Category Archives: Capability Analysis

Analyzing Specific Naval and Maritime Platforms

Winning the Invisible War: Gaining an Enduring Advantage in the EMS

The following article is adapted from a new report by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA), Winning the Invisible War: Gaining an Enduring U.S. Advantage in the Electromagnetic Spectrum.

By Bryan Clark, Whitney M. McNamara, and Timothy A. Walton

The explosion of mobile communications and emerging Internet of Things are turning the electromagnetic spectrum (EMS) into an increasingly crowded place. The advent of 5G, which needs wide swaths of spectrum in multiple frequency ranges to achieve high data rates, will only intensify this trend and create more conflicts between commercial and government users. The challenge of spectrum management and control will be acute for militaries, which depend almost entirely on the EMS for sensing and communications.

The American military is particularly affected by a congested EMS. U.S. forces deploy the most advanced networks of sensors and precision-guided munitions, relying on them for almost all operations. Adversaries like China and Russia have exploited this dependence during the last decade by developing and fielding a comprehensive array of electronic warfare (EW) systems to contest the spectrum.

The U.S. military, however, did not address the challenge posed by its competitors and numerous assessments now argue the U.S. military is unprepared for competition or conflict in the EMS. The problem was not a lack of funding, as defense spending for EMS operations grew steadily since 2015. DoD’s EMS shortfalls arose because the additional dollars were not spent implementing a coherent strategy and instead were used to upgrade legacy systems and fill various capability gaps. Regaining EMS superiority against Chinese and Russian forces at the current pace will take one or two decades – assuming America’s adversaries do not continue to improve.

DoD should accelerate its efforts to regain an advantage in the spectrum, but likely budget constraints will preclude simply throwing more money at the problem. Instead of perpetuating the current move-countermove competition by attempting to fill every EMS capability gap, DoD can adopt a new approach to EMS operations focused on asymme­tries between U.S and opposing militaries. An EMS strategy designed to undermine enemy strengths and exploit adversary vulnerabilities may leave some capability gaps intact but could be the only way for the U.S. military to achieve EMS superiority in time to forestall opportunistic aggression by one of America’s military competitors.

Exploiting Asymmetries

The most important asymmetry between U.S. and opposing militaries is the adversary’s “home team” advantage and how it impacts EMS operations. For example, Chinese and Russian forces can exploit their proximity to likely conflicts by employing sensor techniques that rely on multiple stationary arrays such as passive radio frequency (RF) detection or geolocation and long-range high frequency radars. As an expeditionary force, the U.S. military is less able to employ these techniques and often relies on active, monostatic radars for situational awareness and defense, exposing U.S. units to enemy detection and geolocation.

Their home team advantage also allows China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and the Russian Armed Forces to place EW and sensor systems on their own territory, where they can rely on wired communications, or in nearby sea or airspace, where line-of-sight RF communications can be reliable and difficult to jam. The relatively uncluttered spectrum near their territory also permits Chinese and Russian militaries to pre-plan their spectrum use. As an expeditionary force, the U.S. military must manage spectrum dynamically.

The proximity of U.S. competitors to likely areas of conflict creates additional asymmetries in force design and command and control (C2) between U.S. and competing militaries. For example, because the PLA understands where conflict is likely to occur, the Chinese forces to be employed, and the likely variety of enemy dispositions and tactics, the PLA can employ pre-architected systems of systems and tactics. This approach, which Chinese military strategists call System Destruction Warfare, prioritizes attacks on perceived enemy vulnerabilities, such as U.S. forces’ dependence on the EMS. Although it also uses pre-architected systems and focuses contesting adversary information operations, the Russian military’s C2 approach delegates subordinates more authority to improvise tactics. Similar to PLA leaders, however, Russian commanders are expected to use modeling and cybernetics to scientifically lead forces and antici­pate combat outcomes.

The worldwide commitments of the U.S. military require a more expeditionary and self-contained force design than those needed by Chinese or Russia forces. Today, U.S. forces center on large multimission platforms and troop formations, which are efficient but constrain the force’s flexibility. U.S. forces also need a more adaptable C2 process than the Chinese or Russian militaries to accommodate more contested communications, changing force packages, and the variety of local conditions. The U.S. military employs “mission command” to rely on a junior leader’s judgment and ability to follow the commander’s intent if communications are lost. A lack of planning and management tools available to junior commanders currently hinders their ability to innovate, however, making their actions more predictable to an adversary.  

A Return to Maneuver Warfare

To regain EMS superiority, DoD should focus on exploiting asymme­tries in ways that could undermine adversary strengths or exploit enemy vulnerabilities. Most prominently, the home team advantage of U.S. adversaries could be turned into a weakness if DoD adopts new warfighting approaches that emphasize maneuver and complexity. For instance, the PLA’s reliance on pre-planned, static systems of systems and tactics could be a disadvantage against highly dynamic and unpredictable U.S. force postures and capabilities. Furthermore, complex U.S. operations in the EMS could be especially effective against Chinese and Russian operational concepts that center on defeating U.S. C2, communications, and sensors.

To fully exploit the potential of maneuver warfare, the U.S. military should replace some of its self-contained multimission units that result in highly predictable force packages and tactics with cheaper and less multifunctional units to create a disaggregated and recomposable force. This would enable greater adaptability in U.S. force packages while imposing considerable complexity on adversaries. A disaggregated force would better enable the U.S. military to conduct EMS operations that would be challenging for an enemy to detect and counter, including passive and multistatic sensing, distributed EW, and decoy operations.

A disaggregated force will be difficult to manage, however, in a contested communications environment. Instead of DoD’s current trend toward centralized staffs and resilient wide-area communications for distributed operations, the U.S. military should address this challenge by adopting context-centric C2 and communications (C3). In this approach, C2 relationships are based on communications availability, rather trying to build a communications architecture to support a pre-determined C2 hierarchy. An essential element of context-centric C3 is planning tools that enable junior leaders at to creatively plan, adapt, and recompose their forces and operations. These tools are already being developed and fielded by DoD labs and industry.

U.S. forces will also need to dramatically change how they operate in the EMS to impose complexity and uncertainty on an adversary. Most importantly, the U.S. military’s over-reliance on active monostatic radars can enable adversaries to understand U.S. dispositions and tactics because radars can be detected, classified, and geolocated relatively easily. To more fully support maneuver and adaptability, U.S. forces should use more passive or multistatic sensing, complemented by LPI/LPD communications and electronic countermeasures.

To support passive and multistatic sensing, every U.S. EMS system should also incorporate passive RF detection, or electronic support (ES), functionality. ES capabilities would also help achieve LPI/LPD characteristics by monitoring friendly emissions; improve the effectiveness of EW actions by sensing adversary EMS actions; and enable coordination of EMS operations with minimal communications by detecting EMS operations of collaborating units. Introducing multifunction EMS systems to U.S. forces that can communicate, sense, jam, and decoy, would increase the variety of locations from which sensing or effects be delivered and provide greater adaptability to U.S. forces.

