There is nothing new about anti-access and area denial (AA/AD) threats. They have been part of modern warfare since at least the Battle of Britain. There are important lessons for modern defense planners in prior efforts both to pursue such a strategy and to counter it. Technologies change but operational realities remain very much the same.
One of these lessons is the importance of tactical intelligence to every AA/AD system. Without its radar warning network the Royal Air Force would have lost its contest with the Luftwaffe in 1940. Conversely, Britain won the Battle of the Atlantic largely due to a combination of signals intelligence and radio detection. The ability to counter enemy sensors was central to U.S. and NATO air defenses in the Balkans, Persian Gulf and over Libya. To defeat an AA/AD threat one must first render it senseless or exploit its information systems. The next counter AA/AD campaign may well be won by superior electronic attack or cyber offense.
A second lesson is the importance of rapidly defeating the defender’s forces. The Luftwaffe came closest to winning the Battle of Britain when it went after RAF fighter bases. Israel achieved air dominance over its adversaries in 1967 by destroying their air forces on the ground. Trying to overcome the defense through attrition is generally not successful.
A third lesson is concentration of effort on strategic targets. The attacker cannot afford to waste effort by going after diverse target sets. Some high value target sets are both highly structured and very concentrated. Power systems, fuel, transportation and command and control are examples of target sets with high impact.
A fourth lesson is don’t engage in the counter AA/AD fight unless required to do so. A number of historical studies have concluded that the strategic air bombardment of Japan was unnecessary. The blockade of sea lanes was starving Japan’s war machine.
Finally, do not discount the value of land forces in countering AA/AD capabilities. Japanese forces defeated the British at Singapore from the land. When General Sharon crossed the Suez Canal in 1973 he took out Egyptian air defenses, opening the way for a renewed Israeli air offensive against Egypt. The initial air assault in the 1991 Gulf War was facilitated by an attack using Army Apache helicopters on an Iraqi radar site.
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