Enabling the Asian Pivot: “Aegis is my Wingman”

By Robbin Laird and Ed Timperlake

President Obama has emphasized that the U.S. as it shifts from its focus on the land wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is focusing upon Asia.  This so-called pivot to Asia is all about re-shaping, re-crafting and re-organizing U.S. forces to work with allies in Asia to provide for security and defense from the Arctic to Australia.

The Aegis fleet is a key enabler of a flexible force able to provide a lynchpin capability for the forging of an Asian pivot.  A 21st century approach to building force in the Pacific needs to build from presence, through an economy of force and able to scale up to force appropriate for the full spectrum of missions.

The very flexibility of an Aegis fleet which provides both presence and reach to protect a diversity of deployed air and surface assets is a key element for building such a capability.

Shaping a Scalable Force

Building an effective and affordable strategy for an Asian pivot is founded on having platform presence with scalability enablement.

By deploying assets such as USCG assets, for example, the NSC, or USN surface platforms, Aegis, LCS or other surface assets, by deploying sub-service assets and by having bases forward deployed, the U.S. has core assets, which if networked together – through an end the stovepipe strategy, significant gains in capability are possible.

Scalability is the crucial glue to make a network or a honeycomb force possible, and that is why a USN, USMC, USAF common fleet as a crucial glue.

As the presence forces operate in the Pacific from the Arctic to Australia, a key enabler will be the ISR inputs or services, which support and enhance deployed decision-making centers, whether in the combat aircraft of the 5th generation or by the ships and longer-range strike assets.

The service structure should be understood as a function of capabilities deployed permanently or deployed in areas of interest when appropriate to various insertions or augmentation of force.

The ISR service structure is a key element of the scalability of capabilities, and shaping of both US and allied concepts of operations. The term service structure highlights that the structure is platform agnostic.

The ISR service structure is very dynamic as well and can come from commercially leased systems, large aircraft, dirigibles, or robotic systems whether air-breathing or not. The key is to feed the ISR services into the decision making system and to support deployed presence platforms, capabilities and warfighters.

Space-based systems shape the “permanent” presence foundation for ISR in the Pacific.  Given the weather conditions and the vast expanse of the Pacific, an ability to tap into space systems is a crucial foundation for situational awareness and guidance for deployment decisions.

A comprehensive C4ISR service structure can be built based on partnering with commercial and allied offerings pursued in a realistic policy environment and a distributed architecture shaped whereby capabilities emerge from the elements of a deployed capability, rather than trying for a costly comprehensive architecture which requires solely proprietary funding to support the end to end effort.

Leveraging other people’s money, whether commercial or foreign space, or other Command, Control, Communications, Intelligence and Decision Making Support or C4ISR D platforms is essential for an affordable, capable military space strategy.

The mix can well drive innovation and match quality of shaping a de facto distributed space architecture. Overcoming stove piped programs, and challenging DOD and the intelligence community to OPERATE outside the box is crucial.  Simply contemplating change is not adequate.

Engaging in organizational innovation is at the heart of today’s technological innovation. Money can be freed up to support needs revealed by organizational innovation and core needs, which emerge at the edge of overlapping capabilities.

Space provides a significant contribution to C4ISR D or data for decision-making.

Yet the unmanned revolution as well as the fifth generation aircraft is game changers in providing data for deployed decision makers.  And the role of hoisted payloads in supporting UAVs has become evident in the Afghanistan operation.

The new capabilities can provide a re-think about how to leverage commercial space, notably hoisted payloads, in supporting air-breathing C4ISR D assets.

The role of proprietary military space becomes a default capability: what CAN NOT be provided by the powerful conjunction of air breathing assets and commercial satellite capabilities?

The relatively un-agile DOD structure would then be put on notice to identify programs that are needed which can interact with such a conjunctive capability, but provide unique and core capabilities UNABLE to be generated either by air breathing military assets of the commercial space, notably hoisted payloads structure.

Savings would come from both sources.

First, DOD would have to ACT outside the box in leveraging its investments in unmanned and manned aerospace assets.  The deployment of the F-35 will provide game-changing ISR capabilities, which can be harvested to reshape the C4ISR D structure.

Second, the evolution of satellite capabilities in the commercial sector provides significant cost investments, which DOD does NOT need to make.  DOD by shaping long-term contractual service relationships can save scarce investment capital.

But this requires DOD to think and contract long term, not one of its core competencies.

Such an approach facilitates a strategic re-think, which parallels what is happening with fifth generation aircraft.

The focus is upon distributed operations and shaping a honeycomb of decision-making supporting the deployed warfighter.  Such a focus allows one to tap into the emerging thinking about shaping a disaggregated strategy whereby space policy makers look to focus on overall capabilities from the enterprise rather than concentration of capabilities on single point of failure platforms.

