There seems to be only two topics of conversation in Washington defense circles today. One is sequestration. Regarding sequestration, there is little more that needs to be said. It will be a catastrophe not only due to the magnitude of the reductions in defense spending, around $1 trillion over ten years, but equally because the cuts will have to be taken upfront.
The other topic is AirSea Battle. The idea first emerged a couple of years ago as defense experts were struggling to figure out how to respond to what was called the anti-access/area denial threat. Prospective adversaries had figured out that if the U.S. military was able to get “up close and personal” and employ its arsenal of precision weapons, as in Iraq, it would win. The idea behind an anti-access/area denial strategy is to exploit local asymmetric advantages plus access to advanced technologies in ways that denied U.S. forces the ability to operate where and when they desired, including in and over hostile territory. Our adversaries are deploying a wide variety of means from the relatively simple such as sea mines, masses of crude rockets and even IEDs, to extremely sophisticated ship-hunting ballistic and cruise missiles, advanced air defenses and electronic and cyber warfare.
The Department of Defense is so concerned about this emerging danger that it has organized an office in the Pentagon devoted to the subject. The Air Force and Navy are deep in discussions regarding how to combine their resources and integrate operational concepts to conduct seamless operations against the anti-access/area denial threat.
At the moment, AirSea Battle is little more than an idea, one focused on identifying ways and means of defeating the anti-access/area denial threats. The basic concept has three parts. First, AirSea Battle will employ a wide range of capabilities, but primarily air and naval forces, to disrupt the adversary’s intelligence systems and command and control that are critical to its ability to employ precision weapons. Second, it will take offensive measures to destroy the enemy’s anti-access and area denial weapons systems and their launchers. Third, it will take defensive measures to defeat those anti-access and area denial systems that have been deployed or launched.
This is all right as far as it goes. But it falls short in two principal ways. First, it fails to recognize the advantage the United States has as a result of allies and bases close to the potential areas of conflict. AirSea Battle presumes that the U.S. will have to fight its way in. But it is already there. In fact, if we were smart we would heavy up our forward presence, harden and defend our forces, bases and allies.
Second, it fails to address the question what will we do once we have defeated the anti-access/area denial threats and can now move in close. The United States dominated the airspace and sea lanes around and even over Iraq. That was not enough. To defeat Iraq the U.S. was required to conquer the country. Why will it be any different the next time around? After losing ships, planes and people to cross the Pacific and defeat China’s anti-access/area denial threats what will the U.S. do, turn around and go home? How will we force China to sue for peace?
The problem with AirSea Battle is it cannot be decisive. For that we will need the Army. The question to the Army — and the rest of the Pentagon’s strategists — is this: have you even thought of what it really means to defeat Iran or China on land? I suspect not much.
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