Asia Get Ready: Is This China’s Vision of Future Aircraft Carrier Designs?

The Buzz

A high-caliber model manufacturer may just have provided a unique glimpse into the Chinese vision of aircraft carriers to come.

To stimulate discussion in China-watching circles, it is useful to assess the commercial enterprise’s three new indigenous carrier models (more pictures are available on my personal homepage here) critically and consider their possible significance before watching for other indicators of how things will ultimately unfold in reality. At very least, this offers a great solution for last-minute holiday gift shopping.

The dimensions and specifications of China’s first aircraft carrier CV16 (Liaoning) are well-known. Based on the Russian Project 11436 hull Varyag, it was long visible under refitting in Dalian Naval Shipyard before finally going to sea in 2011.

Now Jinshuai Model Crafts, based in Zhanjiang City, Jiashan District, is displaying models of putative hulls 17, 18, and 19 on its website and catalogs. These models provide clues to a vital question: what direction will China’s domestic aircraft carrier design and production take? In short, the models suggest: China will progress as quickly as possible to a large nuclear-powered design, similar to a Nimitz- or Ford-class hull with Chinese characteristics, and let deck aviation capabilities grow into the gargantuan new platform as they become able to do so.

Why take the time to analyze these depictions seriously? First, while other models have appeared, to this author’s knowledge this is the first representation of hulls 17-19. The idea of a trio is particularly interesting, because various Chinese sources have described CV16 as merely a training carrier, while stating that China needs at least three fully-functional aircraft carriers. According to People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Academy of Military Science Research Fellow Du Wenlong, this is so that “one is always available for operational missions, while the second is used for training and the third is resupplied and retrofitted.” Second, Jinshuai Model Crafts purports to be a cut above the rest. Located near the South Sea Fleet Headquarters in Zhanjiang, it produces a wide range of meticulously detailed models of PLA Navy (PLAN) vessels. The company claims to have produced models given as official gifts by PLA attachés, for fleet visits, and in conjunction with naval diplomacy in the Gulf of Aden—something that would seem to require a track record of at least somewhat passable plausibility. Finally, this company would seem to have an economic incentive to maximize sales by offering the most accurate and forward-looking items possible. It likely has access to contacts and information to help ensure that its representations of platforms are as realistic as possible, particularly in their broader parameters. Where the model builder may be “winging it” a bit with these aircraft carrier models concerns associated weapons systems, sensors, and aircraft. Here, their description is less than official and appears to be influenced by Internet speculation.

Explicit caveat up front: Unless otherwise stated, specifications for weapons and sensors listed below are not from the models themselves, but from nameplates accompanying models of CV17 and CV18. Nameplate data regarding overall carrier dimensions and performance parameters are plausible, but nameplate data regarding weapons and sensors are often inconsistent with what is depicted on the model. These nameplate data are nevertheless included here to offer grist for further discussion and analysis. That is the larger purpose of this writing: not to offer conclusions that go beyond the limited and sometimes contradictory paraphernalia marketed by Jinshuai Model Crafts thus far, but rather to stimulate deeper examination of China’s ongoing development of a highly complex, symbolic system of systems for the seas and air above them.

Like Liaoning, CV17 also has a ski jump. The nameplate accompanying the model cites a length of 315 m, width of 75 m, draft of 9 m, and cruising speed of 31 knots. CV17 is credited with a standard displacement of 65,000 tons and a full displacement of 80,000 tons. These figures seem plausible.

Rather than representing a mere Chinese copy of the Project 11437 Ul’yanovsk-class-derived carrier, however, CV17’s smokestack shape and exhaust stack arrangement suggests a transition to all gas turbines, or even a diesel/gas turbine combination, instead of nuclear reactors and steam turbines. In another sign of intended design improvements, the model boasts a hydrodynamic projected bulbous bow.

One curiosity in the CV17 model is its incorporation of both a ski-jump and two catapults. While certainly odd from a U.S. perspective, this is not completely outlandish and even makes some sense for China’s “narrow-the-gap-from-behind-” or, ideally, “catch up-” style development of carrier operations. Such a setup could offer a platform for pilots to start working on catapult launches before transitioning to a full-up flattop carrier. Additionally, the relative position of indicated catapult tracks (dark red lines) and related blast deflectors really do not make sense. This might be attributed to a lack of knowledge on the model builder’s part.

Far less clear are the associated systems. Roughly 70 carrier-based aircraft are posited: J-15 fighters, Ka-28 airborne early warning (AEW) helicopters, Z-9 anti-submarine warfare (ASW) utility helicopters, Z-8 transport helicopters, and Ka-31 early warning helicopters. The following items of weaponry are listed: 4 sets of 24 Red Flag [HQ]-16 anti-aircraft missiles, the FL12000 short-range air defense missile-artillery close-in air defense system (sea-based Red Flag [HQ]-10 and -1130), four 30 mm automatic guns, three 12-tube anti-submarine, anti-torpedo launchers, and seven chaff rocket launchers. The exact weapons fit needs to be taken with a grain of salt, but a multi-layer air defense fit is consistent with the Project 11437 design. Also, it is puzzling to see weapons with export designator names mixed in, though it is not inconceivable that China could use them with the indigenous designation being unknown.