Fully exploiting networked and multifunction capabilities to operate at machine speed will require operators to yield some deci­sion-making to the EMSO system. Today, adaptive algorithms that can react to adversary actions are reaching EW systems in operating forces. These programs should be accelerated, along with efforts to establish testing processes and data governance procedures for future cognitive EMS systems. The most significant impediments to networked EMSO and EMBM are creating interoperable data transmission standards and the varied security levels at which different EMSO systems operate.

EMS maneuver and superiority only have meaning if DoD treats the EMS as an operational domain. Today’s approach to EMS operations treats the EMS as a utility, in which actions such as electronic attack (EA), ES, electronic protection (EP), communications, and sensing are distinct operations. In a domain construct, these actions would be considered as interrelated operations that can be employed in concert to accomplish the commander’s intent and tasking through maneuver in the EMS.

Implementing a New EMS strategy

A more disaggregated and recomposable force has significant impli­cations for how DoD identifies and develops new capabilities. For example, requirements will be harder to determine if the configuration of force packages is not known in advance. Therefore, DoD could adopt an opportunity-based, rather than requirements-based, approach to capability development. New systems would be assessed based on their ability to improve mission outcomes in a range of scenarios and force packages, rather than engineering a point solution based on assumptions regarding future forces and operations. DoD’s new Middle Tier Acquisition Process reflects this approach.   

One tool for assessing the potential benefits of new technologies or systems is experimentation. DoD’s EMS training ranges are unable to provide realistic modern operational environments, but operational security concerns would prevent U.S. forces from recouping the significant investment needed to upgrading live open-air facilities. DoD should shift its emphasis for EMS operations training to virtual and constructive facilities, which would enable concept development, tactics innovation, and training against the most challenging threats at all security levels. Live EMS training to practice safe operations could focus on less-modern threats or employ closed-loop radar, communication, and EW systems.

An Imperative to Change 

DoD cannot continue attempting to gain EMS superiority by incrementally filling capability gaps. This approach is too unfocused, will take too long to reach fruition, is potentially unaffordable, and cedes the initiative to America’s great power competitors. Instead of reacting to adversary moves with its own countermoves, DoD should move in a new direction and focus EW and EMSO capability development on implementing concepts for maneuver warfare that create adaptability for U.S. forces and complexity for adversaries.

If the DoD does not mount a new more strategic and proactive approach to fighting in the EMS and developing the requisite capabilities, adversaries could be emboldened to continue their efforts to gain territory and influence at the expense of U.S. allies and partners. Demonstrating the ability to survive and fight in a contested EMS could help U.S. forces slow Chinese and Russian activities and deter or dissuade these adversaries from more aggressive approaches to their objectives.

Bryan Clark is a Senior Fellow at CSBA.

Timothy Walton is a Research Fellow at CSBA.

Whitney M. McNamara is a Senior Analyst at CSBA.

Featured Image: PHILIPPINE SEA (Nov. 13, 2019) Lt. j. g. Louis Wohletz, from Minneapolis, center, is observed by Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force officers as he stands watch as a surface warfare coordinator during a maritime strike operation exercise in the combat information center of the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Milius (DDG 69) during Annual Exercise (ANNUALEX) 19. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Taylor DiMartino)

The Future of Aircraft Carriers: Consider the Air Wing, Not The Platform

By Robert C. Rubel

A lot of ink has been spilled over the past decade or so concerning the viability of the aircraft carrier. Some regard its combination of expense and vulnerability to cruise and ballistic missiles as fatal to its continued utility. Supporters argue that a modern supercarrier’s size and design make it all but unsinkable, and that its power is key to the U.S. Navy’s ability to deter, to punish, and to defeat aggression. It is this author’s contention that the controversy is focused on the wrong thing: the carrier itself. Rather, it is the viability of its primary weapon system – the air wing – that should be at the center of analysis. When some do take on the air wing, it is usually to decry the lack of mission radius of modern strike fighters. But that also misses the point. Instead, what is it that the air wing, irrespective of the range of its aircraft, is supposed to do? That is a function of the ability of aircraft to penetrate to a launch point, and the ability of the weapons they deliver to achieve the effects needed. A valid discussion of those factors involves much more than just “bombs on target.” 

Unfortunately, most if not all of the discourse taking on the matter of aircraft carriers focuses on the vulnerability or impregnability of the ship. The capability of the air wing to do something tactically, operationally, or strategically useful is either assumed or ignored. But it was precisely this consideration that formed the basis for justifying aircraft carriers in the first place, and the argument that won them a reprieve from the scrap heap after World War II.

Aircraft carriers were a consequence, not a cause. Admiral William Sims perceived the potential of aircraft-delivered bombs to sink battleships. He thus sponsored a series of wargames at the Naval War College after World War I to determine what it would take for sea-based aircraft to constitute a lethal offensive weapon. The insights gained in those games influenced the subsequent design of aircraft carriers. The presumed number of aircraft needed for successful attack against an enemy fleet drove design elements ranging from the mid-ship barrier to the size and number of aircraft carriers needed for a naval offensive. They were always regarded as vulnerable, as operations in the Pacific in World War II proved, but so long as their offensive power could be brought to bear, they were key to fleet success.

The development of nuclear weapons and ultra-long-range bombers posed an existential threat to the aircraft carrier. Soon after WWII leaders of the newly formed U.S. Air Force asserted that the combination of the B-36 bomber and nuclear weapons made the Navy’s aircraft carriers irrelevant. The Navy, for its part, designed a new class of aircraft carrier able to support the large aircraft needed to carry the massive nuclear bombs of the time. However, the USS United States, the lead ship, was cancelled by Secretary of Defense Louis Johnson, precipitating the “revolt of the admirals.” In pivotal Congressional testimony, Admiral Forrest Sherman and others made the case that the B-36 was too slow and vulnerable to reach its intended targets in the Soviet Union, but carrier aircraft had a much better chance. That argument for the strategic utility of a carrier air wing carried the day, and subsequently the USS Forrestal was authorized. In the arena of nuclear warfare logic, the aircraft carrier was regarded as consumable so long as it could reach its launch point before being sunk.

USS Forrestal (CVA-59) underway on 29 August 1959, after completing her first regular overhaul and with Carrier Air Group 8 (CVG-8) aboard for the first time. (Via Navsource)

The conventional utility of sea-based tactical aircraft was demonstrated in the early stages of the Korean War. South Korean airfields were overrun by the North Korean army, so the only source of critical air support for troops on the ground were three aircraft carriers. They could function as airfields at sea, sacrificing their mobility because there was no threat to them at sea. The combination of being available when land-based air was not, and being ready on arrival since the carrier carried enough ordnance and fuel for a week’s operations, made the carriers valuable in a wide variety of situations.

