Home » Aviation » Aegis Ashore Could Have New Role Post INF Treaty Says Former Pentagon Official

Aegis Ashore Could Have New Role Post INF Treaty Says Former Pentagon Official

Romanian Aegis Ashore site. U.S. Missile Defense Agency Photo

Converting Aegis Ashore facilities in Poland and Romania into land stations for cruise missile coupled with already available sea-based and air-launched missiles would complicate Kremlin planning on how to defend itself from attack or strike targets in Europe, a former U.S. defense official on Wednesday.

In a telephone conference call with reporters, Abraham Denmark, director of the Asia program at the Wilson Center and a former Pentagon official, said the two facilities “could fairly readily be turned” from defensive posture against Iranian ballistic missiles threatening Europe to an offensive capability targeting Russia. This would be a “direct threat” contention the Kremlin has said violated the existing treaty and was the American goal from that start in deploying the missiles, radars and fire control systems so close to its borders.

With the United States’ announced plans to withdraw from the 1987 Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces treaty between Washington and Moscow and not having such a land-based missile in its inventory, conversion indeed might be an option in American military planning.

In setting the stage for the discussion and question-and-answer session, Robert Litwak, senior vice president at the Wilson Center, said American administrations since 2014 have publicly called out Russia for its development and deployment of a new set of mobile intermediate range cruise missiles as violating the treaty.

Russia, in response, kept pointing to Aegis Ashore, American and NATO armed drones and the dummy missiles used in targeting exercises as INF treaty violations.

The treaty, one part of a series of arms control agreements, reached during the Cold War did not cover all kinds of intermediate-range missiles.

“INF meant nothing for ships at sea” or missiles launched from aircraft, Matthew Rojansky, director of the center’s Kennan Institute, said. These were among the United States’ strongest military capabilities in deterring Soviet aggression in Europe.

Looking at the strategic situation in Europe now, the Aegis Ashore site in Romania was declared fully operational in 2016. Construction problems, however, have slowed the work in Poland and it will not be operational until 2020, a Senate Armed Services subcommittee was told earlier this year.

In the Pacific, Japan has announced the awarding of contracts for its first Aegis Ashore systems that are expected to become operational in 2023.

“The U.S. does not have capabilities [for a mobile land-based intermediate range missile] on hand” now or in the immediate future to counter Russia, China or any other power, Litwak said.

NATO allies, as well as Japan, have expressed concerns about the United States’ walking away from the treaty and likely would not be receptive to stationing new American intermediate-range missiles on their soil. This runs counter to the Cold War experience.

American plans to deploy Pershing II missiles with atomic warheads along the Iron Curtain to meet growing Soviet missile threats in Europe were marked by large protests, but the governments in the NATO countries stayed firm. Ultimately, the missiles were deployed.

Litwak said Europeans see the treaty today “as a pillar of European security architecture.” The treaty only involves the United States and Russia. Other nuclear powers, such as China, France, the United Kingdom, India and Pakistan, are not involved; and neither are Iran, North Korea and Israel.

The Trump administration, on the other hand, weighs the treaty “as a constraint on our sovereignty” rather than serving the national interest, he said. Rojansky added some in the administration could also see the move “as a way of exhausting the Russians through another arms race,” in effect “doubling down” on the Kremlin’s opening gambit of deploying its missiles and forcing it to up its defense spending in a time of negative or flat gross domestic product.

Looking to the Pacific, where China has an operational nuclear triad coupled with an intermediate range missile inventory, Denmark said Japan is very concerned about the American willingness to defend Tokyo in any showdown over its territorial disputes with Beijing and possibly from North Korea.

Noting Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s most recent visit to Beijing and the pomp, circumstance and military show surrounding it, he added, “Japan has been hedging” in light of Trump’s “criticism of alliances generally and Japan particularly,” he said.

