Keep Building on Aegis
Venerable Radar Up To USN's Modern Needs
By kathleen paige
Published: 15 September 2008
The U.S. shipbuilding plan will be determined by the Navy and Congress in the coming months, including whether, and the form in which, the DDG-51 class will return to new construction.
Regardless of the outcome, the Navy will continue its initiative to modernize the Aegis-equipped cruiser and destroyer fleet in the face of increasingly sophisticated air and missile defense threats, and to support the CNO's minimum target of 313 ships.
How can ship classes with roots in 1970s and '80s technologies be considered central to the world's most powerful Navy well into the 21st century? Won't the "new things" of the world always vanquish the so-called legacy systems? Not necessarily.
The writings of Shakespeare and of our Founding Fathers are timeless, largely due to their powerful insight into fundamental human nature and their masterful use of the English language. Likewise, radar, developed originally during World War II, and digital technology introduced with the transistor in the late 1940s, appear to be close to timeless.
They reached this status not by remaining in their original forms, but by evolving in response to new needs and applications.
The Aegis weapon system is proving timeless for similar reasons. USS Ticonderoga (CG 47) entered the fleet in 1983 with an AN/SPY-1A radar, an MK 26 trainable launcher for the new SM-2 missile, no strike capability, AN/UYK-7 computers with 256K of memory and AN/UYA-4 analog display consoles.
Within months of commissioning, it became a major player in the nation's response to the bombing of the Marine barracks in Lebanon. Ticonderoga begat USS Bunker Hill (CG 52), the first ship with vertical launchers, including a vertically launched Tomahawk strike capability. Its presence in the Taiwan Strait sent a message to China after Beijing launched ballistic missiles into the strait in 1995.
Now, it is the first ship to be converted with Aegis modernization, which includes a fully open, distributed architected computing plant with the latest in digital color workstations.
Bunker Hill begat the USS Princeton (CG 59), the next evolution in phased array radar technology in the AN/SPY-1B radar. Thanks to further evolution, the AN/SPY-1B/D radars (on cruisers and destroyers, respectively) are today's critical surveillance and fire control radar for Aegis BMD, a mission never dreamed of when USS Princeton entered the fleet.
This latest evolution, which includes the SM-3 exo-atmospheric missile, has helped convince the country, allies and enemies that ballistic missile defense works - through test successes, but also quite notably through February's intercept of an errant U.S. satellite using a one-time Aegis BMD modification, designed and implemented in less than six weeks.
In 1991, the Ticonderoga class begat the Arleigh Burke class (DDG 51). Similar to the evolution of the Ticonderoga class, the DDG 51 Flight I later begat the Flight IIA destroyers starting with the USS Oscar Austin (DDG 79) and ultimately the USS Pinkney (DDG 91) with the first AN/SPY-1D(V) radar integrated with a modern, commercially based computing plant, among many other upgrades.
How has all this "begetting" been possible, and why do I think it can continue to serve the nation's defense? I offer three critical reasons:
■ Aegis was created with its end purpose in mind: detect-control-engage. Five performance cornerstones were created to support this operational purpose: reaction time, firepower, environmental resistance, system availability and surveillance coverage.
Numerical requirements defined each of these cornerstones in the Aegis system specifications, requirements that became increasingly stringent as technology and threats advanced. The numbers drove Aegis integration and a quest for modular implementation, knowing that the performance numbers had to be met regardless of the uncertainty in the threat environment and natural environmental conditions.
■ Engineering is empirical. Systems engineering in support of the cornerstones is essential to how the Aegis project, and now Aegis BMD, organizes and executes their respective missions. Fundamental to this approach is the "Build a little, test a little, learn a lot" philosophy implemented by retired Vice Adm. Wayne Meyer, father of Aegis.
■ Parallel and vertical (organizational) coherency. Leadership, to include clear lines of communication, responsibility, authority and accountability, is a hallmark of the Aegis project. To be integrated, flexible and effective, Aegis needed to come from an organizational construct with those same attributes. Meyer and then-OP-03 Vice Adm. James Doyle provided an example of a constructive, highly effective OPNAV-Project Office partnership.
Meyer organized the government headquarters, laboratories and field activities and industry partners with a common vision, philosophy, lexicon and clearly articulated roles and responsibilities. Doyle provided the necessary leadership across the surface warfare community, committed the resources and continuously confirmed that the fleet would receive the needed capability, training and logistics support required.
Thanks to this seamless partnership, an enduring culture of teamwork continues to this day within the Aegis and Aegis BMD programs.
The companies that are now Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, General Dynamics Bath Iron Works and Northrop Grumman Ingalls Shipbuilding remain the epitome of industry partnering.
Regardless of the shipbuilding decisions made by the Navy and Congress, Aegis and Aegis BMD will long endure as the shields of the fleet. ■