America’s Air-Sea Battle Plan in Korea

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America’s Air-Sea Battle Plan in Korea

The U.S. military will adopt ASB as its new warfighting plan in Korea, according to a U.S. military official.

The U.S. military plans to adopt Air-Sea battle as its new warfighting doctrine on the Korean Peninsula, according to a senior U.S. military leader in the region.

The Korean Herald reported on Thursday that U.S. 7th Air Force Commander, Lt. Gen. Jan-Marc Jouas, said Air-Sea Battle is America’s new warfighting doctrine in Korea as well as everywhere else. Jouas is quoted by the newspaper as saying that Air-Sea Battle “comes down to joint war-fighting at its most elemental (stages), from the acquisition process up to its application at either the tactical, operational or strategic level.” He added, “So, certainly we apply that not just here in Korea, but across all our armed forces, everywhere we go.”

As part of this effort, Jouas said the U.S. was committed to replacing its aging A-10 and F-16 aircrafts stationed in South Korea with the F-35 joint strike fighter.

“I think it’s no secret that our aircraft here are getting a little old. The A-10 has been around here for a long time. The F-16s that we fly comparably are not as old as the A-10, but not much younger, either. But the Air Force is committed to buying the F-35 as a replacement platform for the A-10 and F-16 and anticipate that at some point in the future, and it’s very hard to say when, that both aircraft will be replaced in due course.”

In some ways, America’s use of ASB in Korea is puzzling. The stated purpose of ASB is to overcome adversaries’ anti-access/area denial strategies, which seek to deny the U.S. military access to their littoral waters. The U.S. does not face this situation in Korea, however, as it retains a sizeable military presence already on the Peninsula.

Moreover, North Korea does not possess significant A2/AD capabilities. For example, analysis from the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments has noted, “air operations from the two U.S. air bases in South Korea are unlikely to be severely disrupted by North Korean missile attacks as long as North Korea refrains from using nuclear or chemical warheads, and does not improve the accuracy and lethality of its conventional missiles.”

Although this assessment is from 2003, there’s little evidence to suggest that North Korea has made tremendous strides in these areas in the decade since. As Jim Holmes noted in 2012 of Pyongyang’s A2/AD potential, “North Korea lacks significant political and geostrategic advantages that help it offset the advantages commanded by stronger opponents. The material mismatch separating the DPRK from South Korea and the United States yawns wide.” Holmes pointed out in the same piece that North Korea’s anti-access/area denial potential is also hampered by the fact that its primary adversary, South Korea, is actually located on its borders, in contrast to China or Iran, which would be trying to deny access to a faraway power.

Jouas’ suggestion that the U.S. would use an ASB warfighting doctrine against North Korea may indicate that Washington and Seoul intend to use amphibious assaults to widen the battlefield from the 38 parallel in the event of a war with North Korea. There’s obvious precedents for this in the form of the amphibious landings at Inchon and Wonsan during the Korean War.

At the same time, despite the Korean Herald’s report, the transcript from the interview it conducted suggests that there is less here than meets the eye. When asked by the newspaper whether the U.S. planned to apply ASB against North Korea, Jouas response began, “I think AirSea battle is sometimes confused, because it says ‘air’ and ‘sea.’ But the truth is, it’s a concept that applies to all our forces, whether they’re air, land, sea, space or cyber. And what it does is it ensures that our capabilities are well meshed, that our requirements are identified, and that they’re procured and acquired in a manner that we can all benefit from. So, it comes down to joint war-fighting at its most elemental (stages)…” Thus, Jouas’ entire answer suggests that the U.S. just intends to better integrate its forces in Korea, which include a significant Army presence.