AirSea Battle: The Military-Industrial Complex’s Self-Serving Fantasy

Posted on August 13, 2012


Nice Washington Post piece (by Greg Jaffe, of course) on the great COIN counterattack that is the Pentagon’s AirSea Battle.

As scenario work goes, what the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Analysis has done in its war-games has to rank right up there with the most egregiously implausible efforts ever made to justify arms build-ups.

These games, done for Andrew Marshall’s Office of Net Assessment at the Defense Department, enthusiastically embrace what I have long dubbed the exceedingly narrow “war within the context of war” mindset – purposefully zeroing out all outside existing reality that readily contradicts the core operational concepts behind AirSea Battle.

[For my most complete criticism of ASBC, see “Big-War Thinking in a Small-War Era: The Rise of the AirSea Battle Concept” for the journal China Security.]

Post quote from respected China expert Jonathan Pollack, who, in another life, was a colleague of mine at the Naval War College:

Some critics doubt that China, which owns $1.6 trillion in U.S. debt and depends heavily on the American economy, would strike U.S. forces out of the blue.

“It is absolutely fraudulent,” said Jonathan D. Pollack, a senior fellow at Brookings. “What is the imaginable context or scenario for this attack?”

Other defense analysts warn that an assault on the Chinese mainland carries potentially catastrophic risks and could quickly escalate to nuclear armageddon.

The war games elided these concerns. Instead they focused on how U.S. forces would weather the initial Chinese missile salvo and attack.

That last bit is what I mean when I say the “big war” crowd inside the Pentagon is actively seeking to lower the threshold of great-power war:  when confronted with the dangers of escalation, these complications are simply eliminated from the model in a truly Strangelovian twist of logic.

The other locations the U.S. military would bomb in the opening hours of America’s war with China, according to the CSBA’s concept of AirSea Battle

Here’s how I wrote that bit up in the China Security piece:

Most incredulously, a guiding assumption of the CSBA’s war scenario analysis is that, despite the high likelihood that a Sino-US conventional conflict “would devolve into a prolonged war” (presumably with tens of thousands of casualties on China’s side at least), mutual nuclear deterrence would be preserved throughout the conflict even as China suffers humiliating defeat across the board. The historical proof offered for this stunning judgment?  Neither Nazi Germany nor Saddam Hussein’s Iraq used chemical weapons as a last-ditch tool to stave off defeat.  And if China took that desperate step?  The CSBA then admits that, “the character of the conflict would change so drastically as to render discussion of major conventional warfare irrelevant.” As strategic “oops!” disclaimers go, that one has the benefit of understatement.

As a mental exercise, just imagine the reverse situation:  China is defending Cuba from U.S. military threats, but the U.S. makes it look like it’s going to attack, and then . . . WHAMMO!  the Chinese military drops bombs in the American west, east, south, north and heartland.  Imagine how the United States would handle that.  Do you think we just might pop off a nuke in China’s general direction?  Or do you think we’d just “take it” and respond solely via conventional means?

But, please, by all minds, stop me when I start sounding crazy . . ..

And yet this stuff is seriously passed around in Washington, and it forms the core operational logic underpinning President Obama’s “strategic pivot” to China.

Scared yet?  You should be.  Because these are some incredibly dangerous ideas being passed off as “necessary.”  To be brutally honest, it makes me ashamed of my profession – it’s that bad.  Worse, these plans and preparations are proceeding with zero public debate.

You’d think such thinking was impossible in this connected day and age, but it’s a testament to 91-year-old Marshall’s staying power within the Pentagon, along with the military-industrial complex’s enduring attraction to his high-dollar, big-ticket approach to future war.  Mr. Marshall still wants his “revolution in military affairs” – no matter what it costs or what arms races and major conflicts it may encourage.

This is a vision of war that’s long been in search (since the 1980s) of a suitable enemy.  Naturally, no matter how China “rises,” it fits the bill.  So the more we push the envelope, the more the Chinese push back.  And when the right Vietnamese fisherman is arrested, well . . . hell, man!  We’ll be ready for World War III.