Disaggregation and distributed operations further highlights the opportunity to build smaller payloads and to operate across a variety of launch platforms.

By reducing the cost impact of a launch failure and its impact on expensive and complicated satellites, innovation is enhanced as well.  With a diversity of assets distributed across the space enterprise, and leveraging commercial space and air-breathing assets, innovation and cost effectiveness are enabled.

At the same time, various air-breathing assets are key elements of a presence force with an ability to become scalable and tailored to specific situations. The potential of the fifth generation aircraft and their associated robotic systems can be exploited to shape C4ISR capabilities very scalable for the presence forces.

Here the onboard processing capabilities of the F-22 and F-35 would be recognized for what they are, namely, breakthrough capabilities to process data for their own use, for the network of air combat systems and to integrate their capabilities with maritime and ground forces.

As the manned systems are deployed and their capabilities better understood and exploited, the role of robotic vehicles in the air network will go up dramatically.

A wolfpack concept is likely to emerge within which the manned systems direct and are embedded within airborne robotic networks which, in turn, work closely with maritime and ground forces.

The capability of providing for collaborative decision-making among maritime, ground, and air commanders becomes possible as the interactive network shapes options and provides choices to the joint commanders.

The Aegis Enabler

Historically, the Aegis missile defense system was inextricably intertwined with the Carrier Battle Group.  It remains a key element of the CBG, but now deploys separate from the CBG in its missile defense mission.  Its permanent deployment at sea in the Pacific to deal with ever-present danger of missile threats to the US and its forces is a key element for re-thinking the Pacific strategy.

With permanent deployment on the Pacific, the inclusion of Aegis sensors, missiles and capabilities within the honeycomb becomes a key element for the permanent presence, scalable force approach.

A key element for the Pacific force rethink is re-considering offense and defense.  With a scalable force, the force is both able to do offensive or defensive missions.  The circumstance dictates the task; not the limitations of the force.

By providing for the defense of a deployed force, Aegis allows that force to deal with a wider spectrum of threats and engagement options.  SM-3 missiles aboard the Aegis ships can be used to defend, or to support a strike force.

And the Aegis ship has become a coalition ship.

Many Pacific allies are Aegis operators and as such the ability to develop coordinated operations enables the US and its Aegis partners to spread a defensive punch to the Pacific ISR grid.

The SPY-1 radar/Aegis system has been successfully installed aboard 7 different ship classes at 7 shipyards worldwide.

Just to review the current status of the Aegis deployment is to underscore the diversity of platforms on which one finds the Aegis system.

First, there are 22 Ticonderoga cruisers in service with the USN.  The USN has engaged in a cruiser modernization program in which it is outfitting the Ticonderoga class with the latest Aegis baseline.

Second, there are the 58 Arleigh Burke class destroyers in service with the USN through multiple Aegis baselines.

Third, the Japanese are the originally foreign purchaser of the Aegis system.  They have six Aegis systems for the Atago and Kongo destroyer classes.  The Japanese program is in a lifetime support phase; with completion of mid-life systems upgrades of the 1990s Kongo class ships, which includes a BMD capability.

Fourth, the Spanish then entered the program and provide a key turning point.  The Spanish shipyards have been major innovators in shaping a global Aegis product, in Spain, in Norway and in Australia.  The initial 4 Aegis equipped F-100 ships have an original configuration radar (SPY-1D).  The 5th F-100 ship will have an Aegis system with SPY-1D (V) radar with an indigenous combat management system (CMS).

Fifth, the Norwegians leveraged the Spanish program and have five Aegis equipped F-310 ships with a SPY-1F radar.  They were able to leverage the SPY-1Y radar technology to shape a smaller antenna to fit a 5000-ton ship.

Sixth, South Korea has three Aegis destroyers with SPY-1D(V) radar on the world’s largest Aegis-equipped ships.  The first ship will be in service with the remaining two ships to be completed by 2012.

Seventh, the Australians have also leveraged the Spanish program.  There will have three Hobart class destroyers.  This is t5he newest non-US Aegis program and leverages the Spanish F-100 ship design and the Aegis SPY-1D(V) system.  The Australians picked the combat system prior to picking the shipbuilder.

Eighth, there are a number of other countries that have expressed interest in the Aegis solution.  Those countries include Saudi Arabia, India, Canada, Brazil, and Turkey.

Currently, this means that more than 20% of the global Aegis fleet is non-American.

Aegis provides significant capability to mix and match US and allied maritime capabilities to provide for regional defense, power projection, fleet defense or support for joint or coalition non-maritime forces.

