CSAF, CNO attempt to demystify Air-Sea Battle

CSAF, CNO attempt to demystify Air-Sea Battle

So enough with all the Zen koans, the circular logic, the tautologies and the buzzwords — just what the hell is Air-Sea Battle?

Why, the chiefs of the Air Force and Navy were glad to answer that question, in language even a human being could understand, in a packed auditorium Wednesday morning at the Brookings Institution.

Air-Sea Battle, they said, is about inter-service interoperability; avoiding duplicative programs; and exploring new ways to achieve old effects. In practical terms, that means the Navy and Air Force need new, common data links; it means they shouldn’t pursue similar weapons or platforms — and should actively collaborate on the ones they do acquire; and it means they need to start fresh in the way they think about battlefield problems.


Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert gave an example that made hacks’ and audience members’ eyes pop: Why not use a submarine to suppress an adversary’s air defenses, and why couldn’t it do so without a cruise missile — say, electronic countermeasures or cyber-attack? He did not go into any more detail about this, even when pressed.

And that brings us to the first lingering problem with defense officials’ attempt to sell their long-beloved Air-Sea Battle as a panacea for 21st century defense planning — they can never give open-source audiences the full picture about exactly what’s involved. (We talked about this just this week with the Air Force’s hopes for its B-52 upgrades.) So could Greenert’s sub eliminate the bad guy’s air defenses permanently, or just blind them for awhile? Does the sub need to stay offshore to keep doing it, or can it come and go? Why would it make more sense to devote an important asset like an attack sub to this mission, rather than letting a cruise missile or a strike aircraft handle it? Can the Navy do this today, or is this something Greenert wants five years from now? Or 10 years?

Normies can’t get enough of these details to form the full picture. That’s why, so often in the past, service chiefs or other presenters have had to say things such as: “Let’s say you’re a fish. Air-Sea Battle is the water.” Or: “Let’s say you wanted a fine glass of merlot. Air-Sea Battle is the crystal goblet in which I serve you that wine.”

To their great credit, Greenert and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz stayed mostly away from that kind of rhetoric on Wednesday, though Greenert did repeat that Air-Sea Battle is a “framework.”  For his part, Schwartz gave perhaps the best explanation anyone has yet offered about the vision here:

“We’re not thinking about things in the ‘airman’ and ‘sailor’ stovepipes anymore,” he said.

The ultimate goal is for service planners to solve problems agnostic of the logos on the units involved. Schwartz returned to the Air Force’s new favorite example of this — an F-22 that re-targeted a Tomahawk cruise missile in mid-flight, after it had been launched from a Navy submarine.

Greenert offered another example: Suppose an Air Force E-3 Sentry AWACS aircraft could share its tracks with a Navy E-2 Hawkeye, and vice versa — “What a concept,” he said — and Navy and Air Force fighters, bombers, patrol aircraft, ships and unmanned systems could all talk to each other seamlessly.

The net effect would be that if the bad guy drew a “keep out” line designed to target, say, an aircraft carrier strike group, that wouldn’t matter, because other American forces could still cross that line and achieve their goals in a different way. Instead of Navy carrier aircraft striking a target, even perhaps a maritime target, a stealthy Air Force bomber sneaks through and attacks it with a new standoff weapon. Instead of Air Force pilots strapping on their F-35s and screaming over the nap of the earth to strike a surface-to-air missile site, Greenert’s offshore submarine zaps it long enough for Air Force B-1s to pass over, say hello to their targets, and then get out of there.

Which brings us to the second problem with Air-Sea Battle: It sounds tremendous — “Transformers” made real — but just the technical challenges of implementing anything like it will be daunting, and doubly so in Austerity America. Look at how much time, money and effort it has taken DoD to acquire the Joint Tactical Radio System, or to consolidate and upgrade its computer networks, and now bolt that level of effort onto the entire subsurface, surface, air and space fleets of the Navy and Air Force.