While Europe is about land power the geography of Asia puts the emphasis on naval assets, Denmark said. China has made “significant investments that would violate the INF treaty” if it were a signatory and likely would keep it from joining any new agreement, he said.

Beijing’s development of its intermediate range missiles could reach not only American bases in Japan, but also Guam. Other potential targets could include Taiwan and India. “They’re all in on intermediate-range missiles” as a deterrent and a show of military strength.

But if converting Aegis Ashore would complicate Kremlin military planning so would deployment of U.S. mobile intermediate-range missiles to Alaska and Guam muddle Beijing’s, but here again there is no existing American system ready to deploy.

He conceded mobile land-based systems like those in China and Russia are “more efficient and can move about” more freely than an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer that costs almost $2 billion and carrying a limited number of Tomahawk cruise missiles.

“U.S. allies [Japan, the Philippines, Australia] are not terribly excited” about the U.S. decision to leave the treaty or the prospect of hosting American missiles aimed at China.

Rojansky said the move does throw into question whether Moscow and Washington will be able to update its strategic arms agreement in 2021.

There has been no serious proposal from Russia on either the strategic arms or INF treaty, Rojansky said. “It’s all or nothing” from nuclear weapons, to missiles, to cyber, space and conventional weapons. Likewise, on Capitol Hill, where Congress would have to ratify any new treaties, there is a “we do not trust the Russians” sentiment on any of these issues.

The reasons given are continued interference in American elections, active military support of Bashar al-Assad in the Syrian civil war and ongoing financial and arms support of Ukrainian separatists.

  • NavySubNuke

    This is a great and low risk way to punish Russia for violating the INF treaty and forcing it’s collapse.
    Installing the necessary equipment to allow the Aegis Ashore facilities to include TLAMs (and hopefully adding more launchers) isn’t going to be fast or cheap but it isn’t a deal breaker either.
    The real question will be if Japan is willing to start adding TLAMs to their Navy and their Aegis ashore sites.

    • Centaurus

      It’s just time to “Launch on Toe-stepping” Why even wait for a warning ? Our brilliant Leader/Strategist extraordinaire will skip us down the Yellow Brick Road very soon.

      • NavySubNuke


    • Putting TLAM in Aegis Ashore is going to be significantly faster and cheaper than developing a new ground launched missile.

      • NavySubNuke

        Exactly my thoughts. I’d also love to see a mobile TLAM launcher developed. If we can toss it around a surface ship and submarine it shouldn’t be too hard to come up with a launcher we can tow with a truck. Even if it only carries 2-4 TLAMs it seems like an easy win.

        • We already did that back in the 1980’s with GLCM, a self-propelled 4 missile TLAM launcher. Mobile launchers bring their own problems though since they are more expensive, are more difficult to secure, and have more complex C2.

          • NavySubNuke

            Agreed – still think it is worth the money — especially for the Korean Peninsula. Especially if it can accommodate NGLAW when that replaces TLAM.

        • E1 Kabong

          The USAF had them.

          BGM-109G Gryphons.

  • Bryan

    The defensive missiles in the Aegis Ashore use the large radar. Land based missiles don’t need the large radar. Putting offensive missiles next to a radar is a homing beacon for Russia to destroy. The only reason to put land attack missiles on a destroyer is multi mission. We can turn off the radar, move the ship and then use the land attack missiles. The Aegis Ashore is not multi mission.

    There is no reason to put offensive missiles on that sight. If we want to place land attack missiles in Europe it’s best to do it in an unknown spot and tell Russia we did it. Think Army missiles not MK 41 launchers. I am sure that is what Russia is thinking we will upgrade first. They would be correct.

    There was a lot of U.S./Russia dialog when we pulled out of the treaty. I have no idea what they said. I think much of it was suggesting Russia look at where we place the missiles in the future. It was to say the missiles were to help allies be safe against China and Iran. One problem China has is it’s history with Russia. They are not exactly allies.