This author’s experience as CO of a strike fighter squadron aboard USS Eisenhower in 1990 is also illustrative. Not long after Saddam invaded Kuwait, we passed through the Suez Canal into the Red Sea. We were convinced that we would be launching strikes into the Kuwait Theater of Operations (KTO) the next morning. The Air Force had already sent fighters into Saudi Arabia, but they had no ordnance, with their stockpiles in the UAE taking a week or more to reach the Riyadh-area airfields. We however had plenty of ordnance on hand, but were 670 miles from the KTO. The Air Force had positioned Air National Guard KC-135s in Jiddah on the Red Sea coast so we had plenty of tanking available. However, doing our time-distance calculations revealed that we could only keep six aircraft at a time in the area.

This points to the problem. A carrier air wing can bring power to bear when no other source of tactical air power is available, but only in limited quantities. If Saddam had decided to keep going south, would six aircraft have had any effect against his large army and hundreds of aircraft? What if we had started to lose aircraft, as we indeed at that time thought we would?  The loss of one or two planes per wave would have quickly reduced the air wing to impotence. The Doolittle Raid points to the other side of that logic. That raid was a “hit and run” operation for the carriers and a one-way ride for the Air Corps crews. However, despite its pin-prick nature, it had strategic effects all out of proportion to the extent it reinforced Admiral Yamamoto’s resolve to conduct the Midway operation, and it also boosted morale at home. The two faces of the strike coin reveal the opportunities and limitations of carrier-based air power. If one can define potential catalytic effects that can be achieved by strategically significant strike, also illustrated by the series of hit-and-run carrier raids on Japanese island airfields in 1942, and these potential effects are of sufficient strategic importance to justify the possible loss of a carrier ( as they were in the Doolittle case) then the investment in aircraft carriers supporting deep strike wings makes sense, if – and only if – those effects cannot be achieved with stand-off missiles.

If a greater, more sustained application of airpower is needed, then the carrier air wing is not a suitable weapon. The other element of that equation, noted previously in the Desert Shield example, is the application of power at range. Regardless of aircraft mission radius or the availability of aerial refueling, the farther the target, the fewer aircraft that can deliver their weapons unless, like the Doolittle Raid, it is a one-time shot. Moreover, any aircraft losses will rapidly deplete the air wing’s ability to support iterative, distant strikes. The advent of modern, lethal air defenses like the Russian S-400 and those aboard modern Chinese warships makes such losses more likely, and any “friction” in the form of mechanical failures or logistic shortfalls exacerbates the problem. The hand waves concerning the carrier air wing’s weaknesses are embedded in much of the discourse supporting the aircraft carrier, and serve to muddy the analytic waters.

In a potential war with China in the Western Pacific it is hard to conceive of a limited target set that could be hit with tactical carrier air power that would have the kind of strategic effects that would justify risking the loss of a carrier, such as the Doolittle Raid of 1942. One might make the case that the air wing’s ability to strike PLAN shipping might constitute such a justification. But to do so, the strike fighters would have to carry weapons like LRASM and thus become simply first stages to those missiles. In any case, the PLAN will soon have enough ships to make any kind of one-shot decisive strike like the Navy achieved at Midway a pipe dream. What kind of “calculated risk” message could a modern PACFLT or SEVENTH Fleet commander be able to credibly write to battle group commanders?   

None of this means that aircraft carriers and their air wings are obsolete. Carriers, by virtue of their centrality in USN fleet design since 1942, have been used in many different methods connected with forward presence because they are what the Navy has. In peacetime and in cases of limited warfare, they have proven to be highly useful, which is why the demand for them by Geographic Combatant Commanders is so extensive. They can be moved around the globe like queens on a chessboard, responding to disasters, minor aggressions, and showing the flag either in threat or in support. They are big, impressive, and prestigious, which is why, despite their expense and presumed vulnerability, countries that can are either building or buying them. In the global presence arena, the issue of justification revolves around expense versus political effect.

Carriers can retain high end warfighting utility also. In addition to air-to-surface missions, either at sea or across the shore, the carrier air wing can also focus on air-to-air work, not simply to defend the carrier, but to support surface forces in various ways to include defeating enemy air ASW efforts (a key initial mission of the old Soviet Su-27), protection of our high-demand, low-availability assets like P-8s and Triton UAVs, and air superiority over distributed surface forces. Presumably (and this would have to be evaluated by gaming and simulation) such missions would allow the aircraft carriers more scope for maneuver and thus reduce their risk.

More and more, missiles are becoming the principal strike weapon of all the world’s armed forces. Navy fleet design should pivot on that assumption, especially when hypersonics begin to proliferate. Once freed of the onus of being the Navy’s “main battery,” aircraft carriers could be put to more innovative uses and the actual number and type needed would be based on a different set of criteria, leading to different numbers. This, in turn, would allow the Navy to adopt a fleet design more compatible with projected technological, geopolitical, and budgetary conditions. In the final estimate, it should also obviate the futile controversy over whether aircraft carriers are vulnerable or not.

Robert C. Rubel is a retired Navy captain and professor emeritus of the Naval War College. He served on active duty in the Navy as a light attack/strike fighter aviator. At the Naval War College he served in various positions, including planning and decisionmaking instructor, joint education adviser, chairman of the Wargaming Department, and dean of the Center for Naval Warfare Studies. He retired in 2014, but on occasion continues to serve as a special adviser to the Chief of Naval Operations. He has published over thirty journal articles and several book chapters.

Featured Image: SOUTH CHINA SEA (October 9, 2019) Multiple aricraft from Carrier Air Wing Five fly in formation over the Navy’s forward-deployed aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kaila V. Peters)

Aviation as the Key to Navy-Marine Integration

By Carl Forsling

Marine Aviation Needs to Enhance Naval Integration

The Corps has drifted away from the Navy over the last two decades, and it didn’t need the Navy in Iraq or Afghanistan. Shortages of amphibious shipping combined with a need to justify force structure gave birth to shore-based SPMAGTFs. This trend has led to less-than-seamless integration between the Marine Corps and Navy. In the future fight, this gap leaves amphibious forces more vulnerable and less deadly than they should be. 

The new Commandant of the Marine Corps, General David Berger, said in his planning guidance, “…there is a need to reestablish a more integrated approach to operations in the maritime domain.” By virtue of their range and speed, aviation assets are inherently able to bridge gaps. Amphibious forces usually take this as meaning between the sea and the land, but it also bridges gaps between forces at sea.

Amphibious ships can no longer serve merely as transportation for their embarked Marines. In the future anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) environment, they have to be part of the open-ocean kill chain. If the naval services are to enhance their survivability and lethality against the medium- and high-threat fights of the future, they have to combine their efforts and their assets. The keystone of that effort will be the aviation assets of the Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) and Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG). They must be reconfigured to better exploit aviation platforms such as the V-22 and F-35B, and turn the Corps into a force for sea control.

