Robust sea-based air and missile defenses will constitute a key strategic capability for the U.S. Navy in the 21st Century. Today the Navy is confronting a serious anti-access threat that will only grow over time. The proliferation of advanced combat aircraft, highspeed cruise missiles and ballistic missiles with a wide range of payloads will, if left unchallenged, threaten the Navy’s basic power projection mission. The ballistic missile threat, in particular, could also hold at risk U.S. forwarddeployed forces, friends and allies and even the homeland.
Air and missile defenses are a central element of the Navy’s concept for seabased power projection as laid out in Sea Power 21. This new doctrine has three main components: Sea Strike, Sea Shield and Sea Basing. Sea Shield exploits the unique virtues of sea basing — undisputed sovereignty at sea, maneuverability and endurance — that will permit the deployment of defensive capabilities forward in peacetime or rapidly as a crisis develops. It calls for the development of robust air and missile defense capabilities that will enable naval forces not only to defend themselves but also to project defensive power far inland and even shield the U.S. homeland.
The Navy is pursuing a range of programs to enhance existing air and cruise missile defenses and provide robust, multi-layer missile defense. Air defenses are being improved by the fielding of the advanced E-2C Hawkeye and an extended range air defense missile. The E-2C will also support ballistic missile defense activities. The Navy’s Area Missile Defense program is intended to provide short-range or terminal defenses primarily for fleet units and co-located forces and installations.
The Theater Wide Missile Defense program will provide defenses against intermediate-range ballistic missiles and serve as the basis for a near-term sea-based homeland defense capability. Advances in booster and kill vehicle technology will be needed to enable a robust sea-based defense of the homeland. Navy missile defense systems will be based on upgraded versions of Aegis/Standard missile air defense systems currently deployed on some 60 Navy ships.
Information will be the key to effective sea-based air and missile defenses. A wide variety of space, airborne, sea and ground-based sensors will contribute to future defensive operations. These systems must be integrated. The Navy is developing Forcenet, an information architecture to support the rapid acquisition, processing and dissemination of useful information from a wide range of sensors to support the full range of defensive missions. Forcenet will also support joint defensive operations involving assets from the other Services. Much of the information gathered to support defensive operations could potentially also be useful in the conduct of offensive actions.
Countering the growing air and missile threat will require a substantial investment in sea-based defenses. It will also require the still broader investment by the Department of Defense in the sensors, communications and command and control necessary in order to enable a global and joint defense capability.
The initial draft of this report was written by Dr. Daniel Gouré of the Lexington Institute staff. All members of the Naval Strike Forum had an opportunity to review and modify the final report.
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