The problem is compounded by the U.S. military’s dependence on access to satellites. Schwartz acknowledged that for most of the modern era of warfare, the U.S. could use space almost with impunity, but it’s going to be a “contested domain,” if it isn’t one already, and that threat could ruin all those PowerPoint slides in which everything is connected by little lightning bolts. There are ways to deal with this: Making satellites more “resilient,” he said, and exploring “high flyers,” such as airships, that could serve as relays for some signals in a pinch. A line of high-altitude airships over the Pacific, for example, could be easier for American forces to defend and might be able to handle some of the bandwidth all this inter-connectedness will require.

There’s also a human challenge: Imagine being the Navy surface warfare officer who spent her career getting ready for a pitched battle at sea, devoted years of training to turn-and-burn gunfights with swarming attack craft, and secretly yearns for a chance to say: “Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!” Now the brass tells you that your job is to park your cruiser off Guam with your air defense radars energized, just in case there’s an attack on the airfield there. Or you’re in the crew of the upgraded B-52 we heard about this week, but you don’t ever get to say “Bombs away!” Your job is to patrol a grid square of nothing but ocean, looking for “fishing trawlers” and dropping sonobouys.

That isn’t to say these and every other servicemember won’t follow orders and do their utmost — clearly, they will. But the changes in roles of the magnitude that Greenert and Schwartz seem to want could face major resistance from the “tribes” involved, in Greenert’s phrase. That’s why it’s so important to “institutionalize” the links between the light and dark blue services now, both chiefs argued, so they’ll be in place in the event of a conflict and won’t need to be built “ad hoc” only to be abandoned again.

Many members of Wednesday’s Brookings audience walked away with a much clearer understanding of what Air-Sea Battle is, but no closer to understanding how, or whether, DoD can achieve it.

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This is a vague framework with which to pursue ever more impossibly complicated and uncontrollably costly techno-centric solutions. Our General officers could not give us decisive wins in Vietnam, Iraq, nor Afghanistan. They cannot manage a department that can pass a financial audit. They cannot keep weapons programs within budget. But they can give us “Air Sea Battle” and envision submarines to perform SEAD and electronic attack, and they don’t have to justify the military utility of such exotic technology versus the costs to acquire and operate and support it. We don’t need “Air Sea Battle” for inter-service interoperability and avoidance of duplication. Taxpayers already pay for that through JCIDS, JITC, and DoD 5000 governance. Creating new conceptual frameworks undermine systems and processes that are already in place, weren’t, aren’t, and won’t likely be followed in the future, as long as senior leaders keep on changing the subject. Holy cow. Keep up the good reporting.

Biggest thing is to keep the military ready for all types of conflicts from a massive threat of conventional war with rival power like China or Russia to fighting thugs in mountains like we are in Afghanistan now.

Given a vague national strategy as guidance, we shouldn’t be surprised about a vague operational framework in response.

China and Russian arnt going to conduct a massive conventional attack, why would they — when they just have to give 20 thousand farmers a few weapons and sit back and watch the US military go to pieces.

Here they go beating that “jointness” drum again. The same outlook on the military that gave us hits like the F-35. Joint communications? Sure. That makes sense. It made sense in 1991, too, which is when they supposedly started working on consolidating comm systems between the services. But to have subs suppressing air defenses? Sounds a lot like the Navy trying to find ways to justify buying billion-dollar nuclear subs. B-52s doing the job of the P-3s and P-8s? Please. That’s an insane waste of potential. The Air Force’s bomber fleet should do exactly what it sounds like: BOMB. Not “patrol the seas.” That’s why we paid for P-3 and P-8 PATROL aircraft!

Sweet picture!

Everything has to be able to do everything. I am sure that will be cheap.

Air-Sea Battle. Pacific Pivot. Can you say PolitiSpeak? George Orwell should be laughing his head off right now. They haven’t got a clue. But let’s see. This is the Air Force and Navy that is so arrogant that they still really believe they could crush the Soviet Union, who cut their teeth on killing Nazis in hand-to-hand combat! So arrogant they’re putting all their marbles on using UAVs to kill “our enemies” because they don’t want to get their hands dirty! (Think Vietnam and dropping more ordnance from 30,000 feet than was used in WW2, only to be driven out by a bunch of pajama wearing G****!) Framework! All this gobble-di-gook is just really a form job self-preservation. It’s really sad the military has turned itself into an entitlement program.

