I apologize in advance for the length of this post. A blog entry is perhaps not the best venue for this effort, but the speed and reach available to me with this medium outweigh its limitations. The invaluable “Small Wars Journal” has posted a piece that joins the swelling chorus of land-power advocates who see in AirSea Battle a threat that one hopes is as strong as that perceived by those for whom it is devised. Entitled “AirSeaLand Battle: Access Assured, Area Un-Denied”, the piece is authored by the anonymous “Move Forward” who is billed as a “USMA graduate, retired reserve enlisted/officer, and defense contractor with no work-related interest in any of the Army or Marine systems CNAS and others have recommended for funding cuts.” I have no beef with the anonymity of the author or his/her motivations. I will however, argue with their logic.
For the record: I am a defense consultant and I make money primarily by advising people in and out of government on how best to apply Seapower, and so, it can be reasonably asserted that I have a personal economic interest in the advancement of American Seapower. I am an unabashed navalist, and I am a retired naval officer. All of these facts do not however, make the logic of the arguments I will make in this post any less compelling, and I ask that as you evaluate the strength of my arguments, you do so on their merits, and not a perception of my obvious biases.
Additionally, I have had access to some versions of evolving AirSea Battle work product through my work in the Pentagon, though I have not read all parts of it, nor have I read any version that can be considered “completed”.
As I’ve done before on this blog when addressing the work of others, I will cite line and verse their words, and then respond with my own. First though, I will make a few general observations:
· The author conjures up a number of new and interesting and in some cases, relevant ways of applying land-power in an East Asian scenario. Some I will quibble with, others I’ll leave alone. Fatal to the logic ALL of those arguments however is the degree to which they are totally dependent on ASB having already been successful in maintaining, gaining, or holding the requisite level of Air and Sea control against known A2AD threats.
· The author is up front about charging that AirSea Battle represents a naked resource grab by the Navy and the Air Force, then spends a considerable portion of his time putting forth new and novel ways of protecting Army budget share, most of which sound pretty much like what the Marines already do.
· The author is unlikely to have read any version of AirSea Battle that matters (CSBA’s version—while interesting reading—is not USN/USAF work), as his understanding of what ASB seeks to do is uninformed. Simply put, he seems to think that ASB is conceived as a strategy, or a war-plan. It is nothing of the sort. Additionally, he seems to miss the point that ASB enables land-power—it is not a substitute for it.
· The author echoes an argument I’ve heard raised by some land-force advocates (including the Secretary of the Army) that cuts to land-power are somehow unfair or misguided (my words), as Soldiers and Marines had borne the brunt of combat for the past 10 years. While this may be an effective emotional and political argument, it is lacking from a strategic perspective, especially given the degree to which land-power was increased to fight two wars from which we are currently winding down. This, as both the Navy and the Air Force have declined in personnel and platforms during the same period.
· The author seems to advocate for the “traditional” 1/3 spilt among the Services, and then questions reports that one of those Services is considering cutting forces that he considers useful to land-power. Presumably, the continuation of the 1/3 paradigm has something to do with considering such a cut in the first place.
· The author blithely dismisses the difficulty of neutralizing a Chinese ISR structure, which would be essential to the plethora of land-power activities he suggests for the theater. Additionally, he seems to have a thorough misunderstanding of the cost calculus involved in either missile exchanges with the Chinese or our ability to recover therefrom (I mean here conventional missile exchanges).
· There is some serious “from the hip” thinking about nuclear exchanges in the article, which I recognize because I am not an expert in nuclear exchange theory. I know however, enough to recognize sloppy thinking.
· The author seems to want it both ways, at some points talking about how unlikely war with China is, then spending considerable effort in devising ways in which the Army could participate more fully in one.
Point by Point Analysis
The search for that Holy Grail has projected imagined AirSea superpowers onto
friends and foes alike, ignoring that targets use many means to avoid being targeted unless land
power forces them into the open.
Imagined, or a reasonable assessment of an evolving threat?
In contrast, AirSea Battle concepts deliberately would rob Soldier Peter to pay
Sailor/Airmen Paul2 For instance in four scenarios developed by the Center for New American Security (CNAS) in its “Hard Choices: Responsible Defense in an Age of Austerity” study, the Army was the service hit hardest by its choices. Even in two CNAS-advocated scenarios with the least painful cuts, the Army would be slashed $74.3 billion vs. small Navy cuts of 100 million to $10.5 billion and “Air Forces” reductions of $11.9 to $33.3 billion. Of course $7.9 billion of those $33.3 billion “Air Forces” cuts were the Marine V-22! Budgets traditionally split evenly in approximate thirds (Navy slightly more due to Marines), would now shift far greater sums to air/seapower.
Flushed into the open from the start, the author isn’t concerned as much with the threat as he is with the threat to the Army budget. Note the defense of the 1/3 split without an accompanying strategic logic therefor.
