Theater Ballistic Missile Defense from the Sea
Charles C. Swicker - Newport Paper 14


Toward 2008

UNCERTAINTY IS PERVASIVE IN Theater Missile Defense. There is uncertainty in when and where threats will develop and what threat characteristics will be. And since TMD is still developmental, there is uncertainty in how developments will go, and how fielded systems will operate even against known threats."145 Commanders must be able to deal with uncertainty. Through reflection, experience, and good professional judgment, they must be able to render decisions and move ahead without necessarily having all the facts.146

Indeed, to wait for all the facts may well be to wait in vain. Uncertainty is an inevitable characteristic of warfare. One task of the commander, then, is to ascertain what is knowable while recognizing what will remain uncertain. To bound that uncertainty, the commander must carefully examine what is known, evaluate the reliability of that intelligence, then plan to the best of his ability for what is unknown.

For this study, the threat posed by conventionally armed theater ballistic missiles is known and has been demonstrated in combat against U.S. forces, coalition partners, and neutral third party states. The true threat of TBMs carrying weapons of mass destruction is unknown, as systems so configured have yet to be used in conflict. Nevertheless, a good deal of knowledge exists to reduce the realm of uncertainty even about the TBM-WMD threat. For example, international pressures exist that create conditions favorable for their development and use, and they have been increasing since the end of the Cold War. There are known weapons programs in several states that will eventually lead to the deployment of these systems.

Therefore, this study holds that the future TBM-WMD threat to regional neighbors and U.S. forces is imminent. The scope of that threat is uncertain. Planning carried out to counter it must thus be comprehensive, flexible, and capable of execution through both joint and multinational operations. Even without all the facts, planning and preparation for the TBMD battle must evolve along with the threat, for the evolution of that threat over the next ten years is not in doubt—it is certain.

TBMD and the Maritime Component Commander

The ages-old utility of deployed naval forces rests on two simple facts: naval forces are versatile, and naval forces are present. No matter how great a particular capability may be, it is of little use to a CINC if it is not present in theater when needed. Assuming that the traditional nature of their employment will continue through 2008, naval forces will be present, available for crisis-response orders from the regional CINCs. These forces are planned, programmed, and budgeted to receive significant TBMD capability by 2008.

A naval officer can observe the evolution of the TBM threat; he can track the national response through the planning, programming, and budgeting system; and he can watch how Navy TBMD systems fare in the POM (program objective memorandum). He should begin to look at this emerging operational challenge, and frame questions (when will SM2 Block IVA reach IOC?) for which he may get answers, and others (when will Iranian Scud chemical submunition warheads reach IOC?) for which he will not. The evolution of TBM-WMD systems presents such an unprecedented challenge that the number of questions on any flag officer's "I want to know" list will always exceed the available answers, well past 2008.

This study has not attempted to provide answers to the major questions likely to confront the Joint Force Maritime Component Commander executing the TBMD mission in 2008. To do so would be intellectually presumptuous and factually dishonest—because the answers are not out there. Even if they were, the conditions bounding any given operational situation are unique and mutable. For a given contingency in 2008, what countries will be involved? What U.S. interests will be threatened? If a joint force is committed, what will be the CINC's goals, and what, therefore, will be the JFC's missions and the resources dedicated to accomplishing them? Under what political constraints will the NCA, the CINC, and the JFC have to operate?

That said, though, this study is premised on the assumption that it is worthwhile for the naval officer to think about this problem, to reflect upon what he knows and what he does not know, in order to better frame the decisions he may have to make eventually in a foreseeable U.S. response to an imminent threat. Rather than looking for specific answers to nebulous questions, this study has attempted to establish first principles—areas of concentration such as logistics; command, control, and intelligence; warfighting; and rules of engagement. The naval officer might best focus his intellect on these aspects of the theater ballistic missile defense problem he may face in the future as naval forces under his command operate in a deterrent posture, escalate to the first U.S. forces involved in a TBM-WMD regional conflict, and "hold open the door" for the follow-on TBMD capabilities of the joint force.

