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The Air-Sea Battle Concept: Defense Strategic Guidance and JOAC

Part 3 of 4

President Barack H. Obama, Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin E. Dempsey jointly released the Defense Strategic Guidance at a Pentagon press conference on Jan. 5, 2012. Today, almost a year-and-a-half from this capstone publication’s release, the strategic environment envisioned in this document – and the roles for the U.S. military – has not changed. Simply stated, the Defense Strategic Guidance is the clearest articulation of where our military is going and what it must accomplish.

“This country is at a strategic turning point after a decade of war and, therefore, we are shaping a Joint Force for the future that will be smaller and leaner, but will be agile, flexible, ready, and technologically advanced. It will have cutting-edge capabilities, exploiting our technological, joint, and networked advantage.”

Obama’s statement in the opening pages of the Defense Strategic Guidance signals that the focus areas for the United States will be in the Pacific and the Middle East and North Africa, and highlights the U.S. foreign policy focus on a whole of government approach to meeting current and future national security challenges: “Meeting these challenges cannot be the work of our military alone, which is why we have strengthened all the tools of American power, including diplomacy and development, intelligence, and homeland security.”

Panetta’s statement emphasized the DoD‘s strategic shift to the regions of the Asia-Pacific and the Middle East, also noting: “This country is at a strategic turning point after a decade of war and, therefore, we are shaping a Joint Force for the future that will be smaller and leaner, but will be agile, flexible, ready, and technologically advanced. It will have cutting-edge capabilities, exploiting our technological, joint, and networked advantage.”

Air-Sea Battle Concept

U.S. Air Force Capt. Justin Pavoni, a 335th Fighter Squadron pilot, reviews pre-flight inspections manuals during Exercise Razor Talon on Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, N.C., Feb. 7, 2013. Razor Talon is a monthly, large force exercise and joint-unit training opportunity to employ cutting edge operational concepts such as Air-Sea Battle. U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Andy M. Kin

The Defense Strategic Guidance articulates ten missions the United States Military – the Joint Force – must accomplish in the future. It notes, “The Joint Force will need to recalibrate its capabilities and make selective additional investments,” to succeed in ten missions.”

  • Counter Terrorism and Irregular Warfare
  • Deter and Defeat Aggression
  • Counter Weapons of Mass Destruction
  • Operate Effectively in Cyberspace and Space
  • Maintain a Safe, Secure, and Effective Nuclear Deterrent
  • Defend the Homeland and Provide Support to Civil Authorities
  • Provide a Stabilizing Presence
  • Conduct Stability and Counterinsurgency Operations

Beyond these ten critical missions for our Joint Force, this short (eight-page!) Defense Strategic Guidance tells us that the focus areas for the United States will be in the Pacific and the Middle East and North Africa.

The United States is also investing in a long-term strategic partnership with India to support its ability to serve as a regional economic anchor and provider of security in the broader Indian Ocean region.

The publication goes on to provide some of the why behind the United States now having these two “strategic anchors,” noting, in part, “Our relationships with Asian allies and key partners are critical to the future stability and growth of the region…The United States is also investing in a long-term strategic partnership with India to support its ability to serve as a regional economic anchor and provider of security in the broader Indian Ocean region…Furthermore, we will maintain peace on the Korean Peninsula by effectively working with allies and other regional states to deter and defend against provocation from North Korea, which is actively pursuing a nuclear weapons program…the growth of China’s military power must be accompanied by greater clarity of its strategic intentions in order to avoid causing friction in the region.”

Indian Navy

U.S. Navy sailors assigned to the guided-missile destroyer USS Halsey (DDG 97) wave at passing Indian Navy ships during exercise Malabar 2012, April 16, 2012. Halsey was participating in Malabar, a scheduled naval field training exercise conducted to advance multinational maritime relationships and mutual securities with the Indian Navy. The U.S. is investing in a long-term strategic partnership with India. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Christopher Farrington

Importantly, however, the Defense Strategic Guidance does not suggest any abandonment of United States long-term interests in the Central Command Area of Responsibility, noting, for example, “In the Middle East, the Arab Awakening presents both strategic opportunities and challenges. Regime changes, as well as tensions within and among states under pressure to reform introduce uncertainty for the future…We will continue to place a premium on U.S. and allied military presence in the Middle East.”

