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Navy Weighs Competing Demands for Missile Defense Warships

The U.S. Navy has been forced to consider how to disperse its limited quantity of warships carrying Aegis ballistic missile defenses to regional commands pressing for the vessels, Defense News reported yesterday (see GSN, Nov. 17, 2009).

A continued swell in demand for the technology is anticipated, partly in response to a perceived missile threat posed by Iran and a planned European missile shield that would rely on the vessels (see GSN, Jan. 4).

"The demand signal is ahead of the pot of ships," said one expert following the matter.

In the face of rising demand for the Aegis vessels, Navy leaders have worked to maintain flexibility.

"Combatant commanders need to understand [ballistic missile defense]-capable ships are multimission-capable. BMD is one available asset," Navy spokesman Lt. Tommy Buck said last month.

"We can't constrain assets to one mission. They need to do a variety of other missions," one high-level official added in December.

The Navy is expected early this year to boost its count of Aegis-equipped warships to 21; an additional six ships are slated to be outfitted with the Aegis system in 2012 and 2013. No additional ships would be converted for missile defense operations, one top officer suggested.

At a seminar last month, Navy officials also described a need to improve the ships' ability to track their Standard Missile 3 interceptors.

"Our missiles are good; the missiles can outfly the radars. We need fire-control networks to carry out long-range engagements," a high-level officer said, adding that the missile defense warships must be maintained at a higher standard than other Navy vessels (Christopher Cavas, Defense News, Jan. 4).

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