During the process of research, reflection, and preparation of Theater Ballistic Missile Defense from the Sea: Issues for the Maritime Component Commander, three themes became prominent. They are the keys to understanding what the Joint Force Maritime Component Commander will find of value when he is preparing to deploy in 2008; they also are the keys that any other officer in the chain of command who is responsible for countering the TBM-WMD threat must understand. These themes are:

Conflicting Missions, Limited Means. When making his initial reckoning of what is known and what is unknown, the Joint Force Maritime Component Commander must consider the nature of the threat, the nature of the mission responding to it, and the operational intent of the NCA, the CINC, and the Joint Force Commander. The nature of the threat will determine how the JFMCC would wish to apportion his TBMD forces, and, given the limited means available to him, the scope of the mission will tell him whether or not he will be able to do so. The operational intent of the national and theater-level commanders will indicate how much or how little freedom the JFMCC can expect to have in carrying out actions that support that intent.

So, for example, if the immediate goal of the NCA centers on coalition- building prior to contemplation of offensive operations, then TBMD efforts are likely to be politically driven, dedicated to highly visible protection of friendly regional population centers on the CINC's defended assets list. These actions will be closely controlled from above. Conversely, once the operational focus shifts to preparations for the offensive, the JFMCC may have more freedom of action—but also a far greater number of tasks to be accomplished with his limited maritime component assets. In addition to TBMD, his forces may be called upon to carry out many naval missions in theater, perhaps including sea control, embargo enforcement, MPS escort, mine warfare, littoral USW, and finally strike and amphibious power projection in support of offensive operations.

The overarching constraint of limited means must inform the JFMCC's every decision. While by no means unique to the TBMD mission, this constraint will be more acutely felt due to the dreadful consequences of even a single failure. A clear grasp of the CINC's operational intent will allow an initial triage of missions, what must be done now versus what can wait; but even then the tyranny of numbers and the challenge of distance may force an apportionment of assets that is more thin than doctrine demands. Escorts may have to be pulled away from the carrier in order to guard the DAL. A Navy Area DDG, its SM2 Block IVA interceptors expended, may have to transit without rearming to a vital TLAM launch basket when the primary Tomahawk shooter suffers an equipment casualty. An NTW cruiser may have to remain on-station despite falling more and more into a critical fuel state. This inevitable collision of limited means with conflicting missions implies that while doctrine can be a guide, any presumptive answer will have to be scrutinized with regard to the mission and the particularities of the actual situation. Every decision will be a compromise, and every compromise implies hard choices.

Reality of Hard Choices. The hard choices faced by the Joint Force Maritime Component Commander will involve more than mission priority and unit tasking. The JFMCC must understand the essential nature of the TBMD mission so well that he can take a vigorous and articulate stand on fundamental issues of command and control. With centralized planning and decentralized execution as his goal, he must balance the need for defensive effectiveness with the requirement for efficiency driven by his limited interceptor inventory—and make a choice.

For instance, as AADC, he must decide how much of the Theater Wide engagement coordination function he will leave to his subordinate commanders and the automated BMC4I architecture, and how much he will reserve for himself and his staff. The process of making this hard choice must be timely, responsive—and iterative. The TBMD battle will be fast, fluid, and ever-changing. Thus, the ability of the JFMCC, as Area Air Defense Commander, to observe, orient, decide, and act must be at least as fast—and always ongoing. The level of engagement coordination may require fine-tuning from day to day, hour to hour, or even minute to minute. The JFMCC must appreciate this situation and be able to impose his will upon it.

Hard choices also imply acceptance of risk. Constrained by limited means, the JFMCC may be able to defer some missions. Others he will plainly and simply have to carry out.

Indeed, the matter of calculated risk permeates realistic planning for TBMD, from logistical questions of acceptable fuel states and marginal rearming ports to political compromises between force protection and foreign population defense. Thus, if the ascent-phase NTW mission is deemed essential by the NCA, but not enough AEGIS ships are available to support forward-positioned TAG teams, then the JFMCC may acknowledge the TAG concept—yet press on with an NTW ship sent in harm's way, at best with a non-AEGIS consort but perhaps, at worst, alone.

