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Resourcing the AirSea Battle Concept

Dorsett also observed that while China has been expanding and modernizing its military, it has not demonstrated the ability “to become operationally proficient in a joint warfighting, sophisticated combat environment.”

Dorsett said what most concerned him “is China’s focus and attention on trying to develop capabilities to dominate in the electromagnetic spectrum, to conduct counter-space capabilities, and clearly, to conduct cyber activities.”

China has declared its intent to master cyber warfare and is widely suspected of having used cyber capabilities to penetrate U.S. and other Western nations’ networks to steal technology and to cause minor disruptions.

China also is known to be developing both kinetic and electronic counter-space capability, which it demonstrated by destroying one of its own satellites with a land-launched missile in 2009 and temporarily blinding a U.S. satellite with a ground-based laser in 2006.

Those capabilities could enable Beijing to nullify, or at least reduce, America’s ability to use space-based assets to collect intelligence, communicate over vast distances, and employ GPS-guided weapons.

The potential threat of China’s military modernization drew an unusually direct notice Feb. 8 from Washington, D.C., which has tried to downplay the notion of Beijing as a likely adversary.

The X-47B's first flight at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., Feb. 4, 2011. A future Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) system would be able to strike targets far beyond the range of current Navy aircraft. Northrop Grumman photo by Bobbi Zapka

The X-47B’s first flight at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., Feb. 4, 2011. A future Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) system would be able to strike targets far beyond the range of current Navy aircraft. Northrop Grumman photo by Bobbi Zapka

The new National Military Strategy said: “We remain concerned about the extent and strategic intent of China’s military modernization, and its assertiveness in space, cyberspace, in the Yellow Sea, East China Sea, and South China Sea.”

The Pentagon’s fiscal year 2012 budget statement said the department had to be “cognizant of rising peer competitors,” which everyone assumes means China.

The CSBA report, written by a quartet of retired military officers and former Pentagon analysts, welcomed the Schwartz-Roughead agreement to develop an AirSea strategy to counter the Chinese threat.

The Navy had already ramped up the UCLASS program last year, adding $2 billion to its long-range budget. The aircraft, which is expected to have advanced stealth capability, would build on the Navy’s ongoing X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System Demonstration (UCAS-D) program. The stealthy X-47 had its first test flight Feb. 4, and is expected to begin testing the ability to operate a fighter-size drone from a carrier in 2013.

But, it argued, a successful counter would require U.S. forces to withstand the initial attacks with minimal losses, to launch kinetic and non-kinetic attacks to blind China’s battle networks and to suppress its long-range ISR and strike capabilities, then to seize the initiative in the air, sea, space, and cyber domains.

To do that, the authors said, the U.S. military would have to begin investing heavily in long-endurance, penetrating ISR and strike capabilities, aerial tankers, forward base hardening, the combat logistics force, and directed energy weapons for missile defense. The current focus, they noted, is on short-range tactical aircraft and other systems geared to the present counterinsurgency operations against low-tech irregular adversaries.

In addition, U.S. air bases in Japan, South Korea, and Guam must be hardened to withstand ballistic missile attacks and protected by land- and ship-based missile defense systems and dispersal bases created on islands such as Tinian and Saipan.

The U.S. Air Force and Navy also would have to develop new cooperative doctrine that utilizes their capabilities in unusual ways, such as Navy ballistic missile defense ships protecting Air Force bases, instead of their own battle groups, while Air Force bombers attack enemy surface ships and lay minefields to block the Chinese fleet. Although Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, both praised the Air Force-Navy agreement, so far, the response has been less than dramatic.

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