Aegis Allies: How a Shared Missile Defense System Could Win the Next War

Naval Warfare

Aegis Allies: How a Shared Missile Defense System Could Win the Next War

The Aegis system is a powerful missile and air defense platform that can help allied navies fight together.

Key point: Allied navies have different languages, traditions, and perhaps even ships and strategies. Yet, if they share the same technology it is possible for these fleets to also share vital intelligence and targeting data.

The tactical and strategic rationale for large-scale U.S.-allied cooperation is in larger measure grounded upon the idea of interoperability, meaning the technical capacity to share combat-relevant and time-pressing intelligence data in real time across vast distances or otherwise disconnected friendly forces. 

Without interoperability, there might be little utility in trying to form sensor-webs between sets of allied ships conducting collaborative missile defense missions. What is the point of having an allied ship detect an incoming salvo of ballistic missile attacks upon U.S. Navy positions, if the information cannot quickly be passed to those in the line of fire? 

This article first appeared earlier and is being reposted due to reader interest.

This premise, while perhaps seemingly simple and self-evident, has proven difficult to bring to life for many years, and it is a collective U.S.-allied endeavor which has continued to make technological breakthroughs in recent years. 

One longstanding example of this is the growing cooperation between U.S. Navy ships tasked with ballistic missile defense and allied ships. This cooperation is aided by a series of technical partnerships brought to life by multiple countries using American-made Aegis radar systems. The well-known Aegis radar, now in use by a growing number of U.S. allied navies, involves an interesting mixture of advanced software, fire control, networking systems and of course radar detection technology. There are a number of Aegis-integrated Navies, to include the Spanish Navy, Royal Norwegian Navy, Republic of Korea Navy and Royal Australian Navy, among others. 

Yet another Aegis-allied country, Japan, is fast gaining new levels of solidarity and interoperability with the United States. The U.S. Missile Defense Agency recently awarded a Foreign Military Sales deal modification to Lockheed for the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Forces to integrate and improve Aegis radar systems. The MDA deal “extends performance of Aegis FMS Baseline J7.B development and radar production, integration, test planning support and includes assessment of alternatives studies,” according to a Pentagon statement.  

While some U.S. Navy ships are now integrating an advanced Aegis software iteration called Baseline 10, all applications of the software on U.S. and allied vessels are engineered to be compatible with one another to enable information sharing. This includes FMS-specific Aegis systems, as sharing threat data would be the point of expanding radar detection across vast allied areas. The interoperability is grounded upon the technical premise that commonly-configured software can, through upgrades, adjust to new threat specifics yet retain a backward compatibility with other similarly engineered Aegis radar applications. 

This is of particular relevance in the Pacific, given how dispersed and vast the ocean areas are, a reality likely informing the extended Aegis modernization with Japan. The Japanese coastline is within reach of some Chinese ballistic missiles, a scenario highlighting the need for U.S. and Japanese ships to remain on alert in the region and, when necessary, share pertinent threat data. For example, a Japanese ship might be able to use an Aegis system to develop a track on Chinese-fired missiles heading toward sensitive areas of the South China Sea, and quickly alert U.S. Navy assets on patrol in the region. 

Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University. This article first appeared earlier and is being reposted due to reader interest.

Image: Reuters.