TBMD Master’s Thesis Passes the Test of Time

BMD Technical Information Center Focus
February 1999

Theater Ballistic Missile Defense from the Sea: Issues for the Maritime Component Commander, having undergone extensive peer review, has been recently published by the Naval War College as a Newport Paper. As #14 in this distinguished series of research projects, the paper is now deemed “of particular interest to policy makers, scholars, and analysts.” Originally penned in 1995 by CDR Charles C. (Chip) Swicker in partial satisfaction of the requirements for the Master of Arts degree in National Security and Strategic Studies, the newly-revised paper is now a bound book with a foreword by Vice Admiral Arthur K. Cebrowski, NWC President.

The the 1995 thesis can also be found on the Internet at

Eminently readable, Commander Swicker’s book is free of technical jargon, and has deliberately been kept unclassified in order to provoke public debate on issues central to the success of the Navy’s TBMD effort. Designed to raise questions rather than provide answers, the book addresses four major issues facing the Joint Force Maritime Component Commander (JFMCC): Logistics; Command, Control and Intelligence; Warfighting; and Rules of Engagement. Betsy Woods, TIC Program Manager and Mary Wardlow, Librarian, met with the author last month at his Pentagon office, where he is currently serving a three-year joint duty tour in BMDO’s System Acquisition Directorate. Commander Swicker opened the conversation by making clear that his views are entirely his own, and do not necessarily represent those of the US Navy or BMDO. The following exchange is excerpted and paraphrased from that meeting:

What in your view is the greatest challenge facing the TBMD programs today? Is it technological readiness?

It is not. I am fully confident that the technical challenges will be met. It may take longer than we had anticipated, and it will almost surely cost more than we have currently budgeted, but it will happen. The greater challenge will be in effecting the cultural shift required by a truly joint effort, the cooperation required between the various military services and ultimately between friendly nations. TBMD is inherently a joint mission. I see the Navy’s role in TBMD as an “enabling” mission, enabling the other military services to carry out their diverse tasks, especially in the early stages of any conflict. It is this concept of joint operations, both among the services and ultimately multinational, that will present the greatest challenge. The key will be in netting the various system architectures together, via Command and Control — netting the sensors together, netting the communications together.

How would you compare the Rules of Engagement for TBMD with those currently required for the more traditional anti-air warfare? Will TBMD Rules of Engagement rewrite the rules for AAW?

I think not. What I see happening is that Rules of Engagement for TBMD Active Defense are going to be very, very permissive. A ballistic missile moves incredibly fast compared to an aircraft. The amount of time you have to make the deci- sion, commit to a launch, and get that interceptor out of the VLS [vertical launch system] will be measured in seconds— not minutes—seconds. You have to do that because the target is going to be so fast. You can get away with doing that — you can think realistically about rules that are that permissive — because (a) you can be sure you’re shooting at an unfriendly target (an assurance which is not there in AAW), and (b) there is no pilot in that target, there is no human payload. The consequences of a blue-on-blue engagement, particularly with a manned target, are considerably more severe than shooting at an obviously unfriendly, unmanned target. Also, if one can talk about “benign destruction” (which may seem like an oxymoron), consider that the Navy Theater Wide TBMD interceptor does not have an explosive warhead, and the intercept takes place outside the atmosphere. While debris will still reenter the atmosphere at some point, by that time it will be so widely scattered as to ameliorate collateral damage. TBMD engagements result in the destruction of metal rather than men.

Will Command and Control be different for the two Navy TBMD systems—Navy Area and Navy Theater Wide?

Under some circumstances, that is likely. Consider that for Navy Area (the lower tier system) you’re close to the specific target that you’re defending, rather like a floating Patriot battery. But with Navy Theater Wide (the upper tier system) you could be one ship with the capability of defending much of the civilian population of a coalition partner. Do you think the National Command Authorities are going to be on the radio telling you what to do? In that situation, is your ship therefore being handled like a traditional navy ship, as part of the carrier battle group, or is it being handled more like a strategic ballistic missile submarine, an SSBN? In this situation, there may well be direct communication between the National Command Authorities and the NTW ship, and the battle group commander may not have that much to say about it. This is a significant departure from traditional naval command and control, and the implications need to be addressed in depth.

Your book seems to raise a lot of questions rather than recommend solutions or provide directions.

That’s the whole point exactly! I was a lieutenant commander when I did this research, a pretty junior guy. I gave it my best shot, saying “Here’s how I think it’s going to work out,” from having studied the problem academically, and having floated these ideas around on the ship as an AEGIS Combat Systems Officer. These are some of the key questions that I think the Joint Forces Maritime Component Commander will need to address. My purpose in writing the book was to “stir the pot,” so to speak, to provoke thought, to encourage discussion.

FAS Curator's NOTE: This text is available on the FAS Website @ Theater Ballistic Missile Defense from the Sea -- Issues for the Maritime Component Commander Charles C. Swicker Commander, United States Navy Newport Paper Number Fourteen August 1998