Sunday, October 20, 2013

AirSea Battle Testimony

Thursday 10-Oct-2013, The House Armed Services Committee’s Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee held a hearing on AirSea Battle (ASB) with a panel of senior uniformed leaders from each of the services.  The hearing can be viewed hereHere are a few noteworthy moments from the testimony.

RAdm. Foggo claimed that AirSea Battle is a brand new approach to warfare and that previous methods will no longer work.  He went on to cite the Libyan conflict as an example of the application of AirSea Battle principles, never before applied.  As a specific example of ASB procedures, he cites the launch of over 200 cruise missiles (Tomahawks) from ships and subs on day one to destroy Libya’s “lethal air defense forces” so as to enable follow on strikes.  Really?  This is new warfare, never before attempted before the advent of ASB?  Cause it sure sounds like an exact repeat of Desert Storm.

AirSea Battle in its classified form was completed in Nov 2011

The panel members each delivered a prepared statement. There were absolutely no differences between the statements of the various leaders.  Someone ensured that these men were in tight lockstep.  On a sidenote, I understand that synchronized testimony is going to be the newest Olympic event.  The US appears to have a top notch team.  But, I digress …

One of the Congressmen asked BGen Killea (USMC) what were the top five things that need to be done to build the A2/AD capability we want so that Congress would know how to prioritize its support.  He couldn’t even offer one item, saying “we still don’t know what we don’t know” and wound up saying that he would take the question under advisement for future consideration.  This, despite the fact that ASB has been around for quite some time and, as noted above, was completed in its classified form in Nov 2011.

Maj Gen Jones (AF) was asked what progress the Air Force can make in the next five years so that the ASB can move forward.  Jones’ answer was to protect the procurement of the JSF and the next generation long range strike bomber.  Given the A2/AD ranges, the JSF is clearly not optimized for the A2/AD role.  That’s not surprising, really, given that the JSF development was started decades ago.  What’s surprising or, more accurately, disappointing, is the steadfast refusal to recognize the failure of the JSF on multiple levels and cancel the program and move on.  Instead, the Air Force is focused on its budget slice regardless of whether that slice buys any useful capability as regards ASB.

BGen Killea (USMC) was asked about the role of the Marines in ASB and amidst the usual generic mumblings about co-operation and jointness, did describe a process of going ashore and establishing points of expansion (specifically, not bases) for furthering and developing the battle.  The analogy that came to my mind was multiple points of infection from which a disease would spread.  I’m not certain that was what he really meant but, if so, it’s an interesting concept and I’d love to hear more about it.

USS Florida (SSGN) shot over 100 missiles in Libyan conflict.

VPM is part of the ASB plan to make up for the SSGN retirements.

BGen Killea (USMC) was asked about the decline in amphibious capacity and claimed that our current situation was adequate and spent some minutes talking about studies and assessments and processes and, basically, saying nothing.  It was the kind of answer someone else would give but very disappointing from a Marine.  He also noted that ASB has not yet tasked the Marines with a specific role.  That was a surprisingly impolitic comment from a panel that was otherwise all one big happy team.

Killea offered one great aspect of ASB for consideration.  He stated that, contrary to many people’s assumption that ASB was intended to provide access so as to enable subsequent entry, entry might be required, in some circumstances, to enable access.  I’m going to think deeply about that one and explore the ramifications.  Fascinating!

Far and away, though, the highlight, or lowlight, as it turned out, of the testimony came when the committee Chairman addressed the entire panel and noted that SecDef had released the Defense Strategic Guidance in Jan 2012 but has not yet released an actual defense strategy and then proceeded to ask an absolutely brilliant question, wanting to know how the military was designing and executing operational concepts such as ASB in the absence of an actual defense strategy (the last formal defense strategy having been completed in 2011 and now being rendered obsolete by the DSG).  In other words, what strategy is the military using as a baseline in designing operational concepts such as ASB?  The Chairman went on to note that the DSG was 11 pages.  When none of the panel members could offer an answer, the Chairman asked, “What’s our strategy?”, and observed that Congress would prefer to develop procurement based on strategy rather than see strategy developed based on procurement.  He noted that Congress was uncomfortable depending on an 11 page Guidance document as the basis for procurement.

This brief incident was absolutely humiliating and embarrassing to witness.  Our top military leaders couldn’t answer the most basic of questions:  “What’s our strategy?”  Here we are, spending billions of dollars and initiating countless acquisition programs with no strategy to provide a rationale for the suitability of any given weapon or system.  The uncomfortable silence that greeted the Chairman’s question screamed out the breakdown of our uniformed leadership.  This was a gut-wrenching moment.  I can only hope the panel members left determined to do something about it.  Sadly, I fear not.

