A recently released Congressional report has raised a number of issues regarding the role of the Navy’s Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense system, and the next-generation Aegis Ashore variant, in missile defense operations in Europe.

Drafted by members of the Congressional Research Service, the 65-page report released on Tuesday calls into question a number of aspects– from the actual number of Aegis-equipped Navy destroyers needed for the European BMD mission to the maturity of the new ballistic missile being developed for the program–related to the Aegis sea and land-based systems.

“Some [defense] observers are concerned…that demands from U.S regional military commanders for BMD-capable Aegis ships are growing faster than the number of BMD-capable Aegis ships,” according to the report. “They are also concerned that demands from U.S. regional military commanders for Aegis ships for conducting BMD operations could strain the Navy’s ability to provide regional military commanders with Aegis ships for performing non-BMD missions.”

That plan is based upon Obama administration’s European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA) for ballistic missile defense. Based on recommendations by Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Michael Mullen, President Barack Obama approved the EPAA in September 2009.

On the number of required ships needed to perform the European missile defense mission, DoD has proposed an “early-stage” deployment plan for stationing two Aegis destroyers at each of the three BMD land stations in the region. Announced in 2009 by Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Marine Gen. James Cartwright, the plan would entail a total of six Aegis-outfitted warships to support those operations, the report states.

In May, The United States and Romania said they jointly selected the Deveselu Air Base near Caracal, Romania to host a U.S. Ballistic Missile Defense System.

“If the Navy relied entirely on East Coast-homeported destroyers operating on seven-month deployments for supporting European BMD operations, then maintaining six ships continuously on station in European waters could require approximately 26 ships,” the report adds, noting that 26-ship number was considered a “a high-end or worst-case analysis.”

However, some in Navy circles have raised concerns that dedicating such a large number of American warships to support the EPAA would leave other key regions across the globe without a sea-based BMD capability.

To help allay those concerns, the Navy upped their overall production goals for cruisers and destroyers to 96 total ships, according to the report. But the Navy’s most recent version of its long-term shipbuilding plan, “does not contain enough destroyers to maintain a force of 94 cruisers and destroyers consistently over the long run,” according to CRS.

To that end, the cruiser and destroyer build rate will top out at 67 ships by 2025, it adds. That projected gap “is the largest projected shortfall of any ship category in the Navy’s 30-year shipbuilding plan,” CRS analysts write.

Aside from the numbers of Navy ships needed to support the EPAA plan, the report also raises issue with the munitions that the Aegis ships and land systems will be fielding. As designed, both platforms will field the newest variant of the SM-3 ballistic missile.

The Block IIB system will be the next iteration of the The Block 1A version of the SM-3 is currently deployed on Aegis warships. The Block 1B variant of the weapon is currently being designed for the Aegis Ashore system.

In May, the Missile Defense Agency has awarded a total of $127 million in three separate contracts to Boeing [BA], Lockheed Martin [LMT] and Raytheon [RTN] to begin conceptual design and development work on the agency’s next-generation of SM-3 missiles.

Lockheed Martin garnered the lion’s share of the $127 million, with MDA awarding the company $43.3 million for the effort. Raytheon, which is the prime contractor on the SM-3 missile, netted $42.7 million toward its work on the follow-on system, with Boeing being awarded $41.1 million for their concept development program, according to the contracts issued on April 7.

Under these contracts, each company "will work with MDA on the concept definition and program planning "toward the development of the Block IIB version of the [SM-3]," including defining and assessing "viable and affordable missile configurations" with support from trade studies, ultimately leading to an "executable development plan."

But a June report by the Defense Science Board casts doubt on whether the Block IIB can meet the requirements of the BMD mission. The crux of the DSB’s argument is the questionable ability for the Block IIB “to hit an incoming missile before it deploys countermeasures,” CRS analysts write.

“With that information…during a deficit crisis, should the government be spending $1.7 billion over the next five years to develop the SM-3 Block IIB is its ultimate goal is in doubt,” the DSB report says.

Further, former Missile Defense Agency (MDA) director Lt. Gen. Trey Obering said recently that problems with the Block IA system would likely find their way into the new Block IB variant of the weapon. Given the spiral approach for SM-3 development, those problems would "tend to cycle through" all current and future variants of the weapon–including the IIA and IIB versions (Defense Daily, April 6).