Political factors bear directly on hard choices regarding rules of engagement. The JFMCC has a duty to his subordinate commanders to press for ROE that increase their freedom of action and decrease the risk to their ships, aircraft, and crews. He also has a duty up the chain of command. The JFMCC must display the nicest respect for the responsibilities of senior civilian and military authorities, doing his utmost to understand the policies, objectives, and instructions his force is being used to implement, assuring that those authorities are informed to their complete satisfaction of any aspect of his force's operations and plans. Thus, with regard to the more offensive tasks of TBMD, such as attack operations, the JFMCC will specify the tactical and operational advantages thus offered, but place those concerns with due regard for their subordination to overall national policy. His aim must be to assure that the "catalytic" use of naval power truly supports national policy, helping to resolve conflict rather than accelerating or exacerbating it.

Finally, when directed by the Joint Force Commander, the JFMCC must be able to make the hard choice to relinquish the TBMD battle to the commander of another component. To do so effectively, he must have made other choices in preparation for the transition, beginning with a decision to plan his TBMD fight jointly. To the greatest extent possible, planning methods, language, and execution should adhere to commonly held joint standards. Otherwise, the TBMD battle cannot be handed off expeditiously as the fight moves inland from the littoral. The JFMCC must make the hard choice early to eschew the naval tradition of improvisation and bring his likely relief into the process as early as possible, "training" him, in effect, for a seamless turnover.

One Mission Enabling Many. The importance of that turnover from component to component, of the transition from afloat to ashore, is representative of the very essence of theater ballistic missile defense. Though this mission may well begin under the purview of the maritime component, it belongs to all components, for, like the threat which it counters, TBMD transcends traditional boundaries. It is one mission that enables many and can therefore never be considered in isolation.

The pace of current research and development, the major funding that must be apportioned among competing systems, and the detailed media coverage of defense industry developments all tend to focus the attention of officers upon TBMD as an end in itself. It is indeed a unique mission—but it does not stand alone. TBMD is a tool that allows other missions to proceed toward the strategic objective—remembering that (to use one example) "from the point of view of Israeli, Saudi, or other coalition leaders and populations, any attempt to distinguish . . . threats and defenses as either 'theater' or 'strategic' is in effect to create a distinction without a difference."147

To that end, the officer charged with TBMD planning and execution for any component should maintain a clear operational vision. He must see TBMD as an enabling mission in support of the CINC's operational intent and the NCA's strategic goals. He must acknowledge it as being inherently a joint mission.

As such, TBMD in 2008 will depend on the unifying and coordinating power of BMC4I. Only upon the supporting plinth of battle management command, control, communications, computers, and intelligence can the TBMD pillars postulated for the future stand. Without netted planning, netted data, and netted composite tracks, joint coordination and execution at the speed required for the TBMD battle will be impossible.

That said, this same officer must beware of technological overconfidence. New systems will work, and work well—but seldom as well as engineers and tacticians hope. For that reason, planners and commanders must hold to the goal of centralized planning with decentralized execution. Such a vision will better survive Clausewitz's "friction," which comprehends why even the most reliable technological systems perform less well under the tremendous pressure of war.

Of course, the pressure of war affects the performance of men as well as machines. What men uniquely perform is high-level reasoning and creative thinking; both of these decline abruptly under stress. It follows, then, that the JFMCC—and everyone in the chain of command above and below him—must bear this in mind as they envision operations against the threat of WMD-armed ballistic missiles. Whether the commander succeeds or fails in countering that threat probably will be determined principally by how well he has prepared himself and his subordinates for so demanding a trial by combat.

This study has been a spotting round, something to begin to get the range on a problem which may require many salvos in the future. If it has been at all successful, that has been because it marks some of the right issues and identifies important questions. These issues and questions, and many others, will of course require further study.

In a fractious world that often seems to have lost its bearings, theater ballistic missile defense delivered from the sea will give the United States a vital and flexible capability to counter the growing threat of TBMs—and the horrific weapons of mass destruction they can carry. For the naval officer who must actually sail upon that sea and personally defeat an enemy who would use such weapons, this great defensive capability cannot be considered in isolation—

In war, the defensive exists mainly that
the offensive may act more freely.

Alfred Thayer Mahan
Naval Strategy, 1911