Meanwhile, CNAS would ask Soldiers and Marines who have endured the most
casualties and frequent austere deployments to reduce force structure. The Army would drop
below current plans of 520,000 Soldiers to a lower 482,000. Marines would reduce to 175,000 to afford greater air/seapower emphasis within budget constraints. The result would be that some of our finest who have served numerous seven to fifteen-month combat tours might actually be forced out while remaining troops would return to more frequent deployments.
The strategic logic for protecting current Army and USMC force levels is not provided, but an emotional argument is. Nowhere does the author note that both Services were significantly increased to fight wars from which we are now winding down. Given our draw down in both Iraq and Afghanistan, it is unclear where these “more frequent deployments” will be to.
Historically, all wars have required every U.S. service’s contribution. Yet, drawdowns
between wars inevitably have left the Army and Marines undermanned, ill-equipped, and poorly positioned for the next conflict.
Perhaps there is merit to this approach, given the relative ease with which land-power can be reconstituted as opposed to the more capital intensive services. Additionally, the author again fails to remember that both the USN and the USAF have already drawn down over the past decade.
Think tanks have convinced themselves and others that air and seapower enhancements
and long-range strike will supersede the need to retain Army force structure and weapons.
Again—retaining force structure that was dramatically increased to fight wars from which we are withdrawing.
However, we seldom get to pick the wars we want to fight. While few observers would
speculate that we would land ground forces on mainland China, treaties ratified between 1951
and 1960 with Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and the Philippines are
obligations and none have land-connections with mainland China borders. Taiwan and the Philippines, like South Korea and Japan, would benefit from capabilities of nearby, reasonably sized (Secretary Gates), forward presence ground forces that could reinforce the islands by air and sea just prior to any invasion via adversary air/sea attack.
The essence of the weakness of this argument. The ground forces discussed must reinforce those islands by air and sea, the domains with which ASB is concerned.. Put another way, the power this writer wishes to employ is decidedly disadvantaged in an A2AD environment, and a necessary predicate to its employment is ASB. Again—ASB is not a substitute for land power—it is however, likely to be a prerequisite for the employment of land-power in many theaters of operation.
Ground elements in the Pacific offer tangible access-assured and area un-denied contrary
to A2/AD theory. Land forces are untethered from the few main airfields/ports that A2/AD
ballistic missiles would target. Airborne forces are long-range assets similar to bombers. Air
assaults can traverse large intratheater Pacific distances, primarily by island-hopping. Prior to
Chinese missile attacks, multiple air assaults, airdrops and even air-landings similar to the 173rd
Airborne operation at Bashur, Iraq could occur on Taiwan’s southeast side, separated from the impending invasion by a large mountain range.
How do they get there? How are they supported? How are they resupplied? ASB is all about ensuring that these activities in support of land-power can be conducted in an A2AD environment.
Like other joint assets, ground forces rapidly disperse from bases and deploy intratheater
distances at the first indications of trouble. The Army and Marines could air assault and employ amphibious ships, amphibious assault vehicles, landing craft, and MV-22 from Okinawa or the Philippines. High Speed Vessels (HSV) and littoral combat ships (LCS) with Soldiers and Marines could land at multiple southeast Taiwan ports and other shallow water areas. Taiwan could assist this with multiple concrete ramps built out into shallow water. If the U.S. can cooperate with Taiwan on F-16 upgrades, concrete ramps should be a low cost no-brainer. Once ashore, dispersion coupled with ground force armored vehicles or dug-in fighting positions would make effective targeting difficult for adversary long-range missiles and fighters/bombers that are a major component of A2/AD theory.
Again, every single activity presupposed here depends on having already mitigated the A2AD threat. The author reminds me of the old Steve Martin bit, in which he talks about how to become a millionaire—“first, get a million bucks.”
Current wars have disrupted lives of our deploying heroes and their families. Thankfully, nowhere near the 58,000 lost loved ones of Vietnam resulted. Yet the historically-misguided perception remains that more long wars with boots on the ground in foreign lands are not in the cards from a blood and treasure standpoint.
The nation ended large scale land operations in Vietnam in 1972/3, and then conducted its next large scale land operation in 1990. It pulled out of Iraq in 1991 and then did not conduct large scale land war for twenty years. What is historically misguided about this perception?
Movement of large carriers and amphibious ships closer to the fight is less an issue after adversary jets, subs, surface ships, and carriers are destroyed and finite missiles are depleted or destroyed.
The author has unwittingly stumbled across what ASB really is about (as opposed to the Army emasculating strategy he fears). He simply fails to grasp how difficult that will be in the fights ASB is designed to enable.
Threat Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance (ISR) assets, radars, and jammers
rapidly will be targeted as easily observed emitters.
Again, a blithe dismissal of what is involved in actually pulling off such targeting, especially given the fact that many of these assets just happen to sit on mainland Chinese real estate.
Adversary subs are fewer than our own, and all ours are nuclear-powered, larger, and
more advanced than the primarily defensive small diesel-electric Kilo-class subs of China.25
Small subs are more likely to sit and wait due to low speed and short range, meaning a variety of high speed routes from multiple directions can bypass, locate using ISR, and destroy small subs using our Virginia class subs, LCS, destroyers, and aerial assets.
