On Thursday, 30 April 2009, the Navy’s newest Center of Excellence (COE), the Navy Air and Missile Defense Center, was opened for business onboard the Naval Weapons Development Center, Dahlgren Virginia. RADM Brad Hicks, who is also the Aegis BMD program director, will serve as the Center’s first commander until a permanent flag is assigned later this year. The ceremony’s keynote speaker, ADM Robert “Rat” Willard, Commander U.S. Pacific Fleet spared no words in underscoring the importance of this particular COE in the context of recent events to include the recent North Korean launch.

The challenge ahead of the center will be the role it plays in Navy’s quest to equally field a national missile defense to shield the homeland, a regional defense for friends and allies and theater systems for protection of forward deployed forces while still accounting for the multi-mission nature of platforms like the Aegis-equipped cruisers and destroyers currently deployed. And the center’s efforts won’t end there, for the threat includes ever-increasingly proliferated cruise missiles and a host of other airborne threats. In that context the NAMDC will serve to integrate technical capabilities, warfighter concepts and C3 solutions to cover the entire kill chain, from the “high-end” of afloat BMD to the wave-tops.

The Center’s focus also won’t be Aegis- or even Navy-only, though that will constitute a good portion of its effort. As one of six envisioned Warfare Centers of Excellence that also include the Naval Strike Air Warfare Center in Fallon, Nev., and the Naval Mine and Anti-Submarine Warfare Command in San Diego, Calif, NAMDC as the lead organization for Navy and Joint AMD will also partner and work closely with organizations like Joint Force Command’s Joint Warfighting Center down the road in Suffolk, VA. I should also note that with close proximity to Pax River and Norfolk/Oceana, the center should also have ready access to work with the VAW and VFA communities, especially important when one looks at the capabilities currently available (e.g. Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC), and the AESA in the newer Super Hornets) and planned (e.g., E-2D Advanced Hawkeye) for those communities.

This was a much needed step in beginning to restore balance to a force that has , frankly, become very power projection-centric. Along with other warfare areas, such as blue-water ASW, it seemed in the post-Cold War environment that integrated air and missile defense was increasingly pushed to the back even while threats like those posed by new generations of low-observable, fast cruise missiles were widely proliferated. However, the emerging area denial capabilities of countries like China and Iran, not to mention the requirements levied by the Maritime Strategy (and, one presumes, the NOC when it ever is released) clearly demand the establishment of an organization to oversee the disparate parts of the air defense picture. I would go further to say that it is one which should have taken place a couple of decades ago, around the time of the introduction of Aegis to the fleet with all the attendant integration, coordination and synchronization issues that presented with other ship- and airborne platforms, sensors and networks.

The NAMDC will have an initial staff of approximately 25 personnel, and grow over the next three years to a fully operational staff of about 75 members, equally divided between military personnel, government civilian employees and supporting contractors. Considering the magnitude of the challenge ahead, I’d say they will all be fully engaged, especially if what ADM Willard said, that the Center is “the most important thing to the future of this capability in the Navy” comes to pass.

Posted by SteelJaw in Navy
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  • Byron

    Is this an attempt by the Navy to become more relevant in a post-cold war world? Not a troll, but an honest question. I think a group of ships capable of BMD is an outstanding idea, as it is pretty tough for land based systems to perform the mission without going back to the bad old days of nuke tipped Nike’s.

  • Byron: It’s doing what the Navy has done best – integrating platforms and missions to economize effort and improve capabilities. While BMD was certainly the spotlighted mission area during the ceremony, there is quite a lot to be done across the entire air and missile defense spectrum to ensure the best employment of weapons, standardization of training and qualification and focus of warfighting concepts, the latter of which can at times be like herding cats. It is basically following the same model of success that first saw the individual development and then combination of Navy Fighter Weapons School, Naval Strike Warfare Command and the Carrier Airborne Early Warning Weapons Schools into the Naval Strike and Air Warfare Center at Fallon.

    While the thrust of that school is offensive operations, there is much in the air defense world that requires work. I alluded, briefly, to the problems we encountered when first bringing Aegis into the fleet in the early 80’s. Then you had, along with Aegis, the NTU (New Threat Upgrade) cruisers, NATO and US AWACS, CVWs with differing tactics and in the middle of this was VAW trying to make things work (e.g., if NATO AWACS was jojng the battle group, we had to launch an E-2 at least one cycle early with the sole purpose of hand-holding to get the NATO E-3 into the net and coordinating with the battle group). Net reporting procedures, voice and data were usually in flux depending on the BG composition du jour and as a result there was an awful lot of admin overhead that put a demand signal on limited resources (radios, controllers, etc.)
    Fast forward to today and if you look at areas like the South China Sea/Taiwan straits or SOH/Arabian Gulf we’re going to see varying mixes of threats in the form of conventional a/c, UAVs, cruise missiles (sub- and supersonic) and ballistic missiles targeting US and regional allied forces ashore and in some cases, at sea. It is a very resource demanding environment and if we have worked out via partnering exercises, joint tactics and warfighting concepts, and the like ahead of time and have exercised the very complex kill chains prior to the first warhead inbound, we will be much the better for it. Doubly so as right now there is but a relative handful of platforms available for the mission – nothing like it was in the 80’s number wise.
    The question becomes what roof do you bring responsibility for corralling all the above under? You don’t necessarily want a program office to do so as they are necessarily limited in scope. As noted, NSAWC is already pretty heavily engaged in offensive warfare though there is some overlap. And no other service has the breadth of platforms to deal with like the Navy has. So with the new and evolving capabilities of sea-based BMD and a CNO who has said it is a core mission, I suppose you could say that the need for such a center reached critical mass and – ecce, the new Naval Air and Missile Defense Command.
    w/r, SJS
    P.S. Land-based PAC-3 and GBIs are performing the BMD mission nuclear free and will soon be joined by THAAD – yet another reason for a center to serve as the Navy’s voince in the joint world…

  • Byron

    Thanks, SJS! Excellent explanation, and apologies for making you spend so much time on a beautiful Saturday morning typing out the little words for an old yardbird. Put this way, I completely understand why this center was stood up.

  • Spade

    Isn’t the E-2D funding getting cut by a lot?

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