    • NavySubNuke

      If we add more launchers and include SM-6s as well as TLAMs to the existing SM-3s we’d be better off. Let’s be honest, in any real war Russia is going to destroy the Aegis Ashore sites regardless of if there are land attack missiles there or not. We might as well beef them up and add a land attack capability that we can choose to use or not use as the situation changes.
      We can even include some land based SEARAMs or CIWS for close in defense.
      The site is there, much of the equipment is there too — adding TLAMs and SM-6s if we really do pull out of INF due to Russia’s repeated violation of it it makes a lot of sense.

      • Ser Arthur Dayne

        I actually agree completely. Correct me if I’m wrong but the SM-3 is nearly as big (Both in length and total weight) as the TLAM. If the Aegis Ashore sites already have the SM-3s, they have the biggest-size VLSs , no? So therefore they’re already capable of receiving SM-6s or TLAMs (software and stuff like that nonwithstanding.) — I would agree that perhaps even putting one of each SeaRAM and Phalanx on the Aegis Ashore sites, while mixing up the magazine to include TLAMs and SM-6s with the SM-3s, would make them basically shore-based Destroyers. They could take out attacking airplanes, helicopters, and missiles with the SM-6 …they could take out land-based targets with the TLAM, and of course ballistic missiles with the SM-3, while being able to defend themselves somewhat with the RAMs and Phalanx. To me this is sort of like the adaption of the Spruance-class DD. Designed as a large, destroyer-sized ASW ship, if you can add in all sorts of versatility, why not?

      • Bryan

        Why put them in the same complex? Why not put them somewhere else inside Japan or Europe? If they are a target then separating geographically just makes sense to complicate any enemies targeting.

        • NavySubNuke

          $$$ and resources.
          Do you want to guard forces? Two logistics trains? Two control rooms?
          If you put in more launchers and spread them out even further you are still forcing them to target more and complicating their targeting unless they are using nukes.

          • Bryan

            Yes. Why spend millions to have them hit in the first minute. Biggest waste of money ever. If you’re going to put them somewhere make them at least a bit more survivable. Also, the control room of the TLAM isn’t a room. It’s a computer station. Reminds me of the old dot matrix station.

            Most important for Poland is it’s location. I believe it’s on the coast. No need to nuke it. They can hit it from the sea to the west. Romania is farther from the Black sea but also farther from Russia. Not sure if that is where it should be strategically.

          • Bryan

            Placing TLAM, if we would want to at all, south of Warsaw is much better coverage. Covers from St Pete, Moscow, Azov, much of the black including the straight.

            There is a far better reason to leave the treaty. Increase range of army missiles. Much more survivable. That will help with Russia? Sure. But more importantly it will help with our allies under the gun of China.

  • Paul_Austin

    This is a fairly dumb idea all around. Offensive missiles need mobile launchers to protect against a disarming strike, much more effectively than trying to put them under an Aegis umbrella. As far as defense against cruise missiles, the cruise missiles can be routed around the Aegis site’s engagement envelope. You can’t do that with a ballistic missile since for any launch site and target, there’s one and only one great circle route between the two. The Aegis site blocks a group of trajectories between e.g., Paris and Iran. Effectiveness goes down fast if again, e.g., Russia that can move launchers around over a wide angle, some of which are outside the Aegis engagement envelope all together.
    In reality, Aegis has a fairly narrow engagement envelope, having less and less capability as the targets pass farther and farther away at closest point of approach. In general, mid-course interceptors perform badly against crossing targets.

    • Marauder 2048

      “Offensive missiles need mobile launchers to protect against a disarming strike”

      And the mobile launchers need to be dispersed in peacetime or at a very high state of readiness to dash-on-warning.

      The practical and political realities of achieving that on allied soil is doubtful and was the case even during the INF period.

      Another option is a fixed-site defended by terminal interceptors. Hence, Aegis Ashore.

