The U.S. Navy and its NATO counterparts are discussing how to make maritime ballistic missile defense (BMD) training a routine event in Europe, in the hopes that countries will grow more comfortable working with one another in this warfare area and even invest in greater capabilities, the head of American ballistic missile defense in Europe told USNI News.
Last week’s Maritime Theater Missile Defense (MTMD) Forum Integrated Air and Missile Defense (IAMD) At Sea Demonstration was the first of its kind but will not be the last – the U.S. Navy is both planning a 2016 follow-up to coincide with the annual Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise, and working with NATO to develop an ongoing maritime ballistic missile defense exercise program, Capt. Jeffrey Wolstenholme, commodore of Task Force 64, told USNI News in an interview from aboard USS Ross (DDG-71) in the U.S. 6th Fleet area of operations.
Wolstenholme said BMD had for a long time been considered a land-based mission set. The U.S. Army and Air Force, as well as their counterparts in Europe, have a variety of assets across the continent to track and engage incoming missiles – including the Raytheon Patriot surface-to-air missile system and the Lockheed Martin Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system.
“The (MTMD) forum was started because of the emphasis that was starting to be placed on maritime ballistic missile defense,” he said.
“We have Patriot missile defense capabilities, THAAD missile defense capabilities that are primarily in the Army and Air Force realm. Maritime has always kind of played second fiddle to that, but with the advent of the Aegis ship and what we have brought forward with the ballistic missile defense capability within in the U.S. Navy, now maritime is really coming to the forefront.
“And the other nations are starting to get involved in this warfare area as well,” he continued.
“We’re seeing a lot of development in the Netherlands. The Spanish are showing a lot of interest, as well as the United Kingdom and the Italians. And to some degree the French, who have been watching this.”
Though NATO is not affiliated with the MTMD Forum, most of the 10 forum members are in NATO – Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, The Netherlands, Norway, Spain, United Kingdom and the United States. Australia did not participate in the demo and Germany sent personnel to support the exercise but not any military platforms.
NATO is in the midst of discussions about how to improve theater missile defense, Wolstenholme said, and was watching the nine-country live fire demonstration closely.
“There’s a lot of discussion going on throughout the NATO community. In fact, just earlier this month there was a conference in Spain … and there was a lot of discussion about where do we go next after this At-Sea Demo in developing an exercise program,” he said.
“And there’s several proposals being discussed right now to figure out how we get this stood up and make it more mature.”
In addition to whatever exercise program NATO develops, the MTMD Forum hopes the At-Sea Demonstration will be an annual event. Wolstenholme said there would be at At-Sea Demonstration 16 next year to coincide with RIMPAC 2016, and though it would be a smaller scale event than the inaugural event, it would focus on forum member Australia and whichever other member countries choose to participate.
Last week’s demonstration was conducted in conjunction with the semi-annual
Exercise Joint Warrior hosted by the United Kingdom. Wolstenholme said the U.K. military hosts integrated training exercises in the spring and fall and invites multiple other countries to participate in complex maritime warfare scenarios involving multiple types of warfare.
“One of the things that they wanted to do was host a live-fire event with all the different nations that are part of the forum to fully test out the ballistic missile and air defense architecture and prove that we could bring multiple nations together and be able to do simultaneous ballistic missile and air defenses,” Wolstenholme said.
The exercise included the first launch of a Standard Missile-3 in Europe, and securing the region for the ballistic missile target launch and the SM-3 intercept was no easy undertaking – commercial air traffic in and out of Europe typically flies right over the Hebrides Range in Scotland and had to be diverted to the south, and U.S. Navy P-3s and P-8s and U.K. E-3Ds scanned the water to ensure the seas were clear of all boat traffic.
The highlight of the forum’s demonstration was the simultaneous engagement of a cruise missile and ballistic missile by coalition forces. USS Ross (DDG-71) tracked and intercepted the ballistic missile, which USS The Sullivans (DDG-68) tracked and intercepted a cruise missile. Other ships, including Spanish frigate Almirante Juan de Borbón (F-102), tracked the missiles and sent their data to a U.S.-based lab for analysis on the accuracy and timeliness of the tracking capability, Wolstenholme said.
“All of the preliminary data is telling us that this was a huge success,” he said, noting that data analysis will give him and other officials a clearer picture of how each of the participants performed in the coming months.
Still, he said, he hopes the other countries that participated will be inspired by the American capabilities used in the exercise and improve their own fleets’ assets. The countries have varying levels of capability to track incoming missiles, but none can shoot down a ballistic missile from a ship with an SM-3 except the United States.
The U.S. Navy now has four Aegis Combat System-equipped guided missile destroyers homeported in Naval Station Rota, Spain, as well as one Aegis Ashore site in Romania set to come online by the end of this year and a second in Poland expected to be completed in 2018.
“That, along with our Aegis ships, and then as our allies and partners gain this capability at sea to track and maybe at some point down the road to shoot, together this is a very formidable force,” Wolstenholme said. He added that the land-based Army and Air Force assets are of course important as well, but that Europe is still a large mass of land to protect from missiles.
“I think the number one thing is, the other nations are going to have to develop this capability in their navies similar to what the U.S. Navy already has today,” he said.
“So we have the sensor capability to track ballistic missiles, and then we have the shooter capability to actually shoot them down, and that’s what the SM-3 missile provides them. The other nations don’t have the shooter capability, they don’t have the missile, and so right now what they’re developing is the tracking capability with their radar.”
Mary Keifer, Lockheed Martin’s Aegis in-service and fleet readiness program director, said after the at-Sea demonstration that the company was working with NATO and MTMD Forum members to improve their ships on a budget. After working with the Spanish Navy in 2007 to demonstrate a carry-on/carry-off temporary solution to help Spain’s Aegis-equipped ships track ballistic missiles, Keifer said the company again worked with Spain ahead of the demonstration to do a partial upgrade to some Aegis BMD tracking capabilities.
“That’s what this At-Sea Demo test helps show, that they are able … to detect, to track a ballistic missile,” Wolstenholme said.
“And what we’re trying to test is, can they provide that information to either a U.S. ship or a U.S. asset to shoot the ballistic missile down. And the way we pass information is through this architecture we developed. So where do we go from here? Well number one, they need to further develop their capability, and number two we need to develop an exercise program within NATO to start practicing for the whole coalition so this becomes a routine type of an event, so we’re very used to coming into this architecture, passing information, sharing information and becoming proficient at doing these tracking and shooting exercises.”