Base operations

US defence secretary Mark Esper tours the Iron Dome display with Israeli defence minister Benny Gantz in Tel Aviv, Israel, in October 2020.

Rehberg says the People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force – which controls China’s ballistic and nuclear missiles – is a threat capable of hitting US and Nato bases. However, he maintains that defence should not be the US’s only concern: perception also matters. “The credibility of US power projection is at stake and a credible response is critical to reassuring our partners and allies,” he says.

Taking responsibility The challenge isn’t to simply create a portfolio of defences against a range of threats. Just as fundamental for the US is deciding who takes responsibility for developing and deploying those resources. Rehberg describes the US as being in a state of confusion over “who’s doing what on airbase defence on the land side”. Are airmen or soldiers in charge? Who is responsible for fusing together the situational awareness picture of surrounding airspace and ground terrain? Who coordinates counter-attacks, especially when defenders may consist of personnel from various nations, with different equipment and combat engagement protocols?


US forward operating bases across 70 countries.

Cato Institute 22

There is a congressionally mandated study looking at the roles and missions in integrated air missile defence (IAMD), as well as a separate study into the army and air force, he says. The reviews are expected to learn from various sources, including the US Navy.

Rehberg believes the army and the air force could learn from the navy. “Really, the navy has the best IAMD, top to bottom,” he says. “Obviously, nothing’s perfect, but they’re kind of the gold standard for the US and probably for the world

because they’ve been dealing with threats and they have a layered comprehensive system. The rest of the services are basically catch-as-catch-can, with a few exceptions here and there.”

Blended and balanced defence Whichever service takes ultimate responsibility, finding a balance between passive and active defence is crucial – and it’s something that took time to get right in post-9/11 conflicts when active defences were shown to be deficient. “There’s a special army capability that was used in Iraq and Afghanistan to basically take out the G-RAMM [guide-rockets, artillery, missiles and mortars] threat, a land-based phalanx weapon system to counter rockets and artillery shells,” he says. This capability had not previously existed for the US Army, so it took the navy’s phalanx weapon system and adapted it, he goes on to explain. In addition to bolstering active defences and implementing obvious passive techniques such as camouflage and dispersal, another area of focus for the US has been making key infrastructure more resilient. The war in Afghanistan was a wake-up call for the US, particularly in the use of IEDs, and sparked significant scientific research into how to harden facilities, Rehberg explains. That work focused on the improvements needed to better protect facilities such as aircraft fuel depots. The development of new, more resilient types of concrete, for example, was just one area explored. However, Rehberg says there is more work to be done in terms of hardening. “I’m a big believer that almost every aircraft should be in some sort of HAS [hardened aircraft shelter]. With the new drone threats, the fact is I could basically fly a mini drone

Defence & Security Systems International /

US Department of Defense

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