In the late summer of 2011, U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta signed the Air-Sea Battle (ASB) operational concept into effect, and shortly thereafter stood up the Air-Sea Battle Office at the Pentagon to help implement its core tenets.
This effort, according toGen. Norton A. Schwartz, Chief of Staff of the Air Force, and Adm. Jonathan W. Greenert, Chief of Naval Operations, will help the services better organize, train, and equip themselves to provide U.S. Combatant Commanders with the capabilities necessary to maintain operational access in sophisticated anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) environments. This will be of particular importance in the western Pacific Ocean, where China is building its own A2/AD capabilities in an effort to deny the U.S. entry in its near-seas.
For Air-Sea Battle to be successful and enduring, however, Congress must forge a partnership with the Pentagon to properly support its requirements going forward.
Throughout the last six decades, America’s military strength has helped preserve a relatively stable geo-strategic environment in the Asia-Pacific. However, in the past decade China has rapidly modernized its military, including another double digit military increase next year, with aspirations of supplanting the U.S. position. If present trends continue, the regional balance of power could tilt in Beijing’s favor as it is increasingly able to deter U.S. forces from entering the region, coerce neighboring states, or – should conflict ensue – win a rapid victory. In response, the United States must work to simultaneously sustain a level of credible deterrence in the region while reassuring allies, including Japan, the Republic of Korea, the Philippines, Australia, and strategic partners like Singapore. Air-Sea Battle is now at the center of this effort.
In short, the Air-Sea Battle Office aims to define initiatives to develop the capabilities and integration necessary to help Combatant Commanders conduct integrated, cross-domain operations in A2/AD environments. According to Schwartz and Greenert, Air-Sea Battle seeks to use “Networked, Integrated Attack-in-Depth” to “disrupt, destroy, and defeat” (NIA-D3) adversary capabilities. More specifically, the joint force (integrated air, ground, and naval forces) armed with resilient communications (networked) aims to strike at multiple nodes of an enemy’s system (attack-in-depth) along three lines of effort. If we can consider these lines in terms of an enemy archer, one could choose to blind the archer (disrupt), kill the archer (destroy), or stop his arrow (defeat). Balanced capabilities geared towards executing all three will be required.
Secretary Panetta testified before the U.S. House Armed Service Committee in October that he believed “Congress must be a full partner in our efforts to protect the country.” Indeed, like Air-Land Battle during the late 1970s and early 1980s, the success of Air-Sea Battle will hinge on the support of the Congress.
In the late 1970s, advances in Soviet military capabilities prompted U.S. war planners to develop a joint warfighting doctrine known as Air-Land Battle that aimed to sustain a credible military balance in Europe. This doctrine focused on developing capabilities and maximizing the joint effectiveness of the two services to deter Soviet aggression and prevent coercion of Western European states. After Air-Land Battle was finalized in early 1980s, the Army worked to build a consensus around the effort, first within the department and then with members of Congress through a series of briefings. These briefings described the doctrine and the weapons coming into production that would be the basis of this major doctrinal transition. Throughout the late 1970s and into the 1980s, Congress supported this effort by funding programs like the M1 Abrams and M2 Bradley team of ground combat vehicles, the Multiple-Launch Rocket System (MLRS), attack helicopters like the AH-64A Apache, and Air Force assets like the F-15 Eagle and F-16 Falcon, among others. Ultimately, Air-Land Battle and the concepts found in Field Manual 100-5 reinforced deterrence in the European theater during the Cold War and influenced the training and operational planning that led to success during the 1991 Gulf War.
While the Navy and Air Force have fashioned the Air-Sea Battle concept, established a new office to shepherd this effort, and advocated for the resources necessary to support its implementation, it will be up to Congress to authorize and provide the requisite funding for this initiative. Congress should begin by rejecting an “instant pudding” mindset that looks only at current problems while failing to adequately plan and then provide resources for long-term endeavors like Air-Sea Battle. Endless continuing resolutions, defense cuts contained in the Budget Control Act of 2011, and the “sequestration” process that essentially gambled away our defense budget for political purposes are all signs of a budgeting process that is ill-prepared for properly resourcing the Nation’s long-term defense. Indeed, the overarching Joint Operational Access Concept(JOAC), of which Air-Sea Battle serves as one key pillar, warns that one of the major threats to its implementation is that it could be “economically unsupportable in an era of constrained Defense budgets.”