Friday, February 15, 2013

Deception in Air-Sea Battle

Captain Brett Friedman has written on this blog several good pieces on Air-Sea Battle (ASB).  In my personal favorite, he describes how ASB falsely promises the US military a strategic victory over an enemy by using air and sea power to defeat our enemy.  He brings in historical examples of the US using air and sea forces to reduce shore-based defenses, like Operation OVERLORD, or the Battle of Iwo Jima, two battles where the shore defenses were hardly affected by the Air-Sea Battle conducted prior to amphibious landings. While the ends of the preparatory fires before Iwo Jima and the D-Day assault were different from ASB, the idea that is promoted is the same:  Air and Sea power are the “be all, end all” of war.  As Capt Friedman puts it, "[I]t was assumed, by the US Navy as late as 1943 and the US Army in 1944, that air and sea firepower would negate shore defenses. ASB is built around this same assumption, an assumption proven false sixty-nine years ago."

For those unfamiliar with ASB, here is a concise definition from Greg Jaffe at the Washington Post: 

"Stealthy American bombers and submarines would knock out China’s long-range surveillance radar and precision missile systems located deep inside the country. The initial “blinding campaign” would be followed by a larger air and naval assault."

To expand the meaning in the Washington Post: After the preparatory bombardment allows our air and naval forces to approach an enemy’s territory at ever decreasing ranges,  these forces will continue to destroy strategic targets without fear of retaliation by the previously destroyed radar and precision mission systems until our enemy capitulates, like Japan after the atomic bomb.  This plan is not about achieving air and sea dominance, ASB is about beginning the war, conducting the war, and ending the war from the Air and from the Sea. 

A key part of this plan involves us owning longer ranged and more accurate missiles than the Chinese, and their inability to defend against them.  We would use them to attack key targets (command & control and air defense sites) on our enemy's soil, probably China, as suggested by the post article quoted above.  As long as we continue pouring money into acquiring the necessary technology, we'll be able to continue to stand off further and further from our enemy, while maintaining the accuracy of a point-blank shot. 

But what happens if they don't surrender after aerial and naval bombardment? Then as Capt Friedman detailed in the post I’ve just linked to, we will go in with ground troops and prosecute a land war, crossing our fingers that the ASB was effective in destroying at least their shore defenses. 

Let's conceive a scenario, picturing what might happen in the unlikely event we were actually assaulting China itself:  We've attacked their shore defenses, and what missile and radar capabilities they have inland, but the Chinese haven't capitulated.  So we begin to put our amphibious forces ashore.  As we're attacking, conducting OMFTS, we'll probably be asking ourselves, "Why didn't they surrender?  Our theory of ASB seemed so good!" 

One answer to that question is, "Perhaps the Chinese systems we destroyed are fakes, and decoys, and they are waiting for us to hit their killzone. Maybe because of these decoys, we only achieved a percentage reduction in what otherwise was a robust network of air and coastal defense."

I don't think this answer is that outside the ordinary.  After all, it is likely the Chinese have correctly assumed that the US is watching them, and that we possess all kinds of strategic and operational surveillance capabilities feeding us information on their military sites.  What happens to ASB if the Chinese have not only considered, but done something about the reality of American surveillance?  There exists a possibility that they’d assess themselves using their own surveillance capability.  At this point, they may have turned their own capability on themselves in order to gauge the visual, IR, and other tell-tale signals their defense facilities emit.  Why wouldn’t they use this data to create accurate decoy targets for our missiles?   

Difficult and expensive?  Maybe.  Impossible?  No.  Likely?  Well, if you saw this as the optimal way to survive a campaign of  sea-launched cruise missiles (Tomahawks) and a strategic bombing campaign by your strongest enemy, yes.  The Japanese used dummy tanks for deception on Iwo Jima to hinder the effectiveness of our naval and aerial bombardments, the British used them in Northern Africa against the Germans and Italians, and even now the United States is known to possess a dummy version of the Abrams that imitates not only the appearance but also the heat signature of our tank of choice.  It seems reasonable to assume the Chinese would attempt something similar with mock facilities.

To continue with the above scenario, our forces are now in the attack, and the Chinese didn’t surrender.  We get within range of their missile defense system, which the Chinese are only now gearing up to use, and  it appears that not only our amphibious, but also our naval and air forces will be facing an unpleasant and unexpected challenge, looking down the barrel of our enemy’s guns.


  1. Interesting. The Chinese are extremely adept at denial and deception, I wouldn't be at all surprised if the things we _know_ they have are not where we think they are. Good points.

  2. S. Flam,

    Thank you for your comment. Personally, I think anyone facing a much stronger military force, regardless of their nationality, would be forced by circumstance to become as adept as possible at denial and deception. To not do so would be imprudent, to say the least. After all, deception is an important way a weaker force can attempt to level the playing field when fighting against a stronger force.

  3. what happens if they don't surrender after aerial and naval bombardment? Then as Capt Friedman detailed in the post I’ve just linked to, we will go in with ground troops and prosecute a land war,

    Gaaaah! Fight a land war in Asia - are you wearing your Bad Idea fatigues? And let's say you win, and China surrenders, what then? If 130,000 troops had a tough time securing Iraq, phase 4 is gonna be rather challenging in China, which has over 30 times the population of Iraq.

    I know Army and Marine guys hate to admit they are irrelevant, but please, we are NOT going to send ground troops into China. No way, no how, never gonna happen.

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  5. Well, it may not be China, it may actually be Taiwan to which we'd end up having to send ground troops. But the likelihood of a conventional war with China is all beside the point that ASB promises the impossible, a fell swoop winning strategy using only high tech firepower.

    By the way, your tripe about the Army and Marine Corps (which is not a second land army, providing a different capability set) being irrelevant is out of touch with history, and out of touch with reality. There are always crazies willingly to believe that with every new piece of shiny gear, and after every war comes to a final close, that the military, or some portion of it is irrelevant. When the world stops starting wars (will never happen), then maybe you'll have a leg to stand on for calling a land army, and an expeditionary and amphibious assault force, irrelevant.

  6. I agree with "Get Real."

    Wars happen for a reason. It just doesn't make sense to have a conventional war with China. So how about we scrap ASB altogether? With the sequester, the long range capabilities needed does not seem fiscally viable. Instead of investing in missles, we would be better served by investing in a stronger cyber capability. That seems to be China's preferred axis of attack.

  7. Anonymous,

    It seems to be the point of this post, to point out that ASB probably wouldn't work, and would result in a land war anyway that no one would want, or expect. After all, if we can reasonably expect ASB to fail to deliver on its promises, well, then that implies we probably need to scrap the idea and find something more worthwhile to invest in, like cyber security. The fact that ASB fails as a strategy, however, does not in anyway imply the irrelevance of a Marine Corps or an Army, which was, I think, the author's point to "get real".

  8. The bah get real posts miss the point, which is clarified above. Those of us "Marine types" are among the last people advocating for a land war with China. The issue is ASB is a paper tiger which is a front for USAF and USN posturing for resources and programs in the post OEF/OIF fiscal reality. Know the history: the USMC wanted noting to do with OIF after the initial push. Ordered back in, we became mired in a protracted land campaign. We know the adverse lessons of this environment. Instead of saying "bah..." offer an alternative approach. ASB alone isn't it. And we are all in trouble if any of this comes to fruition.

    1. Agreed. As a friend of mine recently put it, "ASB isn't a strategy, it's a treaty."