It is with the CV18 model that things really get interesting. Advertised as an “indigenously produced nuclear-powered aircraft carrier,” the catapult-equipped flattop closely resembles the U.S. Ford class in configuration, with a similar hull layout and the island far back. Yet there are also echoes of the Nimitz class, familiar to me through my nine days delivering lectures and briefings aboard the flagship USS Nimitz (CVN 68) in April 2013. As with the CV17 model, the positions of the blast deflectors and catapult positions on CV18 can be attributed to a lack of knowledge by the model builder.

This hull is 330 m long and 76 m wide (no draft is given). Standard displacement is 88,000 tons, full displacement is 101,800 tons. All these parameters are similar to those Jane’s gives for both Nimitz and Ford. Nimitz carriers are 332.9 m long and 76.8 m wide, Ford carriers 332.8 m long and 78.0 m wide; the actual deck dimensions are similar. Broadly speaking, CV18’s listed speed, hull form, and reactors are a bit closer to Nimitz’s, while the exterior depicted in the model is a closer to that of the Ford-class. Given China’s penchant for foreign technology collection, copying, incorporation, and multi-source emulation, this may well not be coincidental.

Here is how the model shop imagines China will exploit atomic power and move from CVs to CVNs: Two pressurized water reactors will provide nuclear propulsion. Each reactor drives two sets of main turbines, for a total of four turbines, which connect with four shafts delivering 260,000 hp. One turbine per shaft is conservative, but consistent with U.S. practice.

Total power is 194 megawatts (MW)—presumably not thermal output, but power after all inefficiencies are accounted for; cruising speed 33 knots. This implies the ability to cruise as fast as Nimitz on 15MW less power. This seems optimistic, though theoretically plausible, given the model’s somewhat-lower-drag bow. Puzzlingly, however, whereas the Ford’s bow represents the latest in civilian hydrodynamics—not just bulbous and projecting, but also tipping up—CV18’s bow more closely resembles Liaoning (Project 11436)’s style than CV17’s.

There are also four sets of emergency diesel engines for a total of 8MW. China has considerable experience with low-RPM diesels through its civilian merchant ship production. Implementing this in practice would make CV18-19 the first hulls of only the second class in the world to have both a nuclear power and a conventional propulsion plant arrangement, the existing example being the Russian Kirov class.

In a sign that the model shop may be trying to fill blank space, and orders, CV18’s ~70 carrier-based aircraft are identical to CV17’s, with the following exceptions. Attack UAVs are added, while Ka-31 early warning helicopters are eliminated, presumably because more-advanced JZY-01 airborne warning and control system (AWACs) aircraft can take off from the flat deck. On the actual CV18 model itself, the relevant aircraft on the flight deck has two engines and is consistent with the JZY-01. This aircraft might in theory be outfitted with a smaller variant of the KJ-2000’s active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar.

Weaponry listed on the CV18 model’s nameplate is similar to that on CV17’s: 6 sets of 30 mm single-tube artillery, four sets of HHQ-10 point defense missiles, and—somewhat speculatively—four sets of laser anti-missile systems. However, only two sets of HHQ-10 are actually seen on the model, on the forward sponsons. The model clearly shows the same Gatling gun installation as on Liaoning with four H/PJ-14 or the Type 1130. Electronic equipment listed on the nameplate includes a “battle of chaff induced injection device” and a SLQ29 radar warning and jamming system. The last is puzzling, as it is an old U.S. Cold War era system. Perhaps the model shop’s designers needed to add one last detail in time for holiday orders?

As for the model of CV19, it appears identical to that of CV18. The goal seems to be to develop a “Ford class with Chinese characteristics,” and then build additional hull(s).

Weighing the Evidence

There are problems with these models—and particularly their nameplates, to be sure, but the models do suggest a development path. A design concept appears to be gelling that incorporates three elevators, point defenses, and moving the island aft. Jinshuai Model Crafts’ rendition of CV17 resembles a plausible embodiment of a near-term Chinese effort to surpass the Project 11436 class with indigenous effort, particularly with regard to the propulsion plant and bow shape. CV18 and 19, by contrast, appear to be aspirational: an extrapolation based on what China likely wants to do in the future. To paraphrase paramount leader Xi Jinping, this is the “Chinese carrier dream.” And in today’s China, such dreams sell both Party politics and ship models. But even Chinese possession of specific carrier plans is no guarantee of success. Depending on how CV17 actually proceeds and what Chinese naval architects and shipbuilders learn in the process, CV18 and CV19 could end up quite different in reality—different by design.

Developing a Sino-Ford class would require a great leap forward for elements of Chinese naval architecture and engineering. Bending metal and developing the characteristic hull should be well within the means of China’s shipbuilding industry, but reactors are a different story altogether. While it has made tremendous advances in recent years, and has closed the gap with Russia in key areas, China remains behind in propulsion, metallurgy, and certain specialized physical manufacturing processes. Beijing can import French and German diesels and Ukrainian gas turbines for its navy, but must build naval nuclear reactors on its own. This imposes serious limitations. Most civilian technology is not directly applicable: land-based power plant cores are far too large for confined ship spaces. Case in point: the high-temperature gas-cooled reactors (HTGCR) on which Chinese experts have conducted substantial research require far greater volume for a given power rating than water-based reactors. Additionally, highly-enriched fuel is essential for long core life.

