With the Iraq commitment now in the past and the end of the Afghan war now in sight, the US military is casting an eye to the future. DOD is becoming serious about preparing new strategic concepts and operational doctrine for the future. The military entered the Afghanistan and Iraq wars as a machine primarily geared for fighting and winning a conventional interstate war. Through nearly twelve years of fluid low intensity conflict, the military continually adapted itself and its doctrines to stay one step ahead of the enemy. In spite of the opinions of some untrained observers, the service branches were all quite successful in doing this.
Now, as OEF winds down, the Pentagon is beginning to focus on the future. Concerted efforts are underway to identify potential battlefields and opponents and determine what tools and doctrines will be needed to fight and win tomorrow’s war. This is no small undertaking, especially now, with the possibility of large scale defense budget cuts about to become a reality. Pentagon planners are being asked to prepare the force to fight the next war on a shoestring budget. Not intelligent, not very fair, but it’s the reality of the moment.
The first question is: Who will be the most likely opponents on the battlefield tomorrow? From the 1947-48 through to the end of the Cold War in 1991, the primary adversary of the US military was the Soviet Union. Doctrine, weapons design and procurement, training, exercises and planning at almost every level was geared towards a potential fight against the Soviet adversary. If it had come at any point (except for the mid to late 70s, a.k.a the Post Vietnam Malaise Years) the US would have been prepared. That fight never materialized, thankfully enough.
Preparation is more complex in contemporary times. There are a host of potential future adversaries. Political correctness forbids the Pentagon from publicly declaring what specific nations the military is preparing to fight. However, inside the E Ring, it’s generally recognized and accepted that the United States needs to be prepared for an armed conflict with the People’s Republic of China, Iran and North Korea above all. Proof that the Pentagon regards the Iran and the PRC military threats as valid is evident in the still emerging Air-Sea Battle (ASB) concept.
ASB is an operational concept that was conceived by the Air Force and Navy in 2009. It is not a doctrine…..at least not yet, and the ASB information available to the public is, understandably, vague and incomplete. In short, ASB revolves around a concerted Joint effort to defeat an enemy’s Anti Access/ Area Denial (A2/AD) weapons systems and tactics. A2/AD centers on an enemy’s ability to deny US military forces the opportunity to project power in a respective combat theater. China and Iran’s A2/AD capabilities are both robust and becoming more integrated as time goes on. Both nations would benefit exponentially from a successful A2/AD campaign against the US in a future conflict. Keeping American military power at arms-length in the Western Pacific would give China a free hand to use against Taiwan. In the Persian Gulf, Iranian A2/AD efforts would focus on denying US forces the use of air and sea space around the Straits of Hormuz.
Naval and air forces will form the core of an anti- A2/AD effort. However, the US Army and Marine Corps are being brought into the concept too. The Army’s main contribution is with theater and area air defense assets. The Marines effort appears to be less defined, but in all probability will include its formidable air power.
ASB is far from a finished product, yet it does prove that the Pentagon is moving away from the low intensity conflict mindset and beginning to focus on the more conventional threats that US forces are facing now and will face in the near future.