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.
But service potentates could’ve refreshed AirSea Battle without playing the name game. It’s been done before . Getting the topic out of the daily headlines , consequently, must have impelled the decision to essay a makeover. Why? Because AirSea Battle excited feverish commentary during its short, troubled life. Just look at the title: AirSea Battle sounds warlike and vaguely sinister. JAM-GC, though, sounds like an obscure rap group. It would attract scant notice even if its substance were identical to AirSea Battle.
And indeed, the furor surrounding forcible entry subsided following last January’s linguistic switcheroo. Mission accomplished! So much for the retrospective on the Pentagon’s PR stratagems. What should JAM-GC say? Let’s take a back-to-basics approach:
Replace AirSea Battle with something—or nothing:
Official documents about strategy, doctrine, or war planning do more than elucidate how to harness martial means for strategic and political gain. They’re a venture in storytelling vis-à-vis important audiences. A well-executed document, in other words, defines worthwhile purposes and explains convincingly how Washington will deploy power to fulfill them. It makes believers out of domestic constituents, allies and friends overseas, and likely antagonists.
Pentagon spokesmen mishandled AirSea Battle, by contrast. They remained closemouthed about the concept—compelling outsiders to infer the content of AirSea Battle from think-tank reports and fellow commentators. Starting in February 2010, for instance, the Washington-based Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA) published a brace of studies setting forth a vision of an AirSea Battle doctrine. It took the Pentagon until mid-2013—three full years—to publish an official, rather nondescript statement of its own.
During that three-year interval, analysts—including yours truly—fell back on the CSBA treatises when asked about the doctrine. We had little else to go on. In short, the keepers of AirSea Battle let the narrative get away from them rather than telling their story well. Commentary took on conspiratorial overtones as a result.
The CSBA reports set Washington abuzz for two chief reasons. One, the authors named names. They declared that AirSea Battle was about overcoming China’s anti-access strategy and weaponry. This was too frank and too premature for officialdom, not to mention many observers in the press and academe. Designating a rival great power as a potential enemy, they believed, could make that rival into an actual enemy. Better to keep mum about the prospects for unpleasantness.