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


A sense of urgency informs Theater Ballistic Missile Defense from the Sea: Issues for the Maritime Component Commander. Theater ballistic missiles armed with chemical, biological, or nuclear Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) will be acquired and deployed by hostile forces in the developing world, posing an imminent threat to the U.S. and coalition forces that must operate in that world. The gravity of this evolving threat is recognized in our national military strategy. Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine theater ballistic missile defense (TBMD) systems are also evolving, but with the exception of the Patriot PAC-2 missile system, none are yet fielded. Recognizing this constraint, this study looks ten years ahead, to 2008, toward the challenge of joint and multinational power projection operations against a TBM-WMD armed adversary. In such a regional contingency, the first TBMD-capable forces on the scene are likely to be naval. It will thus be the duty of the Joint Force Maritime Component Commander to plan, fight, and win the initial TBMD battle in order to enable the introduction of follow-on TBMD forces from the other Service components, as the campaign moves inland from the littoral.

This study's particular value lies in the attention it invites towards issues that concern the Joint Force Maritime Component Commander in his responsibility to perform the essential enabling task of delivering TBMD from the sea. To this end, I spent the summer of 1995 reviewing the current literature, followed by research trips to several key "nodes" within the naval and joint theater ballistic missile defense communities. These visits included Naval Surface Warfare Center, Dahlgren Division; the Program Executive Office, Theater Air Defense (PEO TAD-B); the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization; and the office of the Navy's Director for Theater Air Warfare (N865). This initial effort led to my further travel as an observer for the TBMD Wargame 95B held at the National Test Facility, Schriever Air Force Base, Colorado Springs, in September, and finally to a personal project briefing for Rear Admiral Rodney Rempt (then N865) at Newport, Rhode Island, in October.

This five-chapter, unclassified study is designed to raise more questions than it answers. With that purpose in mind, expeditious accessibility and wide dissemination are essential to facilitate further research—thus the specific intent to remain unclassified. The properly cleared reader, however, is encouraged to pursue potential areas of further inquiry at any appropriate level of classification, using the more than seventy military and non-military sources in the bibliography as points of departure.

Chapter I details the purpose of the study as well as its enabling assumptions. The specifics of future conflict and the actual capabilities of yet-to-be-fielded systems cannot be determined in advance. This paper, however, is not devoted to an in-depth examination of specific technical issues—and indeed cannot be, due to both its unclassified nature and, more importantly, the inability to discuss in detail that which is still being developed. The intent is to examine, at the level of the flag officer serving as the Joint Force Maritime Component Commander (JFMCC), the implications of these capabilities and the difficult issues to which they will give rise in the future. To discuss these issues in a meaningful manner, certain capabilities and conditions must be assumed.

Chapter II provides the reader with a brief overview of the TBM-WMD threat that will face U.S. forces in the near term and into the future. Current active defense capabilities against that threat are explained, as are the potential consequences of any diminution of TBMD research and development in the face of continuing budgetary constraints. The chapter concludes with a survey of projected U.S. naval theater ballistic missile defense capabilities to the year 2008.

The central portion of the study, chapter III, establishes a set of first principles that enables the Joint Force Maritime Component Commander facing a TBM-WMD threat to focus his attention. Each of the four areas of concentration—Logistics; Command, Control, and Intelligence; Warfighting; and Rules of Engagement—is examined to place the operational challenge of theater ballistic missile defense within the multimission complexity of maritime warfare in a littoral theater.

Successfully performed, TBMD is unlikely to remain a purely naval mission. Indeed, the vital nature of naval TBMD is to enable complementary Army and Air Force systems to enter the theater and contribute to the battle. According to the National Military Strategy, allied and coalition assets will also be, whenever possible, an integral part of such a U.S. effort. Chapter IV examines potential joint and multinational contributions to the campaign's overall TBMD operations.

Finally, chapter V summarizes the study by considering the essential nature of theater ballistic missile defense through specific defining characteristics derived from the preceding sections. These essential TBMD "themes" are:

The pervasive impact of these themes on both theater ballistic missile defense forces and the officers who control and direct these forces is examined to illustrate that TBMD is an enabling capability.

Given the likelihood of a dispersed, Theater Wide TBMD battle, the challenge of logistics illustrates the value of a straightforward operations analysis approach to the vital discussion of fuel and vertical launch system rearming—a discussion which reveals the true complexity of war in the littoral, where the TBMD mission will not exist in isolation.

The area of command, control, and intelligence considers that same complexity at three different levels: above the JFMCC at the NCA level; among competing component commanders at the theater level; and from the JFMCC down to the unit level. Significant operational friction is held to exist at every level: political versus military objectives up the chain of command; mission versus mission at the theater level; and effective decentralized control versus efficient centralized control of TBMD engagements down the chain. Encompassing them all, comprehensive intelligence preparation of the battle space is essential to the JFMCC's mastery of the TBMD mission's subtleties and thus his ability to make the hard choices necessary for effective execution.

Warfighting specifies some of the hard choices that will face the JFMCC owing to his own logistical limitations and the operational priorities of his superiors. The logistically competing but operationally complementary natures of Navy Theater Wide (upper tier) capability and Navy Area (lower tier) are considered. This discussion illustrates the vast potential defensive leverage of upper-tier systems as well as the essential requirement for lower-tier systems in the conduct of amphibious power projection.

The vital issues of national policy and international law which must inform U.S. theater ballistic missile defense operations are presented under the rubric of Rules of Engagement. The confluence of political constraints on U.S. actions and the tactical challenges posed by the speed and lethality of enemy TBM-WMD systems will likely result in two trends: Defensive TBMD ROE (i.e., engaging incoming TBMs) will become increasingly permissive, while offensive TBMD ROE (i.e., Attack Operations—"Scud-hunting") will remain centrally controlled and highly restrictive. The JFMCC and his subordinate commanders must be able to operate effectively within the bounds of this dichotomy.

The conundrum posed by conflicting missions that must be executed within limited means affects the Joint Force Maritime Component Commander's every decision when confronting the TBM-WMD challenge. A clear grasp of his superiors' operational intent will allow an initial triage of missions, sorting out what must be done now from what can wait; but even then the tyranny of numbers and the challenge of distance may force assets to be apportioned more thinly than doctrine demands.

Conducting operations while facing a TBM-WMD threat will require that the JFMCC make hard choices. These decisions will be all-encompassing and continuous, part of an iterative process of evaluating mission priority, unit tasking, tautness of command and control, degree of political constraint, and the impact of the NCA's overall intent on the TBMD rules of engagement that are in place. Making these difficult choices in a timely, forthright manner and, whenever possible, in accordance with Joint TBMD doctrine, will help ensure a smooth transition of the TBMD fight when the campaign begins to move inland from the littoral.

Such a transition will have been made possible only through a successful TBMD battle waged by the maritime component "holding open the door" for follow-on TBMD forces deploying into the theater thus defended. This capability cannot be considered in isolation. Theater ballistic missile defense in general, and TBMD delivered from the sea in particular, is the means that enables the successful conduct of other operations in the face of the TBM threat.

This study presents a preliminary analysis of the many inherent and unavoidable complexities of TBMD conducted from the sea. As present and future commanders envision this mission and prepare the Navy to meet its challenges, they should recognize that, however important TBMD certainly will become, it will be a supporting and enabling function for other naval and joint operations. Most importantly, they should find the principal lessons of this study illuminating, realistic, and deserving of additional detailed investigation.