U.S. DoD has just released a Joint Operational Access Concept (JOAC) which describes how future U.S. joint forces will operate in response to emerging antiaccess and area-denial security challenges. Due to three major trends, i.e. 1) the growth of antiaccess and area-denial capabilities around the globe, 2) the changing U.S. overseas defense posture, and 3) the emergence of space and cyberspace as contested domains - future enemies, both states and nonstates, see the adoption of anti-access and area-denial strategies against the United States as a favorable course of action for them.
Within this context, the released document proposes a concept for how U.S. joint forces will achieve operational access in the face of armed opposition by a variety of potential enemies and under a variety of conditions, as part of a broader national approach.
Antiaccess and Area-Denial
In military terms, antiaccess refers to those actions and capabilities, usually long-range, designed to prevent an opposing force from entering an operational area, while area-denial refers to those actions and capabilities, usually of shorter range, designed not to keep an opposing force out, but to limit its freedom of action within the operational area.
As a global power with global interests, the United States want maintain the credible capability to project military force into any region of the world in support of those interests and, as such, a specific strategy for counter-acting antiaccess and area-denial activities in the face of armed opposition becomes crucial.
This is not a new challenge, but it is one that U.S. joint forces have not been called upon to face in recent decades. Even if in the recent past U.S. operational access was essentially unopposed, the combination of the three above mentioned major trends has altered the situation dramatically. Increasingly capable future enemies could see the adoption of an antiaccess and area-denial strategy against the United States as a favorable course of action for them, and consequently the ability to ensure operational access in the future may well be one of the most difficult operational challenges U.S. forces could face over the coming decades.
The JOAC highlights that cyberspace provides the information infrastructure upon which the command and control of practically all military operations rests. This is especially true for U.S. forces projecting military force globally, but it is increasingly true for practically all modern militaries, especially since capabilities can be purchased commercially and relatively cheaply. In fact, U.S. cyberspace capabilities depend significantly on commercial systems and adversaries in some cases will purchase that capabilities on the same platforms used by U.S. joint forces.
Because of that increased importance, U.S. future enemies could seek to contest cyberspace superiority as means to denying operational access to U.S. joint forces. Cyberspace could easily become a priority domain for U.S. future adversaries, both state and nonstate, because U.S. forces critically depend on them, because the capabilities are readily available and relatively affordable, and because the effects of operations can be difficult to trace and even perceive.
In such context, it will become essential for U.S. forces to protect cyber assets while attacking the enemy’s cyber capabilities. U.S. cyber assets already support an increasing proportion of joint command and control and logistics functions. For just this reason, most U.S. enemies adopting an antiaccess/area-denial strategy will attempt to attack joint cyberspace operations in an attempt to disrupt force projection efforts, well before the onset of lethal combat. The same can be said about the electromagnetic spectrum generally, which is especially critical in the context of force projection given the distances involved—although that is hardly a new phenomenon.
The JOAC calls for early preparatory actions in the space and cyberspace domains, but under current U.S. policy, authorization for such actions might not be forthcoming, especially in pre-crisis stages.
Command and Control
The JOAC states that those command and control systems that will be employed in response to antiaccess and area-denial security challenges must support forces operating at global distances, deploying and maneuvering independently on multiples lines of operations from multiple points of origin, and concentrating fluidly as required. They must support an operating tempo the enemy cannot match and facilitate integration across multiple domains simultaneously and at lower echelons. An efficient joint command and control system will have to include techniques, procedures, and technologies that enable commanders to integrate operations across domains in innovative ways.
To support such objectives, the JOAC envisions decentralized command and control to the extent possible in both planning and execution. Such mission command enables subordinate commanders to act independently in consonance with the higher commander’s intent and effect the necessary cross-domain integration laterally at the required echelon.
While distributed-collaboration technologies can facilitate this effort, commanders also must be prepared to operate effectively in a degraded environment. The ability to do so has implications for doctrine, training, and education. The adversary will deliberately attempt to degrade friendly use of the electromagnetic spectrum, to include disruption of space and cyber systems. Due to heavy joint reliance on advanced communications systems, such an attack will be a central element of any enemy antiaccess/area-denial strategy, requiring a higher degree of protection for friendly command and control systems.
Especially with respect to incorporating space and cyberspace operations in a joint access campaign, new and adaptable relationships and authorities may be required to better integrate the capabilities of geographic and functional combatant commands with overlapping responsibilities.
Specifically, the abilities that are required for guaranteeing an efficient exercise of Command and Control in the intended operations are reported as follows:
- The ability to maintain reliable connectivity and interoperability among major warfighting headquarters and supported/supporting forces while en route.
- The ability to perform effective command and control in a degraded and/or austere communications environment.
- The ability to create sharable, user-defined operating pictures from a common database to provide situational awareness (including friendly, enemy and neutral situations) across the domains.
- The ability to integrate cross-domain operations, to include at lower echelons, with the full integration of space and cyberspace operations.
- The ability to employ mission command to enable subordinate commanders to act independently in consonance with the higher commander's intent and effect the necessary crossdomain integration laterally at the required echelon.
References: U.S. DoD (1)