Sunday, May 13, 2012

ASB. Easy as 1,2,3

Although the final form of the concept is still in draft form and thus unavailable to the public at large, AirSea Battle is already a juggernaut of a military concept. The planned shift in DoD focus to Pacific Command certainly demands a reassessment of naval and aerial operations, but the major impetus for the development of a Navy and Air Force concept of operations is the proliferation of Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2AD) capabilities among our possible enemies.

A2/AD may have a fancy acronym, but it is not much more than a well planned, large scale defensive position. It seems new because missiles can pack enough of a punch and are accurate enough to destroy a ship at sea. This is nothing new, it has just been forgotten that there used to be something called “coastal artillery” that could block access and deny areas to ships in littoral regions. Coastal artillery was integral to the Confederate isolation of Fort Sumter in the opening days of the Civil War and Turkish control of the Dardanelles during World War I, for example. The clearest explanation of A2/AD comes from the HQMC AirSeaBattle Office.
In the aftermath of DESERT STORM, it was apparent to many potential adversaries that it would be inadvisable to oppose the U.S. in a force-on-force conflict, and they explored how to disrupt U.S. power projection through means designed to complicate both movement to and maneuver within an area of mutual interest. These two elements of an adversary's comprehensive warfare strategy are referred to as "anti-access" and "area denial" or "A2/AD".
In other words, our enemies intend to execute a well-planned defensive operation on key terrain using all of the tools at their disposal. Those have been around for a while.
"Don't worry, lads. It's 1944. A2/AD hasn't been invented yet. Easy day. Let's do this." SGT Leeroy Jenkins

So, what do we do now? Enter AirSea Battle. According to the same ASB office, the concept includes:

         The Air-Sea Battle Concept centers on networked, integrated, attack-in-depth to disrupt, destroy and defeat (NIA-D3) A2/AD threats.

"We're going to attack the bad guys far away from us and the bad guys close to us and we're going to talk to each other while we do it."

 Offensive and defensive tasks in Air-Sea Battle are tightly coordinated in real time by networks able to command and control air and naval forces in a contested environment. The air and naval forces are organized by mission and networked to conduct integrated operations across all domains.

"But we're not just going to do it willy-nilly. We're going to do it together as a team even though we'll all be doing the mission we're best suited to accomplish. The contested part just means that the enemy will fight back. That happens sometimes."

The concept organizes these integrated tasks into three lines of effort, wherein air and naval forces attack-in-depth to disrupt the adversary's intelligence collection and command and control used to employ A2/AD weapons systems; destroy or neutralize A2/AD weapons systems within effective range of U.S. forces; and defeat an adversary's employed weapons to preserve essential U.S. Joint forces and their enablers.
 "Oh and we're not going to just attack just anyone. We're going to attack important stuff and stuff that can threaten us."

My commentary is not meant to poke fun at the document. This is the clearest description of the concept I’ve yet found, but the language is still dense and rich with the buzziest of buzz words. So, after wading through the buzz, we can pull out how we plan to use our military forces to overcome A2/AD. We’re going to attack the enemy, across the battlespace, with a focus on enemy C4ISR and offensive weapon systems, while using our own C4ISR, in a joint environment. Seems like any good joint operation would do these things.

In other words, in order to defeat a well-planned, well-executed, defensive operation on key terrain utilizing every weapon at the enemy's disposal, we're going to utilize a well-planned, well-executed, offensive operation on key terrain utilizing every weapon at our disposal. 

Think I’m oversimplifying it? In October, Undersecretary of the Navy Bob Work said (according to Douglas Macgregor and Young J. Kim) that AirSea Battle, “focuses on winning a two-sided munitions salvo competition in order to facilitate concurrent and follow on operations.” Essentially, AirSea Battle versus an A2/AD system is the Gunfight at the OK Corral on a far larger scale. They stand in the open and shoot at us, we stand in the open and shoot back.

I'm your huckleberry.

We’ve been here before. During World War II, especially in the Pacific where the geography forced US forces to attack tiny, easily defended islands, there was only one way to take on a defensive position from the sea. Straight on. The idea was that, since you couldn’t outmaneuver an enemy entrenched on a beach, you’d just blast him out of his position. Aerial and naval surface fires would attack the enemy in depth, focusing on entrenchments, according to an integrated plan, and the defense would be overwhelmed before the first boots hit the shore. Needless to say, no amount of firepower ever eliminated the need for Marines and soldiers to take shore defenses at bayonet range.

Now there’s something to be said for simple plans. Simple plans are easier to execute and less complexity means that less can go awry. But a simple plan isn’t always enough. Custer had a simple plan. The Maginot Line was a simple plan. AirSea Battle, although couched in Pentagonese, is a simple plan. Only time will tell whether it is good simple or bad simple. Criticisms of AirSea Battle by T.X Hammes in Infinity Journal (free with registration) and by Douglas Macgregor and Young J. Kim in Armed Forces Journal have already appeared, but the Navy and Air Force seem intent on making AirSea Battle their overarching concept of operations for years to come. In their American Interest article about AirSea Battle, the CNO ADM Greenert and the CSAF GEN Schwartz seem to see ASB as the answer for every type of challenge on, over, or under water.

One thing is certain; the implementation of AirSea Battle will be expensive. China’s expanded A2/AD capabilities in particular will require highly advanced technology and weapons systems to overcome in a face-to-face shootout. This will force the Department of Defense to invest billions of dollars in weapon systems tailored to a specific situation during a time of fiscal stress. China will be investing in their systems as well, but their economy is currently booming. Even if we maintain the ability to defeat an A2/AD system head-on, we will spend billions in the process and may never actually execute it. If AirSea Battle is never utilized, we still lose because we've spent so much money creating new weapons through our byzantine procurement process. Someone once said that to subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill. I think he was Chinese.


  1. Thank u for your service All Active Retired and POW and MIA.

  2. In other words, in order to defeat a well-planned, well-executed, defensive operation on key terrain utilizing every weapon at the enemy's disposal, we're going to utilize a well-planned, well-executed, offensive operation on key terrain utilizing every weapon at our disposal. China Outsourcing