The panel members consistently refused to even admit the possibility that ASB could apply to China.  As best I can tell from the testimony, China is a mythological country that does not even exist.  Certainly, the military has never heard of a person or place called China.

All in all, the testimony was a sad “State of the Military” exposition sprinkled with a few fascinating tidbits.  My original impression of the military’s version of ASB was that they had latched onto it as a means of persuading Congress to fund the latest round of acquisitions.  Nothing in this testimony changed my mind.  ASB is a front for acquisitions.


  1. What will it take for these guys to get it together? Pearl Harbor round 2? Our carriers getting it handed to them 500 miles from Taiwan?

  2. I notice that the JSF is not well regarded in this forum. I don't have any strong thoughts on the aircraft one way or the other, but I note the Israelis seem very eager to receive their first JSF squadron as soon as possible. Maybe they know something we don't?

    1. Well, they know that the US has paid for nearly all of the Research an Development (R&D) costs.

      Oh and Lock Martin agreed to buy Israeli JSF parts and spares from Israeli manufactuers - which calmed a lot of ruffled feathers in their defense industry.

      JSF will probably be a bargain for the Israelis. Never spend your own money if you can get someone to spend theirs.

  3. M Carling
    To say whether or not the F35 is "good" one has to ask, "good at what".

    "“What’s our strategy?”" and how does the F35 fit in to it.
    You could also ask, what was the F35 designed to do, and do we still want to do that?
    The F35 might still meet a need the Iraelies have defined.

    1. In the Israeli case, the strategy may or may not be so clear but the capability required is quite clear: the ability to strike countries (and non-governmental organizations like Hizbollah) which are openly committed to either destroying Israel or killing all the Jews on the planet or both. The IDF seem to believe the JSF will be more capable of meeting that requirement than the F-16s they will replace.

  4. Morning All, Britain chipping in again 
    Provoking article again. Thanks
    I think the interesting part about Libya re:Air Sea Battle would probably have to be for me the 100’s of attack helicopter strikes again land targets. Using Apache and Tigers in a way more akin to traditional carrier strike than in supporting a landing in traditional LHD. Roaming the battle field the way Apache was designed to do, significant damage was done (for a lot less cost than other methods, and a lot less collateral)
    I do agree with the apparent lack of overall cohesion the USN and USMC seem to be exhibiting IN SOME areas. When during challenging times cost wise the UK has had to renew, refresh and tighten fleet strategy to get more strategic effect for less buck.

  5. I'm on the fence wrt Air Sea Battle. I'm not entirely sure that it is as driven as acquistions as you may think, or that debates like the one abover are necessarily a bad thing.

    Certainly, USAF and Navy brass are pinning their acquisition programs to an operational concept which they have shown (quite publicly!) that they do not understand.

    However, for all its faults, at least ASB is a coherent concept, with plenty of open source musings (CSBA, JOAC, etc.) Usually there is nothing of the sort underlying our major development programs.

    And it does appear that ASB is forcing the Air Force and Navy address a lot of long-standing doctrine, organization and training issues. Even if ASB implodes, the mere fact that it got USAF and Navy to start talking to each other about how they'll fight in the contested maritime is value added.

    All that being said, the fact that there is no strategy underlying the ASB CONOPS is a major problem. But really, strategic guidance can/should start from the very top. And the White House hasn't updated its National Security Strategy released since May 2010...

    1. Anon, of course you're on the fence wrt ASB! Since none of us can see the classified version, all we have to go on is the fuzzy, nebulous, versions floating around the public domain and the ever-changing statements emanating from the military leadership. It's difficult to really have an opinion about such a generic concept. If you haven't yet, you might want to check this earlier post about ASB, "Whatever You Want It To Be". For a more detailed exploration of the original concept, check AirSea Battle - What Is It?.

      It's clear that ASB is being used to sell acquisition programs to Congress. The testimony in this hearing illustrated that with the Air Force general citing the need to "protect" (his word) JSF from cuts because it was the number one means to further the ASB goals despite the fact that JSF, regardless of what it may offer, is ill-suited to the requirements of ASB.

      I, too, like the fact that ASB is at least providing a starting point or impetus for strategy development but, as documented, we don't have a strategy (heck, we won't even name our enemy) and we don't seem to be fleshing out ASB, at least not publicly.

