The House Armed Service Committee (HASC) in the U.S. Congress is raising a number of concerns about the U.S. military’s AirSea Battle Office and its larger plans to counter Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2/AD) envrionments.
In its initial version of the FY 2014 National Defense Authorization Act, which was passed through committee with the relevant provisions seemingly intact, HASC advanced a number of concerns over the creation of the AirSea Battle (ASB) Office outside the Joint Staff, while also indicating its desire to better incorporate the U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) into the military’s solution for overcoming A2/AD threats.
With regards to the ASB office, HASC wrote: “The committee is concerned whether the placement of the current ASB office outside of the Joint Staff is the most logical and effective location for integrating ASB concepts across the services.”
It then directed Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel to evaluate whether the office is “accomplishing its goals to enable and prepare the U.S. military to effectively operate in an A2/AD environment, and whether the office provides a unique function and perspective or it duplicates other efforts carried out elsewhere in the Department of Defense.”
HASC goes on to write that even if the Pentagon concludes that the ASB office is both effective and unique, the committee would like Secretary Hagel to “determine whether the ASB office should continue as is, be modified, or placed within the Joint Staff.”
These concerns are not new. Since the ASB Office was first announced in August 2011, the Pentagon has faced charges that it is redundant with missions performed by other parts of the defense bureaucracy. It has often struggled to define how the ASB Office differs from other areas of the Pentagon, and to explain the value it adds to the services.
A November 2011 background briefing to members of the press was emblematic of this. After fielding a number of questions from reporters trying to grasp the purpose of the new office, one reporter seemed to sum up the frustration in the room:
“I’m trying to understand what you’re doing that other people are not doing in numerous locations. So if the War College is thinking about this — all the different war colleges are thinking about this all the time. I mean, industry has their own think tanks. All the think tanks in town have done this. This building is full of dozens of operations doing this. So what are you — what is your core group of a dozen people [in the ASB Office] doing here that we need to pay attention to and convey that’s not being done elsewhere?”
The Pentagon has struggled to give a satisfactory answer to these and similar questions. The answers Defense officials from the ASB Office gave to questions during the November 2011 backgrounder at times only called into further question the purpose of the ASB Office. At one point one Pentagon official working in the ASB Office stated, “We don’t have direct control of resources or directive authority, what we do is we help facilitate those things. If you will, we help put the spotlight on certain issues.”
HASC’s concern over the ASB office, however, appears to stem at least in part from it being outside the Joint Staff. This is because the members of the committee are evidently concerned that the potential role of the Army and USMC in addressing A2/AD threats is not being given adequate attention.
Thus, in the Chairman’s mark of the FY 2014 NDAA, HASC writes that compared to the Navy and Air Force, “the committee is concerned that less attention has been paid to the role of the Army and the Marine Corps in an A2/AD environment. The committee believes the Army and the Marine Corps, like each of the services, must be trained, manned, and equipped to respond to a full spectrum of challenges, consistent with the roles and missions of each service.”
Apparently not trusting the Pentagon, the committee directs the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to undertake an independent review on the potential role the Army and the USMC could play in countering A2/AD situations.
As the ASB concept has gained greater popularity in defense circles, the Army and USMC have not waited for Congress or the GAO to carve out a role for their services in countering A2/AD environments. In April of last year, for instance, the two services jointly released their own concept, the Army-Marine Concept for Gaining And Maintaining Operational Access (GAMOA), which outlined how they would contribute to overcoming A2/AD threats.
GAMOA said the Army and USMC would help counter access threats before the conflict began by securing basing and overflight rights, and during a conflict by helping “to locate, target, and suppress or neutralize hostile antiaccess and areadenial capabilities in complex terrain.”
To deal with area denial problems, the two services said they could contribute to the joint effort “by entering hostile territory without benefit of domain dominance and by using littoral and ground maneuver to locate and defeat area-denial challenges.”
Another element of the effort to incorporate the Army and USMC into overcoming A2/AD challenges is Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno’s proposed Joint Office of Strategic Landpower, which would be modeled off of the ASB Office and jointly run by the Army, USMC, and U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM). According to Inside Defense, SOCOM has embraced the idea but the USMC remains skeptical, highlighting larger tensions between the Army and USMC.