U.S. Confronts an Anti-Access World
Image Credit: U.S. Navy

U.S. Confronts an Anti-Access World


U.S. Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin Dempsey recently bottomlined the final draft of the Joint Operational Access Concept, or JOAC. I liked Dempsey’s initial draft concept; I like the smooth version. How well the armed forces act on it – and how successfully prospective antagonists counteract it in stressful times – will be the arbiter of its worth.

The JOAC document confirms what commentators have been saying for the past few years. The proliferation of increasingly lethal, increasingly affordable precision weaponry makes venturing into contested regions a hazardous prospect for U.S. forces despite their superiority on a one-to-one basis. Ambitious regional powers – China and Iran come to mind – covet the option of barring nearby seas and skies to adversaries in wartime. Tools of the trade include anti-ship cruise and ballistic missiles, missile-armed combat aircraft, and missile- and torpedo-firing submarines. Effective access denial would imperil important U.S. interests, especially around the Asian periphery, while corroding U.S. commitments to allies within weapons range of access deniers.

The Joint Operational Access Concept defines “the military problem” in disputed expanses as “opposed operational access in an advanced anti-access/area-denial environment.” Let’s simplify the Pentagon-speak. It means the U.S. armed forces must be prepared to fight their way into – and perform their missions within – zones on the map where local adversaries can mass enough precision firepower to do American task forces serious damage. Even lesser foes can hope to inflict unacceptable costs on the U.S. military through precision strikes.

Access denial, then, can pay significant operational dividends for regional opponents. Think about it. If U.S. political leaders and commanders anticipated suffering heavy losses, they might think twice before ordering U.S. forces into harm’s way. The defender, or “red team” in American military parlance, would gain time while Washington mulled over the rewards, risks, and feasibility of sending forces into a hot zone. If the United States abjured the effort, so much the better from the red team’s standpoint. If the U.S. leadership decided to proceed with offensive action anyway, well-armed defenders could exact a heavy penalty from forces that entered proscribed waters and skies. And they could hamper surviving units’ liberty of movement once there – helping defeat U.S. war aims.

This adds up to a “layered defense.” Under this construct, an expeditionary force closing in on Asian shores faces repeated assault as it comes within reach of each of the defender’s weapon systems. Its aggregate effect is to weary a superior opponent, whittle down its numerical superiority, and compel it to expend precious lives, ammunition, and stores defending itself. If access denial succeeds, the stronger side is too harried and too spent to stage a decisive action by the time it reaches the decisive point on the map or nautical chart.

The JOAC’s remedy? To overcome the anti-access challenge, it says, “future joint forces will leverage cross-domain synergy – the complementary vice being merely additive employment of capabilities in different domains such that each enhances the effectiveness and compensates for the vulnerabilities of the others – to establish superiority in some combination of domains that will provide the freedom of action required by the mission.” (Domains refers to air, sea, land, and cyberspace.)

What that means is that the U.S. armed services must combine their distinctive strengths – overcoming disparate service cultures of many decades’ standing, not to mention the “interoperability” problems encountered when forces employing unlike equipment and procedures fight alongside one another – in order to survive and prosper in fiercely contested settings like the Western Pacific, the northern Arabian Sea, and the Persian Gulf. The JOAC “envisions a seamless application of combat power between domains, with greater integration at dramatically lower echelons than joint forces currently achieve.” Strikingly, it foresees creating “tailored joint formations able to deploy, operate, and survive autonomously.” Assets drawn from the army, navy, air force, and marines might comprise a combat formation. This all sounds good, although a wait-and-see attitude toward the feasibility of composite formations seems fitting. Easier said than done.

So much for what the JOAC says. How does it fit into the larger strategic context? The directive marks a return to history following America’s post-Cold War strategic holiday. Since the Soviet Union folded in 1991, U.S. commanders have enjoyed the luxury of – more or less – disregarding the dangers and hardships associated with fighting one’s way into distant, embattled regions. There was no one to challenge the U.S. military in the commons; why worry? Furthermore, the JOAC marks a return to sobriety about the limits of U.S. power. And it marks a return to healthier respect for prospective adversaries and their capacity to balk a superpower’s strategy. Discounting the likes of Iran or China is seldom smart policy.

Anthony Alfidi
May 8, 2013 at 06:37

Asian tigers can't counter China's A2AD alone.  China will use kinetic A2AD to enable its encroachment on contested territory.  The US needs to leap ahead in A2AD countermeasures: http://thirdeyeosint.blogspot.com/2013/04/naval-war-college-foundation-seminar-in.html

March 3, 2013 at 14:07

this type of conrfrontational warfare is long overdue. what they need is just sufficient weapons to hold the Chinese and thir commie koreans at bay. now is the time to fight using mercenaries instead of their own people. its just much cheaper as well.

[...] via U.S. Confronts an Anti-Access World. [...]

February 8, 2013 at 17:37

China means chicken . America means eagle . Remember that . Chinese can’t even feed its people . God is with us. Every professor from around the world lives in the USA. God is bless the USA

August 13, 2012 at 04:31

Seriously…? Since the Mao Era, propaganda is the only and best thing those commies can do. I would say the American can't compete with that.

