Aircraft Carriers Vs. the New Battleships
We have made specific and proven advances in our missile defense technology, particularly with regard to land- and sea-based interceptors and the sensors that support them. Our new approach will, therefore, deploy technologies that are proven and cost-effective and that counter the current threat, and do so sooner than the previous program. Because our approach will be phased and adaptive, we will retain the flexibility to adjust and enhance our defenses as the threat and technology continue to evolve.
President Barack Obama on replacing the land based BMD shield in Europe for now with a sea based deterrent.
Last week, President Obama — on my recommendation and with the advice of his national-security team and the unanimous support of our senior military leadership — decided to discard that plan in favor of a vastly more suitable approach. In the first phase, to be completed by 2011, we will deploy proven, sea-based SM-3 interceptor missiles — weapons that are growing in capability — in the areas where we see the greatest threat to Europe.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates in a NY Times editorial.
With the blessings of the President and Defense Secretary, we can officially declare America’s guided missile cruisers and destroyers as the modern battleships. Their obvious ability to contend with an assortment of air and surface threats, as well as shoot down rogue ballistic missiles that threaten our nation and its allies, means the new battleships have gone beyond the role of mere carrier escorts, to a key strategic asset in their own right.
There is of course, the realization that this new found importance is shared with the attack submarine, a formidable asset to the nation’s defense as well. However it is also clear there are still numerous functions only the surface ship can perform, not the least of which is ballistic missile defense. While the land forces have been grappling with the problem for decades of “hitting a bullet with a bullet”, the Navy has almost seamless adapted its proven Aegis phased array radar and the Standard missile to this end, seeing it successfully shoot down missiles in 14 out of 18 tests.
This amazing and potent capability in one surface combatant begs the question” Are the new battleships still bound under the protective wing of naval airpower?” As we recorded earlier in the week the handwriting has been on the wall for airpower for some time. With the ability to dominate the airspace for 200-300 nautical miles, this is yet another role taken from the $6-$8 billion aircraft carrier plus its equally costly jets on a less costly (though still expensive) platform.
We envision a scenario where the Ticonderoga cruisers and the Arleigh Burke destroyers with their unmatched interceptor missiles operate in high threat areas without their giant motherships in support. As it seems prohibitive for aircraft to fly in some areas dominated by SAM batteries, especially the fearsome Russian S-300 and S-400, how much more would the traditional fighter-bomber be at risk against Aegis, the best anti-air system of the age?
We can in fact have such a scenario, in one of handful of sea fights in the Missile Age: Unable to afford an offensive attack aircraft carrier arm and still maintain a viable fleet, the British Royal Navy in 1982 was forced to seek alternatives. Acknowledging that her small Harrier carriers could not promise complete air superiority over the Falkland Islands, she was forced to rely more on her guided missile destroyers and frigates. The outcome is well known, with the invasion force not only surviving but prevailing over the numerous Argentine aerial armada, to safely see the troops ashore, the islands safely back under Crown protection. All this occurred long before Britain built her own high tech missile warships, the Type 45, with no Aegis-like warship to guard the South Atlantic Task Force.
Finally, Information Dissemination wonders “As the Navy is assuming a new role with Arleigh Burke destroyers, what platform has the endurance to make up for the presence requirements?” But is it more battleships we need or just spartan hulls and lots of them?