Mine Countermeasures ships are highly specialized equipment that focuses on a narrow range of vital missions to clear transit lanes of waterborne explosive devices. They are not well equipped to defend themselves, or the divers and robots that help accomplish their missions.
That’s where the conventional Navy ships with advanced tracking systems come in. U.S. Navy cruisers and destroyers are equipped with AEGIS and several systems that work together to automatically detect and track more than 100 simultaneous contacts. This powerful system can help identify possible threats to assets like MCMs and aircraft carriers that are equipped for specialized missions and require additional support for their assured defense. While these AEGIS equipped ships are a formidable asset, upgrades were needed to address a different kind of threat:
Ballistic missiles are named because of their trajectory after the payload (part that goes boom) is released, falling parabollically (like a bomb dropped from an airplane) until it reaches it’s target at a high rate of speed with an impressive degree of accuracy. These vehicles are capable of carrying heavy ordnance and are a viable way of delivering nuclear weapons.
Because even the threat of nuclear weapon deployment is a serious concern, upgrading AEGIS to combat these types of long range and intercontinental missiles was vital. That’s where AEGIS Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) comes in. This upgrade helps the sea-based tracking system integrate with land based tracking systems to track missiles from point of origin and determine the best moment to neutralize it with a ship-fired missile (in this case, an SM-3).
Though the system is designed to target missile sized objects, moving at relatively slow speeds, the system was used to detonate the fuel tank of a failing satellite moving at more than 17,000 miles per hour. USS Lake Erie (CG 70) scored a successful hit on the tumbling satellite with an SM-3 on the first try, demonstrating the system’s capability on an extremely complicated target.
While the cool factor is off the charts, what does this have to do with IMCMEX? Cruisers and Destroyers use this extremely powerful system to protect assets engaged in mine clearance operations, and commercial craft transiting international waterways, providing an impressive picture of the maritime environment to predict, prevent, and engage threats.
It can track and strike a satellite falling from space–sure makes me feel safe.