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The USS McCain Tragedy Has A Dire Impact On US Missile Defenses
Although much of America’s attention has focused on finding the causal factors behind Monday’s collision between the USS John S. McCain (DDG-56) and a Liberian-flagged oil tanker off the coast of Singapore, we should not ignore the strategic impacts, either. They’re big and worrisome.
The U.S. 7th Fleet, stationed in Japan, possesses eight Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, including the McCain and the also-disabled USS Fitzgerald, assigned to Destroyer Squadron 15. This ship class is equipped the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense system, which enables warships to intercept short to intermediate-range missiles — the type of missiles that an aggressor like North Korea might fire at U.S. ground bases in the Pacific. Indeed, when North Korea launched a test missile back in February, both the USS Stethem and the USS McCampbell — sister ships to McCain in DESRON 15 — were in the region.
Ships, including DDGs from DESRON 15, ported at U.S. Naval Base Guam to participate in the Multi-Sail 2016 exercise.Navy/Maj. Jeff Landis, USMC (Ret.)
The Aegis defense system works as part of a broader U.S. missile defense architecture comprised of space and land-based sensors. For example, destroyers can be positioned around the Korean peninsula to detect ballistic missile launches; those same ships can also be outfitted with SM-3 interceptors that are capable of destroying ballistic missiles during their midcourse phase of flight — that is, when they’re in space.
Ballistic missile defense is not as simple as positioning a couple of DDGs around a contested region, though. Although all eight of the ships in Destroyer Squadron 15 are equipped with the Aegis defense system, not every ship is always outfitted with interceptors. Because destroyers are intended for both offensive and defensive capabilities, deploying them strictly as ballistic counter-measures would limit the overall offensive abilities of their parent carrier strike groups.
Aren’t there other BMD-capable ships in the U.S. Navy? Overall, 33 destroyers and 5 cruisers—including one stationed in Japan—are BMD capable. However, shifting assets to cover gaps in BMD defense means the U.S. either loses forward-deployed BMD coverage elsewhere, such as Europe, or incurs the costs of sending additional vessels to sea.
Similar to ground-based infantry surges, the Navy can only temporarily support increased deployment tempos before resourcing and personnel burnout become issues. Moreover, peacetime naval expeditionary forces are designed to address a wide range of contingencies. The visible tools of U.S. foreign policy, ships must deter aggression, project power, and respond to a variety of crises. Although reassigning an individual destroyer the mission of BMD to cover gaps is not irrational, it is not without opportunity costs.
Even if the United States ate the cost of repositioning other ballistic missile defense destroyers, such a move might be interpreted as aggression by other navies. Since 2015, China’s navy has regularly dispatched military vessels to shadow U.S. warships accused of trespassing in Chinese territorial waters. Deterring and defending against a North Korean first strike would be compelling reasons to divert additional BMD destroyers into the 7th Fleet area of responsibility. But China could respond in a manner that furthers regional tension.
With both the McCain and Fitzgerald undergoing repairs, the 7th Fleet has lost a considerable portion of its available ballistic missile defense ships. Although the U.S. Army has other ground-based interception abilities in the region, comprehensive missile defense relies on overlapping layers of weapons platforms. As of current testing, SM-3 missiles have an 80% intercept rate.
The McCain and Fitzgerald will both eventually return to the sea, but their absence is a pertinent reminder of the second and third-order effects of crippling underway mishaps in an already delicate region of the Western Pacific.
Aaron Barruga is a former Special Forces noncommissioned officer with deployments to Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Pacific Theater of Operations. He is the Tactical Field Editor for Ballistic Magazine.
The DNA of a niece and nephew, who never met their uncle, has helped identify the remains of the Kansas Marine who died in WWII.
The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency announced that 21-year-old U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Pfc. Raymond Warren was identified using DNA and circumstantial evidence. Warren had been buried in a cemetery in the Gilbert Islands, where he was killed when U.S. forces tried to take secure one of the islands from the Japanese.
The Battle of Tarawa lasted from Nov. 20 to Nov. 23, 1943, and claimed the lives of 1,021 U.S. marines and sailors, more than 3,000 Japanese soldiers and an estimated 1,000 Korean laborers before the U.S. troops seized control, the agency said.
Arizona lawmakers are vowing to fight a plan by the Air Force to start retiring some of the nation's fleet of A-10 Thunderbolt II ground-attack jets — a major operation at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base — as part of a plan to drop some older, legacy weapon systems to help pay for new programs.
U.S. Sen. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., a former A-10 pilot, and U.S. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, D-Ariz., both vowed to fight the move to retire 44 of the oldest A-10s starting this year.
During a press briefing last week, Air Force officials unveiled plans to start mothballing several older platforms, including retiring some A-10s even as it refits others with new wings.
MOSCOW/SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korea, whose leader Kim Jong Un was filmed riding through the snow on a white stallion last year, has spent tens of thousands of dollars on 12 purebred horses from Russia, according to Russian customs data.
Accompanied by senior North Korean figures, Kim took two well-publicized rides on the snowy slopes of the sacred Paektu Mountain in October and December.
State media heralded the jaunts as important displays of strength in the face of international pressure and the photos of Kim astride a galloping white steed were seen around the world.
North Korea has a long history of buying pricey horses from Russia and customs data first reported by Seoul-based NK News suggests that North Korea may have bolstered its herd in October.
ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - A high-profile local Taliban figure who announced and justified the 2012 attack on teenage Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai has escaped detention, Pakistan's interior minister confirmed a few days after the militant announced his breakout on social media.
Former Pakistani Taliban spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan, who claimed responsibility on behalf of his group for scores of Taliban attacks, proclaimed his escape on Twitter and then in an audio message sent to Pakistani media earlier this month.
The Pakistani military, which had kept Ehsan in detention for three years, has declined to comment but, asked by reporters about the report, Interior Minister Ijaz Shah, said: "That is correct, that is correct."
Shah, a retired brigadier general, added that "you will hear good news" in response to questions about whether there had been progress in hunting down Ehsan.
The 7-day "reduction in violence" negotiated between the United States and the Taliban is set to begin on Feb. 22, an Afghan government official who spoke on condition of anonymity told Task & Purpose on Monday.
A temporary truce beginning on Saturday that would last for one week is seen as a crucial test between the Taliban, U.S., and Afghan governments that would prove all parties to a potential peace deal can control their forces. Defense Secretary Mark Esper declined to confirm the date on Sunday.
"That is a moving date because we are still doing consultations, if you will," Defense Secretary Mark Esper told reporters.