    • Sam Pensive

      Paul; i’ve seen some video on the YouTube site which describes the European approach to this issue … target distance. they presented explanations as to how their domestic forces and the US capability overlapped. the geo-maps seemed to support that solution.

    • disqus_O6yutViIdq

      Paul_Austin why

  • sferrin

    We could call them “bullet magnets”.

    • NavySubNuke

      They could be the OHP’s of our land forces. Everyone loves a good missile sponge.

      • sferrin

        Better to just mount them on Oshkosh 10-wheelers.

  • Ser Arthur Dayne

    Or we could just add-on/build all future Navy ships with a nominally-minimum (Whatever that number is, 16, 32, etc.) VLS capability and therefore every Navy ship (outside of the obvious exceptions of things like CVNs etc.) has the capability to launch both offensive and defensive strikes at any time, and of course you (you being the bad guys) don’t know what ship has what compliment of which missiles at any times, so the whole “Shell Game” is preserved. And the firepower capable of being brought-to-bear at any time is increased greatly, and in much more diverse locations across the seas/planet.

    • Ships have a lot of advantages, but land basing is far cheaper. A Mk41 VLS cell cost about $0.5m, so even including the cost of construction and the missile you could probably get around 1000 ground based Tomahawks for the price of a single Burke (and it takes three Burkes to keep one on station). While the ships can go anywhere, we’re only going to need that sort of firepower against China or Russia.

      • Ser Arthur Dayne

        I hear you brotherman! However, $0.5m is $500,000, correct? I think we’re confusing and mismatching our arguments here. I am not necessarily saying we need to build more Burkes (Which I am not AGAINST, but not necessarily what I was after here in this idea) — and I certainly understand the concept of “takes 3 to field 1” … What I meant was… for example… the LPD-17 class was designed to have 2x 8-cell VLS mounted, specifically to carry (quad-packed) ESSMs. I realize that the ESSM-sized VLS is not the same as the “tactical-size” (to carry SM-2s and ASROCs etc.) or the “strike-length” (to carry Tomahawks) — but supposing it could be modified — having each LPD-17 class on the seas carrying 16 VLS (with associated and perhaps randomized, perhaps mission-specific loadouts) increases our offense and defensive capability big time. And not just the LPD-17s…. the FFG(X) need to have 32 VLS. The difference in loadout potential in the 16 vs 32 is enormous. Plus I would seriously try to bamboozle the LCS hulls into carrying VLS. I have read that it’s impossible, also read that it’s possible but it would require major modifications, but also have read that it is in fact possible, it’s just that the brass doesn’t want to abandon the “mission-package space” that the LCS was built for , which would need to be “sacrificed” for the VLS’s. Forget that! 30 LCSs with 16-32 VLS is a much better option than an LCS without! But that will never happen, which is one of the reasons why getting the FFG(X) done and done right and done soon is so critical IMHO.

        • I used the Burke comparison for simplicity. While more VLS cells in the fleet is always good (and I think the Navy is foolish for not specifying 32-48 for FFGX), they don’t come free. More weapons means a larger hull, higher build costs, and higher operating costs. Further, if the Navy can offload a bunch of TLAM’s to shore bases, that means more VLS cells can be dedicated to Standard/ESSM/VLA.

          • Ser Arthur Dayne

            Fair enough, I again agree. One of the only reasons I have been harping on 32 VLS for FFGX vs 48 is that I am a huge FREMM fan, and they have said they already have a designs for Fremm FFGX with 32 VLS ( 16 Fore & Aft) and I think that it’s ideal – if we specifically target 48, I feel like it’s tailor-made for the F-100 Mini-Aegis FFG to get picked. And I don’t hate the F-100s … and they’re great ships. I just think FREMM or NSC & 32 VLS is better overall and in value. Cost of course does count.

  • Please explain how we are supposed to force Russia and China to the negotiating table while abiding by the INF? Pulling out of the treaty and threatening to start deploying these weapons is exactly the leverage we need to force them to the table.

