Securing Operational Access: Evolving the Air-Sea Battle Concept
The authors represent the four U.S. military services in the Air-Sea Battle Office as well as the Joint Staff J-7 (Joint Force Development).
AS A global power with global interests, the United States must maintain the credible capability to project military force into any region of the world in support of those interests. In his foreword to the “Joint Operational Access Concept” (JOAC), General Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, describes this military imperative: “The Joint Force must maintain the freedom of action to accomplish any assigned mission.”
The advancement and proliferation of disruptive technologies designed to counter power projection are undermining traditional U.S. military advantages. The worldwide growth of anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) capabilities, the changing U.S. overseas defense posture, and the emergence of space and cyberspace as contested war-fighting domains enable potential adversaries, both state and nonstate, to counter qualitatively superior U.S. and allied forces. These formidable A2/AD capabilities can also cause U.S. and allied forces to operate with higher levels of risk and at greater distances from areas of interest.
Given these realities, the Department of Defense recognized the need to explore and adapt concepts and capabilities to preserve U.S. power projection and freedom of action. In July 2009, Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates issued guidance to address this challenge, including the development of a new operational concept called Air-Sea Battle (ASB). Since then, the services have used ASB as a framework for collaboration in new and thoughtful ways to address a critical and significant subset of the broader operational-access challenge as laid out in the chairman’s overarching JOAC.
The JOAC describes operational access as the “ability to project military force into an operational area with sufficient freedom of action to accomplish the mission.” ASB’s particular contribution to the operational-access problem set has focused on the development of integrated forces capable of gaining and maintaining freedom of action in the global commons. The global commons are domains or areas that no one state controls but on which all rely. Freedom of action includes the ability to gain and maintain localized air superiority, maritime superiority, and space and cyberspace superiority and security, in addition to the ability to conduct cross-domain operations and operational maneuver.
Recently, the four service chiefs reevaluated the “ASB Concept” and agreed that the concept should be revised into an authoritative joint concept, in support of and subordinate to the JOAC. Such a refinement should reflect additional conceptual elements that have been accepted over the years, such as an enhanced land-power contribution; changes to joint command and control; innovative approaches to land and sea basing; operating in areas of denied or degraded communications; and how various joint capabilities should be operationally applied to address the A2/AD problem set. Evolving the “ASB Concept” from its present multiservice arrangement into a fully integrated joint concept, under the oversight of the Joint Force Development Process, is a logical continuation of these ideas and development of capabilities to overcome A2/AD challenges.
THE WORLD’S economy and global security have prospered because of freedom of navigation and open access to the global commons. For the last quarter century, U.S. and allied militaries have likewise relied upon near-unfettered access to the global commons to provide humanitarian relief, maintain stability during regional crises, and underwrite the deployment and sustainment of overseas forces in times of conflict. Today, potential state and nonstate adversaries possess advanced weapon systems that, when used as part of increasingly aggressive strategic postures, can challenge freedom of action and the power-projection capabilities of the United States, its allies and its partners. The A2/AD capabilities of potential adversaries threaten to make U.S. power projection increasingly risky while enabling aggressive actors to expand their coercive strength well beyond their borders. The range, scale and continuing proliferation of these access-restricting capabilities directly threaten U.S. and partner freedom of maneuver in the global commons, while also threatening the fundamental assurances necessary for global security and prosperity.
The January 2012 Defense Strategic Guidance states, “The United States will continue to lead global efforts with capable allies and partners to assure access to and use of the global commons . . . by maintaining relevant and interoperable military capabilities.” One of the ten primary missions it identifies for U.S. forces is to “Project Power Despite Anti-Access/Area Denial Challenges.” Several joint operational concepts align under this strategic guidance.