AirSeaLand Battle: Access Assured, Area Un-Denied

AirSeaLand Battle: Access Assured, Area Un-Denied

by Move Forward

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The allure of war fought from afar with missiles and airpower, few casualties, low costs, short duration, and a “mission complete” stable aftermath is a quest unrealizable due to adapting adversaries. 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.

Today, instead of effects-based operations, the new Holy Grail is called AirSea Battle.  This concept emphasizes threats from Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2/AD) missile, air, and sea attacks. The past AirLand Battle misstep was in name only, indirectly disparaging the sea service. However, nobody suggested the Navy or Marines lacked a major role in deterring or battling the Soviet Union. Neither were Navy funds nor force structure imperiled given President Reagan’s attempt at a 600-ship Navy.

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Move Forward is 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.

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"Move Forward is 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."

This article is so riddled with not only logical fallacies but also gross oversimplifications and errors that it pains one to read. It's possible the author has no experience evaluating Pacific defense matters, and one should give him a break for being an amateur.

First, thanks to the SWJ Editors who made many suggestions to improve the paper over about a month. It may seem like a parochially-impossible idea but in times of tight budgets, why pay large construction costs when a multi-story barracks and flight line already exists.

Bumperplate, the USS Tarawa is sitting in Pearl Harbor and has already been decommissioned. However, the CVN carriers are so much bigger and their elevation off the water and stationary nature would cut down on salt spray on Army and Marine aircraft. As each future CVN was retired, they could become "island" FOBs in a variety of places to eliminate sailing costs and have more force available in key locations. In this case, if they retired it prior to 2016 and used only reactor at a time, the power available might be sufficient to power the stationary FOB for years before diesel-electric generators were required.

The threat to a stationary carrier is obvious from the air. But with air defenses, jamming, obscurants, and a quick reaction plan, the idea is to get off the carrier rapidly given early warning. If they are going to dismantle it anyway, it doesn't matter much if it actually gets hit after the ship is abandoned onto the adjacent islands and bunkers. By being close to dispersed island helicopter LZs and objectives, the intertheater deployment burden is reduced. The high speed vessels would stay loaded and patrolling as would the LCS.

To me, it isn't substantially different from consolidation of Army forces in South Korea or Marine forces in Okinawa. It makes an attractive target but the idea is to disperse off that base before the fireworks commence.

So you disperse off the base and let it get hit? A carrier with fueled nuclear reactors isn't just a FOB that can be hit by some IDF, dusted off and move on. Destruction of a nuclear carrier, even an empty one, is a non-trivial event.

Regardless, anchoring a carrier in concrete is anathema to the entire reason we have these mobile airports.

I had a response to this piece in my outbox, but Bryan McGrath does a pretty good job of skewering it here:

Bottom line - although there are some nuggets of goodness in this piece (such as small ground forces working distributedly from the sea), most of the ground missions suggested by the author can be performed more adequately by forward deployed Marines, who, unlike the army, are comfortable embarking Navy ships for long periods and sustaining themselves ashore without a massive plus up from CONUS.

Bryan McGrath said:Note the defense of the 1/3 split without an accompanying strategic logic therefor./

AirSea asymmetric advantages already exist. Money diverted from asymmetric land power capabilities, results in excessive lost lives and limbs, and prolongs wars that actually occur beyond wargaming and speculative conflicts against near-peer foes deterred by MAD. Invaders hug invaded civilians, hide in urban and complex terrain, and use decoys. Unless the terrain in flat and open like Libya and Iraq, airpower then wastes enormous sortie quantities for relatively little ordnance dropped effectively. It would not be easy to differentiate between PLA and ROC forces on Taiwan. Even in Libya, 1851 strike sorties were flown with only 398 actually dropping ordnance. Land power forces targets into the open so joint forces can engage them in mutual exploitation and pursuit.

While watching part of the series “Carrier” a few years back, it was noted that over a 6 month tour in the Arabian Gulf in 2005, not a single bomb was dropped on anti-Iraq forces despite a PBS-cited 1100 sorties and 6,000 flight hours in support of OIF. Meanwhile, several carrier-crew equivalents in BCT force structure were on land fighting daily with many completing their second year-long deployments with many more to come in subsequent years.

