There has been a trend over the last decade or two by the military to say whatever serves its purpose. Kind of a vague statement, I know. Let’s look at a few specific examples. Maybe that will make my meaning clearer.
The LCS was originally sold to Congress and the public as a kick-butt littoral combat vessel that could conduct ASW, ASuW, and MCM without needing help from anyone else. Why, a single LCS could win a war all by itself, it was claimed! Later, after many failures, and with Congress showing signs of balking at additional purchases, the story changed to a much more limited mission set with the LCS being described as operating around the periphery of a conflict and under the protective umbrella of Aegis ships and carrier aviation. Why are we committing a quarter of our future combat fleet to a ship that can only function around the periphery of combat? But, I digress …
The Zumwalt DDG-1000 started life as the absolutely vital ship of the future, the Navy claimed, before suddenly being cast off as obsolete on the modern battlefield in the most amazing and abrupt change of story I’ve ever witnessed in the annals of weapons procurement. Astoundingly, though, the Navy is building three of these obsolete ships and now claims that the ship is the wave of the future, maybe. Yes … No … Well, let’s build it and then we’ll figure out what to do with it. But, I digress …
You get the idea.
In similar fashion, AirSea Battle (ASB) started life as a way to defeat an adversary (
, though no one will say it out loud) who had the technology to implement an Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2/AD) strategy. The original CSBA AirSea Battle document described a war of attrition resulting in the rollback of China ’s A2/AD capabilities as a prelude to offensive operations. Now, according to CNO Greenert and General Welsh (1), Chief of Staff of the Air Force, ASB is more of a defensive concept aimed at breaking the enemy’s kill chain, meaning the ability to stop an enemy weapon from hitting us by disrupting one of the steps (location, targeting, launch, impact) in the chain that leads to a weapon impact on target (US forces being the target). China
As a secondary goal, ASB also encompasses a fantasy wish list of anything-can-do-anything capabilities such as using submarines to defeat airborne threats (in some mystical, unspecified manner), having F-22s retarget Tomahawk missiles (when, how, and why would an F-22 ever have better targeting information than the Tomahawk possessed upon launch?), having Army land units guide Navy surface-to-air missiles (when would they ever be in position to do that better than the Navy could?), and so on.
In short, ASB is morphing into something very different from what it started as. Now, this alone is not necessarily a bad thing. We should constantly be examining our weapons and strategies and changing them when necessary. However, there is a difference between changing for valid military reasons and changing for political reasons.
I see the latter happening with ASB. What started out as a valid, though poorly articulated, military concept seems to be changing to support procurement wish lists of the Air Force and Navy.
Disturbingly, I also see a movement away from the original generalized combat philosophy document and towards a gold-plated, fantasy procurement wish list that bears a remarkable resemblance to the LCS technology wish lists that crashed and burned so badly. Failing to learn from the LCS debacle, this latest offering from Greenert and Welsh calls for a host of non-existent, technically complex capabilities that are unlikely to be achieved in any relevant time frame and have little practical use that I can see, even if they could be achieved.
I’m firmly convinced that, whatever it started as, ASB is now just a marketing tool for the Navy and Air Force to pressure Congress into giving them more toys. Keep a close eye on ASB and let’s see where it goes. My bet is nowhere useful.