Preparations are continuing to base four U.S. Navy destroyers in Rota, Spain, beginning in fiscal 2014 — a move that will allow the ships to provide a near-continuous ballistic-missile defense (BMD) shield for Europe.
And while the U.S. remains the only nation so far able to field a sea-based BMD system, the nation’s top naval officer sees roles other navies can play to support the mission.
“Many of the allies that have that anti-air warfare capability are interested in seeing what can be done,” Adm. Jonathan Greenert, chief of naval operations (CNO), said in an Oct. 31 interview. “Each has their own boxes and political dynamics. But there is a renewed interest in seeing how can we help you with ballistic-missile defense.”
Greenert met with many of his European counterparts in mid-October during a regional seapower symposium in Venice, Italy. BMD was one of many topics discussed during the meetings.
The CNO noted that Aegis destroyers operating in a missile defense mode aren’t as effective in the anti-air role, forcing the need for an escort to protect the BMD shooter. European navies operate a number of destroyers and frigates that are capable in that area.
“If they have that capability, they’re saying, ‘Maybe we can do that,’” Greenert said. “So there’s an interest in finding what that would mean. What would those [concepts of operations] be? What would the command-and-control structure be?”
Greenert reviewed preparations at Rota during a brief stop there, and he reported he was satisfied with what he saw. A pier dedicated to the destroyers is being prepared, but is able to handle only two ships at a time. More electrical and information technology support will be needed before all four ships can be berthed.
Officials also held discussions in Venice about international participation in operations around the Arabian Gulf. A major international mine countermeasure exercise, IMCMEX, was held in the region in September, part of an effort to respond to the potential closing of the strategic Strait of Hormuz at the gulf’s entrance. More than 30 nations took part in the maneuvers.
The exercise, Greenert said, “was successful for sure in getting everybody to have us say, ‘How do you do this stuff? How do you do it in an international manner? What’s the command-and-control structure?’”
Small countermine systems such as the Seafox and Kingfisher underwater vehicles, Greenert said, were successfully operated off small platforms, even rigid-hull inflatable boats.
“There’s a lot of countries that can do that,” the CNO said. “With that in mind, they’re going back and looking and saying, ‘I think I can do more. I don’t know precisely what it is, and I have to take it through my process, but I’m interested in doing more.’”
Operations in west Africa’s Gulf of Guinea also came up for discussion at Venice, Greenert said.
In addition to semi-regular visits by U.S. forces, “the French come regularly, the Spanish come occasionally, the Brazilians are planning” a deployment.
“The folks in the Gulf of Guinea said, ‘Can we get organized here so we don’t have three ships for a period — and man, is it stable — and then I got three months of nobody?’ And [the bad guys] figure that out. So maybe we get together and sequence our deployments.
“We’re saying, let’s sit down, use the NATO or one of the constructs we have in the Mediterranean, the coalition task force construct, to do some of our planning. It’s starting to take root.”