To power such a large ship, at the listed maximum speed, with only two reactors requires an increase in power by about a factor of five or six—a non-trivial increase given that nuclear power plants on surface ships remain volume-limited. Still buying foreign designs for its civilian power sector, China has not yet developed, much less demonstrated, naval nuclear reactors of the required size, density, and overall capability.

The Way Ahead?

If the model shop’s projections are—broadly—reasonable in aggregate, how might we expect China to build and develop these carriers?

Given its status as an improved version of CV16, CV17 would likely be produced in Dalian to capitalize on local experience and production synergies accumulated over several years ofVaryag’s extensive rebuilding into Liaoning. The timetable reported by a local Liaoning Province official suggests that production of CV17 is already underway. Of course, similar words from a PLAN official or shipyard manager would be more demonstrably authoritative. If CV17 production is indeed already underway in Dalian, grand block sections could be under development surreptitiously, but something too large to cover should soon become visible to foreign satellites. As of October 2014, however, Google Earth showed only merchant vessels in Dalian’s graving docks. In addition, nothing has appeared in any of the graving docks at Shanghai’s Changxing Island Shipyard. The facility has made a prototype cross-section similar in configuration to one seen from a Queen Elizabeth-class carrier. But the prototype hull section remains standing in the storage area in front of one of the docks. No additional work appears to have been done on it. Here, the shipyard, currently-out-of-place with respect to carrier production, appears intent to prove that it is capable too. Perhaps that is yet another sign that things will soon become more interesting for foreign observers of Dalian’s naval shipyard production.

A larger question concerns where the Sino-Ford class would be constructed. Given its cutting-edge new-build facilities and ample space for dedicated military production (in contrast to old, cramped Dalian), Shanghai’s Changxing Island looks promising. But wherever future Chinese nuclear-powered carrier(s) are constructed, their production will represent the first manufacturing of nuclear-powered vessels outside the Huludao submarine production facility on the Yellow Sea. Even if engineers from Huludao are dispatched to offer their expertise as Johnny Appleseeds of Chinese naval nuclear development, this will be a challenging new endeavor for China.

What This Might Mean

Beijing’s path to indigenous carrier development appears to be narrowing and firming up. The desired destination is clearer, even as the journey remains arduous, and the timeline and milestones uncertain. In its typical pattern of emulating and drawing on foreign designs, China appears to be going for the gold standard—the U.S. standard, that is—as quickly as reasonably possible. Top-tier must-haves appear to include American-size hulls, nuclear propulsion, catapults, and advanced wire arrestor gear. Developing new hulls and nuclear propulsion is the first step, improved aircraft can be added in later. As a self-styled great sea power, Beijing is determined to be second to none, even if much work remains to be done to truly get there.

In this regard, a U.S. naval aviator and scholar sounds a note of caution. “It is fascinating that China would throw resources at such ships,” Capt. Robert Rubel (USN-Ret.), former Dean of the Center for Naval Warfare Studies, U.S. Naval War College, told the author. “I know China can build ships more cheaply than the United States can, but such ships will nevertheless be extremely expensive up front, and even more so over time. Without a global naval strategy of exercising command of the sea like the United States has had, the large nuclear aircraft carrier does not have the same meaning to China as ours do to us. These ships may have occasional operational utility in responding to disasters and maybe intimidating to regional neighbors with which China has island and maritime claims disputes, but otherwise they seem to be an attempt to create prestige by cutting metal.”

With respect to these larger questions, the models themselves obviously cannot provide conclusive answers. Chinese shipbuilders and strategists alike have much to contemplate. Only time, and more authoritative data sources, will tell what their options are, and how they choose to exercise them. In the meantime, however, there’s at least one crystal-clear take away: if you haven’t finished your holiday shopping yet, click here immediately to peruse Jinshuai Model Crafts’ many offerings. Such commercial dynamism, which the Soviet Union never enjoyed in any form, may ultimately offer greater indications of China’s ability to support and sustain the production and deployment of new aircraft carriers and other mighty ships upon the sea than any word Admiral of the Fleet of the Soviet Union Sergey Georgiyevich Gorshkov could ever put to paper.

And that is why it’s worth at least briefly pondering the latest in injection molding from a civilian shop in southern China.

Editor's Note: The above is being republished with the author's consent. You can read the original version with additional photos of the models here

TopicsSecurity RegionsChina

The Sanctions Delusion

The Buzz

The United States is overestimating its leverage with sanctions in negotiating a nuclear agreement with Iran—a gamble bound to fail. A second deadline has slipped without a comprehensive agreement between the P5+1 and Iran, and hawkish rhetoric in the U.S. underscores a growing pessimism for successful negotiations by the next deadline in June 2015. Calls to strengthen sanctions highlight waning Congressional support for the talks, and buttress a narrow and unrealistic narrative that economic deprivation will force concessions. Any new sanctions, especially those proposed under the draconian Nuclear Iran Prevention Act, threaten to derail negotiations while providing cannon fodder for Iran’s hardliners.

