The Real Anti-Access Story: Cyber

Often overlooked, cyber is one of the most effective methods of Anti-Access/Area Denial in any arsenal.

As many Flashpoints readers are fully aware by this point, I have a true passion for the military doctrine and strategy that has come to be known as Anti-Access/Area Denial, or A2/AD for short.

Called by one party "counter intervention operations," various nations around the world are building up asymmetrical strategies to deny access to contested areas of geographic importance or potential areas of conflict. Weapons like cruise missiles, mines, and quiet conventional submarines would all be used to deny a potential opponent access to various domains such as air, sea, land, or even space or cyber realms. The goal is to level the playing field militarily, so a smaller nation with fewer resources can combat the advantages held by larger, more modern powers.

Indeed, one area scholars interested in A2/AD seem to miss – or maybe just don't emphasize to my liking – is the multi-domain nature of such a strategy. Military planners who wish to utilize such tactics would need to plan across all domains in order to create a viable strategy and defeat an opponent with most likely a more modern military on paper. Indeed, creating a multi-domain A2/AD strategy that is robust in multiple areas would have major advantages. One could attempt to signal to a potential opponent that the costs of conflict or intervention would be so high that risking conflict would not be worth it – deterrence at its very finest.

Cyber is one area that many A2/AD enthusiasts seem to deemphasize. It would be easiest to operate and stop a potential enemy from accessing contested territory or a conflict zone if you are able to halt the ability of forces to gain access to something as simple as GPS. You can't fight if you don't know where you are – simple as that. In last year's Joint Operational Access Concept document, where the report sites key antiaccess capabilities, cyber is mentioned: "Cyber attack capabilities designed to disrupt U.S. command and control systems and critical infrastructure, both civilian and military." While this mention is clearly important, it is listed fifth on a list of six key concepts.

Yet, Cyber could be and should be considered the likely instrument of choice when attempting to deny an adversary access. A combatant could launch a cyber attack utilizing a third party or proxy to damage a potential foe’s command and control (C2) or C4ISR to inhibit communications and effectiveness of combat operations. Utilizing a proxy could give the attacking party deniability and create a level of doubt not only on the other side, but also in the media as well.

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Also, using cyber is certainly more cost effective than designing, building and testing expensive advanced military equipment. All in all, cyber certainly needs to gain a higher level of appreciation when we consider future A2/AD tactics and strategy. Why send missiles or submarines when you can use weapons that have deniability and cost little to employ?