The strategic logic of not cutting capabilities of light and armored land forces, MV-22, CH-47F, UH-60M, AH-64D, an OH-58D replacement, and Army UAS is their necessity to drive targets into the open, secure key terrain, and perform stability operations afterwards. The capability for intratheater flights and surface movement from any forward deployed location, be it Okinawa, the Philippines, Spratly Islands, Kuwait, an amphibious ship or CVN makes land power relevant within pre-hostility range of objectives like Taiwan, the Malacca Straits, and Iran to complicate attempted A2/AD interference….weak at best by Iran or North Korea. The adversary may be forced to speed up his invasion as we react to indications and warnings, thus making those intentions even more clear.

Taiwan hardly would turn away help as a mainland invasion was imminent. Sufficient standoff could be maintained from Chinese air defenses to fly to Taiwan. Missile-damage of Taiwan runways would be irrelevant to rotorcraft and airborne forces. Army/Marine local land presence to react in this manner deters the invasion of Taiwan, North Korea, Iraq (Kuwait bases), or hanky panky in the Spratly’s and other Philippine objectives.

China may have 1600 tactical ballistic missiles, which initially sounds impressive. However, divide those missiles amongst at least 160 important dispersed targets and the result is just ten missiles per target. Many of those would be destroyed by key-target missiles defenses meaning additional adversary missiles are required. Subsequently, fewer TBM remain to address lesser dispersed targets whose location isn’t even known. In contrast, the F-35 EODAS system and IR search and track could detect launching missiles and often be in proximity to engage them.

How much PLA ISR is available for multiple DF-21D targets and how long will those sensors and missile launchers survive? Against land targets, our jamming, and Chinese inertial navigation inaccuracy at extended range reduces missile effectiveness, assuming the target is where they think it is. Explosive power to destroy targets is questionable or temporary. Runways can be repaired. New aircraft can return to them. Nothing to see here comparable to the Soviet threat of yesteryear that never sent us running with tail between legs.

Bryan McGrath said: Additionally, the author again fails to remember that both the USN and the USAF have already drawn down over the past decade…Again—retaining force structure that was dramatically increased to fight wars from which we are withdrawing.

In many cases, Air and Seapower drawdowns have reflected the lack of a Soviet threat. There was no need for 750 F-15 replacements because that required capability only was essential against the Soviets. The Soviet Navy was equally the driving force for the never-realized or necessary 600-ship Navy.

The USAF and Navy also decided to choose fewer, more expensive, high tech systems to deal with a variety of unlikely or limited quantity threats. Because a nation has teens of modern fighters and a few advanced air defenses does not a viable threat make. If you have 2000+ stealth fighters and small UAS, 4,000 fourth gen fighters are unnecessary. In addition, trained pilots are more likely to remain in the reserve and retain their skills while flying commercially. Far less training is required to get a reserve or guard pilot up to speed vs. retraining a ground reserve/guard Soldier or Marine. The cost of active component pilots is also high in contrast to Army warrant officers. If you have three services flying H-60s, there is little reason to have two of them using nothing but commissioned officers and the one with the most pilots using less costly warrant officers.

Navy insistence on returning ships to stateside ports rather than flying replacement crews to join up at forward locations contributes to increased costs and force structure. Michael O’Hanlon specifically testified before Congress on this issue. If the Navy can split force structure of one Arleigh Burke between three LCS…and augment it with Soldiers and Marines for some duties…then all services retain complementary AirSeaLand capabilities. The Navy could continue to buy three LCS instead of additional destroyers as CNAS advocates, and far more HSV instead of the troublesome LPD. This would further disperse endangered Army and Marine force structure, reduce crew size, and cover more combatant commander missions. Most rogue state adversaries have incapable Air and Naval Forces compared to China’s PLAN. China does not want to fight us and give up their cash cow and risk nuclear escalation.

