The U.S. Navy Needs to Do Missile-Defense Differently

David Axe

The U.S. Navy should rethink its approach to the ballistic-missile-defense mission, one retired Navy officer advised.

Destroyers and cruisers with BMD sensors and weapons are too few and their missile capacities too small effectively to defend land bases, Paul James wrote in Proceedings, the professional journal of the U.S. Naval Institute.

James echoed comments retired admiral John Richardson, then the chief of naval operations, made in 2018. Richardson complained that six of his 38 BMD-capable vessels were assigned to missile-defense stations and realistically were not available for other assignments.

“Right now, as we speak, I have six multi-mission, very sophisticated, dynamic cruisers and destroyers―six of them are on ballistic missile defense duty at sea,” Richardson said. “You have to be in a tiny little box to have a chance at intercepting that incoming missile. So, we have six ships that could go anywhere in the world, at flank speed, in a tiny little box, defending land.”

James agreed that committing BMD ships to patrol stations is a waste of resources. “There will never be enough Aegis cruisers and destroyers to meet all operational requirements,” James wrote.

“This means commanders must assess risk, establish priorities and allocate resources accordingly. Facing peer or near-peer adversaries, commanders will be required to employ surface combatants when and where they are most needed and will need the flexibility to redeploy them when threats change or opportunities arise. Limiting ships to a single mission in a small geographic area is an inefficient use of a multimission asset and not justifiable when viable alternatives exist.”

Those alternatives are land-based ballistic-missile-defense systems such as Aegis Ashore and the U.S. Army’s Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense and Ground-Based Defense missiles.

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