LOL..just trying to get arguments going or the new leaders are lost. They need to look in the crystal ball on the next event’s…when,where and how and do they feel lucky.

What we lack is a true system of systems approach to mission capability requirements and effective cross program capability incentives. Our current requirements, funding and program management methods are platform centric. Since the 70s, we’ve been building platforms (or systems) to meet a set of requirements. This process is independent of all other platforms. Trying to achieve interoperability after requirements are set, through the direction of CJCSI 6212.01 is too little, too late. We need a fundamental change in our requirements, funding and acquisition approaches.

Today we can accomplish limited cooperation between independent platforms through first generation data links. To meet the threats of the near future, we need to have dynamic collaboration between interdependent platforms. That will require significant changes to our policy, processes and, probably, Title 10.

Sea-Air Battle plan will be drones fighting the next war for the Navy and Air Force. Obama has reduced the number of ship in the Navy. Apparently it is cheaper to use drones rather than ships, sailors and pilots to partrol and fight. A drone can out manouver a pilot any time. So I see rooms full of pilots playing with joy sticks while doing the fighting for the Navy and Air Force. Yea, how sweet it is.

The problem with Nam is we dropped bombs on trees not weapons depos. Not on enemy HQ. that is the problem we have now. We fight nice. U can’t wage war if u are not willing to win. Our political leaders talk about winning but they don’t want to do what needs to be done.
As far as subs sitting down SAMs, please. Are they going to connect them to the internet first? Will they jam the radar? We have planes that do that! Navy and AF.
All services should be able exchange info seamlessly, but then it will only take one successful E-attack to disable military comm. what do we do then?

Genocide has always been the last resortof beaten armies. You don’t want to win either you want simple stupid solutions that make you feel better and hasen defeat. Your part of the problem.

if someone (anemy) finds a weak point in inter-service interoperability it will not have access to multiple pltaforms.…. like a jackpot!?

A word of caution is in order. The old saw “there is more than one way to skin a cat” describes a better and more successful way of thinking about complete commonality of systems and methods. Lets say that an opponent comes up with a way to negate a common communications system, or perhaps an airborne radar system. What is the impact on a battle field, and what are the alternatives? Smoke signals? acoustic detectors?
and so on.

I think I’d have more confidence in the strategy if some of the weapons being developed to implement it were going well. I am not inspired by the level of creativity I see coming from the leadership. I see no willingness to be bold and step outside of assumptions about what kinds of systems are needed for truly projecting power and deterrence. I see a lot of lethargic bureaucratic territory protecting and generals trying to relive glory days of their respective services.

What a novel idea, interoperability!! Let’s see…Raytheon will have to cooperate with Lockheed, TRW will have to cooperate with Boeing, etc, etc and all the industry systems developers will have to reveal their proprietary concepts to each other so the military can reduce costs. I just want to barf!! The only real interoperability and commonality is MICROSOFT’s Power Point. The point was well made that commonality and interoperability among dissimilar platforms creates a single point failure opportunity to an adversary.

They can’t train together, why should they be able to fight together. The USAF and USN set up virtually identical training programs using identical flight simulators in buildings 1000 ft apart run by two different contractors and call that “joint” training. Why should the “Air Sea” battle be any different.

Before the 4 stars start holding hands, if you put the “new Zeke 66″ missle on everything and under operational pressure a fault of some sort develops? You better have a great backup plan OR, how about a “new wildfire54” hanging on another services F-79 with none of the same faults, good backup.. The AF and the Navy put all the eggs in one basket in Viet Nam and people died when DOD mandated interchangeability Once in a while there is a good reason to hold hands, lets hope we never have to send a reason not to.
Remember keep your six clear.….

