There’s been attention recently about closing an international strait using, among other means, mines, fast boats, cruise missiles and mini-subs. These weapons are all elements of what we call an “Anti-Access /Area Denial (A2AD)” strategy. Keeping with my tenet of “Warfighting First,” I want to highlight for you how the Navy and Air Force have been planning to deal with A2AD threats like this today and into the future.
A goal of an A2AD strategy is to make others believe it can close off international airspace or waterways and that U.S. military forces will not be able (or willing to pay the cost) to reopen those areas or come to the aid of our allies and partners. In peacetime, this gives the country with the A2AD weapons leverage over their neighbors and reduces U.S. influence. In wartime, A2AD capabilities can make U.S. power projection more difficult. The areas where A2AD threats are most consequential are what I call “strategic maritime crossroads.” These include areas around the Straits of Hormuz and Gibraltar, Suez Canal, Panama Canal or Malacca Strait – but strategic crossroads can also exist in the air, on land, and in cyberspace.
To counter these strategies and assure U.S. freedom of action, Navy and Air Force spearheaded a comprehensive study, which included Army and Marine Corps participation, to bring forward a concept called Air Sea Battle (ASB). This concept identifies how we will defeat A2AD capabilities such as cyber attack, mines, submarines, cruise and ballistic missiles, and air defense systems and, where applicable, “natural access denial” such as weather, pollution, natural disaster, etc. The concept also describes what we will need to do these operations, especially as the threats improve due to technological advancements.
Air-Sea Battle relies on tightly coordinated operations across domains (air, land, maritime, undersea, space and cyberspace) to defeat A2AD capabilities, such as a submarine striking air defenses in support of Air Force bombers, Air Force stealth fighters destroying a radar site to prevent cruise missile attacks on Navy ships, or a Navy cryptologic technician (CT) confusing a radar system to allow an Air Force UAV to attack an enemy command center. This level of real-time coordination requires new approaches to developing systems, planning operations, and conducting command and control.
By working across domains, Air-Sea Battle takes advantage of unique U.S. advantages in global reach (long-range tankers, nuclear-powered carriers), and stealth above (F-22 and B-2) and below (SSN, SSGN) the sea. Putting Air Force and Navy capabilities together also creates new combinations of systems, or “kill-chains”, for warfighting operations that can add redundancy or make us more efficient. For example, a threat cruise missile could be detected by an Air Force E-3 AWACS or Navy E-2D Hawkeye, and if we invest in the right data links, either of them could cue an Air Force F-22, Aegis ship or Navy F/A-18 to engage the missile. This provides more “paths” we can follow to destroy the missile.
Using these integrated air and naval forces, the Air Sea Battle concept executes three main lines of effort:
- Disrupt an adversary’s command, control, communications, computers and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C4ISR) – this reduces the adversary’s ability to find or target us with large raids; they will have to spread out their attacks to all our potential locations.
- Destroy adversary weapons launch systems – To have sustained access to international seas and skies, we will eventually need to destroy the launchers on land, sea and in the air.
- Defeat adversary weapons – until we destroy the launchers, our forces will kinetically or non-kinetically prevent the weapons launched at us from getting a hit.
We are using the Air Sea Battle concept to guide decisions in procurement, doctrine, organization, training, leadership, personnel and facilities. Our budgets for FY11, FY12 and now FY13 reflect hard choices that support Air-Sea Battle. In some cases we accepted reductions in capacity to ensure the needed capabilities were retained.
In our new defense strategic guidance the President directed that we be able to project power despite threats to access. We must break traditions and parochialisms of the past to be successful. We must leverage our respective service strengths because we can no longer afford to go down separate investment paths. We must invest in data links that tie our naval and air forces together. The joint force needs the new Long Range Strike Bomber to provide global reach and stealth as well as the new KC-46 tanker, upon which our patrol aircraft and strike fighters depend. These investments complement the other capabilities of Air-Sea Battle such as the Virginia-class submarines, UAVs, Ford-class aircraft carriers, and long-range weapons.
If you’d like to read more about the Air Sea Battle concept, Air Force Chief of Staff General Schwartz and I wrote an article about it in The American Interest. The link to the article is here:
Warfighting First. Operate Forward. Be Ready.
JONATHAN W. GREENERT
Admiral, U.S. Navy