Overkill?  Undoubtedly.

But more to the point:  tell me how this imagined war will end to our advantage?

But these are meaningless questions to those who refuse to imagine, as I like to say, “war within the context of everything else.”  Because, in the end, the outside world doesnt’ matter.  What matters is who controls the bucks inside the Pentagon.

Naturally, the Army and Marines are less than thrilled with the vision (again, from the Post piece):

Inside the Pentagon, the Army and Marine Corps have mounted offensives against the concept, which could lead to less spending on ground combat.

An internal assessment, prepared for the Marine Corps commandant and obtained by The Washington Post, warns that “an Air-Sea Battle-focused Navy and Air Force would be preposterously expensive to build in peace time” and would result in “incalculable human and economic destruction” if ever used in a major war with China.

The concept, however, aligns with Obama’s broader effort to shift the U.S. military’s focus toward Asia and provides a framework for preserving some of the Pentagon’s most sophisticated weapons programs, many of which have strong backing in Congress.

That last line says it all.  AirSea Battle is an exercise in spending fantastic amounts of U.S. taxpayer dollars in certain congressional districts. This is the only reason it flourishes, and the primary reason why a cynical Obama embraces it: it proves his “tough on defense” credentials as he draws down in Afghanistan.

We have no serious leadership in Washington.  Strategic thinking has been completely eliminated in the quest for program-preserving rationales.  It is a sad time to be in this business.

This is what I meant when I said that 9/11 saved us from ourselves.  The Bush neocons were all wound up about China prior to 9/11, and now that that strategic narrative has been consummated – in our minds, at least – by Osama Bin Laden’s assassination, the China hawks are once again ascendant.

Why?  There is simply more of the right kind of defense dollars in this vision (meaning uber-expensive high tech stuff – not those pesky troops).

This vision fits the country’s mood:  what’s wrong with America is China – not what’s actually wrong with America. Since fixing America would be hard, it’s better to blame China and feel better about our failings by gearing up for high-tech war with the Chinese.

The worst part?  This is a self-licking ice cream cone.

As China’s development matures and the government is forced to limit defense spending in deference to the mounting costs associated with environmental damage, aging of the population, rising demand for better healthcare, safer food and products, etc., the People’s Liberation Army desperately needs an external enemy image to justify protecting its share of the pie (which is already smaller than the amount spent on internal security).

Thus, the PLA needs the Pentagon’s big-war crowd…as much as the latter needs the PLA.

This is a marriage made in heaven – and pursued with an indifferent cynicism that is stunning in its magnitude.

Thomas P.M. Barnett

China’s Growing Long-Range Strike Capability

While the jury is still out on whether China’s J-20 stealth aircraft will serve as a long-range bomber, there is mounting evidence that the Chinese military is developing the means to launch combat operations well beyond its shores and against targets that hitherto were beyond the reach of its conventional military forces.

The latest indication, which again comes courtesy of pictures on military websites, is that the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) may be testing a navalized version of the 4,000km-range Dong Hai-10 (DH-10) land-attack cruise missile (LACM), which relies integrated inertial navigation, GPS guidance, terrain contour mapping, and scene-matching terminal-homing to reach its target.

At present, only the Second Artillery Corps and the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) have a LACM capability (the air force’s variant is known as the CJ-10A). Although the PLAN has anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCM), its vessels do not currently have the means to attack ground targets — a surprising weakness for a power with growing ambitions.

The high-tech displays during the Persian Gulf War of 1991 and the Kosovo War of 1999 had a tremendous impact on the direction of Beijing’s force modernization. Ship-launched BGM-109 Tomahawk cruise missiles were used extensively in operations against Baghdad and Belgrade, providing long-distance precision attacks at almost zero risk to casualty-wary coalition forces.