A growing narrative in Washington, which attributes Iran’s willingness to negotiate entirely to sanctions, argues that the Joint Plan of Action (JPA) extension undermines U.S. negotiating leverage and provides Iran with ample opportunity to revive its declining economy. The JPA, which was signed over a year ago, provides Iran with access to approximately $700 million per month in oil revenues, which will continue through the seven-month extension.

True, sanctions against Iran’s oil and banking industries have caused inflation to soar amid declining oil exports, and there is little doubt that Iran is looking for relief. At the same time, other factors are contributing to Iran’s economic malice, including former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s economic mismanagement and declining oil prices.  Furthermore, despite relatively poor economic indicators, the International Monetary Fund predicts almost two percent GDP growth for Iran in 2014, primarily from non-oil exports, conservation of currency reserves, and growth in domestic manufacturing. All of these began before the harshest sanctions went into effect, and well before Iran reaped any benefits from the JPA.

Similarly, although Iranian businessmen acknowledge sanctions’ biting sting, they still remain connected to global commerce, albeit with increased transaction costs. Sanctions evasion, like water, will always find the path of least resistance. Moreover, sanctions have allowed Iran’s state-owned enterprises, which mostly benefit the Supreme Leader and connected members of the regime, to enjoy non-competitive domestic growth and indigenization. Strengthening sanctions at this point only serves to further concentrate economic power within Iran’s political elite and weaken U.S. leverage to negotiate a successful agreement.

U.S. sanctions against Iran weave punitive and preventive measures across an array of statutes, executive orders, and regulatory actions. Iran will likely demand the most severe of these sanctions-- those enacted since 2012 that target the financial, energy, shipping and insurance sectors-- be lifted first. It is unlikely, however, that President Obama will waive the most damaging sanctions without firm assurances that Iran is in compliance on its nuclear program. He will also likely keep in place those enacted to address terrorism and humanitarian issues. This, of course, leaves room for Iranian hardliners to capitalize on the narrative that sanctions are unrelated to the nuclear issue, and will persist even if the negotiations are successful.

More than thirty years of trade embargos and financial sanctions are failing to produce Iranian concessions on its nuclear program, and despite almost complete financial isolation, Iran continues to demonstrate a surprising level of resilience. Entertaining a narrative about further strengthening sanctions only emboldens Iranian hardliners, isolates global financial institutions, and damages the legitimacy of the nuclear negotiations.

Aaron Arnold is an Associate of the Project on Managing the Atom at Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.

Image: State Department

TopicsDiplomacy RegionsMiddle East

The Operational Art of Air-Sea Battle

The Buzz

Air-Sea Battle is described as a limited objective concept by the Department of Defense.[1] Some critics have argued that Air-Sea Battle must be more than a limited objective concept, possibly a war plan or a strategy. Others have argued that it is less than a concept and is just a meaningless set of buzzwords. From a military planner’s perspective, Air-Sea Battle is a piece of art – operational art that describes the “broad actions the force must take to achieve the desired military end state.”[2]

Joint doctrine uses operational art to begin the military planning process by developing an “operational approach.” An operational approach is based on an understanding of the military environment and the problem facing the commander.[3] Air-Sea Battle describes an operational approach to address the anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) problem and is “limited” in objective to the access required to conduct concurrent or follow-on actions, not decisive defeat of an adversary. If faced with an operational A2/AD challenge, a combatant commander may build on the operational approach described by Air-Sea Battle to design a war plan suited to the specific region and situation. This is an important distinction, especially for those who believe Air-Sea Battle is focused on a specific country. No matter what specific operational plan is used, Air-Sea Battle’s operational approaches can be applied if access and freedom of action in the global commons is at risk.

Why Air-Sea Battle is Important: The A2/AD Mission. Understanding strategic goals and the military missions that support them is an important first step in developing an operational approach.[4] The 2012 Defense Strategic Guidance assigned the ability to project power despite anti-access/area denial challenges as a distinct mission for the U.S. armed forces.[5] Countering A2/AD challenges is separate from and in addition to the traditional, conventional mission to deter and defeat aggression because of the complexity and paradigm-breaking challenge created by A2/AD capabilities. The Defense Strategic Guidance directs the implementation of the Joint Operational Access Concept as one of the ways to address A2/AD challenges. Joint Operational Access Concept begins to describe the A2/AD environment and then refers to the Air-Sea Battle Concept to address specific aspects of A2/AD.

The Air-Sea Battle Concept in turn applies military operational art to A2/AD: an understanding of the A2/AD operational environment, the specific problems posed by A2/AD, and an operational approach that envisions how a commander can mitigate the risks of the A2/AD environment and continue to operate in the global commons. The name “Air-Sea Battle” is derived from the air and maritime domains traditionally associated with the global commons and the new assumption that U.S. forces must fight to achieve and maintain access in those domains.[6] This simple etymology of the Air-Sea Battle Concept in Department of Defense writings clearly defines the intent of Air-Sea Battle and should not be confused with think tank and other commentator “sources.”

