramage simulated engagements.
Lockheed is in the midst of a major Aegis modernization effort for vessel upgrades, testing its BMD capabilities and tweaking the Aegis multimission signal processor, which enables Aegis-equipped ships to conduct BMD and ship self-defense missions without missing a beat
Lockheed Martin used the processor in October to identify and track a target, a third test in a series of scheduled exercises that began early last year.
The earlier tests focused on the anti-air warfare and BMD capabilities, while the fall test tracked a target with a higher-resolution capability, the company says, showing Aegis could handle more complex threats. Lockheed Martin conducted another test in December, Sheridan says, flying aircraft against the Aegis development site. The processor is scheduled for installation on a number of Aegis-equipped guided missile destroyers and cruisers starting in 2012 as part of the system’s modernization program.
The Navy’s anticipated next-generation system — the Air and Missile Defense Radar (AMDR) — has great potential for BMD missions in certain key areas, according to John Geary, president of SEG, a Telephonics Corp. unit that provides threat engineering and analysis for the U.S. Missile Defense Agency and the Aegis BMD program.
One of the benefits that AMDR will offer, experts note, is a solid-state radar infrastructure, similar to the dual-band system developed by Raytheon to be installed aboard the Navy’s DDG-1000 ships. “Those radars are a stepping-stone to the AMDR,” Geary says.
“Missile defense has now become a major Navy mission,” Lexington Institute analyst Loren Thompson says. Aegis’ recent success rate for its BMD tests show how well the system fares in that mission, Thompson says, while keeping up with its other set of missions and roles.
Warships equipped with Aegis or other similarly based technologies, Thompson says, also are more politically acceptable solutions to BMD than other options for the Obama administration.
The president’s fiscal 2012 budget requests $167 million to complete the AMDR’s technology development phase in fiscal 2012 in preparation for a Milestone B decision in the first quarter of 2013. The radar is an open-architecture solution to the requirement for BMD, while also improving the DDG-51’s air defense capabilities. AMDR is envisioned to go on the fiscal 2016 DDG Flight III ship.
The fiscal 2012 budget requests $2.1 billion for DDG-51 AEGIS destroyers and another requests $1.5 billion for Aegis BMD.