Given the types of contingencies the Chinese military will likely face in the future, it is hard to imagine that the PLA would not fully appreciate the advantages of having a navalized LACM as part of a “cruise missile triad.” In fact, some analysts believe that the Chinese have had plans for a ship-launched LACM all along, which may also have been influenced by the Hyunmoo IIIC developed by the South Korean Navy, as Richard A. Bitzinger points out in a recent study of the Chinese Navy.

In addition to their long range, accuracy (the DH-10 has a 10m circular error probable), and the difficulty of tracking them, LACMs give a belligerent the ability to launch multidirectional attacks to penetrate enemy air defense networks at a low altitude. Furthermore, unlike other services in the military, the Navy can deploy almost anywhere and linger in a manner than is arguably less threatening than, say, H-6K/M long-range bomber sorties accompanied by cover groups and mid-air refueling tankers.

As the PLAN becomes a major component of China’s “rise” to regional power status, the ability to launch pre-emptive, quasi-surprise attacks against land targets — including command-and-control systems, radar sites, and airstrips — could play a decisive role in battle. Andersen Air Force Base on Guam, a key base for U.S. operations in the Asia Pacific, as well as Okinawa, would be appealing targets for a multi-directional LACM offensive, especially as both are said to be severely lacking in air defense and hardening, leaving aircraft and critical infrastructure exposed to a devastating surprise attack.

“No one, including the U.S., has ringed their countries with enough SAM [surface-to-air] batteries to defend against all the azimuths that a low-flying cruise missile might approach from,” Rear Admiral (Ret) Michael McDevitt, now a senior fellow at the Center for Naval Analyses, told The Diplomat. “This is especially true of islands.”

Other scenarios in which PLAN vessels equipped with LACMs could play a major role include a Taiwan contingency, with the ability to surround the island and overwhelm its modern, albeit limited, air defenses (consisting of PAC-3 and Tien Kung “Sky Bow” batteries), as well as many of the disputes China faces in the South China Sea over islets and oil/gas resources there.

The pictures seen in late July showed a missile canister on the 892 PLAN test vessel that was almost identical to the land-based DH-10. Based on the picture, the launchers would be installed in a similar way to the YJ-62 or YJ-83 anti-ship missile canisters currently used on Type 052C destroyers, which would have the advantage of necessitating little, if any, structural modification. If that were the case, as many as eight navalized DH-10 launch tubes could be installed on a Type 052C, and possibly more on the Type 052D rumored to be under development. To ensure minimal defense against enemy ships, a destroyer could also use a LACM/ASCM combination, while another option would be to deploy a mixed group comprising LACM-equipped destroyers accompanied by a cover group armed with ASCMs.

So far it is not known whether the PLAN envisions a vertical-launch system (VLS), such as that used for South Korea’s Hyunmoo IIIC, for its navalized DH-10. Among other things, VLS allows 360-degree targeting regardless of a vessel’s orientation. How the Type 052D evolves could provide clues on this issue (a VLS on existing Type 052Cs is unlikely, as this would entail structural modifications). There also is no indication that China has begun work on a submarine-launched version, though that could logically follow.

Capabilities alone are not a failsafe indicator of intention, but current trends in Chinese military development certainly point to the realization by Chinese strategists that the PLA must have the ability to launch surprise and multidirectional attacks against land targets that lie well beyond its historical area of operations.

J. Michael Cole

US think tank plans military build-up against China

A paper by the Washington think tank, the Centre for Strategic and Independent Studies (CSIS), entitled “US Force Posture Strategy in the Asia Pacific Region: An Independent Assessment,” provides what amounts to a blueprint for the Obama administration’s military preparations for conflict with China.

While the CSIS is a non-government body, its assessment was commissioned by the US Defense Department, as required by the 2012 National Defense Authorisation Act, giving semi-official status to its findings and proposals. The paper involved extensive discussions with top US military personnel throughout the Pentagon’s Pacific Command. The CSIS report was delivered to the Pentagon on June 27, but gained media coverage only after its principal authors—David Berteau and Michael Green—testified before the US House Armed Services Committee on August 1.

