DoD: ‘Pre-integration’ is the key to Air-Sea Battle
Air-Sea Battle. Yes, that.
A few weeks after the chiefs of the Air Force and Navy joined forces to give their latest take on it, two other key leaders closer to its daily reality have offered their views about the concept that’s not a strategy or a doctrine and threatens no one. Except when it is or does.
Navy Capt. Philip Dupree and Air Force Col. Jordan Thomas, two of the Building’s top Air-Sea gurus, have the cover story in this month’s Armed Forces Journal. They have been reading — and possibly fuming — about the coverage their “concept” has gotten, and open their piece with this velvet hammer:
Recent articles about Air-Sea Battle reflect misperceptions about this new operational concept. These may have been fostered by the fact that portions of the concept document are classified. In any event, we — the service leads in the multiservice ASB office — would like to correct them.
So there is a “concept document” called “Air-Sea Battle!” You’re just not allowed to see all of it.
Dupree and Thomas continue with a brief history: Then-Secretary Gates asking the Navy and Air Force to look into overcoming anti-access and area denial; the Air-Sea Battelians’ profession that they get land power; the threat of A2/AD. In the future,
China “ rising powers” “ peer competitors” enemies unfriendly parties won’t let American forces waltz around anywhere they please. They’ll do everything they can to keep the Navy and Air Force out of an area of interest or make it too dangerous for them to operate if they can get in. That means the blue services must swallow their enmities now — Remember the old Pentagon punchline: “No, son, the Soviets are our adversaries. Our enemy is the Navy!” — and learn to join forces well in advance.
At its core, ASB seeks a “pre-integrated” joint force that possesses habitual relationships, interoperable and complementary cross-domain capabilities, and realistic, shared training, while retaining the flexibility to develop new TTPs on the fly. Such forces will provide the strategic deterrence, assurance and stabilizing effects of a “force in being” and will also be operationally useful at the outset of hostilities, without delays for buildups and extensive mission rehearsal. Moreover, they will ensure that a joint force commander has a full range of options when facing an adversary with an A2/AD capability.
Another way to put this is that ASB seeks to preserve U.S. and allied air-sea-space superiority. It is this level of domain control that unlocks a land force’s deterrent and war-fighting potential. If air and naval forces cannot establish control of the air, space, cyberspace and maritime environments, or if they cannot sustain deployed forces, no operational concept is tenable. If ground forces cannot get to the fight or be sustained in an advanced A2/AD environment, they will fail to serve the vital interests of America, our allies and the international system.
See, you land power bubbas? Of course you’re invited to this party, but if the Navy and Air Force can’t clear the route for the Marines on the amphibious ships or give the Army soldiers top cover, it’s going to be a pretty short war. The authors continue with a warning — so many American military thinkers may have spent so long in mostly uncontested environments that they never learned what it was like to have to operate while the bad guys could threaten your ships and airplanes.
We may have developed a blind spot to this perennial truth, mainly because U.S. and allied forces have enjoyed uncontested freedom of action in the air, sea and space domains for more than a generation. Some who write about conflict in contested areas seem to assume future adversaries will not effectively oppose deployment and sustainment of ground, air or naval forces. That has been largely true over the past two decades, but will not be guaranteed in the future. Against advanced adversaries, freedom of action cannot be taken for granted.
And that “freedom of action,” or “access to the commons,” is what Air-Sea Battle is all about. DoD needs an underpinning “concept” because people must begin absorbing now that a B-52 could attack an enemy warship, or that a fast-attack submarine could suppress an enemy’s air defenses, so it doesn’t freak them out later.
Only you aren’t allowed to see the “concept” itself. DoD is echoing the absurd situation we’ve seen with the Navy, in which leaders want their audience to buy the story of the moment, but it’s told by a document they can’t share, so they effectively must reveal some of their own secrets. But if it’s not a strategy, it’s not directed against any specific adversary, and is mainly a “focusing lens,” why is the document “Air-Sea Battle” classified? Is that to conceal that there’s more to all this behind the curtain — or less?