AirSea Battle Starts to Add Substance to Concept

Air Force and Navy leaders start to formulate the AirSea Battle concept as the services try to put the strategies in play in exercises.

Navy and Air Force personnel with the AirSea Battle office are in the early phases of putting some substance to the concept the two services have trotted out before Congress since the announcement of the Pacific Pivot two years ago.

“We’re looking out ahead about how we can take some of these concepts in AirSea Battle and put them through force development activities, exercises, wargames and experimentation,”  Col. Jordan Thomas, Air Force lead in the Pentagon’s AirSea Battle office, told

The two services, who together comprise the bulk of the AirSea Battle operating concept, recently conducted a series of exercises aimed at establishing integrated command and control.  At this year’s Red Flag exercise in Nevada, for example, the two services worked on better connecting the two services, said Capt. Phillip Dupree, Navy lead in the AirSea Battle office.

“You can reduce the number of sensors you have to have in a given region, or you can build trust in relying upon another sensor if your sensor has a problem – if the information going to your sensor is contested by jamming,” Dupree told in an interview.

AirSea Battle, or ASB, is an operating concept designed to help U.S. forces gain access to contested areas and project power. Air Force and Navy leaders said the new concept is needed in order to deal with advanced worldwide threats. Advances in ballistic missiles, jamming equipment and anti-aircraft weaponry have forced service leaders to review strategies going forward.

In particular, potential adversaries are now armed with longer-range ballistic missiles, jamming equipment and advanced anti-aircraft weaponry, among other things.  This means access to strategically vital coastal areas, waterways and ports could well wind up being  heavily “contested” or challenged by adversaries in the event of conflict.

This amounts to a need for stealth capability, long-range strike and high-tech or resilient systems able to operate in a more challenging “jamming” or electromagnetic environment.

Anti-Access/Area-Denial, or A2/AD, is the other buzz word that has gained steam in recent years as military leaders try to sell Congress on their modernization programs. It’s hard to sell multi-billion dollar development programs for next generation bombers and submarines when reviewing the recent ten years of combat against basic military technologies in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In terms of specific tactics, Dupree said AirSea Battle aims to disrupt enemy C4ISR, destroy A2/AD capabilities and defeat the effects of weapons launched against U.S. forces.

“We have to have options on each of these three lines of effort. It is about creating corridors and pockets when and where they are needed,” he explained.

Congressman Randy Forbes, R-Va., Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee’s Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces, is one of the key decision makers when it comes to future defense budgets and he’s a supporter of the AirSea Battle concept. He said the AirSea Battle office will need to prepare combatant commanders for A2/AD environments and help optimize joint doctrine.

Forbes, whose subcommittee oversees funding for many Navy and Air Force systems, emphasized the need to develop next-generation platforms and technologies even though the Defense Department must also balance a nearly trillion dollar cut to planned spending over the next decade.

In terms of specific tactics, Thomas and Dupree mentioned a 2011 demonstration at the Naval Air Weapons Station, China Lake facility, Calif., wherein a Block IV Tomahawk missile was re-targeted in flight by an F-22 fighter jet.  Block IV Tomahawks, engineered with GPS and inertial guidance capability, are designed to be re-programmed in-flight.

“These low-signature platforms would be able to deliver an effect that shapes the A2/AD environment.  That buys you a pocket or a corridor for some higher signature force,” said Dupree.

Since its inception, Thomas said the AirSea Battle effort was not intended to exclude the other services, but many Army and Marine Corps officials have perceived it that way. AirSea Battle leaders said Marine Corps and Army officials have a role in the concept.

However, the Marine Corps and Army stood up their own version of AirSea Battle – the Office of Strategic Land Power —  in what was seen as a response. Thomas said the AirSea Battle office is working with the new strategic land power office.

One analyst, who was among the initial group of thinkers to envision and articulate AirSea Battle, drew from history to explain how wargaming and exercises can greatly help forces shape strategy and prepare for a range of contingencies.

“Our Navy in the 20s and 30s wargamed something called ‘Plan Orange,’ which was a contingency plan in the event of war with Japan. By doing this they began to refine carrier operations in terms of how the carrier would fit in with the fleet,” said Andrew Krepinevich, President of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.