Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Air-Sea Battle Defined in Testimony Last Thursday

On Thursday the House Armed Services Committee’s Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee conducted a public hearing on the Air-Sea Battle Concept involving a handful of Congressmen and a panel of senior leaders from the Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Army and Joint Staff. The panel included Rear Admiral Upper Half James G. Foggo III, USN, Assistant Deputy Chief of Naval Operations (Operations, Plans and Strategy) (N3/N5B), Major General James J. Jones, USAF, Director of Operations, Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations, Plans and, Requirements, Brigadier General Kevin J. Killea, USMC, Director of the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory, Major General Michael S. Stough, USAF, Vice Director, Joint Force Development, J7, and a late addition - Major General Gary H. Cheek, US Army, Assistant Deputy Chief of Staff G3/5/7.*

The hearing was not widely attended by members of the subcommittee. The hearing was not widely attended by the press. There were very few journalists in attendance, and I am aware of only one media article discussing the hearing. There were no submitted written statements as far as I know. The hearing lacked the political theater found elsewhere during the current government shutdown. At no point during the hearing was a partisan point a political context raised or made. There were no threats made to China, or anyone else, and there were very few sound bytes produced that would draw in a broader American audience to the content of the discussion.

The video is here.

The Air-Sea Battle hearing was a public intellectual discussion between the US military and Congress on matters related to the art of war. Since the opening of the Air-Sea Battle office in the Pentagon, the DoD has been unable to publicly articulate what the Air-Sea Battle Concept is intended to do. The absence of a clearly articulated Air-Sea Battle Concept has allowed critics to define the concept on behalf of the DoD, and leverage any context in that criticism. Following the testimony of Rear Admiral Foggo who articulated the concept clearly, in context, with examples, and with thorough regard to definition - a clear understanding of Air-Sea Battle has been established as the intellectual baseline for future public commentary. An excerpt from his prepared oral testimony is available on the Navy Live blog.

For future discussions of Air-Sea Battle, nerds like me (and you) now have plenty to discuss. Examples ranging from overlapping, integration of multiple capabilities provided by the US Army, US Navy, and US Air Force in providing air defense coverage of the Persian Gulf highlights the defensive utility of the Air-Sea Battle Concept in action, just as Operation Odyssey Dawn - the military action against Libya in 2011 (that RADM Foggo was directly involved in btw) - highlights the offensive utility of the Air-Sea Battle Concept. It is not every day recent exercises involving US Army Apache helicopters operating from US Navy ships is discussed in a Congressional hearing, but Air-Sea Battle Concept isn't an every day type of discussion.

For the first hour of the hearing, through statements, questions, and answers Air-Sea Battle Concept was defined and explained in thorough detail to those interested in the intellectual explanation of a joint, complex military concept. In the future, critics of Air-Sea Battle who missed this hearing can be dismissed outright as ignorant, because critics who actually paid attention to this hearing are going to make much better arguments than they have in the past.

There are numerous examples of conversations within the hearing I could choose from to discuss, but this one has been on my mind:

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Gentlemen, thank you so much for joining us today. I appreciate you taking time to give us your perspectives on the AirSea Battle concept.

Brigadier General Killea, I'd like to go to you and get your perspective on the Marine Corps' role within that AirSea Battle concept. Looking at where we've been and where we're going with the size of our amphibious fleet as you know continues to be on the decline, the proposal is to retire early two more LSDs. How does the size of our amphibious fleet affect the Marine Corps ability to carry out its role in an AirSea Battle plan?


Thank you for that question, sir. That's a fantastic question and I think that goes to the collaboration that has to go on amongst the services within the AirSea Battle Office.

Once we identified the capabilities that we have and then the gaps are identified from that and then the services propose solutions to those gaps and the AirSea Battle Office will take those solutions and rack and stack them and then provide them an advocate, a capability's list that goes forward.

So if that capability's list includes additional amphibious shipping or something that could augment the capabilities of that amphibious shipping, that would come out of the functions and the process of the office.

But I think for the Marine Corps where we stand today with our amphibious shipping is actually on pretty good stead for the missions that we have for our focus -- for our forward presence in crises response and as we get into a major combat operation that would involve this kind of environment, then our participation with that is only going to be as good as we are pre-integrated with that joint force through the efforts that we've been talking about this morning. I hope that answers your question, sir.
As the US pivots to the Pacific, logistics is going to be important. The ability to maneuver forces to exploit the size of the region to ones advantage is also going to be critical in the next war in the Pacific, regardless of who the adversary is. I would like to see more discussion regarding the augmentation of amphibious forces, because while I don't think the Marine Corps needs to have the standing capability to assault with more than 1 MEB at a time, if the future United States is going to be truly expeditionary, the Marine Corps is going to need to be able to move as many MEBs as possible around theaters of battle.

The Army is not the expeditionary force, the Marine Corps is. A healthy discussion regarding how to increase the concurrent expeditionary nature of the Marine Corps is a conversation worth having. If one considers amphibious assault a tier I capability for moving expeditionary forces, and the ability to maneuver forces in permissive environments is a tier II capability, then I would like to see a 2:1 MEB ratio for the Marine Corps regarding Tier II/ Tier I concurrent maneuver capacity.

The MLP is as good a place as any to start.