The strength of the Navy and Marine Corps team is the use of seaborne mobility to achieve effects on land. New aviation platforms can reinvigorate this for the 21st century, making both the Navy and Marine Corps more survivable, deadly, and integrated.

Ospreys Enable Naval Distributed Operations

In Marine parlance, “distributed operations” mean small units scattered throughout a given ground commander’s area of responsibility. In Navy parlance, distributed maritime operations are those within a naval commander’s area of responsibility. Rarely are the two domains intertwined, but now they need to be.

Marines routinely practice distributed operations within the ships of an Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) – performing “split-ARG” ops at widely separated locations. But this is much less common among the ships of the larger Expeditionary Strike Group, which adds attached surface combatants and often a submarine. 

It is virtually unheard of to detach Marines to other ships, such as those in a carrier strike group. The ARG typically does not integrate much with the rest of the Navy, but in the future, it will need to in order to survive. To that end, why are Ospreys tethered to ships at all, much less particular ships? Ospreys are easier to maintain on land. With the two KC-130Js normally assigned to the MEU, they can reach anywhere in most theaters within hours. 

SPMAGTF-CR-AF’s Ospreys can reach much of the 6th Fleet area of operations on one tank of gas from Moron, Spain. They could reach even further from a centrally located base like Sigonella. SPMAGTF-CR-CC can reach most of the CENTCOM AOR from its base in Kuwait. The Pacific isn’t quite as easy to traverse, but the Osprey has proven itself unique among rotorcraft in covering those distances, having already transited from Hawaii to Australia for the Marine Rotational Forces in Darwin.  

The tiltrotor squadron assigned to SPMAGTF-CR-CENTCOM and the half-squadron with SPMAGTF-CR-AFRICOM are burning out aircraft and people for little operational benefit. By making the MEU MV-22s and the tiltrotor company land-based, the SPMAGTFs are made redundant. Eliminating those would save six deployed MV-22s in the Mediterranean and 12 in CENTCOM. That would strengthen the VMM community and allow it to better support the MEUs. 

Instead of having a SPMAGTF in a given theater in addition to MEU assets, the MEU VMM, tiltrotor company, and KC-130Js would shadow the MEU from shore instead. In Europe, for example, they might primarily work out of Sigonella, but could move to Djibouti to support operations in the Horn of Africa or Romania to counter Russian moves in the Balkans. 

If the rest of the MEU is needed, the tiltrotor-borne unit could be a rapidly deployable advance element, or conversely, remain in strategic or operational reserve. The base tiltrotor squadron, KC-130J detachment, and tiltrotor infantry company would essentially be an airmobile split ARG, capable of independent action, but rejoining the MEU main body when necessary. They could immediately take spots on the air plan ferrying Marines ashore, recovering aboard ship, or to an airfield as the situation dictates. 

For many missions, there is no need to commit the entire Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) or ESG when V-22s can take Marines almost anywhere in theater. It saves these warship formations from having to steam for days. It also affords another way to split the MEU besides just between the ships in the ARG, increasing flexibility and the MEU’s ability to respond to multiple contingencies. In certain threat environments, staging Marines from ships other than amphibious platforms may be the most survivable option, offering greater distribution and putting a greater number of the enemy’s shore bases at risk of amphibious assault. The enemy will never be entirely sure which vessels present that threat, complicating their threat analysis.

Once the MEU doesn’t have to be in one place, or even two, options expand. Amphibious ships aren’t the only vessels Marines can stage from. Ospreys can land on many other naval vessels, even if they can’t support sustained flight operations. The Ospreys could embark, or they might just deliver a contingent of Marines, by alternate insertion means (FAST rope, hoist, etc.) if necessary. Then the ship’s organic air and surface assets would come into play.

With the right preparation, much of the Navy’s fleet could become staging areas for Marines. 

Aircraft carriers are certainly capable of supporting MV-22s. CVNs typically carry two squadrons of H-60s and will soon have their own CMV-22s Ospreys, so have a robust organic insertion capability. They also have sufficient billeting for any GCE Marines. If MV-22s deliver Marines to destroyers or cruisers, those also often have their own helicopters. While they typically carry the MH-60R, not optimized for troop transport, Marines could still use those ships as lilypads for certain missions. Those ships could also deploy small craft with Marines aboard. That would typically be for naval missions like interdiction and counterpiracy, but could also include going ashore for embassy reinforcement or humanitarian assistance. In permissive environments, even USNS vessels could provide staging areas for a small GCE. 

Strike – A Primary Mission

Moving the Ospreys and the tiltrotor company off the ship or distributing these assets across more ships frees up plenty of space above and below deck. This allows for other assets that are more dependent on shipboard space compared to more flexible aviation assets. Those can bring new capabilities such as increased lethality.

Given the number of active theaters today, the 11 big-deck carriers are not enough. However, with the F-35B amphibious strike capability is no longer just providing bomb trucks for low-threat sideshows new amphibious assault formations can strike targets in high-threat environments.

The F-35B is not just a replacement for the AV-8B. It is a 5th generation multirole fighter, capable of penetrating integrated air defenses. But six F-35s per MEU is not sufficient. Due to the situational awareness the F-35 provides pilots, its preferred maneuver element is a division of three or four aircraft, vice the sections of two that AV-8Bs typically employ. Given 75 percent availability, eight aircraft are required to make two light divisions, and thus support sustained combat flight operations. With eight F-35Bs, both the strike and counter-air capabilities of the MEU are dramatically improved. Having a baseline detachment of eight F-35s per MEU will enable a full spectrum of missions, especially a fairly robust offensive and defensive counter-air capability, which the AV-8B was only able to perform in relatively permissive environments. 

Having more F-35s doesn’t just mean more bombs on target. F-35s make every other combatant around them more effective. For example, F-35Bs are capable of directing SM-6 intercepts, HIMARS strikes, and providing in-flight retargeting support to other networked munitions. The SM-6 is not only a capable SAM, but can also be used to engage surface targets. The HIMARS is not limited to working ashore, but can also be fired from a ship’s deck, filling the long-neglected gap in naval gunfire support. Ship-launched HIMARS could also provide amphibious platforms with a powerful new anti-ship capability without requiring launch cells, further expanding the high-end mission set to include sea control.

The F-35 links the ships of the ESG together into something far more deadly and survivable than before. Big-deck amphibs can become formidable strike platforms, reaching out not just with the F-35Bs themselves, but also with their networking support for other shooters distributed across the battlespace.


If LHAs and LHDs are to be legitimate strike and counter-air platforms, they are going to need greater logistics and search-and-rescue (SAR) capability. The current Navy SAR detachment aboard the LHD/LHA is only capable of relatively short-range recovery in secure areas, generally overwater “planeguard” duty. But soon the Navy will be fielding its own enhanced variant of the MV-22, the CMV-22.