Last year, I attended my E-6 Sailor nephew’s wedding who at the time had nearly a decade in the Navy and a single Virginia-class deployment under his belt. He was a nuclear instructor, and when we toured Norfolk Naval Base at the time, the tour guide was a carrier E-6 deck hand who was performing those duties because three CVNs were in port.

Hundreds of thousands of Soldiers have multiple year-long combat tours under their belts with more expected. Any increase in Army force structure and decrease in other services was merely an equalizing attempt…and to be sure many Sailors and Airmen have done their part. But the fact that one service MUST endure 12-month tours to meet the requirement while 6-month tours for Airmen and Sailors gets the job done indicates a disparity in force structure numbers.

Frequent deployments will continue dealing with other Islamic extremism, stateless terrorists, and rogue state conflicts that inevitably emerge instead of the near-peer wars that never materialize due to MAD and mutual economic interdependence. Land forces in the U.S. frequently deploy to combat training centers during the ARFORGEN process. Other local field training exercises continue. They are not sitting in garrison unoccupied. Expanded presence near the Philippines would further increase their deployments and it has already been announced that many forces will be in Kuwait and others in Afghanistan beyond 2014.

Bryan McGrath said: 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?

Between 1972 and 1990, U.S. ground forces were winning the Cold War in Europe and U.S. Stingers and other aid were defeating the Soviets in Afghanistan as payback for Vietnam. Near-peer states do not fight each other due to the specter of nuclear war. They fight surrogate wars and deterrence stand-offs that inevitably include land power as a component. The timeframe between 1991 and 2001 was only a decade in Army math. Also, unmentioned is that genocide was precluded in the Balkans, not by a 78-day air war in 1999, but by years of hard peacekeeping work and deterrence on the ground. When was the last major battle between sea forces? 1950?

All joint forces are important. However, it is disingenuous to say the sky is falling in the air and on the sea against a highly improbable adversary when experience and their technology level says otherwise, while ground force experience DOES demonstrate an enemy able/willing to fight guerilla war head-to-head with essential boots on the ground while successfully hiding from airpower.

Thanks for the link. I routinely read InformationDissemination but had missed it today.

How many U.S. naval ships have been sunk in the past 30 years? The only ones I know of were purposely scuttled in target practice or to create artificial reefs. What a waste and AirSea Battle exaggeration of threats to naval and air assets. How many nations have 11 carriers, many of which sit in ports? How many will have stealth aircraft operating off not one but two carrier types and Guam with 500+ aerial refuelers available? How many nations have 20 stealth bombers and many others that can fire JASSM-ER? How about sub-launched cruise missiles in U.S. numbers? How many nations have 186 aircraft comparable to the F-22? How many nations have our land and sea-based air defense capabilities or sub quality and numbers?

Now look at those adversaries and admit that there is no other such nation. The sole ones that come close are deterred by our nuclear weapons. And you want to fly more stealthy bombers over those nations because of secondary invasions? When does landpower get its asymmetric advantage?

The point is, Air and Seapower is so far ahead of any potential foe that the only Anti-Access/Area Denial threat lies in the minds of untested Sailors and Airmen. You have done your job so well that no other nation can afford to match your capabilities...they don't even try. Instead they create stealth aircraft wannabes with pilots untested in combat.

Guess the bulk of his flawed argument is apparent in this statement:

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.

The Army has perfectly adequate Patriot and THAAD missiles providing air control. They have Stinger missiles for other uses. Armored vehicles and bunkers shrug off unguided naval gunfire and dumb air-dropped bombs by pilots who get few hours to practice and even fewer bombs to drop. Recall that servicemembers of all four services are accustomed to inbound at their land-based FOBs, and they are not a primary casualty sources. I would wager counterbattery fire would work pretty well against naval gunfire as well. If other countries can jam our GPS, I would imagine we can jam theirs?

