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AEGIS Program History

For more than 40 years, the US Navy has developed systems and tactics to protect itself from air attacks. Since the end of World War II, several generations of anti-ship missiles have emerged as the air threat to the fleet. The first combatant ship sunk by one of these missiles was an Israeli destroyer in October 1967, hit by a Soviet built missile. The threat posed by such weapons was reconfirmed in April 1988 when two Iranian surface combatants fired on US Navy ships and aircraft in the Persian Gulf. The resulting exchange of anti-ship missiles led to the destruction of an Iranian frigate and corvette by US built Harpoon missiles. Modern anti-ship missiles can be launched several hundred miles away. The attacks can be coordinated, combining air, surface and subsurface launches, so that the missiles arrive on target almost simultaneously.

The US Navy's defense against this threat has continued to rely on the winning strategy of defense in depth. Guns were replaced in the late fifties by the first generation of guided missiles in American ships and aircraft. By the late sixties, these missiles continued to perform well, but it was recognized that reaction time, firepower, and operational availability in all environments did not match the threat.

As a result, the US Navy decided to develop a program to defend ships from anti-ship missile threats. The AEGIS project was initiated by the Navy originally as the Advanced Surface Missile System or ASMS. Following the cancellation of the Typhon project, the Navy began work on ASMS to arm the fleet against the advanced air threats posed by the Soviets, projected to worsen in the 1960s and 1970s. An Advanced Surface Missile System (ASMS) was promulgated in 1963 and an engineering development program was initiated to meet the requirements made by the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO).

Rear Admiral Wayne E. Meyer (born April 21, 1926) is regarded as the "Father of AEGIS" for his 13 years of service as the AEGIS Weapon System Manager and later the founding project manager of the AEGIS Shipbuilding Project Office. He retired from the United States Navy in 1985 as the Deputy Commander for Weapons and Combat systems, Naval Sea Systems, Naval Sea Systems Command and Ordnance Officer of the Navy. In 1963, the Secretary of the Navy Fred Korth chose then Commander Meyer to serve in the special Navy Task Force for Surface Guided Missile Systems, under command of RADM Eli T. Reich, USN. Meyer's work at the Terrier Desk led to his appointment to lead the engineering effort to transition the entire Terrier Fleet (30 ships) from analog to high speed digital systems.

During the Program Definition Phase [1964-5], seven leading industrial teams developed candidate systems. By 1965 Naval Officers and engineers and personnel from military and industrial laboratories had synthesized a basic system from the contractor suggested techniques and concepts. After receiving the 7 concept proposals from weapon system contractors, the Secretary of the Navy recalled retired Rear Admiral Frederic S. Withington (a former Chief of the Bureau of Ordnance) to active duty to recommend a system for development, using the contractor proposals as a basis for technology available at the time.

Withington's recommendations were delivered in a report to the Secretary of the Navy on May 15, 1965. The recommended system consisted of a phased array S-Band radar, capable of both search and track of air targets, slaved X-band radars (6) for illumination and fire control, a digital control system compatible with the Naval Tactical Data System, a standard missile capable of mid-course guidance, and a dual-rail launcher. The report made other significant recommendations, including the need to choose a single system prime contractor to develop the system, and the need to continue improving the existing missile systems in the fleet to deal with current threats.

Secretary of Defense Robert MacNamara held up development of the system from 1965 through 1967 in order to increase its commonality with Patriot, the Army's air defense system. But by 1967 complete commonality with the was Army found to be unacceptable and ASMS ws given the go ahead. Turning down a destroyer command to continue this prelude to advanced weapons system design, in 1966 Meyer was appointed an Ordnance Engineering Duty Officer the same year he was selected Captain. He was 40 years old. In 1967, Meyer reported as Director of Engineering at the Naval Ship Missile Systems Engineering Station, Port Hueneme, California (now known as Naval Surface Warfare Center, Port Hueneme Division or NSWC PHD).

In 1968 three industrial teams were selected for contract definition, and the source selection process continued into 1969, as key measurable parameters were developed. In December 1969, RCA was selected as prime contractor to begin development of the recommended system.

The Preliminary Design Review was completed in 1970, and Naval training units were established in four plants to work with the development engineering teams. Also in 1970, Meyer was recalled to Washington and reported to the Naval Ordnance Systems Command as Manager, AEGIS Weapon System. With the arrival of Meyer in 1970, the project found a leader experienced in system development, familiar with current fleet problems, and savvy enough to deal with the Navy and DoD hierarchy to see the project through to completion. He insisted upon rigorous system engineering discipline throughout the project, and spent considerable effort ensuring that all participants understood what the system was required to do, and what their role was. The development of the three functional cornerstones (Detect, Control, Engage) and the five operational cornerstones:

  • Reaction Time
  • Firepower
  • Electronic Countermeasure and Environmental Immunity
  • Continuous Availability
  • Area Coverage
These cornerstones were key in specifically defining and measuring system performance. Meyer's philosophy of "Build a Little, Test a Little, Learn a Lot" drove the testing and milestones of the AEGIS system as well. Having witnessed problems with existing missile systems related to a lack of testing, tests that incorporated too many objectives, and failed system integration efforts requiring massive "get well" programs, he drove the project to conduct numerous test events in development and in delivery of production gear prior to ship installation.

The ship that the AEGIS system first landed on, USS Ticonderoga, was not decided upon in a day. Throughout the project's development, the size and armament of the ship was the subject of vigorous debate within the Navy, the Office of the Secretary of Defense, and Congress. The proposed ships ranged from a 5000 ton "austere" ship promoted by Admiral Zumwalt to a nuclear strike cruiser displacing three times as much. The type of ship, cruiser or destroyer was also a subject of debate.