A CMV-22 detachment would enhance the capability of both the Navy and the Marine Corps team. With CMV-22s aboard, the Navy could reclaim the long-range SAR mission. This is key if amphibs are going to routinely serve as strike platforms and perform a greater role in sea control. With the right equipment and personnel, this could provide a capability well up the SAR decision matrix, making a VSC detachment valuable as a joint theater personnel recovery asset.

Using more F-35Bs means using more engines, including those the CMV-22 is uniquely suited to carry, not to mention the additional bombs and missiles a “lighting carrier” would need. This is in addition to the benefits of being able to conduct longer-range resupply in general, especially at the distances involved in the Indo-Pacific. The CMV has an 1150nm range, roughly 300nm greater than an MV.

That is not a small investment on the part of the Navy. Replacing the expeditionary MH-60S with CMV-22s would require 22 aircraft, assuming that the squadron and the ship keep similar deploy-to-dwell ratios. With additional Fleet Replacement Squadron, pipeline, and attrition aircraft, the ultimate requirement would be 25 to 30 CMV-22s to sustainably outfit all the big-deck amphibs. That said, the MH-60S is starting to come up on the point when recapitalization is necessary. With the CMV-22 already being purchased for COD, expanding that community to include the gator Navy offers a huge increase in capability for a marginal increase in cost.

In exchange for that investment, the Navy and Marine Corps can make a leap from a marriage of convenience in their rotorcraft fleets to a truly synergistic and integrated partnership.

Room to Grow

Even with the addition of F-35Bs and trading MH-60Ss for CMV-22s, there is still significant room for adding capability.

One of the recurring complaints about the MV-22 is that it is too large for certain missions, such as VBSS (Visit Board Search and Seizure). While the UH-1N was not able to do significant troop lift, the UH-1Y can. That means the aviation combat element (ACE) needs at least four, not the typical three aircraft. At a readiness rate of 75 percent, that would allow a section of UH-1Ys to be devoted to assault support, especially in support of special missions and hard hits. The third would be able to perform any other tasks in the utility mission set. The Marine Corps has already purchased attrition aircraft over its T/O requirement that could be used to fill this need immediately. If this employment proves useful, additional UH-1Ys could be purchased to preserve this capability into the future.

There are normally four AH-1Zs assigned to the ACE. With a typical four aircraft to make three, the addition of that extra UH-1Y would allow an extra mixed section of skids to provide CAS and FAC(A) when shooting becomes the priority. The Yankee brings significant CAS capability, including Precision Guided Munitions – for now just APKWS rockets, but in the future, likely Hellfire missiles as well. 

Unmanned Systems 

The Marine Corps and the Navy are working past each other when it comes to UAS. The Marines field small tactical platforms and the Navy seeks to enhance sea control with larger systems. Neither of those efforts reaches the other, nor provides top cover for the critical period when Marines transition ashore.

The Marine Corps has begun the MAGTF Unmanned Expeditionary program (MUX), looking to acquire a large UAS capable of vertical takeoff. For CAS and persistent ISR, it requires a Group 5 UAS, a huge asset in normal MEU operations. Just as importantly, a VSTOL UAS with a reconfigurable payload and long endurance would make every platform around it, both Navy and Marine, more capable.

Currently the ESG does not have an Airborne Early Warning (AEW) capability. Its organic sensors are limited by line-of-sight from just above the waterline, or at best from the radars of MH-60Rs from surface combatants, which can provide coverage for only a few hours at a time, even if they are near enough. Sea-skimming threats traveling below the radar horizon would pose a considerable threat, making an organic AEW capability fundamental for awareness and survivability in a high-end threat environment.

Currently an LHD or LHA flight deck is able to support only eight to twelve hours of flight operations a day. A long-endurance UAS would extend this coverage greatly, staying in the air even when ships aren’t at flight quarters. With two, ideally three, AEW-equipped units, MUX would enable almost continuous coverage.

AEW would allow the F-35Bs to stay on the deck in an alert status appropriate for the threat, vice burning hours overhead performing the same AEW function. MUX could also detect and cue air or surface targets for other shooters. Long-range weapons like Tomahawk and the Long Range Anti-ship Missile (LRASM) work best when standoff observation and in-flight retargeting support is readily available, and where unmanned aviation platforms can be more readily risked to provide time-critical networking support.  

Marines are still Naval Infantry

In the future, we can’t assume that we will possess uncontested sea control, whether in the objective area or in transit. The ESG may have to fight its way there. Every asset aboard every ship, including manned and unmanned aircraft, whether they have “Marines” or “Navy” painted on the side, must work in concert. We need to move beyond the construct where the Navy exists only to move Marines to an objective, into one where elements of both are a cohesive fighting team from embarkation to debarkation.

With V-22s, every ship can have access to a Marine detachment when needed. We do not always need CVNs for strikes if we have F-35B-capable amphibious ships. With additional UH-1Ys, the ACE can execute more direct action missions and CAS, relieving other high-demand assets. And with the right UAS providing overwatch, the ESG should never be surprised.

Once we stop thinking of the Navy and Marine Corps as operating in distinct domains, the survivability and lethality of the ESG and the MEU, and even carrier strike groups and surface action groups will be increased. Employed correctly, emerging Marine and Navy aviation platforms, such as the F-35B, CMV-22, and MUX, combined with the assets of the MEU, ARG, and ESG, will make the integrated Navy-Marine team more capable and deadly. 

Carl Forsling is a retired Marine officer and pilot with multiple deployments flying the CH-46E and MV-22B as well as advising Afghan security forces. He currently works in the aerospace industry and is a senior columnist at Task&Purpose. He is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and Boston University. He is married with two children and lives in Arlington, Texas.

Featured Image: BAB EL-MANDEB STRAIT (Aug. 18, 2019) The amphibious assault ship USS Boxer (LHD 4) transits in formation through the Bab el-Mandeb Strait. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Dalton S. Swanbeck/Released)

Tightening the Chain: Implementing a Strategy of Maritime Pressure in the Pacific

The following is adapted from a recent report by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, Tightening the Chain: Implementing a Strategy of Maritime Pressure in the Western Pacific.

By Peter Kouretsos

The U.S. military has a problem in the Western Pacific: the tyranny of distance and time. Delivering military force across the vast Pacific Ocean has never been easy, even for a country as blessed in resources and ingenuity as the United States. The problem has worsened as America’s chief regional rival, China, has improved its ability to harm American interests quickly and with limited forewarning. Seventy years after Mao Zedong proclaimed the People’s Republic of China, China’s military capabilities have matured to the point where, if directed by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) could launch a rapid attack to change the status quo, including territorial seizure, before the United States could meaningfully respond, thus presenting Washington with a fait accompli. American forces located outside the conflict area would have to penetrate China’s anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) network to restore the status quo ex-ante, a daunting proposition. Under these circumstances, Washington might face the unenviable choice of doing nothing or escalating to higher levels of violence. Either way, the national interests of both the United States and its closest allies would suffer dramatically.