    2. Have you read the Joint Operational Acess Concept (JOAC)?

      I think the JOAC gives a pretty good insight into the niche that ASB is supposed to fill - if not the actual (probably classified!) methods.

      I'm *not* a fan of JSF, but not too sure that it is all that misaligned with ASB. It's stealthy and about as long-legged as you can expect from a manned fighter. The real problem is that it is too darn expensive...

      The word 'protect' gets used all the time inside the beltway -- especially among staff folks involved in budget deliberations. I wouldn't read too much into that.

  6. "Brigadier General Killea (USMC) …. stated that, contrary to many people’s assumption that ASB was intended to provide access so as to enable subsequent entry, entry might be required, in some circumstances, to enable access ….."

    Just to refresh our memories, here is a segment of a comment that I posted in August 2013 on your "UCLASS Update" thread:


    Scott Brim August 11, 2013 at 1:25 PM, Navy Matters / "UCLASS Update" thread

    It is my opinion that over the next four decades, highly networked and integrated A2/AD systems combined with advanced IAD systems which include laser battlestations, massive sensor capacity, and massive information processing horsepower will gradually gain the upper hand over aircraft, manned and unmanned alike.

    The process will be gradual, to be sure. UCAV's will buy some time, but by mid-century, 2050 or thereabouts, the advantages that a capable adversary's defensive systems will have over aircraft operating above a land battlefield will be complete.

    Not to say that victory against such a capable adversary in some particular engagement in some particular battlespace over some particular land battlefield will become impossible.

    In that kind of scenario, stand-off weaponry will play a significant role in preshaping the battlespace. The assault begins with a massive barrage of stand-off ordnance types, followed by UCAVs followed by manned aircraft. Armored land forces attack simultaneously and place their own pressures against the centers of A2/AD and IADs resistance, with the armored land forces supporting the aircraft just as much as the aircraft are supporting the land forces.

    A conflict with a capable adversary in the year 2050 will be a wild maelstrom of combat action. In that kind of Big War scenario, it is easy to predict that the price of victory measured in human and material casualties will become extraordinarily steep in comparison with what we think of today as being acceptable losses.


    In the circumstance I've described above, a circumstance which has evolved over some period of time and where defensive systems and defensive operational tactics have gradually managed to obtain clear advantages over offensive systems and offensive operational tactics, it is conceivable that if a major land war has a substantial seaward flank, the option of inserting amphibious-capable ground forces in areas of greatest tactical opportunity might be given serious consideration as a means of quickly gaining and then expanding a foothold inside the adversary's active A2/AD and IADS defensive envelope.

    In another type of situation, let's suppose that the unthinkable has occurred in the far western Pacific and that we find ourselves in a serious military conflict with You Know Who (YKW). Suppose also that YKW has occupied portions of the first island chain and possibly even parts of the second island chain, and that we have decided -- for whatever strategic reasons we may have -- that we need to get some (or all) of those islands back. You can't get them back without assaulting them at some point; doing so first on one island and then another, and another, etc. etc. etc. In other words, it'll be Deja Vu all over again in the Pacific.

    My point is this: the need for an amphibious warfare capability has not gone away; the need for land forces with substantial maneuver warfare capability has not gone away; and the need for high-volume, high-lethality indirect fires has not gone away. The basic question remains, how can we best manage our integrated joint force structures under the resources we will actually have available to us in the future?

    If Air-Sea Battle concepts do nothing more than enable progress to be made in answering that basic question, then it is worth spending time and money in exploring those ASB concepts. With Air-Sea Battle, the journey is more important than the ultimate destination.

    1. Scott,

      You have some thought provoking assertions here!

      I am not sure that I agree with the statement "... the need for an amphibious warfare capability has not gone away..."

      My contention rests on two points:

      1) the roll back of enemy A2/AD networks depends upon successful naval and air campaigns, ergo the overwhelming amount of resources should flow to building competeant air-sea power. a competant land force can be recruited, trained and equipped in ~6-months, but it takes years to build ships and train aircrews.

      2) I am do not think that a viable forced entry operation can be mounted agains a mined coastline (to enclode mined HLZs - anti-helicopter mines are a hot topic amongst the most likely A2/AD threat countries) even if dominace over the air and sea spaces is complete. I point to Korea, and Gulf War 1 where mines effectively stopped or significantly delayed amphibious landings. Everyone remembers Inchon, but forgets Wonson...

      The Navy simply must get serious about mines if the nation is to sustain any land operations in the absence of nearby friendly harbors and ports.