JCIDS, DoD 5000, PPBES… We need no more constant revision and fundamental changes to processes that we don’t even follow in the first place. You cannot expect to develop interoperable systems in all kinds of dynamic conditions unless you have an infinite budget. People are what make systems work together to accomplish missions. We have to “work around” technology limitiations & breakdowns all the time, no matter how much is time and $ is expended in trying to develop interoperable systems. Technological interoperability was NOT the reason why we lost in Vietnam, and why we are not decisively winning in Iraq & Afghanistan. “To meet the threats of the near future, we need to have dynamic collaboration between interdependent platforms. ” Unsupported hypothesis. First off, no one knows what the threats are, so making blanket assertions and one size fits all hypothesis does not make sense. We need to rethink technology as a tool to accomplish missions, and recognize its limitations, costs, and risks, as well.

We have no choice but to look to JOINTNESS. We will still have to specialize aircraft, ships and land systems for their missions, but the C4ISR components need to be JOINT. Not only to allow all forces to communicate and share intelligence, but because we no longer have the spectrum or the funds to develop three different kinds of radios that cannot talk to each other.

We are not fighting WWII. We did not lose one battle in Viet Nam, nor in Afgan, or Iraq. I would really need a definition of win from most of you arm chair warriors. We decided to leave VN because the Viets did not want us there nor would they support the war. Same for Afgan and Iraq. Shallow people make shallow analysis of complex issues.

Air Sea battle and Jointness are critical for efficiency and effectiveness of our forces. We can no longer afford to have 4 different sets of C4ISR that don’t talk to each other. A Marine needs to call on the closest air support regardless of who ownes the delivery system. Intelligence from an Air Force MQ-1 needs to get to all who can make use of it. All need to know where the friendly forces are regardless of what he uniform is to avoid fratricide and better apply forces against the enemy.

This is a NO BRAINER! Developing one system is much cheaper then four systems. It also saves on limited RF spectrum.

Next step is to reorganize our acquisition to drop the redundancy in systems design, development and procurement.

The B-17 was designed to protect our shores. It did not work. Could not even defend the PI. The sea is too big and thy plane too small. Air power alone or sea power alone can and will not win any future conflict. So maybe there is hope the USN and USAF can get their mutual act(s) together and focus on winning and not on each other.

We already have jointness without Air Sea Battle. The requirements process is JCIDS, which is the gatekeeper for what systems get acquired. What is the definition of “communicate”? Is email or chat sufficient? Do you need full motion video, text, voice, etc to each and every platform and dismounted troop? You think we don’t have funds to develop 3 different kinds of radios, do you think we have the funds to “allow all forces to communicate and share intelligence”??

Believeing that “one system is much cheaper than four systems” as a blanket one size fits all assertion is a no brainer alright.

Exactly. We have no national strategy. In the meantime the citizens want to be able to send our troops into places where the culture doesn’t support freedom (Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan) and they want there to be zero collateral damage and with zero troop losses. In other words they want the impossible and they want it cheap.

exactly, let the thugs in Afghanistan fight each other. Meanwhile the reporters will keep posting stories of all the bad stuff happening in Syria and the UN will keep pretending it can do something without the US until they need our involvement. For once we need to tell the UN to handle it themselves — and for real this time, not like Libya.

What is shallow is to believe that “we did not lose one battle in Vietnam, Afghanistan, or Iraq.” Or to think that would matter anyway. Winning would be a decisive positive, clear, quantifiable outcomes that can be measured in political and economic terms. Committing the nation to indefinite years of warfare, immeasurable costs to the economy, immeasurable pain in terms of casualties, and festering turmoil and havoc in our political & cultural fabric, is losing. Obsession with the wrong kinds of technology, diversion of resources from winning wars to preserving pet projects, which increases the risk that we lose those wars, is losing.

genocide comes from failed cultures and it spreads from the people and politicians to the military. Sadly it is quite common in Africa and Asia, it just doesn’t make the mainstream news.

“I would really need a definition of win” spoken like a true loser

And that is the problem with the lack of a national strategy. We keep getting into conflicts to support people who don’t have a culture that can support freedom. We eventually leave because we figure out that just because we have led the horse to water doesn’t mean the horse is drinking the water or will ever drink the water. The issues are complex which is all the more reason why we should be more careful before getting involved. Right now I’m hoping we don’t get involved in Syria.