“Increasingly capable future enemies will see the adoption of an anti-access/area-denial strategy against the United States as a favorable course of action for them.”

As noted in the beginning of this post, the Defense Strategic Guidance flows down to the Joint Operations Access Concept – the JOAC – and the connection between Air-Sea Battle: Service Collaboration to Address Anti-Access & Area Denial Challenges and the JOAC is strong. As the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, puts it in the Foreword of the JOAC.

The Joint Operational Access Concept (JOAC) describes in broad terms my vision for how joint forces will operate in response to emerging anti-access and area-denial security challenges. Due to three major trends – the growth of anti-access and area-denial capabilities around the globe, the changing U.S. overseas defense posture, and the emergence of space and cyberspace as contested domains – future enemies, both states and non-states, see the adoption of anti-access/ area-denial strategies against the United States as a favorable course of action for them.

Air-Sea Battle Concept

F/A-18 Hornets from the U.S Navy and Royal Australian Air Force fly together in formation near Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, Feb. 12, 2013, in support of exercise Cope North 13. Cope North is an annual air combat tactics, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief exercise designed to increase the readiness and interoperability of the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Navy, Japan Air Self-Defense Force and Royal Australian Air Force. U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Matthew Bruch

This important sixty-plus page document goes on to note how, “Increasingly capable future enemies will see the adoption of an anti-access/area-denial strategy against the United States as a favorable course of action for them. The ability to ensure operational access in the future is being challenged – and may well be the most difficult operational challenge U.S. forces will face over the coming decades.” And the JOAC goes on to firmly tee up what ASB covers in more detail:

Recognizing that anti-access/area-denial capabilities present a growing challenge to how joint forces operate, the Secretary of Defense directed the Department of the Navy and the Department of the Air Force to develop the Air-Sea Battle Concept. The intent of Air-Sea Battle is to improve integration of air, land, naval, space, and cyberspace forces to provide combatant commanders the capabilities needed to deter and, if necessary, defeat an adversary employing sophisticated anti-access/area-denial capabilities.

It focuses on ensuring that joint forces will possess the ability to project force as required to preserve and defend U.S. interests well into the future. The Air-Sea Battle Concept is both an evolution of traditional U.S. power projection and a key supporting component of U.S. national security strategy for the 21st century. However, it is important to note that Air-Sea Battle is a limited operational concept that focuses on the development of integrated air and naval forces in the context of anti-access/area-denial threats. The concept identifies the actions needed to defeat those threats and the materiel and non-materiel investments required to execute those actions.

Air-Sea Battle Concept

A U.S. Air Force F-16 and B-52 fly a mission over the Pacific Ocean in support of Exercise Cope North 2012, Anderson Air Force Base, Guam, Feb. 16, 2012. The development of increasingly sophisticated Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2/AD) weapons will change how commanders respond. U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Asha Kin

There are three key components of Air-Sea Battle designed to enhance cooperation within the Department of the Air Force and the Department of the Navy. The first component is an institutional commitment to developing an enduring organizational model that ensures formal collaboration to address the anti-access/area-denial challenge over time. The second component is conceptual alignment to ensure that capabilities are integrated properly between services. The final component is doctrinal, organizational, training, materiel, leadership and education, personnel, and facilities initiatives developed jointly to ensure they are complementary where appropriate, redundant when mandated by capacity requirements, fully interoperable, and fielded with integrated acquisition strategies that seek efficiencies where they can be achieved.

All this said, it is clear that in the eighteen months between the publication of the Joint Operations Access Concept and publication of Air-Sea Battle: Service Collaboration to Address Anti-Access & Area Denial Challenges Air-Sea Battle has become much more than a Navy-Air Force cooperation mechanism. But if the JOAC and ASB leave readers wanting, it is because they are non-specific in identifying the source of the A2/AD threat. Perhaps this is not politic in a government document. In the next post, however, we will look to sources outside of government that do name names.

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Captain George Galdorisi is a career naval aviator. He began his writing career in 1978...