Redefining AirSea Battle: JAM-GC, China and the Quest for Clarity

The operational concept formerly known as AirSea Battle created quite a stir. Where does its successor, JAM-GC, go from here? 

Word has it the Pentagon will soon release a directive outlining its “Joint Concept for Access and Maneuver in the Global Commons” (JAM-GC). JAM-GC is the Joint Staff’s manifesto for managing the “anti-access/area-denial” (A2/AD) problem, principally in waters that wash against the Eurasian rimlands. Anti-access is how the Chinas, Irans, or Russias of the world deploy sea- and shore-based weaponry to make things tough on foes cruising their near seas or skies. Make things tough enough and an opponent might keep clear.

Access denial is an acute problem for U.S. and allied forces operating within reach of land-based airfields or anti-ship missile batteries, to say nothing of missile-toting submarines, patrol craft, or surface combatants. That is to say, A2/AD constitutes a problem all along the East and South Asian periphery. Not just naval fleets but armies and air forces can pummel enemy forces already in the theater, such as the Japan-based U.S. Seventh Fleet or the Bahrain-based Fifth Fleet. That’s area-denial.

Or, regional hegemons can drive up the costs of entering contested zones to forbidding heights for Washington. That’s access denial. If a thicket of A2/AD defenses proves too dense to pierce, that is, American statesmen and commanders may balk. They could pause, or desist from the attempt altogether—and, in effect, abandon a crucial combat theater. If so, they will forfeit important interests such as Taiwan’s defense, commitments to Persian Gulf allies, or freedom of the sea in Southeast Asia. Local defenders will have triumphed without the clangor of combat—attaining the supreme excellence in strategy.

America has no strategic position in Eurasia absent access to marginal seas like the Western Pacific or Arabian Sea. JAM-GC—and whether the armed forces can put this operational design into effect—thus matters more than your run-of-the-mill bureaucratic document.

Puncturing a local opponent’s forward defenses is far from a novel problem, even though the A2/AD lingo is new. Since antiquity, warriors have harried opponents making their way to the battlefield. Why not bias the outcome in your favor? And if the parlance for describing the access problem is new, so is the parlance for debating would-be solutions. As Joint Staff director David Goldfein put it last January—with tongue lodged firmly in cheek, one presumes—JAM-GC is the concept “formerly known as Air-Sea Battle.”

It’s the same thing, that is, but it bears a mealy-mouthed title that engenders little scrutiny or debate. Which—though it’s doubtful anyone would admit it—was one big reason for changing the name. Sure, forcible-entry operations need to be compatible with directives like the Joint Staff’s Capstone Concept for Joint Operations. The U.S. Army needs to be brought into counter-counterintervention contingencies. Forcible-entry methods need periodic updating as the operational surroundings change. These are all motives cited for issuing a new directive, and there’s no gainsaying them.