    2. GAB, I herewith reassert my previous assertion that the need for an amphibious warfare capability has not gone away.

      However, the fact that there is now, and always will be in the foreseeable future, "a need" for an amphibious warfare capability doesn't mean that we will do what is necessary to properly cover that need.

      Yes, the Navy must get a lot more serious about undersea warfare in general, and mine warfare in particular, if we are to sustain any land operations in the absence of nearby friendly harbors and ports.

      Personally, in addition to the lack adequate mine warfare capability, I don't see how it will be possible to achieve an appropriately effective amphibious assault capability without having something like the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle in service -- at least an EFV-like vehicle which actually works, anyway.

      The equipment checklist goes on and on, to say nothing of the training and logistics checklist. Where will we get the money to pay for it all, and would we do an effective job of procuring all that stuff even if we had the money to buy it?

      In any case, I believe that it will be a variety of factors associated with technology development issues, acquisition management issues, and funding resource issues which will ultimately tip the balance away from the offense towards the defense in the ongoing seesaw battle between defensive advantages gained versus offensive doctrinal and technological responses implemented.

      A capable adversary will not have to defend against the EFV or the F-35 that was never constructed in the first place because it became too expensive to procure in numbers adequate to properly cover the operational need.

    3. Scott,

      We are in agreement. Your last point being brilliant.

      My contention rests upon the lack of resource prioritization that is required to enable amphibious operations in all but permissive environments. The allocation of service funding must change, or we will defacto ceed the capability. I think we are at that point now.

      I also note that once the resource and undersea threats issues are addressed, there are a number of low cost solutions to amphibious lift.

      PASCAT and L-CAT are cheaper, smaller, lighter, and nearly as effective alternatives to LCACs. The UK uses diesel powered Griffon TD2400 hovercraft LACAC(L) to lift a rifle squad for about $2million. So for not much more than the cost of a single LCAC, we could buy enough smaller hovercraft to lift a rifle company, and actually them against light defenses.

      The cost issue seems to be driven by unrealistic requirements which in turn drive the adoption of immature technological solutions. The alternatives I listed above are a case in point, they are slightly slower, but cost less and are operationaly more flexible because they can be purchased in quantity. The loss of a single LCAC is catastrophic. Lossing one out of 15 LCAC (L) (the TD2400 hover craft) is an inconvenience. Operationally, is there that big a difference between 20kts, 30kts and 50kts? In general these specs make for great advertising bullets, but in the real world, the differences are often far less compelling.


    4. Correction: the LCAC (L) is a family member of the Griffon 2400TD hovercraft.


    5. Scott, very good comment.

      As in the previous post you reference, I disagree with your contention that defense will come to dominate offense. In fact, I see the reverse. Take the case of Aegis (defense) which was developed to defend against Soviet bombers and their cruise missiles. On a relative basis, the bombers and missiles are vanishingly cheap but required a massively expensive Aegis program to produce a counter. More recently, relatively inexpensive intermediate range anti-ship ballistic missiles have prompted a massive and expensive BMD program from the Navy. The point being that offensive weapons are cheap and easy relative to the effort and cost to defend against them. Will Star Wars type laser systems tip the balance the other way, someday? Perhaps but at what cost?

      You also suggest that future combat will entail casualties that are, currently, unacceptable. Again, I would offer the reverse thought. The trend towards unmanned vehicles and long range, autonomous strike weapons/missiles suggests that the preparation and breaching (I may not be using the terms in a technically correct manner) phases may well be accomplished without any casualties. It's a simple exercise of launching a sufficient number of unmanned weapons to overwhelm or exhaust the defender's resources. Once accomplished, the attackers can move in at their leisure (neglecting land force combat!).

      Your point about the value of ASB being the journey is very well taken!

      Also, your point about the lack of need to defend against the threat that was never built due to cost is on point and harkens back to the discussion about numbers being the most important factor in winning a war.

      All in all, an excellent comment!

  7. What struck me was a complete and total lack of discussion of mine warfare, to include offensive use of mines. Mines are not sexy, but they remain devastatingly effective and are cheap. Mines are ironically a key component of enemy A2/AD efforts!

    Three key bits missing from the discourse:

    - An effective joint naval mine warfare doctrine. "Joint naval" is key because USAF aircraft, particularly B-52s, and possibly even cargo aircrft, would be principal elements in the ability to offensively deliver mines. Submarines can certainly deliver special packages, but for volume and speed, the USAF has to carry this load. And of course there is a derth of coordinated thinking on USN minewarfare doctrine - emphasis on MCM.

