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Air-Sea Battle


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National Review:

Our defense intellectuals, seeking a new Big Idea, need to seek farther.
Jim Lacey

Unbeknownst to most Americans, the U.S. military is in the midst of another of its many revolutions in thinking. As we depart Iraq and begin positioning ourselves to exit Afghanistan, the military appears in a rush to put the whole idea of Counterinsurgency Warfare behind it. All over D.C. one can hear the sounds of the nation’s deepest military thinkers closing the door on one era as they scramble about in search of the next big thing. Counterinsurgency had a good run — almost ten years. Few military fads, in recent decades, have had such a spectacular run. Entire forests have been decimated for the discussion of ideas such as Shock and Awe, Network Centric Warfare, A Revolution in Military Affairs, and Effects-Based Operations, none of which lasted half as long. You may have not have heard about any of these, but trust me, each, in turn, has absorbed the full mental capacity of nearly every defense intellectual in the country. And now these thinkers need something new.


In truth, the Air-Sea Battle concept addresses a very real problem: How does the U.S. military operate in a world where many potential foes can afford missiles and other weapons that could deny it entry to or use of an area. Problems arose, however, when this search for a technical fix to a tactical problem began to morph into a strategy, one that was widely perceived as being aimed at containing or if necessary militarily defeating China. As China is the one country that can afford a substantial amount of “area-denial” weapons, it was only natural that the planners should first consider how they would match the strongest potential force they may one day have to face. Unfortunately, a lot of the early commentary on Air-Sea Battle made it look like a modern redo of the pre–World War II Plan Orange, which envisioned the Pacific Fleet rushing headlong across the ocean to destroy the Japanese Imperial Navy. Only this time around, Japan was replaced by China as the enemy of choice.


Any concept or strategy that places the elements required for a decisive conclusion to military action in a secondary role is flawed from the start. A final question requires asking: How does one go about creating those all important cross-domain synergies by neglecting the domain that has proven to be the most crucial to victory over the past 3,000 years of recorded history?

Jim Lacey is professor of strategic studies at the Marine Corps War College. He is the author of the recently released The First Clash and Keep from All Thoughtful Men. The opinions in this article are entirely his own and do not represent those of the Department of Defense or any of its members.

Stand by for blood on the floor at the Pentagon
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