At its highest level, Congress will need to maintain a Navy fleet with an adequate number of aircraft carriers, attack submarines and surface combatants. The recent decision to revise the Navy’s planned 313-ship fleet downward, including the early decommissioning of 7 Ticonderoga-class cruisers and the delayed procurement of a Virginia-class attack submarine and an LHA amphibious assault ship, all reflect a trend in the wrong direction. The Air Force will also need a fleet with a balanced mix of F-22 and F-35A 5th generation fighters and a modernized B-2 bomber fleet.
In the decade ahead, Congress must invest in new, low-signature, high-endurance technologies to project power at greater distances, while maintaining freedom of maneuver in denied or limited access environments. The Navy will require an Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike aircraft (UCLASS) that can strike targets at ranges up to 1,500 nautical miles. Such an investment would allow a carrier strike group to operate further out to sea thereby reducing or negating the strategic advantage offered by a Chinese anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM).I’m particularly concerned about this program, given the Navy’s decision to reportedly cut $240 million in FY13 and push the initial operating date from 2018 to 2020. The Navy will also need to field a more capable replacement for the Harpoon anti-ship cruise missile with much longer range for both its surface fleet and submarines to negate the PLA Navy’s advantage in this area. Moreover, the Navy must seek to further its integration of air and cruise missile defense capabilities. Last, to prevent a critical capability gap in long-range strike as our guided missile submarines retire between 2020 and 2030, the Navy will be compelled to field additional Virginia-class submarines equipped with a payload module that expands the strike volume of Tomahawk missiles.
For its part, the Air Force will need a new Long-Range Strike Bomber that has the range and survivability to execute missions deep inside enemy territory. As competitors’ air dominance fighters continue to improve in capability, the Air Force may have to also consider re-opening the F-22 production line to increase its current fleet of 185 fighters. As our adversaries bring online more robust anti-satellite capabilities and challenge our preeminence in the space domain, the Air Force must also investigate ways to increase the redundancy and survivability of its constellation of communication, GPS and ISR satellites.
The services will also have to develop new doctrine and invest in training consistent with the Air-Sea Battle concept, including, for instance, the ability to conduct operations in an environment where command and control are degraded by an adversary.
The Air-Sea Battle Office is still only months old, but in the year ahead the Navy, Air Force, and ASB Office will have to make a more concerted effort to brief Members of Congress and professional staff on the A2/AD threat and the importance of specific investments the services require to meet the concept’s demands. At the same time, the services will need to guard against allowing every program to be portrayed as critical to Air-Sea Battle’s success. Given the department’s tightening budget, it will require a careful balance.
Finally, I hope we can work to bring our allies into this effort. As Air-Sea Battle was formulated in 2010 and 2011, a sense of curiosity and confusion arose amongst our friends about just what our efforts entailed. It would be beneficial if the department could comprehensively address these concerns in the months ahead, as well as identify productive ways states like Japan and Australia might contribute.
While the department has constructed a concept that will enable our air and naval force to effectively project power in A2/AD environments, Air-Sea Battle will remain incomplete without the enduring political and budgetary support of the Congress. Similar to the role it played in the early 1980s, it will be up to the Congress to ensure the shifting balance of power in the Asia-Pacific region is reversed by properly investing in the capabilities necessary to project power throughout the region.
Rep. J. Randy Forbes, R-Va., is chairman of the House Armed Services Readiness Subcommittee and founder and co-chairman of the Congressional China Caucus.