CNO: Divest Aegis Ashore Sites to Ground Forces

The new Naval Support Facility in Redzikowo, Poland, home to the Aegis Ashore Ballistic Missile Defense System. Pictured: the Aegis Ashore “Deckhouse” command and control center. U.S. Navy / Lt. Amy Forsythe

ARLINGTON, Va. — The chief of naval operations has proposed the U.S. Navy divest its Aegis Ashore ballistic-missile defense (BMD) sites to another service in order to focus on its core missions. 

In the Jan. 11 release of the Navigation Plan for the service, CNO Adm. Michael Gilday wrote of the need to divest capabilities to afford more lethality and sharpen focus. 

“To remain ahead of our competitors, we will divest ourselves of legacy capabilities that no longer bring sufficient lethality to the fight,” Gilday wrote in the document. “This includes divestment of experimental Littoral Combat Ship hulls, legacy Cruisers, and older Dock Landing Ships. It also includes divesting non-core Navy missions like Aegis Ashore. Transferring shore-based ballistic missile defense sites to ground forces enables Sailors to focus on their core missions at sea and frees up resources to increase our lethality.” 

Gilday also spoke of the need of the Navy to divest the Aegis Ashore sites during his Jan. 11 address to the Surface Navy Association convention webinar, without adding more detail.  

The Navy has built and operates two Aegis Ashore sites in Europe, one in Romania and the other in Poland. The sites include an Aegis Combat System and missile launchers that can fire Standard SM-3 missiles. The two sites, part of the European Defense Initiative to shield Europe from missile threats from such countries as Iran, are augmented by BMD patrols in the Mediterranean Sea by Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile ships based in Rota, Spain. 

Plans of Japan to base two Aegis Ashore sites in Japan to defend against missile threats from such nations as North Korea were canceled in 2020, ostensibly because of concerns that missile booster stages would fall on populated areas. Japan also operates guided-missile destroyers equipped with the Aegis Combat System and SM-3 missiles. 

In June 2018, then-CNO Adm. John Richardson advocated for the Navy to divest the BMD role in its cruisers and destroyers patrolling in the Sea of Japan to Aegis Ashore sites in Japan, saying the ships would be better used in more dynamic roles and the demands of geographically restricted patrols took a toll on ship maintenance and crew readiness. 

In 2020, Adm. Philip Davidson, commander, Indo Pacific Command, listed his top acquisition priority as being the installation of Aegis Ashore in Guam to defend the island and its facilities from ballistic missile launched from North Korea. 

“My No. 1 priority, and the most important action we can take to readily and most fully implement the National Defense Strategy, as a first step, is a 360-degree persistent integrated air defense capability of what I call Homeland Defense System Guam,” Davidson said.  

Davidson advocates deploying the Baseline 10 Aegis Ashore missile defense system to Guam to supplement the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, system already in place on the island.   

Gilday was not specific to which service — “ground forces’’ — the Aegis Ashore sites should be transferred, but the U.S. Army is the most likely candidate because it provides BMD with its Patriot and THAAD missiles.