Envisioning the A2/AD Operating Environment. Air-Sea Battle was directed by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to shake-up the institutional inertia generated by uncontested access.[7] The A2/AD operating environment will be one where U.S. forces will not only fight to get to the fight but also fight to sustain access and the ability to maneuver in all domains. A2/AD presents a layered, multi-domain, integrated system-of-systems that gives potential adversaries a new dimension of strategic depth. While U.S. forces have always expected to be contested in theater when they maneuver within the operating range of adversary organic capabilities, the ability to merely move and sustain forces from homeports and bases to and across distant theaters will now be contested as well.

In addition to the increased technological sophistication of military capabilities on land, at sea, and in the air, the nascent development of potentially hostile space and cyberspace capabilities expands the access challenge across all five warfighting domains. Friendly forces in the air, sea, land, space and cyberspace domains are now threatened not only physically but also through the electromagnetic spectrum and cyberspace. The expectation that command and control structures will be attacked through the disruption of friendly communications and decision-making architectures is probably the most-significant change from today’s warfighting paradigm. In short, our traditional understanding of the phases of conflict, the definition of battlespace, our access to and ability to maneuver within domains, and our expected operational tempo will all be challenged.

Maintaining freedom of action in the global commons requires overcoming the physical threats of long-range missiles, torpedoes, mines, and other threats as well as maintaining our ability to command, control, and communicate with the forces from the strategic to the tactical levels. Initial analysis led some to conclude that only through striking the land-based hosts of these threat capabilities would the U.S. be able to maintain access.[8] The Joint Operational Access Concept acknowledges the risks associated with that approach.[9] To provide national leadership and military commanders with an array of viable options, Air-Sea Battle promotes operational art, not prescriptive solutions and advocates the innovative use of existing technology and potential future developments as the means to maintain U.S. qualitative superiority in the global commons.

Defining the A2/AD Problem. The Air-Sea Battle Concept defines the A2/AD problem and desired end-state as “capabilities (that) challenge U.S. freedom of action by causing U.S. forces to operate with higher levels of risk and at greater distance from areas of interest. U.S. forces must maintain freedom of action by shaping the A2/AD environment to enable concurrent or follow-on operations.”[10] In short, the A2/AD environment consists of threats to movement, threats to maneuver, and threats to command and control.

For example, capabilities in space and cyberspace as well as terrorist tactics may threaten the movement of deploying forces, logistics forces and follow-on forces from home bases to theater. These threats will challenge our understanding of the phasing of conflict. In addition, increased area denial capabilities are directly and indirectly challenging the long-range air and missile capabilities of U.S. forces, specifically to negate U.S. stand-off capability and driving a change to our understanding of battlespace and operating areas by making our current frames of reference obsolete. Finally, adversaries are preparing to contest the domains of space and cyberspace, and the electromagnetic spectrum in order to create a degraded or denied communications environment that directly challenges U.S. reliance on ”reach back” communications and theater level command and control. This will greatly impact our ability to dictate the tempo of battle. The effect of these A2/AD capabilities is summarized in the Concept: “(t)he range and scale of possible effects from these capabilities presents a military problem that threatens the U.S. and allied expeditionary warfare model of power projection and maneuver.”[11]

An Operational Approach to A2/AD. An operational approach is a “commander’s description of the broad actions the force must take to achieve the desired military end state.”[12] It is a “visualization of how the operation should transform current conditions into the desired conditions at end state.”[13] The Joint force uses operational approaches to provide the foundation for planning guidance, to provide a model for execution and assessment and to enable a better understanding of the operational environment and of the problem.[14] Air-Sea Battle provides an operational approach to A2/AD.

Air-Sea Battle’s operational approach to the A2/AD challenge in the global commons is a networked, integrated force capable of attack-in-depth to disrupt, destroy and defeat adversary forces (NIA/D3).[15] As defined above, the A2/AD problem at its core is about sophisticated threats to movement, maneuver and command and control. Readers of the Concept document will find the broad framework of Air-Sea Battle as it addresses A2/AD threats. The individual parts of Air-Sea Battle are briefly summarized as follows, but the reader is cautioned to view them not as individual lines of effort but as strands woven together when a commander is designing a plan:

Networked. “Networked” describes not only the communications pathways but also the authorities and relationships needed to enable commanders faced with threats to their decision-making process. Cross-domain operations are conducted by integrating capabilities from multiple interdependent warfighting domains to support, shape, or achieve objectives in other domains. The Joint Operational Access Concept advocates for cross-domain synergy, which goes beyond the merely additive, de-conflicted capabilities of today where commander’s must “reach back” for space, cyber and long-range fires.[16] Cross-domain operations will go a step further to exploit asymmetric advantages in specific domains to create positive and potentially cascading effects in other domains, as commanded at the operational level.

Integrated. “Integrated” reflects three emerging trends that will challenge the current U.S. understanding of the opening phase of war with A2/AD adversaries. First, an adversary can initiate military activities with little or no indications or warning. Second, forward deployed friendly forces will likely be in the A2/AD environment at the commencement of hostilities and, third, adversaries will likely attack U.S. and allied territory supporting operations against adversary forces. In other words, the U.S. will no longer have the luxury to build up combat power in an area, perform detailed rehearsals and integration activities, and then conduct operations as desired.[17] To overcome this, forces must train against A2/AD capabilities together, as an integrated Joint and combined force, for cross-domain operations prior to deploying to theater. This pre-deployment Joint and combined training is called pre-integration.