This mix and match capacity will be enhanced as many of the Aegis nations are looking to add the F-35 to the mix.  And overtime, integration of the Aegis with F-35 sensor suites will help both to shape a more effective capability over time.

The Obama Administration has placed significant emphasis on continuing the upgrade path for the Aegis BMD program.  By cancelling the Bush missile defense program in Europe, de facto, the Administration highlighted its commitment to Aegis as a key element for global missile defense.

But the evolution of the program depends upon a continuing significant commitment of increasingly scarce resources to testing and using test results to shape the concurrent development and manufacturing program.

And as the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter comes on line, the integration of Aegis with F-35 will provide a powerful capability for the US and its allies.  It must always be remembered how significant numbers of allied partners are in the Aegis deployed fleet, and that there are several joint Aegis and F-35 allies in prospect.

In other words, the Aegis global enterprise lays a foundation for a global capability in sea-based missile defenses and the protection of deployed forces as well as the projection of force. And this capability, in turn, becomes increasingly central to the freedom of action necessary for the global operation of U.S. forces and its Pacific.

“Aegis is my Wingman”

As one shapes a more effective integration of U.S. forward deployed and scalable forces and interacts with the force structure development of allies in Asia, the whole defense-offense approach changes as mentioned above.

With a scalable force, the force is both able to do offensive or defensive missions.  The circumstance dictates the task; not the limitations of the force.

In a phrase, this is how the remaining core naval assets are integrated into a scalable Pacific capability.

The F-35s, whether land or sea-based as a C4ISR D force can bring the entire surface and subsurface fleet into a scalable operation.  An economy of force capability is deployed every day with the permanent presence forces.

By making all of these forces C4ISR enabled, their individual strengths are combined into a honeycomb across the Pacific by a flying decision-making and decision directing asset.

With the combination of Aegis with F-35, the sensors are combined into wide area coverage.  With a new generation of weapons on the F-35, and the ability to operate a broad wolfpack of air and sea capabilities, the F-35 can perform as the directing point for combat action.

With the Aegis and its new SM-3 missiles, the F-35s can leverage a sea-based missile to expand its area of strike.  With a combination of the F-35 and the Aegis, the defense of land-bases and sea-bases is expanded significantly.

The commonality across the combat systems of the three variants of the F-35 provides a significant advantage.  When one talks about the Aegis as my wingman, this can be true for F-35As, Bs, or Cs.  80% of the F-35s in the Pacific are likely to be A’s and many of these coalition aircraft.

Building an F-35 and Aegis global enterprise provides significant coverage and capability across the Pacific.

As the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter comes on line, the integration of Aegis with F-35 will provide a powerful capability for the US and its allies.  It must always be remembered how significant numbers of allied partners are in the Aegis deployed fleet, and that there are several joint Aegis and F-35 allies in prospect.

During exercise Stellar Avenger, the Aegis-class destroyer USS Hopper launches a standard missile 3 Blk IA, successfully intercepting a sub-scale short range ballistic missile, launched from the Kauai Test Facility, Pacific Missile Range Facility, Barking Sans, Kauai.  (Credit: USN Visual Service, 7/31/09)

And by combining the F-35B with Aegis a whole new capability to defend land based air in the Pacific opens up.  No longer should the F-35B be considered a boutique niche aircraft only essential for Marine combat con-ops. With vision and commitment on numbers it can become a tactical aircraft that sends a strategic signal.

The reason is simple, an F-35B can stand strip alert on any long runway, US or Allied. From a strategic point of view think of Guam, South Korea or in the Middle East on all long runways. As a crisis situation develops, the F-35Bs can be remotely placed in hardened bunkers and revetments and thus become a significant deterrence asset that can instantly sortie into combat and return to gas and go again and again.

By using a detachment of F-35Bs the issue of enemy runway area denial and need for rapid runway repair does not become a show stopper to ops-tempo both offensively and defensively.

Tie an F-35B to the Aegis and the entire “wasting argument” about asymmetric IRBM and enemy strike against our hard fixed land targets becomes moot. This is because Guam for example will still have air power in its defense. This principal can be applied globally.


The Aegis provides a foundational element for the defense in the Pacific now and a core building block for more effective and scalable forces for the future.  Increasingly it will be less about the capability, which the US can deploy on its own, and more about how the US forces work seamlessly to support allies in the Pacific against various security and defense threats and challenges.

The evolution of the con-ops of Aegis will be significantly enhanced as the U.S. and allies alike deploy the F-35 fleet in the Pacific.  Aegis will become both a defensive asset and a strike asset in support of forward deployed forces or forces which can be scaled up to support those forces.

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