“As far as subs sitting down SAMS, please…We have planes that do that!’

That’s the point…the planes can’t get close enough to do the job, but the sub might. That’s why it’s called “anti-access”. Not your grandfather’s war.….

well we do have documents called “national strategy”. they may not be good from your perspective, but it is impossible for any national strategy to be sufficient for all given the different perspectives and agendas that are constantly changing. I hope we could all agree upon that the preservation of our economy, way of life, and national defense capabilities (why would we ever want to regress/lose capabilities, when Pearl Harbor and 9/11 teach us that we must always be on guard) as our national strategy. We have a lot to lose, meaning our decisions of when and how to act or to do nothing should be based on a risk/reward analysis of different courses of action based on where we are at the present. Getting involved in Iraq and Afghanistan might turn out to be net benefits to us, but the costs that we’ve paid to date certainly don’t seem to have paid off. I’m for getting involved in promotion of Democracy and the undermining of hostile regimes. This should all be done as clandestinely, jointly, and multinationally as possible.

Jinx…what do you do when the planes can’t get to the SAMS? That’s why its called “anti access”.…

Old Navy.…you sound little delusional here.……it’s always been the Army or the Navy in charge running the program.……When the Air Force steps in to give what they can do to help is always turn down..example : the hostages in Iran in the 70’s…Navy wanted USAF C-130’s for delivering fuel barrels for the M.C. H-53’s in the desert.…The Air Force had H-53’s capable of Air Refueling and why not did they use them to deliver the marines? So how about the Navy winning the war. There’s more Navy bad boys public news going on these past several years. This article just wants to get some people’s in a heated argument for there closing story so stop with the BS. Do i need to say more. Old AF

Richard I call your attention to an fairly old publication — The Influence of Sea Power written by a naval officer Adm. Mahan. All great empires, and we are one, have had strong navies. Look what happens to them when they let their navies decline. It’s not about the Navy or the Air Force winning the war it;s about all services working together. As for the hostage rescue…it was done on a shoe string by a sorry to say, USNA graduate who personifies Murphy’s Law rising to his highest level of incompetence. Prior to WW2 the Royal Navy Fleet Air force was almost done away with. The RAF took over the duties of coastal patrol, etc. The Royal Navy was left with WW1 era torpedo bomber. That and the lack of sea born air cover cost them dearly. Two battleship, Repulse and Prince of Whales were lost to Japanese bombers due to lack of air support. The carrier that was to accompany the ships was damaged and had to stay behind for repairs. Fixed bases can be attacked and destroyed. A carrier task group can hide in millions of square miles of ocean. Make that thousands of square miles. A USAF pilot once told me the scariest thing he had done flying was when he was a cross decked pilot and had to do a night landing on a carrier. He was flying a F4 so no hands off landing. History is a great repeater if itself. When crap breaks out somewhere in the world — you hear send in the carries. They are US soil, independent and fully self sporting. Fly in F22, if the O2 system works, and you need a train of support aircraft and permission of a host country. NO BS just facts so unless you get your facts correct and understand history, contact…spin the prop, and get airborne I won’t even discuss the USAAF attempting to bomb Germany and Japan into submission. It took an atomic weapon and troops on the ground.

Your correct, both branches need to work together, forgot about the AF F-4 pilots landing on Naval ships during the Vietnam war…need to get the AF current fighter pilots and etc to do the same practicing during peace time. I know our Helicopter pilots had some little to none at peace time to land on Naval or civilian decks for sailors who need serious medical needs and transfer to Hospital. Will find old pub and read the influence of Sea Power by Adm.Mahan.…Thank you and i hope you except my apology. I salute you and thank you for your service.

I remember the consolidated nav fiasco. Being on Air Force Helo’s that routinely got called to help on search and rescue missions for lost hikers, etc, we wanted, no we needed, a radio to talk to the folks on the ground. Seemed simple enough but after 2+ years of red tape, it was finally approved. Just in time for more budget cuts and closing of our unit.

well said

Its just political cover — “Pacific Pivot” sounds so much better than “Afghan Rout”

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