To address this challenge, a new CSBA report proposes a U.S. military strategy of Maritime Pressure and a supporting joint operational concept, “Inside-Out” Defense, to stabilize the military balance in the Western Pacific and deny China the prospect of a successful fait accompli. The report goes beyond previous studies by outlining a new operational concept, assessing potential Chinese responses, and estimating the budgetary costs of implementing it.

Strategy in Brief

The United States faces a geographic asymmetry in the Western Pacific. China’s primary territorial concerns—Taiwan, the South China Sea, and the East China Sea—are far closer to its mainland than they are to the United States. In contrast, the United States has territory, allies, and interests in the Western Pacific but must traverse the expanse of the Pacific Ocean to defend them. At the same time, the PLA has developed a counter-intervention doctrine and supporting A2/AD capabilities to stifle the U.S. military’s ability to project power rapidly into, or operate effectively within, the Western Pacific during a conflict. Given these challenges, the United States would be hard-pressed to overcome the tyranny of distance and Chinese A2/AD capabilities quickly enough to deny a Chinese fait accompli.

For example, in the direst scenario involving an all-out PLA attack on Taiwan, U.S. and allied military forces would have to respond in force quickly, within hours or days, to thwart a Chinese fait accompli attempt. U.S. and allied forces would not have weeks or months to concentrate in mass near the theater of operations and then counterattack before China seizes control of Taiwan or forces the Taiwanese government into submission. Nor would friendly forces have time to fight their way to decisive points in the battlespace if they begin the conflict outside China’s A2/AD bubble. Moreover, attempting to rollback Chinese gains and liberate Taiwan after the fact would be difficult, costly, and potentially escalatory.

American policymakers are right to worry about such a scenario. History shows that deterrence is more likely to fail when an aggressor believes it can pull off a fait accompli successfully. If Chinese leadership believes it can achieve gains through aggression quickly and without paying steep costs in blood, treasure, and reputation, it may be tempted to escalate a crisis to open conflict.

As a deterrence by denial strategy, Maritime Pressure aims to persuade Chinese leaders that attempting military aggression in the Western Pacific will fail, thus discouraging them from trying it. The strategy uses the geography of the First Island Chain—the barrier formed by Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines, and maritime and peninsular Southeast Asia—to deny Chinese military supremacy within, and constrain China’s access beyond, the Western Pacific during crisis or war. Specifically, it aims to thwart Chinese sea control, air superiority, and information dominance, conditions viewed by Chinese leaders as essential to military victory, in order to reduce the Chinese leadership’s confidence in its ability to control the course and outcome of a future conflict, thus bolstering deterrence. In short, by creating doubt in the minds of Chinese leaders about the prospects of a fait accompli gambit, Maritime Pressure discourages them from attempting it in the first place.

As a defense-oriented denial strategy, Maritime Pressure can complement or substitute for alternative approaches such as blockade operations or punishment strikes against mainland China. Those alternatives, although potentially useful as part of a broader campaign to prevail in a protracted conflict with China, would likely not achieve success rapidly enough to thwart a fait accompli, and could escalate the conflict beyond the risk tolerances of U.S. and allied political leaders. Without a strategy designed to prevent a fait accompli, the United States might lose a war before alternative approaches have time to be effective. At a minimum, Maritime Pressure could buy the United States and its allies time, creating the space for other approaches to take effect.

Inside-Out Defense as a Point of Departure Operational Concept

A strategy of Maritime Pressure requires a supporting operational concept that can balance the need to respond rapidly enough to offset the U.S. military’s time-distance challenge without having to physically concentrate U.S. forces on a small number of large, close-in bases that are highly vulnerable to China’s robust area denial capabilities. That is, the operational concept must allow the U.S. military to create the virtues of mass rapidly without the vulnerabilities of concentration.

Inside-Out Defense combines lethal and resilient “inside” forces able to fight and persist within highly contested environments with agile “outside” forces capable of fighting from standoff distances or penetrating A2/AD networks. Together, these inside and outside forces could create a responsive, yet survivable, forward defense-in-depth in the Western Pacific capable of rapidly blunting Chinese aggression at the outset of a conflict. To use a football analogy, the inside forces would act as a defensive line while the outside air and naval forces acted as linebackers. While China may control the snap count, the “Inside-Out Defense” concept will demonstrate that the U.S. is ready to play.

Figure 1: Inside-Out Defense Overview (CSBA Graphic)

Inside forces: Below the level of armed conflict, inside forces forward postured in the Western Pacific would provide a persistent, combat credible signal of U.S. commitment, which should give Chinese leaders pause by complicating their decision calculus and undermining their confidence in their military plans. In the event of conflict, they would exploit the region’s maritime geography and assume a dispersed, resilient posture along the First Island Chain to form an initial defensive barrier that could immediately challenge Chinese military operations and play three key roles. First, they would contest what Chinese doctrine has identified as necessary prerequisites for conducting a successful military campaign: air superiority, sea control, and information dominance. Second, they would attack Chinese power projection forces to delay and deny their ability to achieve objectives through aggression, such as seizing the territory of U.S. allies or partners, while blocking China from projecting power beyond the First Island Chain. Third, they would degrade key Chinese systems to create gaps in China’s A2/AD networks that outside forces could then exploit.

Mobile and dispersed ground forces—and amphibious forces ashore—would form the backbone of these inside forces. Leveraging the inherent survivability of mobile, hard-to-find ground forces augmented with counter-detection aids, such as camouflage, concealment, and deception (CCD), the inside forces would transform the First Island Chain’s archipelagos into defensive bastions bristling with multi-domain capabilities such as sensors, missiles, and electronic warfare systems. Undersea platforms, both manned and unmanned, could operate within or near the East China Sea and South China Sea to augment these island bastions as part of the inside forces.

Outside forces: Primarily consisting of air and naval surface forces, outside forces would provide a flexible and agile element to support the units arrayed along the First Island Chain. The overwhelming mass of U.S. combat power would reside in these outside forces. In the event of conflict, they would back up the defensive barrier and provide defense-in-depth in the Second Island Chain. If necessary, they could surge forward to plug any gaps in the defensive barrier of inside forces created either by lack of U.S. access to allied or partner territory or through attrition from Chinese attacks. By employing standoff and penetrating capabilities, these outside forces could exploit gaps in the Chinese A2/AD complex created by the inside forces in order to augment defensive operations with additional mass and conduct offensive operations. Outside forces could also leverage their greater freedom of maneuver to conduct other priority missions, such as holding Chinese overseas assets at risk or interdicting Chinese maritime commerce.