Attack-in-depth. “Attack-in-depth” includes offensive and defensive fires and includes both kinetic and non-kinetic means to attack an adversary’s critical vulnerabilities without requiring systematic destruction of the enemy’s defenses. This is a significant departure from today’s rollback methodology that relies on uncontested communications and the ability to establish air superiority, or dominance in any other domain. The attack-in-depth methodology seeks to create and exploit corridors and windows of control that are temporal in nature and limited in geography. At the tactical level, Air-Sea Battle’s attack-in-depth methodology provides a unique lens to consider the A2/AD threat. Air-Sea Battle analyzes adversary effects chains, or an adversary’s process of finding, fixing, tracking, targeting, engaging and assessing an attack on U.S. forces. The insight from this analysis contributes to the operational approach of Air-Sea Battle.

Disrupt C4ISR. “Disrupting” adversary effects chains focuses on impacting an adversary’s decision-making ability, referred to as Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (C4ISR). Ideally, friendly efforts to disrupt an adversary’s decision-making will preclude attacks on friendly forces. For example, commanders faced with threats to planned “movement” into theater should consider disruptive offensive operations to combat the adversary’s ability to track and locate forces in transit using all five domains.

Destroy and Defeat. The “Destroy and Defeat” operational tasks focus the commander on adversary A2/AD platforms and weapons systems that threaten forces in theater as they maneuver.[18] Destroying or neutralizing adversary weapons systems enhances friendly survivability and provides freedom of action. In terms of access, destroying adversary platforms regains access and defeating employed weapons sustains it.

The Air-Sea Battle Concept document, and not the blogosphere, should be read in detail for a deeper understanding of how the operational art of Air-Sea Battle addresses the A2/AD problem. As stated in the unclassified version of the concept, for those with appropriate clearances and need to know, there a growing body of work that explores subordinate tactical concepts and mission essential tasks that will be required for Air-Sea Battle to evolve from operational art, to operational design, to concepts of operations and operational plans.

Historical Analogy: War Plan Orange. Air-Sea Battle is not a strategy or a war plan; however, there is a particularly appropriate analogy to Air-Sea Battle in the development of War Plan Orange during the interwar years. There are striking similarities in the institutional changes driven by the changing operational environment as well as the specific time-distance-resistance military problem confronted by planners in the Pacific then and in the global commons today.

First, the era of uncontested power projection for U.S. forces may well be over – Air-Sea Battle assumes U.S. forces will have to fight to get to the fight – an assumption also made by the planners of War Plan Orange. Similar to the historical evolution of War Plan Orange, Air-Sea Battle’s development is driving institutional changes to better understand the challenges of potential future fights. Edward Miller’s book, War Plan Orange, explores what he called “the American way of planning” in detail and perhaps future historians will compare the “color” planning efforts of the pre-World War II era and the overall effort to explore the anti-access and area denial challenge through the Air-Sea Battle Concept, the Joint Operational Access Concept, and others.[19] War Plan Orange’s many iterations included the Through Ticket and the Royal Road, evolutions in the plans that accounted for better understanding and new insights between the Services. Air-Sea Battle represents a similar evolution in 21st century warfare.

Second, the defining military problem faced by Army and Navy planners working on War Plan Orange in the decades preceding World War II was largely one of geography, where access to the high seas and international airspace was defined by the air and maritime distance between bases and the Pacific islands. The same geographic considerations bound Air-Sea Battle in the global commons, but with the added complexity of access to non-sovereign cyberspace, space, and the electromagnetic spectrum. Air-Sea Battle is in the vanguard of a likely long-term effort to address a similar problem of time, distance and resistance associated with A2/AD.

In conclusion, Air-Sea Battle describes an operational approach that, for military planners, helps make sense of the A2/AD operating environment, defines the military problem of A2/AD, and describes the characteristics needed in the future force and the broad actions U.S. and allied forces must take to achieve access in the global commons. For every complaint about Air-Sea Battle generated inside the Beltway, there are numerous requests for support from the Fleets and Forces in how to approach the growing challenge of advanced A2/AD capabilities. Further, the operational approach of Air-Sea Battle promotes mutual understanding and unity of effort not just forward in the Fleets and Forces but among the Services in their Title 10 force development roles. Air-Sea Battle’s operational framework is being used to find the solutions necessary for the U.S. military to continue to operate forward and project power wherever an A2/AD challenge emerges.[20]

CDR John Callaway, U.S. Navy, is a strategic planner assigned to the Air-Sea Battle Office. He is a graduate of Georgetown University, Harvard’s Kennedy School, and the National War College. The opinions expressed here are his own. This piece first appeared in July on the CIMSEC website here.

Image: US Navy Flickr. 

