Today’s guest is Dr. Andrew Exum, Senior Fellow at the Center for New American Security.
What should the US Army be contributing to AirSea Battle?
I want to start out this post by first congratulating Raymond “Galrahn” Pritchett and the rest of the team at Information Dissemination for a great five years of blogging. Much of what I have learned about naval forces over the years has come from reading this blog, and it has been great fun for me, a Tennessean, to watch the struggles of Galrahn’s beloved Razorbacks this off-seasons after too many football seasons in which my Volunteers have come up short against our western neighbors.
You may wonder what I, a blogger who normally writes on conventional ground forces and special operations forces, is doing on a blog that focuses on naval forces. The answer is that I have been asked to explain how the U.S. Army would fit into the air-sea battle joint operating concept.
Like many people – to include some of our closest allies in the Asia-Pacific region – I have struggled to understand exactly what the air-sea battle joint operating concept is. As I understand it, based on both public statements as well as conversations with U.S. Air Force and Navy planners, air-sea battle is a developing concept for how the U.S. Air Force and Navy would neutralize Chinese anti-access weapons systems. (No one ever says the weapons systems are Chinese, of course, but you can’t very well admit you are planning for the event of war with your largest trading partner.)
Like air-land battle in the 1970s and 1980s, air-sea battle allows two services to both provide an operational frame of reference for their officer corps as well as to present a justification for the acquisition of big-ticket weapons systems. (Cynical U.S. Army officers grouse air-sea battle is a muddled scheme primarily designed to protect the budgets of the Air Force and Navy.)
To my untrained eye, though, air-sea battle doesn’t look too different from what air and naval forces have traditionally done, which is to guard the commons. And so a quest to figure out how the U.S. Army might fit into air-sea battle should begin with understanding how the U.S. Army has traditionally operated alongside the U.S. Navy.
Traditionally, naval forces exist to do four things, Bernard Brodie informs us: (1) ensure the free flow of friendly commerce across the high seas; (2) facilitate the movement of friendly armies across the high seas; (3) deny the free flow of enemy commerce across the high seas; and (4) deny the movement of enemy armies across the high seas.
Air-sea battle is a somewhat natural extension of those traditional missions, and the role played by the U.S. Army would not much change. Army and Marine units would pretty much be along for the ride until someone hits land, and as Gen. Ray Odierno is only too happy to point out, seven of the largest 10 land armies in the world are in Asia.
|Admiral Greenert and General Odierno – Veterans Day 2011|
I will conclude my post by writing something more about the U.S. Army. A few months ago, I worried in World Politics Review that the U.S. Army was adrift. While the U.S. Air Force and Navy had developed air-sea battle in the decade since the September 11th attacks, the U.S. Army had no relevant operating concept for the 21st Century. I also worried the U.S. Army was not led by the right men. Gen. Odierno is a “Sam Damon” type – an honest “soldier’s officer” and a man with more experience fighting wars than fighting budget battles on Capitol Hill. But I underestimated the ties Gen. Odierno and his deputy Gen. Lloyd Austin had developed with visiting U.S. congressmen during their years in Baghdad. These two leaders have real credibility on Capitol Hill.
Based on discussions with military officers and congressional staffers, I’m not sure you can say the same thing about the leadership of the U.S. Air Force and Navy. The struggles of expensive weapons systems such as the F-35, F-22 and LCS have left congressmen and their staffs jaded and have eroded the credibility of the U.S. Air Force leadership in particular. (The number of F-35s the Air Force says it “needs” has fluctuated from year to year, much to the annoyance of the Congress.)
How all that affects air-sea battle going forward, of course, remains to be seen. I still believe the U.S. Army is in line for still greater cuts in the future and that air-sea battle offers a way for the U.S. Air Force and Navy to better explain their continued and increasing relevance.