This idea has come up repeatedly. The Navy’s main AAW weapon system, Aegis, is completely untested under any realistic conditions. Further, the system’s combat resiliency is unknown.
Regarding function, the Aegis system has never been tested against the very threat it was designed to handle, saturation missile attacks. We have no idea what its capabilities are and yet we’re betting the protection of our fleet on it. We need to know how the system will actually function in combat.
Regarding resiliency, you’ll recall that when the Port Royal gently nosed aground at one or two knots, and rocked gently for a day or so until it could be freed, it left the system out of alignment and possibly inoperative, depending on what report you care to believe. I think the fact that the Port Royal was the Navy’s first choice for early retirement of the Aegis cruisers is quite telling – this despite the Port Royal being the newest Aegis cruiser and fitted with the much valued ballistic missile defense modifications (BMD).
This does not bode well for the Aegis system’s combat resiliency. If an entire Aegis system could be incapacitated by gently rocking for a while, what will happen when an anti-ship missile hits and whipsaws the entire ship? We need to know. Are Aegis ships one-hit mission kills or can they stay in the fight?
So what can we do about this? How can we get answers?
As we’ve documented, the Navy has tried multiple times and in multiple ways to early retire the Aegis cruiser class. Congress has rebuffed the Navy. Even so, the Navy has managed to de facto retire six cruisers under the so-called modernization plan. Be that as it may, if the Navy is so eager to retire a cruiser, why not let them? Let’s retire a cruiser, automate it for remote control, put it out in the middle of the ocean, launch a saturation attack against it while it defends in full auto mode, and see what happens. That will tell us how it functions in combat and whether it can take damage and keep fighting.
|USS Paul F Foster - Self Defense Test Ship|
It would cost next to nothing to automate the ship. We’re not talking about artificial intelligence – just basic helm controls to position the ship. Remember, the Aegis system, itself, already has a full auto mode – set it, leave the ship, and watch what happens. We’d want to add in some extensive recording equipment to monitior the results. We’re talking, what, a few million dollars? That’s round off error in the Navy’s accounting ledgers.
|Aegis Cruiser - Aegis Test Ship Needed|
Lest anyone believe the idea is not feasible, recall that the Navy maintains exactly such a remote controlled weapons test ship, the USS Paul F. Foster, a Spruance class destroyer converted to act as the Navy’s Self Defense Test Ship. Given that the bulk of the Navy’s surface fleet carries the Aegis AAW system, it is long past time for a dedicated Aegis self defense test ship.