[1] Air-Sea Battle: Service Collaboration to Address Anti-Access & Area Denial Challenges, May 2013, p.4

[2] Joint Pub 5-0, Joint Operation Planning, 11 August 2011, p.III-5

[3] Joint Pub 5-0, p.III-6

[4] Joint Pub 5-0, p.III-7

[5] Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense, January 2012, pp.4-5

[6] The “Air-Sea Battle” name is attributed to various sources, including former Secretary of Defense Bob Gates, Andrew Marshall, Andrew Krepinevich’s “AirSea Battle” or to Admiral James Stavridis’ 1992 war college paper. While it does not take much imagination to jump from AirLand Battle to Air-Sea Battle, perhaps the credit really belongs with the Atari Corporation which launched a video game called Air-Sea Battle in 1977.

[7] Air-Sea Battle, p.1

[8] See reports authored by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments on this topic. These reports preceded and are often confused with the actual Department of Defense Air-Sea Battle Concept.

[9] Joint Operational Access Concept, Department of Defense, 17 Jan 2012, p.24 (footnote) and p.38

[10] Air-Sea Battle, p.3

[11] Air-Sea Battle, p.2

[12] Joint Pub 5-0, p.III-5

[13] Joint Pub 5-0, p.III-5-III-6

[14] Joint Pub 5-0, p.III-13

[15] Air-Sea Battle, p.4

[16] Air-Sea Battle, p.5

[17] Air-Sea Battle, p.2

[18] Air-Sea Battle, pp.7-8

[19] Miller, Edward S., War Plan Orange: The U.S. Strategy to Defeat Japan 1897-1945, (Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD: 1991.) As an interesting aside, and potentially a strategic message about the willingness of the United States to work with those formerly considered competitors and adversaries, planners from more than one country targeted by a “color plan” are included in the Air-Sea Battle implementation effort.

[20] Air-Sea Battle, p.13

TopicsSecurity RegionsUnited States

The West's Containment Folly

The Buzz

Vladimir Putin’s state-of-the-nation address to the Russian Federal Assembly last week was a telling piece of statecraft.  Now that the country’s relationship with the west have reached a new a nadir, and the impact of western-imposed economic sanctions is beginning to bite at home, Putin’s speech was a timely exposition of the defiant course that Moscow seems intent on charting.  The oration showed that Putin is on the back foot to a certain extent.  But it also highlights some serious limitations to prevailing U.S. foreign policy towards Russia, casting doubt on whether finely-tuned policies of containment ever will be enough to extract meaningful changes in policy from the Russian leader.

While most of Putin’s speech was devoted to announcing economic reforms—tax freezes, deregulation, investment in key infrastructure—and various social policies, there nevertheless was a clear and predictable emphasis on foreign affairs.  Putin celebrated Russia’s annexation of Crimea, stressing the deep cultural, religious and historical roots of Russia’s connection with the peninsula.  He railed against the western policy of “containment,” accusing the west of reflexive antipathy towards a strong and confident Russia.  And he pledged that Russia’s armed forces were ready to meet any and all foreign threats.

Stoking nationalistic sentiment has never been more important for Putin.  For a long time, his domestic popularity—indeed, his very legitimacy as a national leader—hinged upon his ability to deliver economic growth and prosperity.  Now, with the ruble tumbling vis-à-vis the dollar and the Russian economy sliding towards recession in the face of U.S.-led economic sanctions, Putin’s reputation for sound economic stewardship is faltering.  As such, it is hardly surprising that Putin is keen to ensure that the Russian people know to pin the blame for their woes on the western world and not the Kremlin.

Nor is Putin altogether wrong in his diagnosis. Western states do indeed fear a powerful and assertive Russia, and western sanctions—applied in response to Moscow’s policies towards Ukraine—are largely responsible for the economic turmoil currently ravaging the Russian economy.  While it was hyperbolic and inflammatory (likely intentionally so) of Putin to liken contemporary western policy to Hitler’s ambition to “push us [Russians] back beyond the Urals,” it is true that Europe and the U.S. wish that Russian influence would stop at its own borders.  A policy of containment is today being implemented by NATO, albeit to a questionable degree of success.  This policy might not be as colorfully articulated as was Georges Clemenceau’s “cordon sanitaire,” and is not as well thought-through as was George Kennan’s recommendation in the 1940s for the “adroit and vigilant application of counter force,” but it is nevertheless a concrete strategy of containment: a package of foreign economic, diplomatic and military policies aimed at preventing Russia from influencing events in its “near abroad.”

Putin is wrong to suggest that this means the west is bent on destroying or dismembering Russia, however.  This has never been the desire of American or European leaders.  Instead, the nominal goal of western policy is to change Russia, to encourage leaders in Moscow to adopt a new foreign policy tack.  By imposing intolerable costs upon Russia as the price of its interventionism (in Ukraine or elsewhere), the U.S. and Europe hope to bring Moscow to terms and lay the foundations for a relationship whereby Russia will be expected to play by western-designed rules.  At various points during its history, Russia has functioned as an integral and an important member of European and international society, a feared and respected Great Power and even a trusted military ally of the western powers.  The (distant) hope today is that external pressure can shift the needle of domestic politics in Russia such that the country changes course, once again taking its seat at the top table of world diplomacy.