Lines of Operation

Sea denial: From distributed positions along the First Island Chain, ground forces equipped with launchers capable of firing ASCMs or anti-ship ballistic missiles (ASBMs) could attack Chinese surface ships, creating gaps in China’s outer defenses that outside air and surface forces could then exploit. Undersea forces, including both manned and unmanned platforms, could augment inside ground forces by acting as forward sensors and conducting torpedo and ASCM strikes against Chinese ships, as well as provide the principal method of defeating Chinese undersea forces within the First Island Chain. Surface combatants, 4th generation fighters, and legacy bombers, operating over ground-based air defense bubbles along the First Island Chain, could also support sea denial operations with long-range ASCMs. Other stealthy platforms could operate forward to conduct maritime strikes and act as sensors for land-based missiles. Equipping distributed ground forces with a family of missiles with greater ranges than ones they currently possess (Figure 2) would hedge against more restrictive access for U.S. forces on allied and partner territory, enable ground forces to attack PLAN forces operating closer to China and in the Taiwan Strait, and provide more robust fields of overlapping anti-ship fires.

Figure 2: Overlapping Coverage of Ground-Based Sea-Denial Systems1 (CSBA graphic)

Air denial: Given the long operating distances from airbases primarily located in the Second Island Chain and beyond, U.S. and coalition forces would not be able to continuously contest air superiority in the conflict area. An improved land-based integrated air and missile defense (IAMD) architecture positioned along the archipelagoes of the First Island Chain could help pick up the slack. It would consist of a layered defense of mobile, long-range, wide-area, and short-range point air defense systems employing a mix of missiles, guns, and directed energy capabilities such as lasers and high-power microwaves. Additionally, ISR platforms and fighters partially sheltered behind land-based integrated air defense systems on the First Island Chain could enhance battlespace awareness and plug limited gaps in the air defense perimeter. Penetrating manned and unmanned fighters could also conduct periodic sweeps to contest Chinese air operations.

Information denial: The PLA views information dominance as the most critical condition necessary for victory. As such, counter-C4ISR and information denial operations could have outsized effects in deterring and, if necessary, defeating Chinese aggression. Information denial operations would focus on complicating Chinese ISR, increasing demands for persistent targeting, disrupting communications networks, and ultimately paralyzing China’s centralized decision making. Both inside and outside forces could employ a variety of land-attack, anti-ship, and anti-air weapons to strike Chinese sensors and key nodes to degrade its C4ISR networks. Forces employing electronic warfare, counter-space, and cyber capabilities, augmented by CCD and tactical mobility, could confuse remaining sensors, degrade communications, and overwhelm Chinese information processing and decision-making.

Land attack: Land attack operations would degrade Chinese land-based A2/AD systems—including command and control nodes, sensors, long-range missile launchers, aircraft on the ground, and SAM systems—to create gaps that outside forces could exploit. As with sea denial operations, land-based strikes could be augmented by land-attack cruise missile strikes delivered by submarines, outside air and naval forces conducting standoff attacks with long-range missiles, and stealth aircraft staging attacks from closer in. Now unconstrained by the INF Treaty, the U.S. could regain land-based long-range strike capabilities, forcing China to devote more resources to air and missile defenses. Although not always cost-effective for delivering large salvos, they have considerable value in promptly striking time-sensitive targets such as aircraft on the ground, missile launchers, massed formations, capital ships in port, and critical C4ISR nodes.

Figure 3: Land-Based Long-Range Strike2 (CSBA graphic)

Preserving C4ISR: Attacking China’s C4ISR architecture alone would be insufficient to gain and maintain allied information advantage in a Western Pacific contingency. The U.S. military would also need to preserve friendly C4ISR in the face of Chinese counter-C4ISR capabilities. The U.S. military should thus seek to improve the resiliency of its C4ISR architecture to mitigate the impact of Chinese attacks. But given China’s vast and sophisticated counter-C4ISR capabilities, the U.S. military likely could not prevent disruption or even temporary denial of its networks. Therefore, the U.S. military must be careful not to build an overly centralized theater battle network that must be protected from any significant degradation to function. Rather, the U.S. military should accept that highly contested and degraded information environments will be the norm in future warfare. As such, the U.S. military should develop a C4ISR architecture built for sub-optimal conditions that leverages the inherent strength of the joint force to overcome adversity. In short, the U.S. military should confront China’s highly centralized system designed to operate under the optimal conditions of information dominance with a more resilient U.S. C4ISR system able to continue fighting despite the chaos of the modern battlefield.

Defending forces and bases: Since U.S. forces cannot perfectly hide or defend against China’s planned precision strikes, they must withstand the initial salvo. Hardening key nodes such as communications hubs, fuel stores, and aircraft shelters would help improve resiliency and increase the number of Chinese munitions required to suppress targets. Dispersal of ground and air forces to numerous locations along the First and Second Island Chains would minimize the loss of any large single location. Properly networked, these positions would be mutually reinforcing. Adopting an air defense concept focused on short-and medium-range (10–30 nm) engagements could give defenders greater capacity at less cost. Mobile, distributed launchers such as HIMARS and trailer-mounted containerized launchers would practice disaggregation, tactical mobility, and CCD while operating under IAMD to degrade enemy targeting.

Figure 4: Measures to Improve Resiliency of Inside Forces (CSBA graphic)

Sustaining forces: Inside-Out Defense would require sustaining highly geographically distributed forces operating in austere environments, all while under attack. Ground forces arrayed along the archipelagos of the First Island Chain would leverage pre-positioned stocks of munitions and supplies. Later, combinations of small air and sea assets could work together to resupply and add mobility to these small, dispersed formations. For example, in the near term, offshore support vessels could provide logistical support. In the future, extra-large UUVs—with a payload capacity of 2,000 cubic feet—could transport roughly eight tons of cargo to units operating near the coastline.3 Unmanned surface vessels and dracones could provide additional attritable cargo transport and refueling capabilities. From the air, rotary wing and tactical transport aircraft could operate from austere airfields and sea bases to transport cargo and assist with moving troops.

Recommendations and Costs

Having outlined the Inside-Out Defense concept, CSBA also assessed the current activities of U.S. and allied forces to illuminate where changes are needed most urgently. The report divided the assessment and recommendations into concepts, capabilities, and coordination to reflect Maritime Pressure’s emphasis on the United States pursuing countermoves in the areas of doctrine, technology, and allies, respectively.4 The report estimates that these actions would cost from $8 billion to $13 billion by 2024 depending on the specific investments selected by DoD. Although significant, such costs are affordable—especially if DoD spends less on legacy forces unsuited to contested environments and spends more on the innovative concepts and capabilities proposed in the report.


Develop this report’s approach into a joint operational concept to support a strategy of Maritime Pressure in the Western Pacific. Over the last several years, the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force have developed new warfighting concepts that fit comfortably within a strategy of Maritime Pressure. While the Army’s Multi-Domain Operations, Navy’s Distributed Maritime Operations and Marine Corps’ Marine Corps Operating Concept, and the Air Force’s Multi-Domain Command and Control each break some new ground, the services still devote too much attention to preserving the traditional American approach to power projection in the Western Pacific. Furthermore, service concept development efforts are relatively disjointed and uncoordinated from one another, and joint operational concept development is currently lacking within DoD.