    - Discussion of USN/USAF exercises in mining, counter mining, and mine clearance. You fight the way you train.

    - The inevitable procurement bit are the MCM ships, helicopters, modules, and the actual mines, and other gear needed to help the USAF with the mine mission.


    1. GAB, the lack of mention of mine warfare and several other topics only serves to reinforce my belief that the Navy/AF are using ASB mainly as a procurement justification. There are certainly lower level people attempting to build on ASB as a viable operational concept but I really don't think that's the goal of upper level leadership. I'd love to be wrong!

  8. ComNavOps,

    I think that the key to answering the A2/AD challenges are largely issues of organization, doctrine/training, and strategy. Inevitably, these issues ultimately impact procurement, but the military has not articulated a response to A2/AD threats that Krepinevich laid out.

    The Pentagon Response to daunting challenges in budget, and manning is to lock shields and try to preserve the status quo and defend all sacred cows. The civilian leadership side of the equation does not seem to be composed of the “A-team” thinkers (look at the key players in OSD, the services).

    Manpower and budgets in the military must shift away from ground power to maritime, air, space, and cyber power. Paradoxically, the key factor for the Army and Marine corps is to get their conventional war-fighting house in order so the shift can be done without killing the ground forces. The U.S. Army needs to follow the models set by the post WWI Royal Army, and particularly the German Army (small, highly professional forces, with exceptionally robust training cadres), the coming cuts could will leave us with a force that could be expanded rapidly in time of need. Recall that the entire German military was limited to less than 100,000 men, yet the Germans were able to massively and rapidly expanded their military prior to WWII with no reduction in quality by extreme emphasis on quality of manpower, insisting that personnel were trained to function two or three pay grades higher than their actual rank, and meticulous attention to schools and training programs, etc. …

    The current force structure has too much fat:
    1. Why do we still have 30,000 troops in Europe?
    2. Why do we have so many unified commands sucking up 1,000 - 3,000 staff personnel, and largely focused on things that the State Department should be handling?
    3. Why do we have entire layers of bureaucracy like DFAS that are duplicative of functions the services perform?
    4. Why do we have 30,000 plus defense contractors just in the beltway?
    5. Why do we have more flag officers now than in WWII?

    Surely, we could do a lot better with what we have.

    On the acquisition side:
    1. Where are our MCM helicopters? Where are our MCM ships?
    2. We know our carriers will fight at a range disadvantage to land based air and missile threats: where are the tankers? Surely we could bring back the S-3, or take a C-2, upgraded with some of the changes made to the new E-2, and convert it into a tanker.
    3. Where are our long-range cruise and ballistic missiles? Combined with aerial tankers, this would enable carriers to function against long range A2/AD threats.
    4. Why do we insist upon building LHDs and LHAs when we could buy something like a Kitty Hawk CV that could carry more capable aircraft for not much more money?
    5. Do we have to have a well deck on everything, or might we build single purpose LSDs, or semi-submersible lift ships to handle LCACs, AAVs, LAVs, landing craft, and warping tugs?
    6. Do we really need a $115 million-dollar CH-53K or could we buy a navalized version of the CH-47 for ~$26 million-dollars: and buy four times as many? What about a MH-60 replacement for USMC UH-1s?
    7. How about the USMC taking over the A-10s that the USAF wants to retire?
    8. The Navy needs a vertical launch land attack missile that can carry DPICM and unitary warhead payloads like the MLRS/GMRLS for suppression of enemy artillery, missiles, HLZs etc.. Tomahawk is too slow for counter-battery work (we need sub 2 minute response: order to steel on target), too expensive for hitting lower level targets like enemy artillery, and takes up too much space. Once upon a time, industry claimed it could mate a MRLS warhead to a naval missile (POLAR) with ~90 mile range and quad-pack it in VLS opening a whole new dimension in land attack.
    9. The Navy needs AOEs. These ships need to be manned by navy crews, equipped with CIWS, NULKA, EW etc. These ships need to operate in groups of two or three to refuel task forces (carrier, ARGs, CRUDES etc.) and they need to be escorted!


    1. GAB, there's not a thing in your comment I don't agree wholeheartedly with. In fact, many more specific items could be added!

      You do realize that there is a single, unifying theme in your comment? It's leadership. Our uniformed leadership is consistently making poor decisions. Why is that? These are supposedly intelligent people. Assuming you and I are right (and ComNavOps always is!) how is it that the problems, issues, and solutions are so very obvious to us but seem to be beyond the grasp of military leadership?


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