In 1971 Congress reduced the number of AEGIS nuclear destroyers from 23 to five. The shipboard technical liaison program was instituted to increase Aegis industrial personnel's awareness of at-sea equipment and user problems as Aegis began moving from planning and study phase to design and fabrication stage.

In 1972 the CNO authorized a new class of conventionally, vice nuclear, powered destroyers to be designed expressly for Aegis. The AEGIS Critical Design Review was held in that year, as major Aegis components completed their qualification testing. Meyer was also named Project Manager (the final one) for Surface Missile Systems in 1972, and in July 1974 he was named the first Director of Surface Warfare, in the newly formed Naval Sea Systems Command.

In 1973 the Secretary of the Navy directed that a gas turbine-powered DDG and a nuclear class ship be considered for AEGIS. System integration was completed and determined to be ready for at sea testing. The first Engineering Development Model (EDM-1) was installed in a test ship, the USS Norton Sound, in 1973. This was the first fully-operational seaborne phased-array RADAR. The Navy built the first Aegis-equipped cruisers using the hull and machinery designs of Spruance-class destroyers. In May 1974, Aegis was installed on the USS NORTON SOUND for at sea testing. By July 1974, both the DDG and the nuclear destroyer were cancelled. In November 1974, a Defense Systems Acquisition Review Council convenes to consider Aegis for a new nuclear cruiser.

In 1975 Navy and contractor testing and evaluation of Aegis continued on the NORTON SOUND. The Secretary of Defense directed development of both gas turbine and nuclear powered AEGIS ships. Meyer was selected for Rear Admiral in January 1975 at 49 years old. In July of 1975 that same year, he assumed duties as the founding Project Manager, AEGIS Shipbuilding, with project code PMS-400.

In 1976, while Aegis testing continued on the NORTON SOUND, the Secretary of Defense approved proceeding with adaptation of Aegis to the basic SPRUANCE hull and power plant. The AEGIS system was eventually landed on a significantly modified version of the Spruance-class hull, the first of which was originally designated as DDG-47, and later changed to CG-47.

In 1977 the AEGIS Shipbuilding Project was chartered, with one project officer - Rear Admiral Myer - responsible for both the Aegis Combat System and the AEGIS ship. The sophistication and complexity of the AEGIS combat system were such that the combination of engineering with AEGIS/AEGIS equipped ship acquisition demanded special management treatment. This "marriage" was effected by the establishment of the AEGIS shipbuilding project at Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA PMS-400). The special management treatment combined and structured hull mechanical and electrical systems, combat systems, computer programs, repair parts, personnel maintenance documentation, and tactical operation documentation into one unified organization to create the highly capable, multi-mission surface combatants that are today's AEGIS cruisers and destroyers.

The charter for NAVSEA PMS-400 represented a significant Navy management decision, one which had a far-reaching impact on acquisition management, design and life-time support of modern Navy ships. For the first time in the history of surface combatants, PMS-400 introduced an organization that had both responsibility and authority to simultaneously manage development/acquisition, combat system integration and life-time support.

Money for the first ship was appropriated in 1978, and shortly after construction began at Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula, Mississippi. CG-47 was commissioned on 22 January 1983, and a short 9 months later was first used for naval gunfire support off the coast of Lebanon. Meyer and the project team were proud of the fact that the ship was ready to fight so shortly after commissioning, a new phenomenon given the long post commissioning availabilities of Navy ships in the 1970s. In September 1983, Meyer was reassigned as Deputy Commander, Weapons and Combat Systems, Naval Sea Systems Command. He retired from active duty in 1985.

The first cruiser of this class, the Ticonderoga used two twin-armed Mark-26 missile launchers, fore and aft. The commissioning of the sixth ship of the class, the Bunker Hill opened a new era in surface warfare as the first Aegis ship outfitted with the Martin Marietta Mark-41 Vertical Launching System (VLS), allowing a wider missile selection, more firepower, and survivability. The improved AN/SPY-1B radar went to sea in the Princeton, ushering in another advance in Aegis capabilities. The Chosin introduced the AN/UYK-43/44 computers, which provide increased processing capabilities.

A second class of AEGIS ship began with concept studies in 1978. Envisioned to replace the aging DDG 2 and DDG 37 class destroyers, it was to be capable against the same air threats as the CG 47 class. In 1980, a destroyer was designed using an improved sea-keeping hull form, reduced infrared, and radar cross-section and upgrades to the Aegis Combat System. The project responsibility originally lay outside of PMS 400, in another functional code in the Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA 93). However, by May 1982, the project was put under Meyer's control in PMS 400, with a lead ship awarded 1985 to Bath Iron Works, Bath, Maine. Like the Ticonderoga, the ship was designed with an AEGIS Combat System, modified for installation in the destroyer and less heavily armed. The first ship of the Arleigh Burke class, the USS Arleigh Burke, was commissioned on July 4, 1991.

Flight II of the Arleigh Burke class, introduced in 1992, incorporated improvements to the SPY radar, and to the Standard missile, active electronic countermeasures, and communications. Flight IIA, introduced in 2000, added a helicopter hangar with one anti-submarine helicopter and one armed attack helicopter. The Aegis program has also projected reducing the cost of each Flight IIA ship by at least $30 million.

Because the Aegis system dominates the ship's architecture, ships equipped with it are sometimes mistakenly called Aegis class ships. The AEGIS Shipbuilding project was scheduled to conclude with DDG-112, and is the longest continuous shipbuilding project in U.S. Navy history, with 27 cruisers and 62 destroyers authorized since 1978.




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