Experiment with new organizational structures for ground forces in the Pacific. Given that it is forward stationed in the Western Pacific, III MEF and its subordinate units could form the core of the inside forces in an Inside-Out Defense concept. III MEF would also likely need to be augmented as inside forces with U.S. Army units located in the Pacific Theater such as the 25th Infantry Division. However, both formations are maneuver warfare-centric organizations best suited for traditional amphibious or ground combat operations. The Marine Corps and Army should experiment with alternative force designs that take advantage of novel combinations of C2, fires, air defense, security, ISR, engineering, electronic warfare, and sustainment capabilities to permit distributed, multi-domain fires in highly contested environments along the First Island Chain.

Develop sustainment concepts to support a Maritime Pressure strategy. Supporting distributed operations along the First Island Chain requires new concepts for sustaining operations across great distances while under attack. Planners should explore innovative approaches to support distributed units, including greater use of pre-positioned stocks of munitions and sustainment materiel, manned and unmanned air and sea assets for mobility and resupply, and emerging technologies such as 3D printing to fabricate replacement parts.


Accelerate fielding of mobile, land-based, long-range missile capabilities. Ground force contributions to sea denial, air denial, and land attack operations along the First Island Chain require sharper and longer teeth. Current efforts of the Army and Marine Corps to develop and field longer-range, land-based anti-ship and land-attack fires should be accelerated and should incorporate weapons with ranges in excess of 500 km. The Army and Marine Corps should also develop more mobile and longer-range land-based air defense systems to provide wide-area air denial along the First Island Chain with sufficient survivability for inside forces to fight and persist within China’s A2/AD network.

Build a resilient multi-domain C4ISR architecture and develop and field counter-C4ISR capabilities. In a future conflict in the Western Pacific, the battle for information advantage would likely be critical and could potentially prove decisive. The U.S. military should undertake efforts to make its C4ISR architecture more resilient while developing and fielding active and passive counter-C4ISR capabilities such as jammers and CCD.

Integrate all bomber aircraft with payloads for offensive maritime missions. DoD should integrate anti-ship missiles into its entire fleet of bombers. Although anti-surface warfare would be a new mission for these platforms, it would be a return to a role the bomber community played during World War II and the Cold War. These capabilities are currently being fielded with several aircraft such as the B-1B, but integrating them with all platforms possessing comparable ranges would give the United States a more robust capability to attack enemy surface combatants and other high-value maritime targets in highly contested environments at range.


Deepen cooperation with Indo-Pacific allies and partners. Allies and partners will be critical in a Maritime Pressure strategy, both in terms of accessing their territory and the capabilities and forces they contribute. The U.S. military should engage closely with Indo-Pacific allies and partners to form enhanced access agreements for both peacetime and war, as well as gain a better understanding of what roles each ally and partner may be willing to perform and with what forces in each potential contingency. The U.S. military should also work to deepen interoperability and developed combined concepts of operations among U.S. and allied and partner forces, particularly with Japan and Australia.

Reexamine Service roles and missions. As new concepts for warfighting in the Western Pacific continue to mature, so too should existing Service roles and missions. For example, Inside-Out Defense envisions both Army and Marine forces playing a larger role in anti-surface warfare missions. But key questions remain, such as whether they would provide similar or distinct capabilities for those missions and whether they would perform the missions in separate or overlapping geographic areas. Answering questions like these will help harmonize ongoing efforts to develop new concepts and capabilities across the services.


Attempting to overcome these American A2/AD investments will likely push China toward prioritizing short-range counter-A2/AD improvements over long-range power projection investments. Such an outcome would appeal to the United States and its allies since it would keep China ensnared in its maritime backyard within the First Island Chain. Alternatively, China might view popping the American A2/AD bubble as too risky and expensive and, as a result, shift attention and resources away from its eastern maritime frontier to its western land frontier. President Xi Jinping has increased Chinese involvement in continental Asia through his Belt and Road Initiative, so Maritime Pressure might reinforce an existing preference within the Chinese government for westward expansion. On the negative side, Maritime Pressure might encourage China to escalate horizontally by shifting the competition to other domains, including the economic or diplomatic spheres. Despite this risk, a Maritime Pressure strategy represents a feasible, affordable, and sophisticated approach for responding to China’s rise in the years ahead.

Peter Kouretsos is an Analyst at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. He is the co-author, with Thomas G. Mahnken, Travis Sharp, and Billy Fabian, of Tightening the Chain: Implementing a Strategy of Maritime Pressure in the Western Pacific.


1. Ranges and their proxies in parentheses serve as examples, not as specific recommendations. With additional cooperation from partner governments, similar systems could also be placed elsewhere (e.g., Vietnam and Indonesia). NSM, Type-12, and SM-6 ranges are from IHS Jane’s. PrSM range is from Jen Judson, “U.S. Army to Prioritize Long-Range Missile Capability to Go After Maritime Targets,” Defense News, March 26, 2019, available at LRASM range is from Oriana Pawlyk, “Live LRASM Test from F/A-18 Super Hornet Expected This Year,” DoDBuzz, April 10, 2018, available at Tomahawk range is from “Tomahawk Cruise Missile,” U.S. Navy factsheet, April 26, 2018, available at

2. Past CSBA wargames used a notional target set depicting the depth and concentration of Chinese military facilities, mobile weapons systems, airbases, and other sites of military value. Approximately 70 percent of the target set’s 50,000 aimpoints are located within 250 nm of the coastline of mainland China. The deepest aimpoints (red circles) indicate locations of known or suspected space installations, anti-satellite weapons sites, and other high-value targets.

3. The United States only intercepts 25 percent of the homemade submarines carrying narcotics across the Caribbean into the United States from Colombia. Logisticians should incorporate lessons gleaned from these smuggling operations into future sustainment concepts for heavily monitored and contested environments. Joe Gould and David B. Larter, “In America’s Opioid Crisis, Military Lets Drug Shipments Go By,” Defense News, February 15, 2018, available at

4. The current activities assessment is limited primarily to the missiles and sensors the authors recommend fielding in precision-strike networks along the First Island Chain. The authors acknowledge that the networks would contain many capabilities besides missiles and sensors. They also recognize that prevailing against China will require more than precision-strike networks. Previous CSBA research has explored other necessary capabilities in detail; interested readers should consult those studies for more information. For the present section, however, the authors have chosen to focus on the strike forces forming the backbone of a Maritime Pressure strategy.

Featured Image: A Japan Ground Self-Defense Force Type 12 Surface to Ship Missile System display its range of movement as part of the Orient Shield 2019 media day, Sept. 17 2019, Oyanohara Training Area, Japan. (U.S. Army Photo by Staff Sgt. Jacob Kohrs, 20th PAD)