The report featured prominently in the Australian media, which headlined one of its proposals: to forward base an entire US aircraft carrier battle group at HMAS Stirling, a naval base in Western Australia. If implemented, the recommendation would transform the base, and the nearby city of Perth, into a potential target for Chinese and Russian nuclear missiles. The proposal serves to underscore the far-reaching implications of the CSIS assessment, which is in line with Obama administration’s confrontational “pivot” to Asia, aimed against China.

The CSIS assessment declares that the underlying US geostrategic objective in the Asia-Pacific region has been to prevent “the rise of any hegemonic state from within the region that could threaten US interests by seeking to obstruct American access or dominate the maritime domain. From that perspective, the most significant problem for the United States in Asia today is China’s rising power, influence, and expectations of regional pre-eminence.” In other words, the prevailing American hegemony in the region must continue.

The document recognises that military strategy is bound up with economic imperatives. It identifies “trade agreements such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement” as crucial to “a sustainable trans-Pacific trade architecture that sustains U.S. access and influence in the region.” While declaring that the US “must integrate all of these instruments of national power and not rely excessively on US military capabilities,” it is precisely America’s relative economic decline that is driving the use of military power to maintain its dominance in Asia, as in the Middle East.

Having identified China as the chief potential rival, the report rules out any repeat of the US containment strategy employed to isolate the Soviet Union during the Cold War—thus pointing to the United States’ economic dependence on China. Significantly, the authors reject a power-sharing arrangement with China, or, as described to the armed services committee, “a bipolar condominium that acknowledges Beijing’s core interests and implicitly divides the region.” This latter conception, in one form or another, is being promoted by some strategic analysts in the US and Australia as the only means of preventing war. The CSIS report rejects any pull back by the US from Asia, which would effectively cede the region to China.

Having ruled out peaceful alternatives, the CSIS paper sets out a military strategy. The authors do not openly advocate war with China, declaring that “the consequences of conflict with that nation are almost unthinkable and should be avoided to the greatest extent possible, consistent with U.S. interests.” They do not exclude the possibility of conflict in the event that US interests are at stake, however, adding that the ability to “maintain a favourable peace” depends on the perception that the US can prevail in the event of conflict. “U.S. force posture must demonstrate a readiness and capacity to fight and win, even under more challenging circumstances associated with A2AD [anti-access/area denial] and other threats to U.S. military operations in the Western Pacific,” the report states.

Thus, in the name of peace, the US is preparing for a catastrophic war with China. US strategic planners are especially concerned with China’s so-called A2AD military capacities—the development of sophisticated submarines, missiles and war planes capable of posing a danger to the US navy in the Western Pacific. While the US habitually presents such weaponry as a “threat” to its military, in reality China is defensively responding to the presence of overwhelming American naval power in waters close to the mainland. US naval preponderance in the East China Sea, the South China Sea and key “choke” points such as the Malacca Strait, menaces the shipping lanes from the Middle East and Africa on which China relies for energy and raw materials.

The CSIS report approves of the repositioning and strengthening of US military forces in the Western Pacific that has accelerated under the Obama administration’s “rebalance” to Asia. This includes: consolidating US bases, troops and military assets in Japan and South Korea; building up US forces on Guam and Northern Mariana Islands, strategically located in the Western Pacific; stationing in Singapore littoral combat ships—relatively small, fast, flexible warships capable of intelligence gathering, special operations and landing troops with armoured vehicles; and making greater use of Australian naval and air bases and positioning 2,500 Marines in the northern city of Darwin. In addition, the paper confirms that the US has held discussions with Thailand, the Philippines and Vietnam over possible access to bases and joint training.

The document also reviews US efforts to strengthen military ties throughout Asia—from India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka to Burma, Indonesia and New Zealand—as well as with its formal allies. Significantly, in ranking military contingencies from low to high intensity, it identifies Australia, Japan and South Korea as critical allies “at the higher spectrum of intensity”—in other words, military conflict with China—“with other allies and partners at the lower spectrum of intensity.”