Putin’s recent speech suggests that such an endgame might be wishful thinking.  Instead of empowering doves in Russia (as if such a faction even exists in the Kremlin), the policy of containment risks strengthening the hawks and encouraging Putin to double down on nationalistic words and deeds.  Rather than bringing Moscow to heel, economic sanctions and military balancing appear to be riling Russia’s leadership and closing off the possibility of rapprochement.  This is an unhappy state of affairs for all concerned. More depressingly, a straightforward way out of the current diplomatic abyss is difficult to detect.

TopicsSecurity RegionsRussia

Israeli Nukes Meets Atomic Irony in the Middle East

Paul Pillar

The stated rationale for the United States casting on Tuesday one of the very lonely votes it sometimes casts at the United Nations General Assembly, on matters on which almost the entire world sees things differently, warrants some reflection. The resolution in question this time endorsed the creation of a nuclear weapons-free zone in the Middle East and called on Israel to join the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, to renounce any possession of nuclear weapons, and to put its nuclear facilities under the safeguards of the International Atomic Energy Agency. A nuclear weapons-free Middle East and universal adherence to the nonproliferation treaty are supposedly U.S. policy objectives, and have been for many years. So why did the United States oppose the resolution? According to the U.S. representative's statement in earlier debate, the resolution "fails to meet the fundamental tests of fairness and balance. It confines itself to expressions of concern about the activities of a single country."

You know something doesn't wash when the contrary views are as overwhelmingly held as on this matter. The resolution passed on a vote of 161-5. Joining Israel and the United States as “no” votes were Canada (maybe the Harper government was thinking of the Keystone XL pipeline issue being in the balance?) and the Pacific powers of Micronesia and Palau. The latter two habitually cast their UN votes to stay in the good graces of the United States; they have been among the few abstainers on the even more lopsided votes in the General Assembly each year calling for an end to the U.S. embargo of Cuba.

An obvious problem with the United States complaining about a resolution on a topic such as this being an expression of concern about the activities of only a single country is that the United States has been in front in pushing for United Nations resolutions about the nuclear activities of a single country, only just not about the particular country involved this time. The inconsistency is glaring. Iran has been the single-country focus of several U.S.-backed resolutions on nuclear matters—resolutions in the Security Council that have been the basis for international sanctions against Iran.

(Recommended: What About Iran's Missiles?

One could look, but would look in vain, for sound rationales for the inconsistency. If anything, the differences one would find should point U.S. policy in the opposite direction from the direction it has taken. It is Iran that has placed itself under the obligations of the nonproliferation treaty and subjects its nuclear activities to international inspection. Since the preliminary agreement to restrict Iran's nuclear program that was negotiated last year, those inspections are more frequent and intrusive than ever. Israel, by contrast, has kept its nuclear activities completely out of the reach of any international inspection or control regime. As for actual nuclear weapons, Iran does not have them, has declared its intention not to have them, and according to the U.S. intelligence community has not made any decision to make them. Neither Israel nor the United States says publicly that Israel has nuclear weapons, but just about everyone else in the world takes it as a given that it does, which would make it the only state in the Middle East that does.

(Recommended: 5 Iranian Weapons of War Israel Should Fear

One might look, but still in vain, for justifying discrepancies that go beyond the respective nuclear programs of the countries in question but still involve questions of regional security and stability. What about, for example, menacing threats? Iran and Israel have each had plenty of unfriendly words about each other. Iran's words have included bloviation about wiping something from pages of history; Israel's have included more pointed threats of military attack. What about actual attacks? Israel has initiated multiple wars with its neighbors, as well as launching smaller armed attacks; The Islamic Republic of Iran has not started a war in its 35-year history. Terrorism? Well, there were those assassinations of Iranian scientists, with some later attacks against Israelis being an obvious (and not very successful) attempt by Iran at a tit-for-tat response against those responsible for murdering the scientists. And so forth.

Singling out one country in a multilateral context can indeed cause problems. The resolution the General Assembly passed this week need not involve a problem, however, since it was not calling for differential treatment of anyone—only for Israel to get with the same program as any state in the Middle East that does not have nukes and adheres to the international nuclear control regime.

(Recommended: Can China Rise Peacefully?)

Iran, by contrast, is being treated much differently from anyone else. Tehran already has acquiesced to some of that differential treatment, but Iranians unsurprisingly wonder why Iran should be subjected to more such treatment, or indeed to any of it. They wonder, for example, why Iran should be subject to unique restrictions that several other non-nuclear-weapons states that also are parties to the nonproliferation treaty and enrich their own uranium are not. Such wonderment is almost certainly a factor in Iranian resistance to making the sorts of additional concessions that many in the United States are expecting or demanding that Iran make. The differential treatment should be kept in mind in any discussion in the United States about who has made bigger concessions than whom and about what would or would not constitute a fair and reasonable final agreement.

Then there is the irony—although Iranians might use a more bitter word than irony—of Israel leading the charge in constantly agitating about Iran's nuclear program (and by trying to torpedo an international agreement to restrict that program, making the issue fester and thus making it more possible for Israel's agitation to go on forever).              

Image: Flickr/Creative Commons. 

TopicsIran Israel RegionsMiddle East