Floating Anti-Missile Platforms

A Standard Missile (SM-3) is launched from the Aegis combat system equipped Arleigh Burke class destroyer USS Decatur (DDG 73) during a Missile Defense Agency ballistic missile flight test.

A Standard Missile (SM-3) is launched from the Aegis combat system equipped Arleigh Burke class destroyer USS Decatur (DDG 73) during a Missile Defense Agency ballistic missile flight test. U.S. Navy Photo (Released)

Fleet scrambles to meet BMD ship demand

Couldn’t see this coming:

The demand for BMD ships is expected to increase, driven in part by rising concerns about Iran’s intentions and the U.S. decision in September to cancel an anti-missile system in Poland and the Czech Republic and rely instead on Aegis.

But the Navy has a relatively small number of such ships, and those destroyers and cruisers are designed to carry out a wide range of war-fighting tasks. As a result, while Navy commanders are pleased with the expanding capabilities of their Aegis ships, they’re also somewhat guarded about trumpeting the advances.

“We can’t constrain assets to one mission,” a senior officer said last month. “They need to do a variety of other missions.”

The fleet is smaller than its been in almost a hundred years, yet when you factor in the need for on-station missile defense for allies, there’s suddenly more ocean to cover than ever before. The fact that billion-dollar ship will be turned into stationary missile platforms because land-based BMD was canceled is a crime.

Last March I pointed out a story about Teaching Old Aegis New Tricks. The BMD system is being upgraded to allow SM-2 missiles to intercept short-range ballistic missiles. This will allow SM-3s to be “saved” for longer range threats, but it doesn’t do anything to increase the number of available BMD ships.

The first thing to do is get the BMD upgrade to more Arleigh Burkes. There are currently 56 of them in the fleet, with at least 7 more coming. With the DD(X) program being scaled back, it seems likely that there will be even more of them.

What I’d really like to see, though is a 21st-century FFG 7 frigate. I’ve written about this before. First of all, the current remaining ships are getting long in the tooth. The newest is 20 years old. Several other nations have them in service, and everyone is interested in extending their lives.

Though “cheap” is always a relative term, it describes the FFG 7s pretty well. I continue to think that a 21st century FFG 7 is one of the things we should really be looking at. Take some of the automation and newer high-tech innovations from the past couple of decades and work them into a FFG 7 hull. Save some space by cutting down on crew size (slightly) and maybe kick up the power a notch or two.

The frigate USS Hawes (FFG 53)

The frigate USS Hawes (FFG 53). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Matthew DeWitt/Released)

What would it take to put AEGIS and a dozen or two VLS tubes on a FFG 7-type frigate? Could you put the VLS amidships where the current 76mm gun is? You could put the gun forward where the Mk13 missile launcher used to be. (I’m thinking the VLS wouldn’t fit forward.)

If this would be possible, we could build relatively cheap (so to speak) multi-purpose ships based on a proven design that could help fill a number of gaps. This would address BMD needs, general escort and presence needs, and even help for things like the pirate problem off Somalia. Recently the call went out for more frigates over there, but there just aren’t enough to go around.

Even if BMD on frigates isn’t workable, or affordable when you factor in the AEGIS, I think we need frigates more than we need a huge fleet of Littoral Combat Ships.


  1. Time to refurb the IOWA. Have 2 turrets up front and convert the rear to a chopper deck. Stick in 3 nuke plants and she oughta do 40+ knots. Yah, guns are “outmoded”. But if you live within 25 miles of a coast, 2400 lbs of high ex landing in your hood will shake you up. And with a little research, I’ll bet those 16 inchers could “project power” 200 miles inland for a LOT less than a tomahawk.

  2. A lot of MO readers will agree with re-activating BBs, but I don’t think it would do a whole lot to help the BMD issue or the fact that the Navy is just plain running short of ships.

  3. That would only bring in four more ships to the fleet anyway. Some numbers are what the fleet really needs. And the Navy is not interested in anything that requires old-school manning requirements. Without rebuilding those ships from the keel up to the top of the mast, they are going to be labor intensive to run. And doing that would negate any cost savings of reactivating them (according to my intuition with no research on the subject).

