Get Task & Purpose in your inbox
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.
A 24-year-old soldier based at Fort Riley has been charged in federal court in Topeka with sending over social media instructions on how to make bombs triggered by cellphones, according to federal prosecutors in Kansas.
Three U.S. service members received non-life-threatening injuries after being fired on Monday by an Afghan police officer, a U.S. official confirmed.
The troops were part of a convoy in Kandahar province that came under attack by a member of the Afghan Civil Order Police, a spokesperson for Operation Resolute Support said on Monday.
Marine Maj. Jose J. Anzaldua Jr. spent more than three years as a prisoner of war during the height of the Vietnam War. Now, more than 45 years after his release, Sig Sauer is paying tribute to his service with a special gift.
Sig Sauer on Friday unveiled a unique 1911 pistol engraved with Anzaldua's name, the details of his imprisonment in Vietnam, and the phrase "You Are Not Forgotten" accompanied by the POW-MIA flag on the grip to commemorate POW-MIA Recognition Day.
The gunmaker also released a short documentary entitled "Once A Marine, Always A Marine" — a fitting title given Anzaldua's courageous actions in the line of duty
Born in Texas in 1950, Anzaldua enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1968 and deployed to Vietnam as an intelligence scout assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division.
On Jan. 23, 1970, he was captured during a foot patrol and spent 1,160 days in captivity in various locations across North Vietnam — including he infamous Hỏa Lò Prison known among American POWs as the "Hanoi Hilton" — before he was freed during Operation Homecoming on March 27, 1973.
Anzaldua may have been a prisoner, but he never stopped fighting. After his release, he received two Bronze Stars with combat "V" valor devices and a Prisoner of War Medal for displaying "extraordinary leadership and devotion to his companions" during his time in captivity. From one of his Bronze Star citations:
Using his knowledge of the Vietnamese language, he was diligent, resourceful, and invaluable as a collector of intelligence information for the senior officer interned in the prison camp.
In addition, while performing as interpreter for other United States prisoners making known their needs to their captors, [Anzaldua] regularly, at the grave risk of sever retaliation to himself, delivered and received messages for the senior officer.
On one occasion, when detected, he refused to implicate any of his fellow prisoners, even though severe punitive action was expected.
Anzaldua also received a Navy and Marine Corps Medal for his heroism in December 1969, when he entered the flaming wreckage of a U.S. helicopter that crashed nearr his battalion command post in the country's Quang Nam Province and rescued the crew chief and a Vietnamese civilian "although painfully burned himself," according to his citation.
After a brief stay at Camp Pendleton following his 1973 release, Anzaldua attended Officer Candidate School at MCB Quantico, Virginia, earning his commission in 1974. He retired from the Corps in 1992 after 24 years of service.
- 1911 Pistol: the 1911 pistol was carried by U.S. forces throughout the Vietnam War, and by Major Anzaldua throughout his service. The commemorative 1911 POW pistol features a high-polish DLC finish on both the frame and slide, and is chambered in.45 AUTO with an SAO trigger. All pistol engravings are done in 24k gold;
- Right Slide Engraving: the Prisoner of War ribbon inset, with USMC Eagle Globe and Anchor and "Major Jose Anzaldua" engravings;
- Top Slide Engraving: engraved oak leaf insignia representing the Major's rank at the time of retirement and a pair of dog tags inscribed with the date, latitude and longitude of the location where Major Anzaldua was taken as a prisoner, and the phrase "You Are Not Forgotten" taken from the POW-MIA flag;
- Left Side Engraving: the Vietnam War service ribbon inset, with USMC Eagle Globe and Anchor engraving;
- Pistol Grips: anodized aluminum grips with POW-MIA flag.
In a kind of odd man-versus-nature moment, a Russian navy boat was attacked and sunk by a walrus during an expedition in the Arctic, the Barents Observer reported Monday.