NavWeek: Aegis Locked And Loaded

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Few could claim surprise when Lockheed Martin secured the $100.7 million contract this month to retain its role as the “Aegis Combat System Engineering Agent (CSEA).”

But to lose this relatively small contract would have been a very big deal for Lockheed.

No one in the Navy combat system community likes the term “Aegis Mafia,” but that’s exactly what most folks call it and there is no doubt that Lockheed has been the godfather of that clan for decades.

Lockheed’s name is on the building of the so-called “Cruiser in the Cornfield” in Moorestown, N.J., a warship deckhouse mockup visible from area roadways and the real seat of power for Aegis research and development. Losing this contract would have meant erasing that name and putting another contractor's name over it, an inconceivable notion for many in the Aegis community, regardless of the Navy’s stated designs to break up “monopolies” like Aegis development.

Indeed, there’s a general feeling that Lockheed is a lock for Aegis in much the same way that Raytheon will be front-loaded with missile development and production. Given the current budget climate, there is an especially robust desire and effort by contractors to keep their legacy programs.

And given the reported success of some of those programs thus far, there’s an understandable desire by analysts and others in the defense community to keep those programs just where they are.

Aegis combat systems and associated missile programs are the gold standard, Navy officials says – the envy of the world.

Nonetheless, because of the very nature of the development of Aegis, the program is hampered by a quilt of different baselines that have been stitched together through the years, with different versions for different classes and ships.

Often, analysts say, the only reason Aegis works is the resourcefulness of Navy and contractor operators who develop workarounds and procedures.

But according to test and operational reports, Aegis does the job. It does it so well, in fact, that the Navy is still pushing for additional improvements even as it loads the latest advanced equipment and code onto other vessels.

With the advent of ballistic missile defense (BMD) missions for Aegis, the combat system is securely anchored for Navy surface ships for years to come. Don’t forget, the Navy upended its destroyer plan to cut the fleet size of the proposed DDG-1000 Zumwalt-class destroyer, which had the dual-band radar, to build more DDG-51 Arleigh Burke-class destroyers equipped with Aegis and its SPY radar equipment.

The reason given for the shift: to get more destroyers with Aegis systems out in the fleet more quickly for BMD work.

And as the Navy continues to develop its air and missile defense radar (AMDR) for BMD missions, more than a few defense analysts and industry sources wonder if the service will opt instead to buy more of the latest-version Burke destroyers – the Flight IIAs – with as much Aegis capability as possible.

While the Navy says it needs AMDR to meet future threats, analysts contend that there’s still some cost and risk involved in developing it. With Aegis and the Burkes, the costs are known and the risks are low.

In these uncertain financial times, they say, that’s a winning combination.

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