[Diary of a Vengeance Foretold] Part 140

NOVEMBER 19 1988

”The Pentagon’s statements about Aegis present a picture of a high level of effectiveness, which we found to be unsupported by the evidence.” General Accounting Office, July 1988

Named after the magical shield of Zeus, the Aegis system was designed to provide US Navy ships with absolute protection from enemy missiles. Costing a staggering $526 million each, the Navy plans to invest some $27 billion to buy them for 23 new cruisers and 29 destroyers.

The USS Vincennes

The USS Vincennes

Most of the cost originates in a complex device, called phased array radar, whose beam is steered electronically instead of with a movable dish. According to the proponents of the Aegis, a ship equipped with this system can defend itself and the fleet against many simultaneous attacks.

But Aegis seems to have much difficulties. For instance, it seems unable to detect small targets flying close to the waves. During the Aegis’s operational testing in 1983, the system proved unable to hit any of the four low-flying targets in one series of tests.

After hitting only one out of three targets in another test, Representative Denny Smith, a Oregon Republican, urged Congress not to buy more Aegis ships until the Navy had better test results to report.

A third test was run in 1984. The Navy reported that 10 of 11 targets had been hit. However, the General Accounting Office concluded that the tests were unrealistic and the results misreported to Congress. In spite of the clear warning, Congress let the Aegis program proceed.

Despite information lacking regarding performance in action, US ships were equipped with Aegis systems and deployed in war zones.

In March 1986, the U.S.S. Yorktown shot down what it believed to be a Libyan missile boat. In truth, it was a low-flying cloud. The second time the system was used to fire a missile at an enemy target, the story was not so funny. In fact, it was a tragedy.

On July 3rd, the U.S.S. Vincennes destroyed an Iranian civilian airliner killing 290 innocents, acting on the belief that the ship was under attack from an Iranian F-14.

“Why did Aegis let the crew of the Vincennes shoot down an Iranian airliner, while a nearby frigate, the U.S.S. Sides, correctly evaluated it as civilian? The recent report by Admiral Fogarty’s commission does little to explain the episode, instead blaming the Vincennes’ crew for misreading instrument displays under the stress of combat. Aegis’s performance in combat remains veiled in mystery,” writes Les Aspin today (19/11/1988)  in the New York Times.


Does the Navy’s Magic Shield Work? — November 19, 1988

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