Tuesday, September 29, 2009

BMD fleet plans Europe defense mission

The Navy’s new mission of protecting Europe from ballistic-missile attacks has widespread implications for the surface fleet, potentially affecting everything from deployment schedules to crewing arrangements to command-and-control procedures for cruisers and destroyers.

Ballistic-missile defense warships have become the keystone in a new national strategy to shield European allies from potential attacks by Iran. Rather than field sensors and missiles on the ground in Poland and the Czech Republic, the U.S. will first maintain a presence of at least two or three Aegis BMD ships in the waters around Europe, starting in 2011.

That announcement — which defined a new mission for the surface force: continent defense — immediately raised many questions that Navy planners must answer over the next two years:

Which ships will take the patrol mission? What will the deployments look like — will ships participate in exercises, make port visits or be confined to a narrow patrol box? How long will ships be assigned picket duty? Will BMD patrol ships sail with the crews they would have taken on normal deployments, or will they have fewer sailors to account for the narrower mission?

Navy officials had few answers in the week after Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced the new BMD mission. Spokesmen at the Pentagon and for 3rd Fleet, which is responsible for Navy Air and Missile Defense Command, said officials were working out the details.

Some hints could come from the deployment this summer of the BMD destroyer Stout, which spent six months in the Mediterranean and Black seas, training with Turkish, Romanian, Georgian and other sailors. When the mission was finished, Stout returned to Norfolk, Va., in early September.

But that traditional model might not be best for the new BMD patrols, said retired Rear Adm. Ben Wachendorf. He said top commanders might consider reviving crew-swaps — flying replacement sailors to a forward port to relieve a ship’s company when its time at sea is over, keeping the ship at sea for extended periods of time.

Wachendorf, who worked on the Navy’s original crew-swap experiments in the early 2000s, said it would be expensive, but crew swaps would enable commanders to keep BMD ships in place in European ports and save long transits home. Most of the Navy’s BMD fleet is based in the Pacific, meaning ships would need a month at sea just to get to Europe and then another month for the trip home.

One reason the fleet might reconsider crew swaps is that BMD-patrol ships could sail with fewer people. If a cruiser or destroyer is loaded only with Standard Missile-3 interceptors and will be tasked only with picket duty, it may not need some elements of a normal crew, making it easier to fly fewer people to a forward port.

Then again, that concept could backfire.

“You might be able to cut back on some things. Do you need a towed array? Are you ever going to stream it out? Do you need a [helicopter] detachment?” Wachendorf asked. “I could say no, but Big Navy worries, ‘If we have a helo-capable ship that never operates helos, they’re not going to be ready to do that.’ Same thing with [anti-submarine warfare].”

Who pushes the button?
There were broader questions beyond crewing and deployments: For the first time, the commanding officer of a surface warship will have strategic responsibilities — the ship could be the only thing standing between a nuclear attacker and its victim. What discretion will commanders have in responding to attacks?

“You’ve put these commanders on a par with [ballistic-missile submarine] commanders,” said Steven Cimbala, an expert on ballistic-missile issues.

“But unlike an SSBN commander, who is unlikely to be under immediate tactical threat, an Aegis cruiser or a [destroyer] could very easily be attacked by surface or subsurface craft, or aircraft, as part of a first strike,” Cimbala said.

According to new intelligence described by Gates, the stakes for an engagement are very high: Rather than one or two rogue launches, Gates described the threat from Iran as involving volleys of many missiles fired simultaneously.

That also means a BMD captain could be responsible for a big, complex, dangerous battle in the space over Europe, needing to fire dozens of missiles to try to destroy dozens of attackers.

BMD Basics
Today, 18 ships are equipped with Aegis BMD, and most of them are based in the Pacific. The Navy’s missile defense ships and their home ports:

• Norfolk, Va.: Destroyers Ramage and Stout.

• San Diego: Destroyers Decatur, Benfold, Milius, Higgins and John Paul Jones.

• Pearl Harbor, Hawaii: Cruisers Lake Erie and Port Royal; destroyers Russell, O'Kane, Paul Hamilton and Hopper.

• Yokosuka, Japan: Cruiser Shiloh; destroyers Stethem, Curtis Wilbur, John S. McCain and Fitzgerald.

The Navy hopes to have 28 ships by 2013. Three of the first nine ships have been determined: the cruisers Vella Gulf and Monterey, and the destroyer The Sullivans. The eventual goal is to field a fleet of 32 ships by 2015.

Navy Times

Fuck the Russians.


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