The Aegis combat system is a missile guidance system developed by the United States Navy. It is in active use among several American allies, and in the words of the Navy, it is a “total weapon system, from detection to kill.” Development of the system began as early as the 1960s, and by the 1980s, Aegis-class ships were sailing with early versions of the system aboard. It is widely considered to be one of the most advanced weapons systems on Earth.
The original Aegis was the shield of Zeus in Greek mythology. The word has entered usage in English to refer to protection or shielding with potentially godlike abilities. In some myths, the Aegis is actually a fire breathing monster, rather than a passive shield. This version of the myth is reflected in the Navy's choice of name.
Several things set Aegis aside from other missile guidance systems. The first is the level of integration which Aegis displays. The system seamlessly integrates radar, visual displays, missile control centers, and a powerful computer system. These systems all work together extremely rapidly, returning valuable minute by minute data to Aegis operators. As soon as a threat is identified, the system tracks it until the threat is neutralized or dismissed.
The technology behind Aegis is also extremely powerful. It is able to control the missile launches for a single vessel, or it can be used to coordinate a whole fleet of ships. This capability makes the Aegis combat system, and the Navy by extension, much more flexible. Aegis is also capable of handling multiple threats at once, as well as threats from different environments, such as the air, surface, or subsurface.
Like other weapons systems, the Aegis combat system reflects the changing face of warfare in the twentieth century. The cutting edge technology which forms the backbone of Aegis has also spilled over into the civilian world, as military technology often does. However, most civilian systems which compare to Aegis contain only a fraction of the system's computing and tracking power.
The capabilities of the Aegis combat system are limited, of course. The system can usually control only around 100 individual weapons, but can potentially follow up to 900 threats at a range of 100 nautical miles. Since these numbers exceed those found in most combat situations, most people find the Aegis combat system to be fully satisfactory, especially when enhanced by a network of ships and operators.