This is a breathtaking simplification of the problem, something we should all guard against given the success of land-based forces with little more than IED’s, small arms and crew served weapons against our pre-eminent land force over the past 10 years.
Also consider that during the Cold War, few imagined our carriers or German air bases would survive long against Soviet assets.
This is an historically inaccurate statement. Clearly Ronald Reagan, John Lehman and ADM Tom Hayward believed carriers would survive—and they built an impressive maritime strategy with such survival in mind.
Only land-based counterinsurgency concerns have been controversial and costly. Expenses of maintaining joint and coalition boots on the ground to rebuild and train Iraqi and Afghan security forces have prolonged current wars in one of the more isolated spots on our planet. Thus when Libya came along it was natural to avoid the harder right of employing all joint assets.
Does the author believe the “harder right” will be chosen again soon? What makes him think that we wouldn’t apply similar logic for the short and medium term?
Marines, however, can proudly point to successful Libyan amphibious ship operations as
a return to their roots. They are not a “second land Army.” However, they function as one when required. In the same way, the Army can function in an amphibious capacity in the Pacific or off Iran if that is the best access means. Also, just as the Marines have retained essential capabilities as a second Air Force and Navy, the U.S. Army should play a larger role moved/supported by air and at sea. The difference is that the Army will depend on capabilities of the Navy, Air Force, and Marines for some intratheater and all intertheater deployment and air/seapower. If Marines return in force to the Pacific, it follows that active forward-presence light, Stryker, and heavy Army ground and aviation forces also should have a role.
Yes the Marines can do so, but they cannot claim to have fought through a robust A2AD system. Additionally, all of the previous paragraph—whether USMC or USA—must rely on USAF/USN to provide Air and Seapower (as he recognizes), though he fails to recognize any threat to their capacity to do so, or any need for those who provide such a capability to organize, train and equip in new and novel ways to meet that threat. Finally, he states that Army ground and aviation forces “should also have a role”. Really? Why? What drives that should? I’m not going to say they don’t, but I do argue with the logic. This is “me-tooism” to an extreme.
Soldiers and Marines can counter A2/AD strategies through forward base dispersion and
multiple points of continental U.S. and Hawaii/Guam/Alaska origin. By employing a multitude of Naval and Air Force intratheater and intertheater transport methods and routes to get to initial and final objectives, A2/AD strategies of naval and aerial targeting are thwarted. However, remember that Pacific initial staging locations and final objectives are friendly nations likely to welcome us to their ports, airheads, and air assault landing zones. From intermediate locations like Okinawa, Korea, or the Philippines, our forces could stage to a final small island or Taiwan objective, where they would survive the adversary missile attacks and fight the enemy invasion.Army forces complement Marine amphibious capabilities by offering airborne, air assault, and HSV/LCS sea movement alternatives for initial unopposed and forcible entry, and prepositioning or fast sealift for larger scale operations.
Again—every bit of this employment of land-power PRESUPPOSES air and sea control to a degree that is not guaranteed without rising to the A2AD challenges posed. ASB attempts to do that, not as an end unto itself, but among other things, to ensure the ability to project land power.
Why would we park a perfectly good mobile carrier you ask? What if the Navy no longer
wished to man and pay for its operation or its associated carrier air wing. DefenseNews.com
reported that as early as 2016, the Navy may consider foregoing 3 years of nuclear refueling to
decommission USS George Washington 20+ years early. Should we immediately pay the $2
billion decommissioning cost to remove the two nuclear reactors and place them in permanent
storage, and then dismantle the ship when it really is not that old?46 Could the Marines and Army exploit the size and capabilities of that carrier in the strategically-located Spratly Islands as a base for air/ground assets and HSV/LCS patrols?
I assure you, the Navy would prefer to do nothing of the sort. Presumably, such a decision would be reached in no small measure as a means to protect land-power in what the author has already supported as the “traditional” 1/3 split. Were DOD to alter that and privilege Seapower, then perhaps a carrier decommissioning would not be considered.
The remainder of the piece lays out some interesting and some less than interesting ways that the Army could be part of a war with China previously dismissed as unrealistic, and so I’ll stop here, except to offer a final opinion on ASB. If you’d like a pdf file of the piece with my e-sticky comments on the side, email me and I’ll provide it to you.
I can only hope the Chinese and Iranians are as perturbed by ASB as some in the US landpower community. I sometimes think that Secretary Gates was crazy for making it such a topic of public discussion by giving it so much prominence in QDR 10, as on this side of the Pacific it has created a rising storm of attack largely borne of the dramatic decline in defense spending that most observers see coming. Then again, I think making it public could have served as a great strategic communications effort, helping to convince the Chinese and our allies that we’re not going to sit back and be ejected from East Asia.
Whatever the answer, the plain truth is none of this will be solved here in this blog, surely not by my words. So much of ASB is so highly classified that any real understanding of it cannot be gained without access to that information. I’ve seen calls here for forums to discuss ASB in a more open manner, but without access to the classified stuff (which I don’t have either, by the way), a discussion would be incomplete, and what the Air Force and Navy are trying to do would be misunderstood.