  • james

    There’s already been studies of employing the SM-6 as a surface attack weapon. In fact, an SM-6 was deployed in a Sink-ex against the OHP Reuben James in 2013. There’s reports that the Navy has investigated implementing a GPS component to the SM-6 as well to give it a limited land attack capability.

    Given that the SM-3 uses the same VLS box as the SM-6, it’s safe to assume that the SM-6 could be added to the Ashore deployment in numbers for minimal cost, in a move that would provide the sites with additional capabilities against air breathing medium to high altitude targets, cruise missiles, UAV’s and land targets.

    The addition of a SeaRam battery and C-RAM battery would turn the sites into what would amount to a Burke Class ashore…

    It’s safe to assume that even if the site was limited to ABM use as it is currently, it would still be a target of an initial counter-force salvo, so to argue that adding SAM and Land Attack missiles somehow would make it more of a missile sponge than it already is would be moot.

  • ConcernedinAlaska

    So it seems the USA is the only nuclear armed nation on the planet that is not fielding intermediate range nuclear missiles.It also seems there is no valid treaty to walk away from. The Russians wiped their butts with it long ago.

    • waveshaper1

      The INF treaty only covers ground launched nukes (ground launched = From Land). The INF doesn’t cover all them Air, Ship, Sub launched intermediate range nukes we already have.

      In the event we need more intermediate range nukes we have this option; Currently we have a bunch of extra W80-1 and W80-4 spare “Cruise Missile” Nuke warheads (320 to be exact) that are sitting in the “US Nuke Warhead Enduring Stockpile”. Heck, A refurbishment of the W80-1/W80-4, was begun in 2014 and these warheads were selected for the ALCM and the new LRSO cruise missile. The LRSO is expected to be delivered around 2025, sooner if needed. Note; The LRSO is an air-launched nuclear-tipped cruise missile under development that will replace AGM-86 ALCM.

      • ConcernedinAlaska

        Guess I should have clarified, ground launched. Easier to move around and hide. Not as susceptible to targeting as a ship and not as exposed as an aircraft. There is a reason the Russians didn’t like them and neither did we. If they want to have them back in play than we should oblige with the same.

    • Ser Arthur Dayne

      Could you see them Ruskies wiping their butts with that crusty rusty treaty from your house? Asking for a friend.

      • ConcernedinAlaska

        Too far from my house to see. But my good friend Sarah might as she is a few miles closer. We would probably be the first flash in the big fight anyway.

  • Eraserstp

    Very nice, all these years, the United States asserted that launching TLAMs from the Aegis Ashore was essentially impossible, therefore they are not a violation of the INF treaty. They asserted that these systems are not directed against Russia, so there is no reason for Russians to worry about them. Now, the gloves are off, and it turns out that these are easily converted for TLAMs, which directly violates the treaty, and that Aegis Ashore systems were placed at the Russian borders precisely for this purpose.

  • But that’s not a threat they’re going to believe unless we leave the INF treaty.

    Also, that nuclear weapons race is already happening in China and Russia – we’re the only nation not taking part.

  • NavySubNuke

    Sea-launched TLAMs, just like ALCMs are not now and nor have they ever been banned by INF.
    Ground launch TLAMs variant (nuclear or conventional) were (and since we haven’t actually pulled out of INF remain) banned by INF.
    You really should actually look at the INF treaty some time by the way— if you ever actually look at it you will see that it bans both GLCMs and GL-IRBMs of the specified ranges.

  • Sam Pensive

    ‘…Construction problems, however, have slowed the work in Poland…’
    seems odd to me that the military, which could have built the Aegis Ashore in boxes and they connected them in Poland, is having problems.

  • RedBaron9495

    The US is the biggest threat to PEACE on the planet……all it can focus on it’s military and death & destruction it could cause….make-believe enemies.