For an example of what I am thinking... If a war was to break out on the Korean peninsula for any reason, the US Marine Corps may not need more than a single MEB capable of amphibious assault in that conflict. I'm not talking about reliving the Inchon landings, rather I am speaking directly to taking the various islands along the North Korean coastline that might have to be taken in support of choking off logistic lines at sea along the North Korean coast during war.

But there is another issue... the US might also need the ability to move large numbers of Marines into South Korea quickly, not necessarily in an assault posture, but in a permissive southern port with the ability to roll off the ship into the order of battle. That tier II level of capability is what the MLP is supposed to provide the Marine Corps, but with AFSBs and with a limited number of MLPs, one wonders how many Marines can be moved quickly.

I'd like to see more discussion regarding whether there is legitimate value for the Marine Corps to have fewer traditional amphibious ships and more non-tradiational expeditionary vessels. For example, can someone explain why 12 LHA/LHDs + 12 LPD-17s for 24 total amphibious ships wouldn't be enough amphibious assault capability if the Marine Corps also operated an additional 8 MLPs and 8 AFSBs? I think a legitimate conversation regarding the AoA for the LSD replacement is missing from the Marine Corps, because in my opinion, throwing the budget for high end amphibious ships at the Marine Corps holds less value than spreading that same money around on a greater capacity although reduced forcible entry capability. If we truly examine the way the Marine Corps is evolving in the 21st century, those 12 LHA/LHDs are a lot more important to the future battlefield than the ability to heavily lift a company of main battle tanks with LSDs during an amphibious assault.

At minimum, I'd like to see someone challenging the Marine Corps on the LSD(X) as a full amphibious platform instead of as a less expensive alternative that could be produced in multiple versions and greater numbers. The Marine Corps of 2013 is focused on preserving forcible entry, but I'd like to see more emphasis placed on expanding global capacity, particularly as it relates to more permissive environments around Africa where the nation has found itself needing Marines that can't be there because they don't have enough big, expensive amphibious ships to cover COCOM demand.

There was another moment during the hearing that took place about an hour and five minutes into the hearing that I want to highlight. While the hearing that clarified, explained, and defined the Air-Sea Battle Concept specifically was a necessary and worthy exercise for Congress, the strongest takeaway for me occurred when Chairmen Randy Forbes decided to ask a prepared question:

The gentleman from Texas is recognized for five minutes, Mr. (inaudible). Then if the gentleman has no questions, I have just three left, as I said, I deferred them until the end of -- the first one is since we understand that the Secretary of Defense released the Defense Strategic Guidance in January 2012, but as yet, an actual defense strategy has not been released, how is the department designing and executing operational concepts such as AirSea Battle in the absence of an actual defense strategy, in other words what defense strategy is the joint staff combatant commanders and service is using has the baseline to design operational concepts such as AirSea Battle?

And if a defense strategy does exist in your view, can you describe it for us and what formal document articulates it for the public?


Sir. Go ahead, if you like, Mike (ph).


So I just can say from the joint perspective -- for the view of the joint staff at this point, really, the focal point is far when you talk about force development activities which is really -- I think what we're talking about here. It is the defense strategic guidance. It is the 10 missions that are laid out there.

For example, we're talking about here the mission to defeat the Anti-Access Area Denial Challenge, to be able to address that and, but that's a precursor, if you will, or it's a foundational to all the other missions that we would be able to accomplish.


General, is it your thought that that guidance and -- how many pages was that guidance? Eleven?


I think -- yes, sir.


At 11 pages that that guidance was in fact are now, are National Defense Strategy?


No, sir. I mean, no -- that -- I think the strategy you said that's published is probably 2012 is the last strategy that's published.


OK. So we had a strategy in 2011, but the guidance has basically changed that strategy, has it not or -- I'm just asking. I'm not ...


That's a good question. I can't say it's fundamentally changed the strategy because the missions that it -- has outlined...


And maybe you can take that for the record. We don't want to put you on the spot. But one of the things we're wrestling with now is what's our strategy, you know, what -- we don't want to have a strategy that developments -- that develops based on our procurement policy.

We would prefer to have a strategy that we're doing our procurement after that, but at least for most of us sitting up here, we've had a rough time getting our arms around that or getting someone that can answer that for us, and I don't think we want to -- we feel comfortable relying on an 11 page guidance and saying that's our strategy. So if you guys would confer at some point in time and get back to us for the record on that, I think all of us would appreciate that.
When a Congressman asks four Generals and an Admiral what formal document articulates the military strategy for the public, and all five of the military leaders fail to articulate the military strategy for the public...

That's not good. In no way is the answer to the question Forbes is asking good enough. At the time it sounded humiliating, but it should have been a humbling experience for those military leaders.

In a world where military strategy matters, which should include the Air-Sea Battle shop one would think, the answer given in testimony should be embarrassing for the DoD, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, all the service Chiefs, and the Secretary of Defense. There is no other way to put it, that moment in the hearing Thursday is a reflection point in history that can and will be recited again and again in the future until such a time the question can be answered in front of Congress.

And for Congress - both the House and the Senate, this sad state of affairs regarding the absence of a military strategy that guides activities of the DoD is the result of Goldwater-Nichols. YOU Senator, and YOU Congressman, enabled this deficiency in strategic thinking, and it is up to you guys to fix it.

Overall, this was an informative hearing worth watching in the archived video if you missed it.

* I was unable to find an official online biography for Major General Gary H. Cheek, and considering the historic animosity for Air-Sea Battle by the US Army, I found that both ironic and amusing.

blog comments powered by Disqus

site stats