If the landpower is already in theater, air and seapower does not need to project it...they already have forward presence access assured and area un-denied. They DO need to project additional forces but those are assets that are generally pushed aside as secondary priorities, such as cargo aircraft, despite the fact that the C-17 has contributed far more to current wars than the F-22. Airborne and air assault assets can land virtually unencumbered on the southeast side of Taiwan even if a Chinese invasion was under way. An Apache would devastate attempts by Chinese landing craft. CH-47D, UH-60M, and MV-22 would carry thousands of Marines and Soldiers onto Taiwan before China's PLA had a firm grasp and while TBM were inbound. Talk about mobile insurgents.

The Army originally intended to buy five joint high speed vessels of its own but the Navy kindly agreed to perform that function for the Army. So are you saying that prior to the start of any Taiwan invasion, the Chinese Navy will seek out high speed vessels to sink preemptively? Would they not do the same to a more valuable LHA or LPD...or CVN for that matter that do not have concrete surrounding them? Does that not cue the airborne and air assault forces and Guam F-22w/F-35s/B-2 to start their journey? Will the Marine subsequently start en route from Okinawa?

There must be a start to any war and my bet is a Chinese PLA and PLAN does not have the experience to synchrnonize undetected subterfuge...and they like selling us stuff, too, so the biggest non-surprise would be the end of two-way trade and honored debt instruments with China.

The Taiwan Army would happily supply us with jet fuel, Hellfires (seems I read they want Block III Apache) and other essentials and I offered a stealthy C-130 variant as an resupply alternative...again it comes down to priorities, misplaced parochial and correctly joint. Other landing craft such as LCU with sea-based LCS counter-sub support would also provide support. Something tells me that with F-35 escorts, even C-17 and C-130 jocks would perform airdrop with a mountain range protecting them from S-300s on the mainland.

Over the horizon UHF radars that I've seen pictures of in APA's site look like they would survive only a matter of hours. Why do you presuppose that a country that cannot even adequately backward engineer Russian engines would suddenly be experts in aerial ISR that F-22s and F-35s cannot shoot down? Perhaps you noticed that I defended the stealth TACAIR assets and use of conventional bombers to strike shore targets. Those are the guilty parties in any invasion...not the effects-based operations targets that cause collateral damage. But per Daniel Goure's Early Warning article, why doesn't the Navy have better mines to use on Chinese harbors. Wouldn't that end the war rather rapidly sans the costly stealth bombers that won't survive air-to-air once detected.

I would agree that the new "way forward" as espoused by CNAS and similar agencies will come to bite us in the rear end. Might we endure another TF Smith? I don't know, but it would not be surprising. Since I'm in a position to be one of those on a future TF that may be compromised from the constraint of doing less with less, I'm a bit angry about that COA.

Most likely, to me, is that our reduced capabilities, reduced ability to respond, and reduced willingness at the political levels to take action lead to conditions that do further damage to us economically. In our haste to save, we will set the conditions that cause us to lose more.

Rather than an aircraft carrier turned FOB, I think it makes more sense to have more port visits, more drop-anchor time and a bit less flying while these air wings are on deployment. That will save millions per deployment. Bring a ship out of moth balls to execute such a "FOB", which I don't think is a terrible idea, other than the fact that it's now a ship that doesn't sail. The savings from a slightly reduced OPTEMPO by these air wings will pay for the establishment of FOBs that you speak of. That presence then allows reduced OPTEMPO and expenses for these air wings, yet we retain their capabilities and presence, and importantly that relatively new carrier is still ready to execute its wartime mission.

I don't work for the CBO, I don't crunch the numbers or see the numbers but I'd have to believe that when infantry squads and platoons are having to call in two birds for CAS, two birds for an AWT just to pursue a fire team-sized enemy element, then surely we can identify a better way. Such expensive engagements are not helping us greatly from a tactical or fiscal approach. When these aircraft are consuming an E4's two week paycheck every minute or so, obviously there's a better way to go. But, because that fuel and those aircraft don't require TRICARE, I guess it's ok.

I guess the bottom line is that the almighty dollar has now become the key strategic player, taking the role of both friend and foe. While fiscal concerns are legitimate, allowing the ledger to write doctrine, policy, and strategy is not a recipe for success and will likely be a recipe for failure.