While broadly dealing with all contingencies, the CSIS assessment is primarily focussed on “high intensity.” Its recommendations involve the further development of military arrangements with South Korea, Japan and Australia, and also between these allies. It recommends the implementation of the latest military agreements with Japan and South Korea. In relation to Japan, the document makes the strategic significance of Okinawa clear. It is “centrally located” between Northeast Asia and maritime Southeast Asia, and “positioned to fight tactically within the A2AD envelope in higher intensity scenarios”—that is, it is crucial in any war with China. The Obama administration has intransigently opposed Japanese government calls to relocate the large US Marine base at Futenma off Okinawa.

The CSIS document is not the official policy of the Obama administration: its findings are couched as recommendations. It considers all scenarios, including maintaining the status quo and winding back US forces from the Asia Pacific region, neither of which it favours. However, the most ominous aspect of the report deals with a substantial list of steps that could be taken to markedly strengthen the US military throughout the region.

As well as basing a US nuclear aircraft carrier in Western Australia, these include: doubling the number of nuclear attack submarines based at Guam; deploying littoral combat ships to South Korea; doubling the size of amphibious forces in Hawaii; permanently basing a bomber squadron on Guam; boosting manned and unmanned surveillance assets in Australia or Guam; upgrading anti-missile defences in Japan, South Korea and Guam; and strengthening US ground forces. While recommending consideration of all these options, the CSIS specifically calls for more attack submarines to be placed at Guam—that is, within easy striking distance of Chinese shipping routes and naval bases.

Any of these moves will only heighten tensions with China and the danger of an arms race and conflict in the Asia Pacific region. The CSIS assessment points to potential flashpoints, from the Korean peninsula and the Taiwan Strait to the South China Sea and the disputed borders between India and China. The report clearly represents the thinking more broadly within the Obama administration, and top US military and intelligence circles that are recklessly preparing and planning for war with China.

Peter Symonds

U.S. model for a future war fans tensions with China and inside Pentagon

When President Obama called on the U.S. military to shift its focus to Asia earlier this year, Andrew Marshall, a 91-year-old futurist, had a vision of what to do.

Marshall’s small office in the Pentagon has spent the past two decades planning for a war against an angry, aggressive and heavily armed China.

No one had any idea how the war would start. But the American response, laid out in a concept that one of Marshall’s longtime proteges dubbed “Air-Sea Battle,” was clear.

Stealthy American bombers and submarines would knock out China’s long-range surveillance radar and precision missile systems located deep inside the country. The initial “blinding campaign” would be followed by a larger air and naval assault.

The concept, the details of which are classified, has angered the Chinese military and has been pilloried by some Army and Marine Corps officers as excessively expensive. Some Asia analysts worry that conventional strikes aimed at China could spark a nuclear war.

Air-Sea Battle drew little attention when U.S. troops were fighting and dying in large numbers in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now the military’s decade of battling insurgencies is ending, defense budgets are being cut, and top military officials, ordered to pivot toward Asia, are looking to Marshall’s office for ideas.

In recent months, the Air Force and Navy have come up with more than 200 initiatives they say they need to realize Air-Sea Battle. The list emerged, in part, from war games conducted by Marshall’s office and includes new weaponry and proposals to deepen cooperation between the Navy and the Air Force.

A former nuclear strategist, Marshall has spent the past 40 years running the Pentagon’s Office of Net Assessment, searching for potential threats to American dominance. In the process, he has built a network of allies in Congress, in the defense industry, at think tanks and at the Pentagon that amounts to a permanent Washington bureaucracy.

While Marshall’s backers praise his office as a place where officials take the long view, ignoring passing Pentagon fads, critics see a dangerous tendency toward alarmism that is exaggerating the China threat to drive up defense spending.

“The old joke about the Office of Net Assessment is that it should be called the Office of Threat Inflation,” said Barry Posen, director of the MIT Security Studies Program. “They go well beyond exploring the worst cases. . . . They convince others to act as if the worst cases are inevitable.”

