Posted by: arbeam | June 4, 2013

DoD Document Sheds First Clear Light On AirSea Battle: Warfare Unfettered

Like the Holy Trinity or the designated hitter rule, the concept known as AirSea Battle has been much discussed but little understood. The Defense Department released an official and unclassified summary of the concept for the first time this evening on a Navy website . AirSea Battle would break down longstanding barriers: barriers to cooperation among the four armed services, barriers separating domains of conflict like submarine warfare and cyberspace, and, most problematically, barriers that have kept past crises from escalating to greater destruction and even, ultimately, to nuclear war.

AirSea Battle began as, and remains, an attempt to solve the operational problem known in clunky Pentagon jargon as Anti-Access/Area Denial or (even worse) A2/AD. In essence, anti-access is how an enemy keeps US forces out of a region altogether, area denial is how they bog us down once we get there, but the two inevitably overlap.

Adversaries have obviously tried to keep us out and bog us down before. The new danger, however, is that technologies that were once an American monopoly are now proliferating to China and then onwards to anyone who can buy weapons from China, which is basically anybody who’s got the cash. So after decades of US forces being able to fly, sail, and drive more or less anywhere they wanted (even roadside bombs, for all the casualties they inflict, never actually stopped us moving around Afghanistan or Iraq), we increasingly have to worry about sophisticated weapons that can reach out and touch us at long range, from “a new generation of cruise, ballistic, air-to-air, and surface-to-air missiles” (in the summary’s words) to anti-satellite and cyber attacks.

That said, the summary goes on, “even low-technology capabilities, such as rudimentary sea mines, fast-attack small craft, or shorter range artillery and missile systems” can keep us from stopping aggression “in certain scenarios” which they decline to name. (One much-discussed example, though, would be an Iranian attempt to close the Strait of Hormuz to oil shipping). But it’s the high-tech threats, especially ballistic missiles and cyberattacks, that worry strategists most, not only because they could keep the US from intervening in a regional crisis but because they could enable an enemy to strike the United States itself. As the summary warns, “even the U.S. homeland cannot be considered a sanctuary.”

What the new document makes clear, in a way it has not been clear before (at least to me), is how the US military intends to respond. In essence, if an enemy can now reach out and touch us in ways and at distances they never could before, we’re going to find all sorts of ways to reach out and touch them back.

The document describes this as a “cross-domain” “attack in depth” using “both kinetic and non-kinetic means.” In plain English, this means we won’t just sit back and defend ourselves. We won’t just try to shoot down enemy missiles after they launch, block cyberattacks once they’re already underway, or jam sensors that are already scanning us, although all those defensive activities are certainly necessary. Nor will we just respond tit-for-tat, with our airplanes shooting down the airplanes that attack us, our ships shooting at their ships, our cyberwarriors hacking theirs, although such “symmetrical” forms of fighting remain important, too.

Instead, we’ll throw all sorts of wrenches into the enemy war machine at every possible point, what the top officers of the Air Force and Navy, Gen. Mark Welsh and Adm. Jonathan Greenert, called in an article they co-wrote “breaking the kill chain.” Of course you should try to shoot down the enemy missile once it’s launched. But it’s much better to blow up the launcher before it actually launches, or to blind the radar that’s trying to find you, or, best of all, crash the enemy communications network that is orchestrating the attack in the first place, whether by blowing up their headquarters, jamming their wireless datalinks, or hacking their computers. Instead of trying to shoot down an enemy satellite, just bomb the ground control station to which it’s transmitting data, or better yet hack into that data stream to feed the enemy false information.

Instead of fighting fire with fire, in other words, throw water on it, or sand. As the summary puts it, “cyber or undersea operations can be used to defeat air defense systems, air forces can be used to eliminate submarine or mine maritime threats, or space assets can be used to disrupt adversary command and control.”

Full Breaking Defense Commentary


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