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

November 22, 2015 Topic: Security Region: Asia Tags: AirSea BattleAir-Sea BattleMilitaryDefenseChinaA2/ad

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? 


China, then, will prosecute a strategically defensive campaign from an interior position while unleashing highly offensive tactics to enfeeble hostile forces. Opportunistic tactics and operations will drive up the costs of entry while shifting the balance in China’s favor. And how will a U.S. campaign unfold within this geospatial setting? In all likelihood U.S. forces will reprise their general approach from World War II. Submarines, that is, will venture into contested waters from day one, making life hell for Chinese merchant and naval traffic. Undersea raiders will fan out in what J. C. Wylie calls “cumulative” fashion, launching disparate, small-scale attacks across the map of maritime Asia.

Meanwhile, heavy U.S. air and sea forces will attempt to batter down A2/AD defenses in a “sequential,” linear offensive, steaming across the Pacific to the relief of allies and friends in the region. As strategist Edward Luttwak notes, sequential campaigns involve an operational decision of enormous moment. For Luttwak, in fact, the critical choice in theater strategy is whether forces should advance along a narrow or a broad front.


A broad-front advance is a typical choice for a strong, risk-averse combatant—think the Allied offensive into Germany after D-Day. Such a forces hammers away all along the enemy’s defense perimeter. A narrow front, by contrast, offers a weaker belligerent high rewards at high risk—think Blitzkrieg. Piercing an enemy frontier at one spot and pouring forces through, that is, could yield a quick victory—but at the risk of leaving hostile defenders assaulting the flanks if the advance falters. Worse yet, the offensive force could find itself surrounded and cut off from succor.

How the military balance stacks up—and how confident U.S. commanders are about their countermeasures to A2/AD—will shape American strategy in Eurasian seas. Will U.S. commanders resolve to take down a defender’s entire A2/AD network, or drive a spearhead into a contested sea and accept that naval task forces must do their work under fire?

The Pentagon shouldn’t divulge everything about its strategy, needless to say. No sane commander gives away his playbook. But the JAM-GC document should say enough to convince key audiences that America has compiled a clear view of the challenges before it and devised a robust, affordable, executable strategy for surmounting them. In so doing U.S. commanders can comfort friends and allies while discomfiting—and, with any luck, deterring—prospective antagonists.

Say something about widgets and tactics:

In a similar vein, JAM-GC’s framers should say enough about hardware and methods to reassure and deter, consistent with not giving the game away. If the military already possesses the implements to wage a victorious forcible-entry campaign, say so. If new weapons remain to be developed and fielded, admit to the deficit candidly and say something about workarounds that will tide warfighters over until the JAM-GC panoply is complete. That’s part of relating a persuasive tale about power and purpose.

The finest operational concept or strategy amounts to a wish—or braggadocio—if tacticians can’t execute it. Prove to Americans, allies and friends, and potential adversaries that the U.S. armed forces boast the ways and means to fulfill grand aims. Do that, and you shall go far.

James Holmes is Professor of Strategy at the U.S. Naval War College and coauthor of Red Star over the Pacific. The views voiced here are his alone.