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The Threat Posed to the US by Commercial Shipping

In a research report focusing on American space strategy, The Intelligence Ledger exposed a glaring gap in US capabilities: cruise missile defense. Over the years, Congress has wisely directed funds towards the establishment of a relatively advanced Ballistic Missile Defense System (BMDS). Using an integrated and layered architecture, the BMDS has the ability to intercept a wide variety of nuclear-capable delivery vehicles. Policymakers have failed, however, to develop a cruise missile defense system for the homeland. The current BMDS is unable to address cruise missile threats, as these vehicles fly at low altitudes and hide from US radar systems. This failure will only become more profound with the introduction of hypersonic missiles onto peer competitors surface combatants.

Today, adversaries are seeking to develop capabilities that take advantage of this defensive gap. One tool that offers immediate benefits for these states are cruise missile platforms fitted into shipping containers. Container-based missile platforms could be skillfully concealed on commercial ships without the knowledge of the US government, allowing state actors to operate off the east or west coasts impunity and potentially giving any commercial vessel the ability to severely damage an American surface combatant. As retired Navy Captain Jim Fanell observed, the proliferation of containerized cruise missiles would be a, "significant threat to the Navy...", especially in regards to China.

According to the Russian Federation's Ministry of Defense, Russia's Northern Fleet is slated to begin trials of such modular weapon systems in the coming weeks. Usually, such an announcement would not be news worthy, as the navies conduct weapon tests everyday across the world. The Northern Fleet's new platform, however, is not an ordinary weapon. Carried in ordinary 20' or 40' shipping containers, the Club K missile system boasts a range of 350 kilometers and a high degree of mobility due to concealment.

The People's Republic of China is also developing container-based cruise missile systems. Known as the YJ-18, China's platform has a range of several hundred of nautical miles. With its vast fleet of cargo vessels, its naval capabilities could be quickly boosted in the case of a high-intensity conflict.

In this scenario, a foreign power crippled US space, naval, and political power from commercial vessels.
In this scenario, an adversary strikes US space, naval, and political power hubs from commercial vessels.

Up to this point, Congress and the Department of Defense have failed to secure the homeland from cruise missile threats. However, there are several steps that analysts recommend Washington take if it this issue is to be rectified.

First, funding should immediately be directed to the development of a space-based small satellite system capable of detecting cruise missile targets en-route to the homeland. The Senate Armed Service Committee has included funds for two such systems in its version of the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, although it remains to be seen if this will reach the President's desk. When supplemented by ground and sea-based radars, the United States would no longer have an issue tracking cruise missile targets.

Second, technology sharing agreements focusing on missile defense should be signed with the Five Eyes intelligence alliance. Comprising Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States, the Five Eyes is made up of Washington's closest and most trustworthy allies. SGS infrastructure in these countries during a conflict will play a significant role in America's ability to maintain superiority in space. As such, cruise missile defense technology should be shared with these states in a quick and effective fashion. Israel also serves as a logical partner in this endeavor, as it has the requisite experience, knowledge, and intelligence to boost American research programs thanks to the Iron Dome.


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