The Sky, the Sea

Armscontrolwonk has a seriously unreported scoop about the great Czech radar kerfuffle. Namely, why is the US playing down the capabilities of the one element of the missile defence plan that actually works, and wouldn’t need anything as politically contentious as a new missile base? Defence geeks will already guess what we’re talking about, which is the capability of the US Navy’s Aegis air defence cruiser to shoot at missiles in the boost phase. It seems the Missile Defense Agency isn’t keen on the notion.

There’s a lot going for it. For a start it, ah, works – the problem is much simpler. In the boost phase, the rocket is going up, but not covering much ground towards you, so it’s easier to shoot at. And the enemy ends up with the bits. Ships go to sea, and lurk in international waters – they can move to cover a specific threat, and don’t need to be based very near their patrol areas.

So, a suggestion. ACW mentions a souped-up version of the SM-3 rocket that’s being developed with the Japanese. They, after all, have bought four destroyers equipped with the missiles and the fancy radar and computer systems. Why, then, can’t Europe buy its own? A lot of objections to the whole plan are based on them being “American” bases. After all, we can’t be totally sure that the missiles would hurtle up to intercept nukes inbound to London, Vienna, Toulouse, or Tallinn – can we? So why not have our own? – during the cold war we thought this argument very important with regard to offensive nuclear weapons. Presumably, such a purchase would bring in lucrative workshare for Thales, Astrium, Matra-BAE Dynamics & Co.

And you could even call it a force de défense spatiale tous azimuts. Ships sail, right? Including to the North Atlantic, if need be. There is, however, a probby. Putting ships in the eastern Mediterranean is easy enough. Putting them in the high North and the North Sea is politically and militarily easy, although it’s a tough job in winter. The Baltic? Well, there’s nothing to stop you, and both sides are in friendly hands. The Russians wouldn’t be happy. But then, they wouldn’t anyway. ACW, though, reckons you might need one in the Black Sea.

Special international agreements exist regarding the transit of the Straits, to which Russia is a party. Specifically, you can’t send aircraft carriers through. An Aegis ship is no carrier, but that don’t mean they aren’t going to make a big fuss about it. Update: WSI Brussels Blog has more.

Shipbuilding

The European Union will soon have the world’s second-biggest amphibious warfare fleet. As well as the Royal Navy’s two LPDs (Landing Platform Dock – what the RN used to call an “assault ship”, basically a ship with a large dock in the stern, a shitload of radio gear, a heli deck, and space for several hundred soldiers and a gaggle of landing craft) Albion and Bulwark and one LHA (a helicopter carrier) Ocean, France has one LHA, and is building two more of the Mistral class, Spain has two LPDs and is building a large LHA, Portugal is building one LPD, Italy is building three LPDs, and Holland has a big (18,000 ton) LPD. That adds up to a fleet of 14 amphibious warfare ships of various kinds, not counting the UK’s four auxiliary dock transports that are a-building. By comparison, the biggest fleet is the US Navy’s, which has 10 LHAs and 12 LPDs organised in several amphibious warfare groups, usually of one LHA and two LPDs and a regiment of Marines.

Rob “Lawyers, Guns and Money” was discussing this in terms of the pre-1914 battleship race and the curious way countries with no need of battleships, indeed who could not maintain a meaningful fleet, were desperate to have just one ship. I replied that you had to look at the whole, and that he was right to think it might be about taking part in multinational operations. Just not necessarily the same ones…

In essence, these ships are the fruit of the late-90s efforts to lessen EU dependence on US assets in defence, and specifically the Nice Treaty’s goal of a EU Rapid Reaction Force similar to the NATO Allied Rapid Reaction Corps but without the Americans. One might think nothing had come of this except for a new HQ in the Brussels ‘burbs, what with the change of emphasis from the 60,000 man EURRF to small scale battle groups (essentially a way of fulfilling the letter of the plan without more money). But the ships are a-building…