    One of the things that made the Perrys cheaper was that they lacked Aegis and the phased array radar that goes with it. What percentage of the cost of a Burke does that system come to? Would it be economical to put that kind of system into a cheaper, “economy” ship?

  4. I’m an engineer who worked on the Mk-13s and the Perry class. Building more Perrys is not really cost effective; They’re not antiquated like the BBs, but they are an old design. It would be easier to start with a fresh sheet of paper. The Mk-13 Guided Missile Launch System was an old design when I worked on in the 80s. The Vertical Launch System that replaced it was a great improvement.

    I’m no expert on the Aegis system but, as I recall, one feature was that Aegis formed a battle group network and, unlike the old MK-13 missile launcher, one ship could launch a Standard missile then hand it off to another for in-flight control.

    This being the case, it would be comparatively easy to build a ship that was little more than a missile carrier for the Aegis system but without the full Aegis system.

  5. The Mk-13s have been removed from all US OHPs, though I don’t know about some of them in foreign service. I don’t think anyone wants to go back to them.

    I think what’s happening is that due to the cost of the AEGIS BMD system, they end up building bigger and more-capable ships with more missiles. But fewer units due to the cost of the bigger better ships. So we don’t have enough to cover everything against missiles, escort the carriers, and perform other surface missions.

    A large number of cheap “AEGIS frigates” with a dozen VLS tubes each could spread the love, but then you’re paying for a full AEGIS suite to support only a dozen tubes.

    Maybe a not-so-cheap-but-way-cheaper-than-a-DDG AEGIS frigate (sort of a DDG-lite) and then station VLS barges in the areas needing BMD for the AEGIS FFG to control.

    Thing is that I don’t know if an AEGIS frigate would be all that cheaper than an AEGIS destroyer due to the cost of AEGIS. If not, I guess we just build ton more destroyers. I’d be okay with that if the numbers supported it.

    Still think we need a 21st century FFG 7, though. I thought the LCS might be able to fill some of that need, but apparently not.

  6. I don’t believe that anyone could build an Aegis system smaller than a Burke. There’s a whole new level of Hotel Power required for those systems, and a lot of stuff to fit into small spaces, with the accompanying temperature control problems.

    Best solution is to scrap the DD-1000 and build more Burke, which is about what we’re looking at now anyway. The DD-1000 program is already stealing money from other programs. For example, a BIG chunk of the budget for th P-8 program to replace the P-3 Orions was taken away for use with DD-1000, pushing further back the introduction date for the P-8. Because of that, the Navy is now looking at having to upgrade structurally the fatigued P-3’s in order to keep an MPA presence in the fleet.

    For you BB lovers, you should sometime check out the displacement, length, beam, etc of the DD-1000 and compare it to the Graf Spee. They are nearly identical. Some destroyer, eh?

    Regardless, continuing the production of Burke class ships will allow the Navy to improve the fleet as it should be doing: Evolutionary development, NOT revolutionary development.

    Make them better, see what works and take that and make it better. Expand as technology develops, NOT with an eye to what MIGHT develop later.

    Navies do best when they evolve, not when they treat shipbuilding like a bunch of trailer trash who just won the lottery.

    1. I agree 100% about the “evolution not revolution” theory. I think I wrote a post at some point about the Dreadnought being more evolutionary than revolutionary.

  7. Saw an article a while back about a rather massive fleet of cargo ships sitting idle off the African(?) coast, just idling away while waiting for the world economy to need them again.

    While it wouldn’t be adequate overall, couldn’t you load them up with an AEGIS ‘package’ and some basic defenses? They’d be sitting ducks by themselves against any real naval adversary but I don’t think our current missile threats come from any of our potential naval threats (other than small boat attacks which is where the basic defenses and a few escorts come in).

  8. I’d rather take a few of those old rust buckets and convert them to “Q” ships to deal with the Piracy problems off Somalia and Yemen.

  9. Austraila put an 8 cell vls in front of the mk13, then spent more money getting it right.

    I think a vls “barge” or maybe a converted tanker with 100’s of cells would do the job.
    They could hand the missile off to an ageis ship latter fire control.

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