November 14, 2011

The U.S. Air-Sea Battle Office

News Report

As reported by and other news sources, the U.S. Department of Defense announced last week the creation of a new office to integrate air and naval combat capabilities in support of emerging national security requirements, named the Air-Sea Battle Office (ASBO).

The Air-Sea Battle concept will guide the services as they work together to maintain a continued U.S. advantage against the global proliferation of advanced military technologies and A2/AD capabilities (anti-access/area denial). Air-Sea Battle will leverage military and technological capabilities that reflect unprecedented Navy, Marine and Air Force collaboration, cooperation, integration, and resource investments.

The ASBO will oversee the concept implementation by facilitating coordination among the services, influencing service wargames, fostering development and integration of air and naval capabilities, and collaborating with the joint forces. The Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps will each dedicate a minimum of two field grade officers or civil service equivalents to the ASBO.

The Context

Throughout the history of warfare, adversaries have endeavored to deny each other freedom of action and access to areas where operations could be mounted that threaten campaign objectives. This fundamental of warfare was vividly highlighted during Operation DESERT STORM in 1991, when the access granted by allies and partners was exploited by the overwhelming capabilities of the U.S. military to quickly liberate Kuwait from Iraqi occupation. In the aftermath of DESERT STORM, it was apparent to many potential adversaries that it would be inadvisable to oppose the U.S. in a force-on-force conflict, and they explored how to disrupt U.S. power projection through means designed to complicate both movement to and maneuver within an area of mutual interest. These two elements of an adversary's comprehensive warfare strategy are referred to as "anti-access" and "area denial" or "A2/AD".

Over the past two decades, the development and proliferation of advanced weapons, targeting perceived U.S. vulnerabilities, have the potential to create an A2/AD environment that increasingly challenges U.S. military access to and freedom of action within potentially contested areas. These advanced systems encompass diverse capabilities that include ballistic and cruise missiles; sophisticated integrated air defense systems; anti-ship weapons ranging from high-tech missiles and submarines to low-tech mines and swarming boats; guided rockets, missiles, and artillery, an increasing number of 4th generation fighters; low-observable manned and unmanned combat aircraft; as well as space and cyber warfare capabilities specifically designed to disrupt U.S. communications and intelligence systems.

In September 2009, the U.S. Navy and Air Force signed a classified memorandum to initiate an inter-service effort to develop a new operational concept called the AirSea Battle. It emulates the successful AirLand Battle operational concept developed by the U.S. Army in the early 1980s. Only general features of the new concept are publicly known, but its focus seems to be to counter growing challenges to U.S. military power projection in the western Pacific and Persian Gulf. In particular, North Korea; the People’s Republic of China, especially because of its rapidly developing anti-access/area-denial capabilities; and Iran are considered potential threats.

In the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review, former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates directed the Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps to develop a comprehensive concept to counter emerging anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) challenges. Specifically, the Quadrennial Defense Review noted that China is developing and fielding large numbers of advanced medium-range ballistic and cruise missiles, advanced fighter aircraft, new attack submarines equipped with advanced weapons, increasingly capable long-range air defense systems, electronic warfare, computer network attack capabilities, and counter-space capabilities. Potentially, a major threat to the survivability of U.S. carriers in the western Pacific is the new 1,900-mile Dong Feng-21D antiship ballistic missile that reportedly attained initial operational capability in late 2010. The QDR 2010 also stated that Iran has in service large numbers of small fast-attack craft and plans to use swarming tactics aimed at overwhelming the layered defenses deployed by navies operating in the Persian Gulf. The growing anti-access capabilities of potential enemies, the QDR said, can be successfully countered by continuing modernization efforts plus adopting several developing technologies. The AirSea Battle concept appears to focus overly on integrating advanced technologies. While technology will certainly remain critical to winning, the human factor should never be neglected, or, worse, ignored. No military concept can be truly successful without properly integrating sound thinking and training with advanced technology.

On Aug. 12, 2011, Navy Adm. Jonathan Greenert, Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford, and Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove established the Air-Sea Battle Office (ASBO), creating a framework to implement the ASB concept.


A Background Briefing on Air-Sea Battle by Defense Officials from the Pentagon was given last November 9th. Here there are a few excerpts:

"Anti-access/area denial is about systems, it’s about technologies and capabilities.  It’s not about a specific actor.  It is not about a specific regime.  It’s about our ability to confront those systems and overcome them no matter where they are or how they're presented.  To that end, for example, we see state actors with well-funded militaries that possess the most advanced kinds of anti-access/area-denial capabilities and technologies -- in some cases, multilayered across all of the war-fighting domains. Some of the capabilities that we're thinking of (inaudible) spoke to and presented on the second slides"

"Some emphasize gaining information dominance, especially through electronic warfare, counter-space and cyber war.  Broadly speaking, these have been written about in the Western literature, but we see that what they do is they create asymmetric effect, asymmetric impact, and so air-sea battle addresses these things and how they are to be successfully encountered."

"It is about systems and innovations, it's about collaborative development and vetting them to ensure that we are complementary and appropriate, and redundant material and nonmaterial solutions have been mandated by capacitor requirements, we have interoperability, we have compatibility, and they're fielded with integrated acquisition strategies seeking efficiencies where they can be achieved."

References: (1), USNI (2), U.S. DoD (3), (4)

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