Is the flow of defensive weapons in the United States at risk of running dry soon?

The country’s cruisers and destroyers equipped with surface combat system (Aegis Weapon Systems) have long been relied upon by their commanders in their detection, engagement and destructive capabilities of enemy missiles that target US aircraft carriers. These cruisers and destroyers often employ a tiered strategy to strike and hit threats from close to long distance ranges. This is one of the cruisers’ missions – that of protecting an aircraft carrier from hostile attacks from the enemy.

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Reliant Upon Aegis-equipped Cruisers And Destroyers
This has boosted the confidence of the US defense department in its ability to defend the country against enemy attacks. However, there’s one problem. There’s a doctrine that requires two missiles be shot at each incoming weapon. Each missile magazine carries about 100 missiles or so.

Under this situation, a surface fleet is likely to exhaust its missiles at a faster rate than its counterparts. A destroyer’s missile inventory will essentially be used up by 50 enemy missiles. The destroyer will have no missiles available for the next 50 incoming missiles from the enemy.

Imbalance In Use Of Missiles To Counter Enemy Attacks
This clearly shows how fast the flow of defensive weapons can run dry. In an active battle, the destroyer is not in a very good position considering its missile inventory. Naval analyst Bryan Clark further explains that an even worse situation is likely to happen when the expensive long-range SM-6 Standard missiles – the warship’s most effective defense weapons, will be used up first as they would be the preferred weapons to engage enemy missiles that are further away. Worst case scenario would be an opponent saturating a destroyer’s strike group with cheap missiles, and the US destroyer using up all its defense weapons and that’s when the opponent would wipe out the destroyer’s strike group along with its escorts.

The US Best Weapons Cost More Than What The Enemies Use
Even in terms of cost, the US will be spending more than their counterparts. The BrahMos cruise missile, a potential enemy weapon developed by Russia and India and available for export costs about $2.5 million apiece while the SM-6 missile has a unit price of about $4 million apiece. The case where the US strikes one BrahMos with two SM-6s is definitely a poor exchange and a losing defense scheme.

Using up a carrier’s 100 missiles in one engagement for instance will require billions of dollars to replenish. In ground battlefields, the soldiers only need to make sure that they have enough ammo for their magazines, and that their assault rifles or artillery guns are not lacking in Belleville spring washers that could cause a weapon malfunction or failure. It’s a totally different story when you talk about air strikes and surface fleets.

How Can The US Defense Department Counter Such Threats?
Clark is quick to explain to reporters in November as he introduced a new study, that the country needs a new defensive concept on AAW (anti-air warfare). In said study, Clark calls on the Navy for the reinvigoration of surface warfare. He urged that rather than a layered approach, the US should shift to a dense, single, defensive and close-in anti-air warfare. His proposal is suggestive of enemy engagement at a range of about 30 nautical miles.

Shifting To Close-In Anti-Air Warfare
Clark, a former top adviser to Adm Jonathan Greenert, chief of naval operations explained that the current air defense schemes are based on wishful thinking and fallacies. The principle of using the most costly and effective defense weapons first leaves the carrier or destroyer with cheap, close-in weapons. If enemy engagement is allowed at 30 nautical miles, the US carriers:

  • can use cheaper interceptors which can be loaded to the carrier in larger numbers,
  • and rely on the fire control abilities of the Aegis combat system to hit their targets

Standard SM-2s and SM-6s Used As Offensive Weapons
By doing that, the standard and expensive weapons, SM-2s and SM-6s are left in reserve for use as weapons for offensive actions which can be more effective in reaching out and destroying enemy aircraft.  The essence of Clark’s study is to increase the lethal-ability of the fleet and implementing more offensive actions.

The Need For Executable Plan
If the Department of Defense is to rely on the existing surface fleet for offensive sea control, it’s an aspirational plan as the surface fleet really can’t be relied upon to do offensive sea control. Clark emphasizes the need for executable plan instead – one that is payload-focused and without requiring a brand-new surface combatant. Modifications to existing surface fleets are all they need.

Will the US Defense Department change missile-fighting doctrines to save up on missile inventory?

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2 thoughts on “Turning Defensive Missiles To Offensive Weapons”

  1. Just as technology has produced bombers that can hit targets without being detected, the Navy has come a long way since then. Today’s Navy seems like it is being built to travel more stealthily and use less fuel. I was very surprised to learn that this technology has its roots in hybrids like the Toyota Prius. The difference is these ships can be armed with futuristic lasers.

  2. One way to restore offensive punch to the surface Navy is to discard the idea of Outer Air Battle to defeat a Soviet Cold War fleet in the Mediterranean and Baltic Seas and the North Atlantic and concentrate on dense air defenses 30 nautical miles out. At least, that is what experts are in agreement about. The idea then was, going after the archer before he could shoot his arrows. It makes sense, but I don’t think it’s quite that simple.

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