Small Wars Journal


The Next Warm War: How History’s Anti-Access/Area Denial Campaigns Inform the Future of War

Tue, 01/14/2020 - 12:26am
The anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) campaign underway in the South China Sea is but one example of A2/AD being employed as a military strategy throughout history. A2/AD is defined as a strategy designed to bar an adversary’s entry to or occupation of a theater of operations and is most effectively utilized by a military when confronting a stronger adversary. A2/AD has become one of the most talked about issues in military policy circles today, but is by no means a new concept: the Yom Kippur War, the Cold War, and even the Civil War saw one (or both) sides incorporating the ideas of A2/AD.

About the Author(s)

Why Operational Access is No Revolution

Tue, 04/03/2012 - 9:05pm

Peter J. Munson and Nathan K. Finney argue at Adam Elkus's Rethinking Security blog that there is nothing revolutionary about the anti-access/area denial problem.


Militaries have always had the requirement to be able to project power into areas where access and the freedom to conduct operations were challenged.  The capabilities this concept discusses are nothing new.  The unmatched capabilities of the U.S. military in recent years, however, have created a conceptual environment where the traditional concerns of operational art and strategy – that being how to balance significant risks to the force against the requirement to attain ends determined by political masters – have receded from the institutional memory and even imagination.  These concerns have been replaced by those of postmodern warfare:  first seeking to mitigate every last friendly casualty, second improving the precision and narrowing the effects of our fires in order to avoid civilian casualties – but not at the cost of the first imperative (e.g., a drone delivered low-yield precision-guided weapon over a well-aimed bullet), and third seeking transformational socio-political change rather than domination within the limits of the first two constraints. While these points may be seen as a bit of a caricature or at least an anomaly guided by the experiences of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, it is of critical importance that we delineate whether we expect to operate in an A2/AD environment under similar constraints, presumably driven by limited levels of national commitment, or if we expect that we will forgo limited interventions when faced with such a threat and only contemplate a much higher level of warfare and national investment.

 Here, it is important to remember the A2/AD environments of the past.  We can fast forward past the innovations that brought the Persians to Europe and the Greeks to Asia, that propelled various European powers across the seas and the steppes, and the asymmetric development of firearms and armor to get to some more familiar examples.  Can we truly say that any A2/AD threat faced today or in the mid-term is truly more robust than the aviation, surface, and subsurface patrols that sought to deny American access to the European or Pacific theaters?  Can we say that today’s cyber challenges present a more daunting task than crossing the open ocean the air or on the sea with only a wet compass and perhaps celestial navigation? Was the island-hopping campaign of the Pacific or the assault on Normandy any less daunting of an A2/AD challenge both from the loss of aircraft carriers and troop ships in the blue water to the incomprehensibly deadly fire at the water line?  Are distributed operations with the aid of advanced communications and navigation more challenging than the maneuver of massive sea-landed, aviation, and airborne forces based almost solely on a single plan?  Finally, are current and prospective threat weapons any more asymmetric or smart than the Kamikaze planes that targeted ships in the Pacific or the fanatical Nazi storm troopers that defended the beachheads of Europe? 

There is more at Elkus's blog.