Marshall dismisses criticism that his office focuses too much on China as a future enemy, saying it is the Pentagon’s job to ponder worst-case scenarios.

“We tend to look at not very happy futures,” he said in a recent interview.

China tensions

Even as it has embraced Air-Sea Battle, the Pentagon has struggled to explain it without inflaming already tense relations with China. The result has been an information vacuum that has sown confusion and controversy.

Senior Chinese military officials warn that the Pentagon’s new effort could spark an arms race.

“If the U.S. military develops Air-Sea Battle to deal with the [People’s Liberation Army], the PLA will be forced to develop anti-Air-Sea Battle,” one officer, Col. Gaoyue Fan, said last year in a debate sponsored by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a defense think tank.

Pentagon officials counter that the concept is focused solely on defeating precision missile systems.

“It’s not about a specific actor,” a senior defense official told reporters last year. “It is not about a specific regime.”

The heads of the Air Force and Navy, meanwhile, have maintained that Air-Sea Battle has applications even beyond combat. The concept could help the military reach melting ice caps in the Arctic Circle or a melted-down nuclear reactor in Japan, Adm. Jonathan Greenert, the U.S. chief of naval operations, said in May at the Brookings Institution.

At the same event, Gen. Norton Schwartz, the Air Force chief, upbraided a retired Marine colonel who asked how Air-Sea Battle might be employed in a war with China.

“This inclination to narrow down on a particular scenario is unhelpful,” Schwartz said.

Privately, senior Pentagon officials concede that Air-Sea Battle’s goal is to help U.S. forces weather an initial Chinese assault and counterattack to destroy sophisticated radar and missile systems built to keep U.S. ships away from China’s coastline.

Their concern is fueled by the steady growth in China’s defense spending, which has increased to as much as $180 billion a year, or about one-third of the Pentagon’s budget, and China’s increasingly aggressive behavior in the South China Sea.

“We want to put enough uncertainty in the minds of Chinese military planners that they would not want to take us on,” said a senior Navy official overseeing the service’s modernization efforts. “Air-Sea Battle is all about convincing the Chinese that we will win this competition.”

Like others quoted in this article, the official spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.

A military tech ‘revolution’

Air-Sea Battle grew out of Marshall’s fervent belief, dating to the 1980s, that technological advancements were on the verge of ushering in a new epoch of war.

New information technology allowed militaries to fire within seconds of finding the enemy. Better precision bombs guaranteed that the Americans could hit their targets almost every time. Together these advances could give conventional bombs almost the same power as small nuclear weapons, Marshall surmised.

Marshall asked his military assistant, a bright officer with a Harvard doctorate, to draft a series of papers on the coming “revolution in military affairs.” The work captured the interest of dozens of generals and several defense secretaries.

Eventually, senior military leaders, consumed by bloody, low-tech wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, seemed to forget about Marshall’s revolution. Marshall, meanwhile, zeroed in on China as the country most likely to exploit the revolution in military affairs and supplant the United States’ position as the world’s sole superpower.

In recent years, as the growth of China’s military has outpaced most U.S. intelligence projections, interest in China as a potential rival to the United States has soared.

“In the blink of an eye, people have come to take very seriously the China threat,” said Andrew Hoehn, a senior vice president at Rand Corp. “They’ve made very rapid progress.”

Most of Marshall’s writings over the past four decades are classified. He almost never speaks in public and even in private meetings is known for his long stretches of silence.

His influence grows largely out of his study budget, which in recent years has floated between $13 million and $19 million and is frequently allocated to think tanks, defense consultants and academics with close ties to his office. More than half the money typically goes to six firms.

Among the largest recipients is the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a defense think tank run by retired Lt. Col. Andrew Krepinevich, the Harvard graduate who wrote the first papers for Marshall on the revolution in military affairs.