March 16, 2012 at 13:05

If you check on the History of the Korean War and the PEFTOK you would know that the Filipino’s where there until the end of the conflict.

We were prominent in Yuldong and Erie.

March 16, 2012 at 12:53

you include the SoKor but not the Nokor? Convenient huh?

March 16, 2012 at 06:25

@langia if you have read all my comments in the Diplomat I have always said I am a Filipino.

Yes, we had our losses and I was talking on the battle of Yuldong. When we involuntarily left to do a rearguard option while the allies attack vis a vis no order to retreat (while the rest of them have ran).

Filipino’s held their line and occupied the Left and Right flank when the allies were routed. Mobilized their HQ Company in order to be able to fill in the gaps in the lines and held out wave after wave until they were finally ordered to retreat.

March 13, 2012 at 14:31

pipi john wrote:

March 13, 2012 at 3:06 am

Old Liang, do you believe in this piece of crap? No westerners could possibly test fly the J-20 so the stuffs you provide certainly a dreamy product of the PLA. LOL. What a joke!
Liang’s response:
That’s right, if no Westerners had tested anything then it doesn’t exist. We’ll see who is dreaming and who is facing the truth. We’ll certainly know who will have the last laugh when J-20 and J-18 run circles around F-22 and F-35.

USAma Bin Laden
March 13, 2012 at 14:03

Globalism is the ultimate “ethnocentric nationalism.”


Because Globalism=Americanism (in disguise).

And America is not about making the world safe for freedom or democracy. It is about making the world safe for America’s rapacious free market capitalism.

The American Colossus always tries to disguise itself behind cowardly euphemisms like “the international community,” the “Coalition of the Killing/Willing,” the United Nations, NATO, or the so-called West.

Globalism is just another mask for the global American Empire.

March 13, 2012 at 10:06

Cyrus wrote:

March 13, 2012 at 6:27 am

The fact that even your human wave cannot get through the Filipino line composed of Regulars, Cooks, and Field HQ Personnel?
Liang’s response:
What are you? A Filipino?

The total number of Filipino soldiers was only 1,500. See the link below. Do you think the Chinese will even break their stride aginst just 1,500 fully armed Filipino soldiers? What nonsense!


The total Filipino casualties are as below:

112 dead
229 wounded
16 MIA
41 POW

The total casualties were 398. This is 27% casualty. Obviously they got swept aside like autumn leaves by the Chinese soldiers. And many of the Filipinos probably got shot by the Americans in so-called “friendly fire” in the panic to get way.

March 13, 2012 at 09:58

Cyrus wrote:

March 13, 2012 at 6:27 am

Which facts are that? The Fact that South Korea remains free? The fact that the Spring offensive failed miserably? The fact that even your human wave cannot get through the Filipino line composed of Regulars, Cooks, and Field HQ Personnel?

Despite the surprise attack of the Chinese on the United Nation Troops and the allies being outnumbered in the war we were able to hold out the defensive line set out and hold off the Red Horde.

Yet you call the war as a Chinese victory laughable with the huge losses that you incurred and don’t give me the numbers for the Chinese again because it’s way higher than that.
Liang’s response:
There were no surprises. China had declared it would intervene if America approached the Yalu River. Nobody in the world were surprised except maybe the Americans who couldn’t see a big tiger in front of it with a big red sign pointing to it that says, “Here be tiger!”

All the facts point to China’s victory. America declared it wanted to invade China but instead China kick them off the Korean Peninsula. They came back by landing halfway up the peninsula. Eventually, a ceasefire line was maintained to the present day. America failed to invade China like it declared which means it failed. China pushed the Americans back like it declared which means it won. Anybody with an ounce of logic can understand this simple fact.

China did not suffered significantly greater losses than the American side as a whole. Americans suffered many fewer casualities than China but that is only because the American soldiers always hide in the back and push its allies to go in front where they get killed in the place of the Americans. Americans are the last to advance and the first to retreat like the coward they are which is why their casualties are so low. This is the reason in Korea and this is also the reason in Vietnam where most of the casualties were suffered by the S. Vietnamese.

If you want facts then go to the following link at Wiki where most of the articles are written by Americans anyway.


Chinese side: Total: 1,212,000
American side: Total: 941,600

Chinese deaths: 152,000 dead

S. Korea deaths: 137,899 dead
American deaths: 36,940 dead
Total:174,000 dead

Chinese deaths were less than the combined deaths of the Americans and the S. Koreans. These are facts.

And what has the political state of S. Korea to to do with China’s victory in Korean War? China won because it achieved its declared goal of preventing the US from invading China. What happened after China withdrew its forces out of Korea following its “victory” has nothing to do with China one way or the other. As usual you people simply can’t analyse a problem logically.

March 13, 2012 at 09:51

The Chinese (PLAN) does not have any battleships, just a bunch of second-rate Russian-copied destroyers, frigates and rocket-boats. And Bronc is right, their submarines are extremely loud and are therefore sitting ducks–they rarely leave the dock. The Chinese navy is considered a living joke in the field and they are not getting any better.


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