The Aegis Ashore facility erected at Lockheed Martin's Aegis test facility in Moorestown, N.J., is designed to be completely broken down for shipment to Romania. (Lockheed Martin)
MOORESTOWN, N.J. — Aegis fans will see something familiar in this structure sitting in a field in New Jersey. While it has walls like any other building, there’s no mistaking the upward angles and familiar oyster cracker design on the front.
And just like the Aegis cruisers and destroyers it resembles, this building is getting ready to deploy.
Workers have begun moving through all three floors of the building, unbolting, unplugging and lifting electrical components and beams and huge radar arrays. In a few weeks, virtually everything — the radars, the computers, the walls and floors and stairs — will be packed up, nearly all of it ready for shipping in about 60 standard 40-foot container boxes to a field in Romania.
And in about a year, everything will be reassembled and re-energized to become the first operational shore-based element of the European Phased Adaptive Approach — a US plan to protect Europe from ballistic missile attack.
“The pace at which things are moving is amazing,” Nick Bucci, director of ballistic missile defense (BMD) for Lockheed Martin, which built the Aegis Ashore facility, said Feb. 12. Only days before, the system had been up and running, tracking “targets” of opportunity moving up and down the eastern US seaboard.
The system is the first land-based version of the famous Aegis combat system, a sophisticated collection of phased-array radars, fire control directors, computers and missiles that, installed on US Navy warships and those of its allies, is able to defend wide areas from enemy attack. Aegis systems routinely are able to simultaneously track more than 100 targets.
For more than a decade, Lockheed, missile-maker Raytheon, the US Navy and the Missile Defense Agency have worked to adapt the Aegis system to take on BMD missions. As of the end of 2013, 30 US warships — five cruisers and 25 destroyers — have been modified as BMD ships, along with four Japanese destroyers.
The first BMD-certified ships were active in the western Pacific but, since March 2011, ships have been carrying out anti-missile patrols in the European theater. Four US destroyers are transferring to Rota, Spain, to provide a permanently forward-based BMD presence. Donald Cook, the first ship, arrived in Rota on Feb. 11, and the Ross will follow later this year. The Carney and Porter will transfer to Spain in 2015. The deployment of the ships, along with SM-2 Block IV and SM-3 Block IA Standard missiles and land-based X-band radars, constitute Phase I of the European Phased Adaptive Approach, able to take on intermediate-range ballistic missiles.
The Aegis Ashore concept evolved from a desire to operate a proven, ground-based BMD system in Europe that would be flexible and more agile than the larger ground-based interceptors initially planned. The installation is based on the sea-going version of the system, including a vertical launcher system with 24 SM-3 missiles.
Phase 2 includes the deployment of the Aegis Ashore system in Romania to provide ballistic missile coverage for southern Europe and will also use enhanced SM-3 Block IB interceptor missiles.
Phase 3 includes a second Aegis Ashore site in Poland to cover northern Europe. To be operational in 2018, Phase 3 includes deployment of SM-3 Block IIA missiles that are larger and faster than previous missiles, and, according to the Missile Defense Agency, will extend the Aegis-Standard envelope to defend against intercontinental ballistic missiles.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, during a late January visit to Poland, highlighted the overarching Eastern European BMD plan and specifically Phase 3 in Poland.
“Our nations continue to work closely together, both bilaterally and through NATO, in response to ballistic missile threats,” Hagel said. “And the United States is firmly committed to deploying a US missile defense system to Poland. We look forward to this system coming online in 2018 as part of Phase 3 of the European Phased Adaptive Approach.”
The architecture of the building erected at Lockheed’s Aegis facility is based on the superstructure of a destroyer. The diamond-shaped configuration is driven by the third floor layout where the four large SPY-1 radars are installed, just as on a ship. The floors are referred to in naval terms — a main deck with 01, 02 and 03 levels above.
The building includes all the elements of the combat system — except the missiles. Command-and-control consoles fill the 01 level, processors are installed on the 02 level while radar equipment dominates the 03 level. Power supplies and water coolers are installed on the main floor.
The layout of the three levels is nearly like that on a destroyer, although with the absence of bulkheads and hatches. Ladders are replaced by wide stairs, shallow to allow workmen to move equipment up and down.
The entire installation is designed to be relocatable, meant to be erected and operational in about six weeks. Key to the concept is the mounting of most equipment on skids, incorporating false floors for cabling and environmental connections.
The skids, known as removable equipment units, have fittings for wheels and cables so they can be easily moved. Packed up with control consoles and power racks already installed, they can be quickly set up and connected with each other, with false flooring fitted in between to complete the installation.
Special cradles were built to carry the SPY-1 radars. The phased-array unit, including the cradles, is installed in the building’s walls.
The entire system, said Brendan Scanlon, Lockheed’s director of Aegis Ashore, was designed by a team from Lockheed Martin, ship designers Gibbs and Cox, integration specialists Black & Veatch, and NASCAR consultant Dennis Carlson, an expert in rapid repair and modular design. The team “designed every inch of this facility,” Scanlon said.
The result is an installation where modularity abounds and things are as simple as possible. Color-coding is everywhere, from orange wheel attachment points and dark brown bolt points to tan-colored building panels. During a visit Feb. 12, contractors were at work on all three levels, moving quickly to take apart systems in a logical order.
Lockheed built two Aegis Ashore units. The first was completed in 2013 and shipped in late summer to the Pacific Missile Range Facility off Kauai, Hawaii, where it has already successfully engaged test targets. The second unit is the one destined for Romania.
The Missile Defense Agency will open the construction of the unit for Poland to competing bids.
Operated by US Navy sailors, the Aegis Ashore system will only be responsible for BMD duties, Bucci said. A conventional surface-to-air intercept capability is possible, but so far not a requirement from the Missile Defense Agency.
A ground-breaking ceremony for the $134 million Aegis Ashore installation was held Oct. 28 at Deveselu Air Base in Romania. ■