In the past 15 years, CSBA has run more than two dozen China war games for Marshall’s office and written dozens of studies. The think tank typically collects about $2.75 million to $3 million a year, about 40 percent of its annual revenue, from Marshall’s office, according to Pentagon statistics and CSBA’s most recent financial filings.

Krepinevich makes about $865,000 in salary and benefits, or almost double the compensation paid out to the heads of other nonpartisan think tanks such as the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the Brookings Institution. CSBA said its board sets executive compensation based on a review of salaries at other organizations doing similar work.

The war games run by CSBA are set 20 years in the future and cast China as a hegemonic and aggressive enemy. Guided anti-ship missiles sink U.S. aircraft carriers and other surface ships. Simultaneous Chinese strikes destroy American air bases, making it impossible for the U.S. military to launch its fighter jets. The outnumbered American force fights back with conventional strikes on China’s mainland, knocking out long-range precision missiles and radar.

“The fundamental problem is the same one that the Soviets identified 30 years ago,” Krepinevich said in an interview. “If you can see deep and shoot deep with a high degree of accuracy, our large bases are not sanctuaries. They are targets.”

Some critics doubt that China, which owns $1.6 trillion in U.S. debt and depends heavily on the American economy, would strike U.S. forces out of the blue.

“It is absolutely fraudulent,” said Jonathan D. Pollack, a senior fellow at Brookings. “What is the imaginable context or scenario for this attack?”

Other defense analysts warn that an assault on the Chinese mainland carries potentially catastrophic risks and could quickly escalate to nuclear armageddon.

The war games elided these concerns. Instead they focused on how U.S. forces would weather the initial Chinese missile salvo and attack.

To survive, allied commanders dispersed their planes to austere airfields on the Pacific islands of Tinian and Palau. They built bomb-resistant aircraft shelters and brought in rapid runway repair kits to fix damaged airstrips.

Stealthy bombers and quiet submarines waged a counterattack. The allied approach became the basis for the Air-Sea Battle.

Think tank’s paper

Although the Pentagon has struggled to talk publicly about Air-Sea Battle, CSBA has not been similarly restrained. In 2010, it published a 125-page paper outlining how the concept could be used to fight a war with China.

The paper contains less detail than the classified Pentagon version. Shortly after its publication, U.S. allies in Asia, frustrated by the Pentagon’s silence on the subject, began looking to CSBA for answers.

“We started to get a parade of senior people, particularly from Japan, though also Taiwan and to a lesser extent China, saying, ‘So, this is what Air-Sea Battle is,’ ” Krepinevich said this year at an event at another think tank.

Soon, U.S. officials began to hear complaints.

“The PLA went nuts,” said a U.S. official who recently returned from Beijing.

Told that Air-Sea Battle was not aimed at China, one PLA general replied that the CSBA report mentioned the PLA 190 times, the official said. (The actual count is closer to 400.)

Inside the Pentagon, the Army and Marine Corps have mounted offensives against the concept, which could lead to less spending on ground combat.

An internal assessment, prepared for the Marine Corps commandant and obtained by The Washington Post, warns that “an Air-Sea Battle-focused Navy and Air Force would be preposterously expensive to build in peace time” and would result in “incalculable human and economic destruction” if ever used in a major war with China.

The concept, however, aligns with Obama’s broader effort to shift the U.S. military’s focus toward Asia and provides a framework for preserving some of the Pentagon’s most sophisticated weapons programs, many of which have strong backing in Congress.

Sens. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) and John Cornyn (R-Tex.) inserted language into the 2012 Defense Authorization bill requiring the Pentagon to issue a report this year detailing its plans for implementing the concept. The legislation orders the Pentagon to explain what weapons systems it will need to carry out Air-Sea Battle, its timeline for implementing the concept and an estimate of the costs associated with it.

Lieberman and Cornyn’s staff turned to an unsurprising source when drafting the questions.

“We asked CSBA for help,” one of the staffers said. “In a lot of ways, they created it.”

Greg Jaffe

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