For more than a decade, the national security community has spilt an amazing amount of ink discussing the so-called anti-access, area denial (AA/AD) threat. For the few of you who have been spared the barrage of reports and discussions of this particular problem, it involves our adversaries’ use of systems and techniques to prevent U.S. military forces from operating overseas in areas where we have vital national interests, friends and allies. Enemies would attack or interdict airfields, ports and land bases overseas, block the sea lanes and deny us the use of critical airspace. The national security literature is replete with warnings that all our potential adversaries from China to Iran and even Hezbollah are pursuing an AA/AD strategy.
As a consequence of this threat, the devotees of AA/AD tell us, the entire U.S. military is becoming unusable for any serious kind of conflict. Our fighters will either be destroyed on their forward bases or will have to deploy to airfields that are too distant from the battlefield for them to be effective. The bombers will be shot down by the enemy’s advanced air defenses. Enemy cruise and ballistic missiles and submarines will be used to sink our Navy. Mines deployed at sea and on land will prevent the Marine Corps and the Army from being landed on enemy shores or from maneuvering once they arrive.
It is time for the national security community to get a grip on itself. The AA/AD threat is neither new nor all that daunting. The U.S. military has already faced down the mother of all AA/AD threats. It was the Soviet military. The Red Army was postured for the ultimate AA/AD operation, including a massive air and missile assault — employing chemical weapons — on all our forward bases and using hundreds of submarines and aircraft to sweep the seas of our ships. The AA/AD Cassandras are hyping today’s threat. Equally bad, they are forgetting recent history.
The U.S. military will employ a full sweep of technologies, tactics and techniques to counter the AA/AD threat. As my colleague Loren Thompson pointed out in Early Warning a few weeks ago the U.S. Navy has ways of addressing the anti-shipping ballistic missile threat. Advanced organic mine warfare capabilities are being developed to counter sea mines. The Air Force will employ a combination of airfield defenses, electronic warfare, SEAD, unmanned systems, long-range precision weapons and most important, stealthy aircraft to defeat the AA/AD threat. There is an AA/AD threat, but it is not an apocalyptic danger.
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