Features | Security | East Asia

America’s Pacific Air-Sea Battle Vision

The U.S. must stop taking an “instant pudding” view of military planning. The Air-Sea Battle plan is the best hope to ensure security in the Pacific.

By Rep. J. Randy Forbes for

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.

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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.”

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.

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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.