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  • Air-Sea Battle: The Other Future
    Posted by Bill Sweetman 5:17 AM on May 20, 2010

    Tuesday morning, the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments presented its report on the "air-sea battle" on Capitol Hill, introduced by  Sens. Joe Lieberman and John Thune. The report and associated presentation are worth a detailed read. Let's just say that the ideas are far reaching and suggest a future for the US military that's very different from its "boot centric" present.

    The air-sea battle idea raises some fundamental questions. The biggest, certainly, is that of the approach of the US and its allies to China.

    ASB concepts can be applied to conflict with Iran and a few other remote hypotheses, but it really makes no sense except in the context of China - and a lot of people are going to respond, immediately, that nobody wants to go to war with China.

    That's entirely true - but it doesn't make you a warmongering lunatic if you argue that war with China should be considered or even prepared for. The modernization of the Chinese armed forces is undeniable, and the opposite side of the no-war argument is that China faces no significant threat to its population or territory and has no foreign alliances to defend.

    I am no China scholar, but have read enough recently to start seeing what people see in the works of Sun Tzu and other strategists: that the Chinese tradition in the use of force is complex and focuses on prevailing without fighting. The CSBA talks about the "Finlandization" of East Asia - a term I hadn't heard in decades - and one former CSBA analyst talks about the "Suez moment":  a point in the future where the US realizes that it has no power to halt or influence an action from Beijing.

    If then it does make sense to build military strength that would secure the independence, and freedom of action, of other countries in the Asia-Pacific region, the ASB is an important concept.

    From reading the CSBA report, too, it's clear that the ASB could imply some big changes in US planning. The Navy is already headed in that direction, in many ways:  increasing its emphasis on missile defense, looking at development of an anti-surface-warfare missile, looking to P-8As as missile platforms and Global Hawks and carrier-based UAVs for targeting.

    ASB means bigger changes in direction for the USAF, with an emphasis on long-range strike:  in the Asia-Pacific context, a 650-mile tactical fighter range circle doesn't buy you very much, particularly if land bases are under missile attack. The CSBA's forthcoming report on long-range strike will be interesting, because it will take a look at a family of systems:  UAVs and space assets for targeting and BDA, cruise missiles and bombers.

    Cyber-warfare and space operations are also important, and ASB requires some consideration of what happens if satellites are impaired:  you certainly don't want a situation where you are space-dependent and your adversary is not. In the cyber domain, if you really want to be a hawk, you could make the case that the first shots in the ASB were fired a few years ago, as the "advanced persistent threat" - in plain English, hacking directed by Chinese national interests - started to be detected in the US defense enterprise.

    What there is not much of in the ASB is land or amphibious warfare. There simply are not that many places where it's needed.

    As the CSBA parallels studies being done in the Pentagon - both of the ASB and long-range strike - we can expect an interesting debate in the coming months and years.

    Tags: ar99, csba, usaf, navy

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