Since the pivot to the Asia-Pacific region was first announced last year in the Obama Administration’s Defense Strategy, the defense community has struggled to figure out what was going to change in the way U.S. forces were postured, organized, equipped and deployed. The Navy offhandedly mentioned shifting the balance of naval forces between the two oceans from 50-50 to 60-40. The Marine Corps is planning over the next decade to deploy one of its expeditionary units to Australia. Some money is being spent to enhance U.S. infrastructure on Guam. There are discussions with the governments of Singapore, the Philippines and even Vietnam about closer military relations and even basing rights. But overall, nothing much has really changed. In fact, the Pentagon’s response to the war talk coming out of North Korea has been more consequential for our posture in the region than everything that came before. Thank you, Little Kim.
In reality, the key to the pivot strategy will not be found in the redeployment of U.S. forces in the region or the acquisition of any particular weapons system. Moving missile defense capable Aegis destroyers, THAAD batteries, B-2s and F-22s to the region are okay as diplomatic signals and to guard against a catastrophic surprise attack. But there is a fundamental geographic challenge and an imbalance of forces in the Western Pacific, particularly when we take China’s ongoing military buildup into account, which cannot readily be offset by the redeployment of a small number of ships, aircraft and Marines. The heart of a successful defense strategy for the Asia-Pacific will be in the network. A “network-centric” approach to regional security by the U.S. would exploit what Metcalfe’s Law says about the increased value of a network as the number of connected users of the system increases. By creating and exploiting the power of networks to integrate sensors, shooters and battle management, command, control, communications and intelligence systems, the U.S. can make much better use of existing assets, multiplying the effectiveness of its forces and those of friends and allies in the region. By being connected, other countries not only can leverage their own investments in national and local defense but, to the extent they have a security relationship with the U.S., also be part of a larger security system.
The Department of Defense has made tremendous strides in creating networks and the associated tactics, techniques and procedures that allow, for example, a sensor operated by one service or component to be employed by another’s platform or weapon system. The Navy Integrated Fire Control-Counter Air (NIFC-CA) network not only ties together naval aviation, the E2-D Hawkeye surveillance aircraft and the Aegis air and missile defense system but can transmit and receive data from a range of Army and Air Force sensors and weapons. Last year the Army and Navy conducted a joint test of networked capabilities. An Aegis Combat System using sensor data provided by an Army Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Elevated Netted Sensor System (JLENS) launched a Standard Missile 6 that successfully intercepted a cruise missile representative target. The JLENS data was transmitted to Aegis via the Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC) network and was used by Aegis to engage the target beyond the horizon of the Aegis radar.
The European Phased Adaptive Architecture (EPAA) for missile defense also uses CEC to take data from forward deployed radars such as the Army’ s TYP-2 in Turkey to enable launch on remote of Standard Missile 3 interceptors. EPAA will be able to exchange data with NATO allies through that organization’s active Layered Theater Ballistic Missile Defense (ALTBMD) system, a true continent-wide network that will support real-time command, control and communication in support of NATO and national missile defense operations. ALTBMD is a relatively simple version of the kind of network needed for the Asia-Pacific region.
The Army is working on a similar system called the Integrated Air and Missile Defense Battle Command System (IBCS). This was initially intended to tie together the Army’s disparate suite of air and missile defense sensors and interceptors that in many instances cannot talk to one another. In addition, it contributes to overall mission command for land forces and will allow Army and Navy systems to share data and coordinate intercepts.
North Korea’s threat to employ its ballistic missiles against U.S. and other targets in the region highlights the need to envelop the region in a defensive network. No individual nation has enough sensors and interceptors to defend every possible target. Japan is struggling to deploy its limited Patriot and Aegis missile defense assets to provide some protection for Tokyo and a handful of other key potential targets. In the current environment, the offense has the advantage of choosing where and when to attack. An Asia-Pacific defensive network, coupled to the deployment of larger numbers of more capable air and missile interceptors could tip the balance in the offense-defense competition in favor of the defense.
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